The Unicorn of the Lake by Chris Angelone
If you ask any fisherman about what keeps them fishing, a huge part of it is usually related to the mystery of it all. The unknown. The fact that you never really know what exactly it is that's going to end up on the end of your line next. As anglers we always seem to have this internal hope that our next bite is going to be the largest of a certain species, or it could just be that rare "unicorn" fish that you were after. For us, that fish was a rare albino Channel Catfish. It's not always about that, but these are often the days that we remember the most.
Overcast skies with some rain often brings about some of the best fishing experiences. This day seemed to fit the formula well. My buddy Ricky and I made some plans to bring my little brother Kyle on an adventure to go after a rare fish that we had seen for the first time in a local lake about a week prior. No, we weren't after a big largemouth. This was going to be some heavy duty bait fishing with "saltwater" tackle. Like some Jeremy Wade "River Monsters" type of operation where he always ends up catching some kind of catfish (spoiler alert). It's a funny coincidence that our "monster" would be a catfish too.
We loaded up several rods in the car, along with a kayak, and off we went to the lake. We arrived around 6PM. With rain, overcast skies, and the sun getting lower, we wouldn't necessarily be able to spot the fish in the murky water. But this was the perfect cover for a big fish to be on the prowl for food. My brother and I started unloading our gear from the car to bring it down to the shore. We brought a Kayak, three rods, and probably a lot more bait than necessary. But hey... it's better than running out. Ricky and I started rigging the rods each with 5 feet of 15 lb. fluoro leader, and a 3/0 octopus hook with a bobber a couple of feet above it. This might seem large by freshwater standards. We weren't after bluegills and pumpkinseeds here, and we would be using chunks of shad as bait.
Like Bob "The Garbage Man" would, we used as big of a chunk as possible. These big baits weren't exactly easy to cast. So we used one of our beach shark fishing techniques and paddled them out into the depths with a kayak. The way I spread the bait may be the most important part of the process. Where you place the bait is an extremely methodical process and can increase your catch rate over just haphazardly putting them out there. I specifically placed two out of the three baits next to a drop off by bluegill beds, in hopes that the fish will be lurking nearby, waiting to ambush her prey. The third I dropped into the deeper part of the lake where the catfish would likely retreat. Having a "hiding" area is important for a fish that stands out so much.
While I was making my way back to shore, something special happened. The rain stopped out of nowhere, and the sky changed from cloudy, to bright orange and red with a bright rainbow spanning across the sky. It almost felt like luck was on our side and this was our chance to get our pot of gold.
The sky had cleared, the wind had dropped, and our baits were in place with the reels in free spool with the clickers on. It was now around 7:15PM. From this point on, it was a waiting game. It could take minutes to get a bite, or it could take hours. But we were ready to fish into the dark if necessary. Luckily, we didn't have to wait long. This calm evening on the lake was disrupted after 10 minutes when the clicker on the Avet started screaming out. Ricky and I jumped up, adrenaline pumping as we watched the line spinning off of the spool. I picked up the rod, pushed the lever up to strike and set the hook. The rod bent over, and we were on. All three of us looked at each other and we all knew that this had to be the fish we had set out for, and we had a fight ahead of us that I took on while Kyle and Ricky started clearing the other lines.
After several minutes of fighting, I handed the rod to Kyle so I could find a good position to land the fish. The bright white color stood out amongst the murky stained water, confirming that this was the "mutant" monster that we were after. I was taking no chances, I went right into the water, dove my arms down and straight up bear-hugged the beast. With a mouth big enough to fit my whole hand, there was no doubt that this fish was the apex predator of this lake. After taking a few pictures, I safely released her unharmed. She swam away to live another day, hopefully for another angler to see that will be able to tell a similar tale.
Maybe it was the luck of the rainbow, maybe it was the skill of the anglers, but there is no way we could have landed this fish if we hadn't all done our part. Catching this fish solved fulfilled out "mystery". But, it leaves me wondering. Is she the only one in that lake. And if there are more, how long have they been there? You never know, the only way to find out is to go out and catch them and make the memories for yourself.
- Bryce Poyer