Ask Mike Penney about the one that got away. You won’t get a whale of a tale, but you will hear about his ordeal with a seal.
While fishing sea trout on the Waterford River in St. John’s last week, the Mount Pearl man saw a biggy chase the shrimp he uses as bait.
“I flicked across the river, and as soon as the shrimp hit the water on the other side of the pool, I seen this big black swirl, and I said holy jumpin’s, that’s a dandy.”
Penney reeled in his line and cast again.
When the shrimp hit the water, what he assumed was a gigantic sea trout went after it again.
“I said, I’ll get you this time, and I waited, and when I noticed that the bait was in his mouth, I set my hook like you would hooking a salmon. The pole came right up tight. … I said, I got ya. I had my pole up. The line was taut and nothing happened. He was just there and he started to swim around a bit. … Next thing, up pops the head of the seal.”
Penney says the animal looked at him, and then up on the riverbank. He could see the hook in its lip and the shrimp hanging from its mouth.
He fishes the Waterford regularly and has seen seals there before, but he says they are rare and he’s never had one on the end of a line.
“It’s the biggest mammal I’ve ever hooked on the river.”
Like anyone who fishes for the thrill of the chase, Penney tried to reel the seal in, realizing the odds were against him.
“Well, I had to do something with him,” he laughs. “I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell in landing a seal with catgut line. I just said, well, I’m going to see happens with it. … When he got his mind set to go, he went — hook, line and sinker.”
Penney figures he had the seal on for about two minutes before it bid adieu with his bait.
He believes the animal was full-grown and considers hooking it “quite an experience.”
Penney’s granddaughters were with him. One of them says she fishes all the time but has never seen anything like this.
“I was getting ready to go back to my car and I heard him screaming out, ‘I caught a seal! I caught a seal!’ I ran down and all I seen was this little seal’s head and I thought it was the most extraordinary thing,” recalls Kayla Penney.
And what would she have done if her pop had gotten it ashore?
“Oh my God, I don’t know. … I was really hoping he wouldn’t because we wouldn’t have been able to do anything with a seal. It was interesting, but I was hoping he wouldn’t be able to get it in.”
But Mike Penney knows exactly what he’d do.
Catch and release, he says with a smile.