Record-breaking Mackinaw trout caught and released at Lake Tahoe
By Don Quilici
The sky was gradually beginning to get light in the east when I very quietly began to row my small, inflatable raft away from the dock at Cave Rock Landing at Lake Tahoe.
Just moments before, Elaine and I had very neatly stowed our lunch, drinks, fishing poles, reels, tackle box, net, battery-operated fish locator and video camera in the bottom of that raft.
When we were finished loading everything, she carefully sat down in one end of the raft, I pushed off from the dock, stepped into the other end of the raft, sat down, picked up the aluminum oars and began to slowly row toward deep water.
We were both wearing light windbreakers under our life preservers and were embarking on a special fishing trip that I had planned for a long time.
I had a theory that I had wanted to test for many years. Now, it was time to see if I was correct in my assumption.
For a long time, I have theorized the really big Mackinaw (Lake) trout at Tahoe cruise in close to shore in the early morning hours, while looking for smaller prey fish, but are spooked back into the deeper water by the sound of boat motors and people moving about inside their boats.
And, my personal theory was that you will never get a chance to catch a record Mack at Lake Tahoe, unless you can, somehow, quietly sneak up on it, without the fish being aware of your presence.
The Lake Tahoe record for Mackinaw trout is a 37-pound, 6-ounce (44 inches in length) trophy caught by Robert Aronsen, way back on June 21, 1974.
To date, only six Macks have ever been caught that weighed 30 pounds or more.
However, many of the fishing guides at Tahoe, including Mickey Daniels of Mickey’s Big Mack Charters at North Lake Tahoe (who has three of those six largest Macks) and Gene St. Denis of Blue Ribbon Charters and Tahoe Trophy Trout at South Lake Tahoe believe that there are much larger fish to be caught.
In fact, Gino firmly believes that Tahoe has Mackinaw trout that can go over 80 pounds, but have never been caught.
Gino has told me that on two different occasions, he has had something huge take his bait and all of the line off of his fishing reel, before disappearing back down into the dark depths.
On this particular day, we were about to prove or disapprove that long-held Don Q theory that sound spooks big fish.
It looked like another beautiful day at Lake Tahoe. The water was flat as a pancake with a mirror-image, there was no wind and not a cloud in the sky.
And, best of all, there were no boats out on the lake, yet.
I slowly and very quietly rowed toward the center of the lake. We rigged up the fish locator and I rowed until it told us that we were in 200 feet of water.
Then, I stopped rowing and with low whispers, we quietly and quickly rigged up our fishing poles with heavy sinkers and large rainbow-colored Rapala lures behind silver-colored flasher blades.
As I began to slowly row again, Elaine gradually let line off her pole until she was a long distance behind the raft. Then she did the same for my pole. We were ready to see if my theory was valid.
I rowed in a lazy zig-zag pattern for about 20 minutes and then, all of a sudden, there was a large yank on Elaine’s pole. Fish on!
She began to reel and you could tell the fish was good sized by the way it was jerking and pulling on the line.
I quickly pulled in my line to get it out of the way while she fought that fish.
Suddenly, the line stopped coming toward the boat.
Elaine whispered, “I think I’m snagged up because I can’t move it.”
I softly replied, “Geez, you can’t be snagged up, we’re in 200 feet of water. Pull a little harder.”
She did, she could turn the handle of her reel again and Elaine continued to bring the fish toward our raft.
Finally, the trout was next to raft and I looked over the side, and said in shock, “Holy Cow! That Mackinaw is missing the back half. Something tried to eat it while you were reeling it in.”
I netted what remained of the fish and brought the bleeding half into the boat. You could clearly see fresh teeth marks on its sides where it had been bitten in half. The half, we had, measured 13 inches which meant that fish had been 25-26 inches long, when it was attacked.
We stared at one another in awe and then I whispered to Elaine, “Let’s try to catch whatever is down there. I’m going to put on the largest Rapala lure I’ve got and see what happens.”
I got my largest Rapala lure, smeared it with Smelly Jelly, put it behind the flasher blades, and as I rowed, Elaine let the line out, one more time.
I continued to row in that same, slow, zig-zag pattern for quite some time.
Then….bam! There was a huge, violent jerk on that pole. Fish on, again!
Whatever it was, it was monster-sized and it began to pull more and more line, off the reel.
I told Elaine, “Keep your rod tip up high, so the fish has to fight both your line and the pole. I’ll row the raft toward it so you don’t lose too much line.”
As I rowed, the fish moved out toward the deeper water and we followed.
At one point, in the struggle, the fish surged to the surface, there was a huge swirl in the water, a monster sized fish head momentarily surfaced, an evil-looking eye stared at us and then it dove back toward the bottom.
The struggle continued until Elaine got tired and asked me to take the fishing pole. I did, she rowed and I fought the fish for what seemed an eternity. Sometimes gaining line, sometimes losing it.
Finally, after nearly two hours of being hooked into it, the big fish seemed to surrender and allowed itself to be brought up alongside our raft.
It was gigantic! The fish was longer than my three-person inflatable raft!
I excitedly told Elaine, “We have to let it go. It’s bigger than our raft. If I try to bring it into the raft, we will capsize. If I try to tow it back to shore, it might attack the raft and sink us.”
I reached over the side, measured the fish with my tape measure and it measured 72 inches exactly.
Wow! Six feet of Mackinaw trout!
I carefully pulled the lure out of its mouth and slowly rowed the raft away from the recovering trout.
In a moment, with a swish of its tail, it disappeared into the black looking water.
I had just released a record-setting Mackinaw trout at Lake Tahoe.
Finally, if you believe all of the above story, I would dearly love to sell you an ocean-view lot, right here in Carson City.
Carefully check the date on today’s Outdoors page.
I gotcha! IIt’s April Fool’s Day!
– Bet Your Favorite Pigeon
Bet your favorite pigeon that he can’t tell you the size of the largest Mackinaw trout that I have really caught.
If he grins and says, “It was a 34-inch Mack at Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming Stateline, many years ago,” he could have been one of my fishing partners on that trip.