To catch the big one, he first had to make a splash

April 04, 2010

Under normal conditions, Sean Murphy is not an excitable boy.

But the opening day of trout season was not a normal day and the fish at the other end of his line was not your garden variety rainbow trout - unless, of course, your gardener's name is Jolly Green Giant.

At 10.5 pounds and 28 inches long, with a girth of 17.5 inches, the trout "looked like a salmon," when Mark Staley and his stocking crew plopped it in the Patap-sco River just days before the season opened March 27. It was so large that the Fisheries Service boys swapped their 5-gallon white bucket for a big net to get the fish from the tank truck to the river.

Trout season started before first light as Murphy and his fishing buddies took up a spot about 200 yards above the Swinging Bridge in the Orange Grove section of Patapsco Valley State Park - right where Staley released the trout. But after an hour, Murphy had to head to his new job at Home Depot in Glen Burnie.

The boys returned to their spot at 4:30 p.m. and caught two fish. About 90 minutes later, Murphy felt two taps on his line and figured he had snagged a log.

Now we'll pause here to mention that when it came to choosing tackle for this showdown, Murphy brought a knife to a gun fight: a 4-foot-6 ultralight rod strung with 6-pound test line and a size 18 treble hook with Power Bait on the end.

The willowlike rod bent, and the log began to move slowly in Murphy's direction.

"Ah, I got a stick," Murphy recalled saying just before "there was a splash and it started peeling drag. We didn't have a net, so I jumped in."

Fully clothed. In work boots and jeans. With his cell phone "filled with years of numbers" still in his pocket.

Murphy's dad lost a big fish near there about six years ago. His son vowed he wasn't going to be a victim.

River muck enveloped his boots. The current tugged at his arms and legs.

"I knew he was big, but I didn't know how big until I got in the water with him," Murphy said. "I thought I had him and he slithered away from me. I got him toward the bank and I bearhugged him. Then I made a beeline away from the river because I didn't want another horror show."

Standing on dry land, Murphy realized how close he came to a like-father-like-son moment. The hook was barely hanging on at the corner of the trout's gaping mouth.

The Catonsville High graduate said he was "lost in the moment" and wasn't sure how long he fought the fish. Other anglers said it was a 10-to-15-minute struggle.

"I heard all this splashing and I tried to crane my neck to see through the trees," said Mark Hollis, 52, a lifelong angler from Arbutus. "I thought he was holding up a stringer of five fish. I walked over for a look and my mouth was hanging open. If someone had told me they caught a fish that big on the Patapsco, I would have said, 'No way.' I wouldn't have believed them."

A passer-by with a video camera captured the critical moments.

Murphy checked it in at Clyde's Sport Shop, where clerks said it was the largest trout to come through the door in 50 years. The state record, set in 1987, is 14 pounds, 3 ounces.

Moby Trout, resting comfortably in the freezer, will be an honored edible at the Murphys' hunting cabin on Deep Creek Lake during turkey season. It should feed 12.

The story made Staley's week.

"Just knowing that there are fish in there that big adds some mystery to the whole experience for anglers. For a lot of people, this is as close as they're going to get to the Salmon or the Ausable or the Beaverkill," he said, naming premier trout streams in Idaho and upstate New York.

And for Murphy, even the only low point - drowning his cell phone - had a happy ending. After drying out, the phone crackled to life. It worked perfectly when he told me his story.

"Everything," Murphy said, "went my way."

Tag lines
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•In a news release, the folks at Outdoors Magazine bemoan the shrinking number of secret fishing spots and then urge readers to whisper in their ear and give away what's left. "As fishermen, we want to know what the best spots are to fly-fish in your area," editor Kyle Scanlon says. "If we use your spot, we will put you in a drawing to win a one-night stay for two at Pine Grove Lodge." Ummm, dude, if I tell you and then you tell your readers, that's not secret, right? ...

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