Fishing for sag-belly lunkers

Mike SchoonveldI grew up with a fishing pole in my hand. And fishing rods, as well. And dreams of catching a fish so big that its belly sagged when I held it posed for a photo.

At the beginning of each month, I’d head to the barber shop to get my monthly haircut. First a plain ol’ buzz cut. Later a flat top. Longer styles in my late high school years.

But that’s not why I did monthly trips to the barber. The barber had subscriptions to a half dozen outdoor magazines – Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Fur Fish and Game and others. I’d be there hoping for a crowd so there would be a long wait; and occasionally, I’d hang around after my haircut to thumb through the remaining pages.

While many of my friends dreamed of becoming a major leaguer, rock-and-roll star or top flight golfer, my dreams were spawned by the pages of those magazines.

So was my imagination. I may have been holding my cane pole down at Mert’s pond catching 6-inch bullheads, but in my mind I was in Florida planning to catch a 10-pound or bigger largemouth bass. When I switched to a fly rod to angle up stunted bluegills or crappies at Mingle’s pond, my mind was in the Rocky Mountains fishing for native cutthroat trout.

But of all the dreams I gleaned from all the flashy photos, the pictures that fueled my imagination the most were those depicting giant lake trout, huge northern pike and even beer-belly bass so big that when the proud angler held them, their belly sagged. Oh, to catch a fish so big it had a saggy belly.

Now, older, well traveled and well fished, I’ve caught fish with saggy bellies. I’ve helped others catch them, too. When someone catches a big fish on my boat, I encourage them to grip the fish, head and tail, allowing the monster to sag a little, hopefully a lot, and put a grin on my face and a boyish dream in my head.

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