The fish that didn’t get away
By Darren Lum
Heather Clark of Haliburton has never caught a bigger fish in her life.
Landing a 24.34-pound salmon at the Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular on Sunday, Aug. 25 not only brought attention and a real sense of achievement to the 61-year-old, but also a satisfying salmon dinner on Labour Day.
Heather and her husband Ian had plenty of leftovers, which they intended to enjoy battered and cooked in a frying pan.
Heather said the catch came down to a little luck, timing, a lot of team work and a bit of squealing.
With people watching from the shore close to Presqu’ile, in about a 100 feet of water, her brother Billy, was holding the net, her husband Ian was coaching, teenage nephew Clark was on the wheel, steering the 21-foot Starcraft, she was grappling with reeling in the biggest catch any of them had ever pulled in. The next largest was 20 pounds, she said.
“There was a lot of squealing when it was finally got on the floor [of the boat],” she said.
When asked who was squealing, she laughingly, “My nephew Clark. I’m sure I squealed too. You don’t realize it at the time.”
“If the fish gods says not today you don’t get nothing,” she said. “We were lucky. We had a rainbow and small salmon in the boat. We had just set back up and [the line] took off. It took over half of our line off our rod. It was a big fight. It didn’t want to come to the top of the water.”
She estimates it took her and her family 30 minutes to bring it in. Added to the challenges were the strong winds, gusting up to 50 miles per hour, which created high waves that kept pushing their boat around.
Later during an interview with the Echo, she acknowledged when the fish was caught that her husband was also squealing, and then told her: “Don’t even take it out of the net. Just set it on the floor and head to town.”
“We didn’t even weigh it. We just knew it was going to be a good weight,” she said.
The third place earned her some $2,000 worth of prizes, including a 14-foot canoe and a smoker.
With 10 days fishing and part of two days of travel, the trip is a happy investment in a sport she is passionate about with the people she loves.
“It’s a holiday. It’s a working holiday,” she said, laughing.
Work is always part of it, but this year she not only has the sore arms (now that the adrenaline has worn off) to show for it, but plenty of bragging rights attributed to the third largest ever caught for the Spectacular.
When it comes to salmon fishing, she said, the difference is how you do it. Trolling is the main technique and frozen anchovies applied with brine are used for bait.
With three salmon more than 20 pounds, she said organizers really appreciated the big catches, as it signals a good trend towards larger fish.
“We’ve had years where you caught something six pounds you were doing really well. It’s nice to see the weights coming back up,” she said.
The Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association member believes this is owed to how there are more food sources for the fish, indicated by the “bigger clouds of bait fish everywhere” seen through her fish finder.
“That’s good because that means the fish have something to eat,” she said.
Her third place finish is her best in the 31 years she has competed in the 32-year-old event.
The first year she competed in the Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular she and her husband lived in nearby Dundalk. Back in 1987, the only year she missed, she had just had a baby in July.
Fishing for Heather all began when she was a little girl while visiting her grandmother in Dundalk where she spent time at the creek.
She appreciates the personal challenge that fishing offers.
“Just to see if you can catch something a little bigger each time you catch something,” she said.
The third place salmon may be the biggest catch of her life, but for Heather it’s not going to be her last.
“They’ll be a bigger one out there,” she said.