Every fish has a story, says Sherwood Park angler Lisa Roper.
Some fish stories are bigger than others, apparently.
On Tuesday evening Roper and friend Jessica Pallister-Dew were out on Lac La Biche wrapping up a successful day on the water.
The walleye and northern pike had been hitting hard since morning, giving both women a chance to reel in a couple good catches.
“We said if we don’t catch another one today, we are happy,” Roper recalled. The women decided to head out one more time before night fell to do some trolling as the sun dipped below the horizon.
“And so I turned the boat around, started doing the last pass, and all of a sudden I had this incredible hit on my spoon,” Roper said.
That incredible hit turned out to be a log -- or so Roper thought as she tried reeling it in.
“At first I said to Jessica, ‘you know, I really don't think this is a fish.’”
With about 30 or 40 of feet of line still out and her arm getting sore, Roper started to wonder if there might be something more interesting on her hook after all.
“I said to Jess, 'I actually think this could be a walleye.' A lot of times walleye when they're really big, they'll just come in just deadweight, no movement, no thrashing, no trying to jerk you down.”
Still reeling in, with about 5 or 10 feet left to go, Roper finally caught sight of what she’d been fighting to pull through the water. That’s when the excitement hit.
“I was like, 'oh my goodness. I cannot believe we have this fish,'” Roper said. Pallister-Dew grabbed a net to help bring the massive catch into the boat.
Roper’s huge walleye, measuring 28.5 inches (72.4 cm ) long, was the largest fish she’d ever caught by far and the first one in longer than she can remember that she took the time to measure. She didn’t have her scale in the boat at the time and was unable to get a precise weight, but she said the fish was heavy. The current Alberta walleye record is 15.5 pounds.
Roper took a few pictures of the fish before releasing him back into the lake to let him continue his journey.
“For me one of the best parts about this story, this fish's story, is that I got to release him,” she said. “Conservation efforts are really important to me because I do fish a lot.”
Roper, a member of the Fort Saskatchewan Fish and Game Association, has been fishing on Lac La Biche since she was a girl. She now sets aside days at a time to get out on her boat and cast her line into the water. She also works as a pro staff member at Bass Pro Shop and is an ambassador for Len Thompson fishing lures (she used a Grey Ghost No. 13 to catch her walleye). Her friend Pallister-Dew is Len Thompson’s great-granddaughter.
The only thing that could have made the night of her exciting catch even better, Roper said, would have been sharing the moment with her father, who died suddenly two and a half years ago. The two used to spend a lot of time hunting and fishing together, and her dad once put an impressive catch on his own personal record books, landing a walleye that measured 28 inches.
“It's sort of like, 'hey dad, we're in this club together. I got it,'” Roper said.
The thought of inspiring others to find a passion for fishing is important to Roper. For her, fishing has moved well beyond hobby.
“The minute my bare feet go in the boat, it's just me and the fish and it's a journey. Every fish I bring in, be it little or small, I'm grateful and thankful."