The real beauty of the one that got away

One of the great truths in angling is that the biggest fish an angler hooks is typically the one that got away before ever being seen by anyone. Anglers refer to this mythical fish as “a beauty.”

If you doubt this, eavesdrop at any dock when a fishing boat returns. Sooner or later, you are sure to hear at least one angler say, “We caught a bunch, and I lost a beauty.”

No one has ever actually seen a beauty. That’s because if the average beauty got close enough to the boat for the inevitable shrinkage to take place, it would no longer be a beauty.

Beauties are huge. Take my word for it.

I know some anglers who can turn a stand of cabbage weed or a stump into a beauty, but they are exceptional. Less skilled anglers can only do this with a poorly hooked fish.

Even with these basic ingredients, a beauty still requires angler input. He or she must add one part imagination and one part excitement along with a healthy dose of poetic licence. And it helps to keep a straight face too.

But the results of these efforts are often fantastic.

In my experience, a fish that is hooked and never seen, immediately gains 50 per cent more in weight.

For example, an unseen two-pound smallmouth bass immediately becomes a three pounder. If the fish is caught up in a weed bed, you add another 50 per cent to the weight again, so that two-pounder caught in a weed bed becomes four and a half-pounder. Also, if no one witnessed the hookset, break off or knot failure, the angler intuitively adds one more pound, which makes it a five and a half pounder. Lastly, every time the story is told, a good angler adds another half-pound.

Which is to say, typically your average two-pound bass that is not seen before breaking off, has the potential to turn into a long distance catch-and-release Ontario record.

I know there are anglers who swear that the beauties they caught were actual beauties. But if that were the case, there would be many provincial and world-record fish on every waterbody in the province.

No, beauties are mythical creatures, much like unicorns, dragons and puppies that don’t eat slippers. The Loch Ness monster wasn’t always a monster. Once, it was a two-pound trout that a Scottish angler called a beauty.

And that’s OK. In fact, the world would be a lot less wonderful, if every beauty was caught and recognized for what it actually was.  And the credibility of the angler who yelled, “I got a beauty on!” would also go down the toilet, if he actually landed it.

I like the idea that you can still get a great fish story out of a fish that you never laid eyes on.  This makes is easier to justify buying new fishing rods and lines and leaders and flies or lures, so you can be ready for the next time that beauty strikes. And if you lose two fish in the same general area, you might even have all the ingredients to tell the tale of a creature like Nessie, which frankly is good for tourism.

The thing to remember is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, provided the beholder never gets a chance to be holding the fish.

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