LIGHTNING DOES STRIKE TWICE
As fisherman reel in another season on Maligne Lake, The Jasper Local recalls a fish tale of record proportions
For Hinton’s David Robson, the year of the trout was 1984.
That was the year the self-described fishing fanatic landed what still stands as the second biggest brook trout ever caught in Alberta—a whopping 12 pounds, 13 ounces.
Robson is a die-hard outdoorsman, his aluminum boat is a regular presence on Jasper National Park waters and the silhouette of his feather-adorned, wide brimmed hat bobbing in Maligne Lake’s glacial bays can practically be seen from Curly’s boathouse. If you still weren’t sure who it was that caught the biggest brookie in Maligne, saddle up ‘round the campfire at Fisherman’s Bay—Robson still carts around the photographic evidence.
“My quest started in 1979,” he begins. “An old guy who had fished Maligne for more than 40 years told me there were fish over 10 pounds in that lake.”
At that time, a 24-year-old Robson’s curiosity was piqued, but he wondered if what that old timer said was true. Every time Robson let out line in Jasper National Park’s largest body of water, he imagined what he’d do if he hooked into a double-digit lunker.
“The old guy said you would only get one or two chances in your life, but most people wouldn’t land them,” he recalled. “But they were there.”
Five years later, in June, 1984, the ice had just come off of Maligne Lake. It was Robson’s 29th birthday. Robson, his fiancé and his nephew had taken advantage of the “Fisherman’s Special”—a service offered by Maligne Tours in those days that would ferry the fisherman, along with their watercraft, to Spirit Island—and were settling in for a few nights out on the lake. On their last evening, as they trolled back to camp with supper on the stringer and reflecting on a special trip, his fiancé’s rod bowed deeply.
“I looked over and saw and heard what I had been hoping for the last five years,” he said. “The line was peeling out and the rod was bent right over and not coming up.”
The reel sang as the fish plunged deep into the water, taking run after run. As it slowly relented to his fiancé’s rod pressure and came to the surface, Robson’s nephew spotted it. In the clear water the fish looked three times bigger than any other fish they’d ever landed.
“I knew then that we had a fish of a lifetime on,” Robson said.
Fifteen minutes later, the beast came to the surface. Robson will never forget the feeling of seeing that fish for the first time.
“Wow, what a sight. A 28-inch-plus male brook trout in full spawning colours. The kype nose and jaw, then boom! Back to the bottom and another run.”
Forty five minutes into the fight, his fiancé’s arms were burning. She passed the rod to Robson but the line was slack.
“I was praying that it was still on, as I reeled in I could see the line start to tighten up. I was ecstatic.”
Robson continued to work the fish closer to the boat. Finally, he got it within reach of his net. But as he bent down to scoop the massive trout, he let the rod tip dip. The line slackened and the hook came loose. Robson felt sick as he saw the green Doc Spratley fly float away from the fish.
“He didn’t even know he was off!” Robson recalled.
The giant fish floated there for a moment, just out of reach, before a slow wag of its tail moved it down into the water column. The fish of a lifetime was gone. Robson was heartbroken, not to mention furious with himself.
“It’s still a nightmare to me,” he said.
Eleven days and 10 sleepless nights later, Robson was again on the Fisherman’s Special. This time it was him and two buddies, and as they putted along near the lakeshore his friends chided him. They each had landed their share of fish and poked fun at Robson for getting shook off multiple times. Suddenly, as they neared Fisherman’s Bay, his friend got a hit. Instinctively, Robson grabbed his own rod. His friend missed the fish but now Robson had a bite.
Another take and Robson set the hook. The fight was on.
“The line was peeling out like it did for the male 11 days earlier,” he said.
His friends joked that he had hooked bottom, but Robson knew this was no snag. Twenty minutes later, he had visual proof. This fish was as least as long as the male that got away. It was a hen of legendary proportions.
Lightning apparently did strike twice.
“I had to lead her out from shore three times into 120 feet of water,” Robson said.
With his heart racing, what seemed like an eternity passed. Finally Robson got the fish close enough to the boat that he could net it. Although his friend offered to help, Robson declined.
“If I lose her it’ll be my fault,” he stated.
Learning from his mistake 11 days earlier, Robson kept the line tight. As the brook trout turned on her side, he carefully slipped the net under her. His trophy trout was landed.
“I let out a primal yell that could be heard in Jasper,” he laughed.
Speeding to Spirit Island to record what Robson hoped might be a record fish, they were greeted by the Dean of Maligne himself—Jasper’s Bill Ruddy. The legendary Jasper entrepreneur and former owner of Maligne Tours took one look at Robson’s fish and rushed to get his camera.
“Keep it wet,” he told Robson. “You’re losing weight.”
The fish was indeed bleeding out; Robson’s initial weighing of 14 pounds was eventually downgraded to just under 13. She measured 29.5 inches long and is recorded in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a world record for line class and the second heaviest brook trout caught in Alberta.
These days, Robson is the old timer telling young fisherman that the fish of a lifetime is out there.
“Are there bigger brook trout in Maligne?” he asks. “I would have to say yes.”