The Greatest Fishing Story Never ToldMarch 4, 2019 | 455 Views
By Don Wells
On June 16, Rodney Bennett will arrive at The Clubhouse with his son Jordan to take part in this year’s annual Father’s Day Derby. But this is no ordinary fishing trip for Rodney. He was at The Clubhouse once before, exactly 22 years ago, and what happened on that trip in the summer of 1997 may well be the most talked-about fishing experience in the history of The Clubhouse, if not the entire West Coast Fishing Club.
“It was the fishing story of a lifetime, there’s no doubt about that but here’s the kicker,” said Rodney. “I got back to work and I couldn’t tell anybody about it!”
Just as Rodney and his fishing partner were about to pull up their lines at the end of their second day on the water, something big started to strip out line on one of the stern rods. Rodney grabbed it and realized immediately he was in for a fight. With no sign of the fish slowing down or reversing directions, guide Conrad Povajnuk revved the motor and gave chase to what he assumed was a shark. For the next three hours it was man against beast, but as darkness set in the beast showed no signs of tiring. Just before 10 pm, Conrad radioed The Clubhouse for back-up.
Two guide boats were dispatched to shine spotlights on the scene. “At about 11 o’clock or so, either he gave out or I gave out, but we got it up to the boat,” recalled Rodney over the phone recently from his home in Nashville. The fish was large, flat and almost perfectly circular, covered entirely with large spots and spectacular coloration, particularly on the tail and fins which were bright orange. It took all three of the boat’s occupants to pull it aboard. “Conrad looked at it and said: ‘My god I don’t know what that is.’ A guide in one of the other boats said: ‘It’s a sunfish!’ Conrad said, ‘no it isn’t. It has a tail fin!’”
By the time the trio of boats returned to the marina, a sizable crowd of guests and guides had gathered on the dock anxious to see what the ocean had yielded. Not a soul could identify the mystery fish. Somebody shouted for some ice and a large container while Rodney, thoroughly exhausted, made his way up the hill to the lodge, had a quick bite to eat and fell into a deep sleep.
The following morning, he looked out into the cove and saw a red coast guard vessel tied up. On board was a fisheries biologist who correctly identified the fish as an Opah, a species that is common in the Pacific waters of southern California and the Baja Peninsula but unheard of in the north Pacific. Although 1997 was an El Nino year (characterized by a warming in the Pacific Ocean), the appearance of the Opah on an angler’s line at 53 degrees north latitude was unprecedented at the time and remains unrepeated in the time since.
Today the perfectly preserved 104-pound Opah is displayed prominently on a wall in The Clubhouse, the result of a deal between Rodney and Rick Grange, The Club’s late co-founder, who had a taxidermist make an exact replica for Rodney in exchange for the original. But while the fish mounted at The Clubhouse gets talked about by curious guests on almost every trip, not one of Rodney’s business friends and colleagues back home in Tennessee ever found out what he encountered that night on the waters off Langara Island. For that matter, they still don’t even know he was there.
“It was the fishing story of a lifetime, there’s no doubt about that but here’s the kicker,” said Rodney. “I got back to work, and I couldn’t tell anybody about it.”
At the time of his historic catch, he was a manager of purchasing for one of the USA’s largest restaurant companies and was deeply committed to ethical procurement practises. So, when one of the firm’s suppliers invited him on a corporate trip to The Clubhouse, he hesitated. “I decided that I should tell my boss about the invitation and see what he thought. He said: ‘Go ahead, but with one caveat – don’t tell anybody else that you went!’”
And so, for the past 22 years Rodney has remained tight-lipped about his trip to The Clubhouse and catching the Opah, not to mention the 43-pound chinook salmon he caught on the final day, a fish that turned out to be the largest for any guest on the trip. His good fortune as an angler may have seemed remarkable to his fellow guests, but not to his family back home.
“He is one of the luckiest people on the face of the earth,” said Jordan, an engineer for Apple. We took him to Vegas for his 70th birthday and left him at a table and suddenly, he was up five hundred dollars! He’s been jacking us up about the trip in June, telling us he’s going to catch another Opah. I wouldn’t bet against him.”
Not surprisingly, Rodney has always hoped to make a return trip to The Clubhouse and had recently consulted with his wife about doing just that. But on the day after Christmas, Jordan told his dad that he had something special to tell him. “He told me, ‘we’re going fishing,’” Rodney explained. “I said ‘Good!’ And then he said, ‘we’re going fishing with The West Coast Fishing Club.’ I thought he was kidding me, but he said no. I thought that was pretty nice of my son to do that.”
There can be no question that the trip to The Clubhouse – on Father’s Day no less – will be a highlight for both father and son, as well as for Jordan’s father-in-law Heath Harden who will be joining them. “Is Survivorman going to be there?” Rodney asks in reference to Les Stroud, host of the popular network television series who will again be a special guest along with son, Logan.
“Wow….wow…” he says wistfully over the phone line. “I’m ready!”
Rodney Bennett’s chances of catching another Opah are extremely remote, but if his luck holds out there is no telling what will happen when he sets out once again upon the mystical waters of Haida Gwaii.
And this time he can tell anybody he wants.
JOIN US ON THIS YEAR’S FATHER’S DAY DERBY. BOOK BEFORE IT SELLS OUT!
Join our Father’s Day Derby at The Clubhouse June 16-20. Rodney and Jordan will be in attendance to celebrate Rodney’s historic catch. Only a handful of spots remain so call us at 1-888-432-6666 or email info@westcoastfishingclub to book.
Learn more about our Father’s Day Derby here.