In every person who fishes the lakes, streams, and oceans, there lies a dream...to catch the one. The one that got away. The one that lurks in the mysterious depths. The one who surpasses all others. On Saturday February 27th, Gene Thiel's dream came true.
The coming of Spring always brings a sense of hope and this year was no exception. Gene went shore fishing earlier in the week and was catching ten pound Rainbow trout on a regular basis. In his 35 years of fishing Wallowa Lake, he never caught ten pound trout on a regular basis. He went flyfishing on the Imnaha River and was catching steelhead. This Spring and this year were going to be exceptionally good for fishing.
The Kokanee were biting in Wallowa Lake and people were catching their limits. It appeared to be the start of a great season and Gene had a dream...to catch the one. The only problem was that the Kokanee were in deeper waters and too far from shore. He needed a boat and he did not possess one. So he convinced a friend from Minnesota to paddle a borrowed canoe on the icy waters of Wallowa, while Gene would troll and jig for the prized Kokanee. Gene tells his friend that the silver-colored salmon is the best tasting freshwater fish.
It took four hours and alot of experimenting with various lures, but with each and every nibble, the school of Kokanee was evident. With patience, in one hundred feet of water and about fifteen feet from the bottom, Gene caught his first Kokanee of the season.
After all the other fishing people had left the lake, there remained a solitary canoe drifting in the water. A light drizzle and the approaching rain clouds did not deter Gene in his quest. Suddenly, the line was hit and the pole was bent. "It's a big one!" was the only comment uttered. For each knew from the bent in the pole that whatever was on the line was indeed a "big one."
So on an ordinary Saturday, the 73 year old Gene Thiel of Joseph, Oregon caught a 7.51 pound Kokanee and becomes an United States recordholder. He knows in the hidden depths of Wallowa Lake there lies an even bigger Kokanee, perhaps even a world record. He dreams of catching "the other one." And as for myself, I will have a fish story to tell, while canoeing the lakes of Minnesota, when an ordinary Saturday became quite extraordinary on a lake in Northwestern Oregon.
Footnote:The fish ties the US record with one caught by John Bomar on Hauser Lake in Montana on September 23, 2003. The world record is 9 pounds 6 ounces caught in British Columbia. Thanks to Bill Knox of Oregon Fish and Game for this information.