Landing the Indiana State Record Atlantic Salmon

I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn't hurt. I contemplated spending the rest of the day staring out the window, imagining fishing trips that never happened. But the cobwebs started to clear, so I figured I might as well go fishing.

I loaded a new two-hander in the car that I'd been meaning to master. This time of year, the fish—smallmouth, mostly—are sluggish and hold deep. So I had low expectations but still wanted to get out there and throw some line. I had an old Atlantic salmon fly, a General Practitioner, that I thought might be a reasonable crayfish imitation, so I tied it on, made a couple practice casts, then let ‘er rip.

I'd been fishing maybe 20 minutes, if that, when I had a socket-wrenching tug on the line. In 30 years of fishing I had never experienced a strike like that. Then my line wouldn't move, and I began to question whether I'd actually felt something pull back, or if I'd simply hung up on a rock. Then the line started slowly moving upstream, so I realized that I was indeed attached to a fish. And in that instant, the fish came to a similar conclusion. It shot straight upriver, emptying my reel of all the fly line and much of the backing before I'd even realized what was going on.

At the end of this sprint, the fish leapt, and there was no mistaking that this was Salmo salar, "the leaper," a very large Atlantic salmon. In fact, it was massive. Hard as I tried to focus on the now questionable task at hand, my mind started to do the math…

This fish could not have come in through the St. Lawrence River, because the river I was now standing in—the White River of central Indiana—was not connected to the St. Lawrence or even to the Great Laurentian Lakes or the rivers that flow into them. This fish clearly would have had to come up the White from the Wabash, via the Ohio River. And to have entered the Ohio, it must have come up the Mississippi, which it would have entered after first navigating south along the Atlantic Coast and then around the tip of Florida, before heading north.

While my brain bounced back and forth between contemplating this incredible journey and landing its protagonist, I heard a voice behind me.

"That's quite a salmon," she said, in thick brogue accent. (Irish? No, Scottish, I think.) If you'd like, I can try to net it for you."

I turned to see a woman in waders, 15-foot rod over her shoulder, holding a very large landing net. "Do you know what you're doing?" I asked.

"It will be the largest salmon I've ever netted," she replied, with a smile. "And the only one from this river. But yes, I am handy with a net."

"I'll never land it without help, so if you see the opportunity, go for it," I said, nervously.

After several more long runs and some spectacular acrobatics, the fish began to tire, and I managed to steer it into some shallow water. About 40 minutes had passed since I'd hooked the fish. At this point I still had little faith that I would land it. I had never even seen a live, wild Atlantic salmon before, much less one as enormous as this one. While upright, the fish's broad back was stunning, but when it finally rolled and we got a look at its depth, we were both momentarily speechless. Luckily, the woman snapped out of the salmo-stupor in time to net the great fish, and together we pulled it ashore. 

Much whooping and hollering ensued, while she congratulated me on the catch and I thanked her repeatedly for netting it. She then produced a scale from her blouse and we weighed and measured the fish. The salmon measured 49 inches, and according to her scale, which she said was certified, the fish weighed 47 pounds, four ounces.

She used my camera to take several pictures of me with the fish, and we then discussed what to do with it. We accessed the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website via her smartphone, and could find no reference to any regulations concerning Atlantic salmon other than those that come from Lake Michigan or its tributaries, which this one clearly did not. So I dispatched the fish quickly with the billy club priest she had, and then we made love several times in succession, taking yet more photographs.

When I woke up an hour later, she and the giant salmon were gone. I gathered my things and drove straight to the fly shop. I told the story to understandably skeptical ears, but then remembered my camera.

"Wait, I've got pictures!" I said, and turned on the camera. To my horror, she had deleted all of the photos of the fish. Luckily, still on the camera was a single photograph. It was a photo of me, asleep on the ground, which she must have taken after our lovemaking.

"Look!" I shouted, and thrust the camera at the fly shop employees. "What's this?" replied the manager.

"It's me," I said. "After we caught the fish and I had sex with her."

"How is this proof that you caught a 47-pound salmon?" said the kid behind the counter.

"Well why in the hell would I take a photograph of myself? And how could I? I was asleep. Look!" I said.

The kid raised his eyebrow, exchanged glances with the store manager and the other clerk, and then the store manager reached over the counter and shook my hand.

"Mister, that is one hell of a fish. That record's gonna stand a long time." We printed the photo on the fly shop's printer, and they hung it up on the braggin' board. For their generosity, I let them keep the General Practitioner, which they pinned to the board as well. The shop manager called me just today to tell me they can't even keep those flies in stock now.

[When not hunting arrowheads or bird-watching, Andrew Stoehr fishes central Indiana. He built a wooden boat and fished all through grad school, which might explain why it took him so long.]