A fish story that could have been worth big bucks

The pleasure of fishing with friends is twofold. First, there are those treasured memories of time spent on the water and the special things that happen there.

Those experiences beget equally wonderful stories that like a fine wine are worth savoring and improve with age. Many of those reminiscences begin simply with “Do you remember the time”

So far this spring, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with several of my favorite fishing companions and share a few more good days on the water. One was back in April when Mike Hoover found me along the Juniata River fishing for smallmouths one afternoon. For the past couple seasons, we’ve had a grand time fishing the river together during the summer and fall in our kayaks, but I had also coaxed him to come with me in the spring and fish tube jigs for the pre-spawn river bass. The bass made me look like a genius that day as we caught fish on tubes well into the evening.

Last week, Shawn Bernecky and I pulled the late shift on the Little Juniata River for some dry-fly fishing.

Among the many subjects discussed that evening was the adversity of trying to tie on a size 16 Sulphur Spinner in the fading twilight while standing hip-deep in the stream. I seemed to recall that was one of my prime motivations for becoming a nymph fisherman so many years ago.

As Shawn had predicted, most of the insect activity that evening came after 8 p.m., and we each managed to take several trout during the next hour before the feeding frenzy subsided almost as quickly as it began.

On Memorial Day, I fished for smallmouths on the Juniata River with my friend Jason Haberstroh of Latrobe. Jason and I have fished many waters in Pennsylvania together over the past seven or eight years, and most of those trips have produced plenty of great fishing memories. But Jason experienced what amounts to a most unique fishing story while fishing by himself a couple of weeks ago, but before I tell it here, I’ll need to provide some background information.

Over the past three years Cabela’s has sponsored a Fish for Millions contest. For this year’s event, which began on May 4 and runs through July 7, 1,500 specially tagged fish were released into selected waters of 22 states.

Anglers who catch one of those tagged fish can win prizes ranging from gift cards, fishing tackle, boats, a Chevy truck and other merchandise.

One grand-prize fish has the potential to be worth from $10,000 to $2 million, depending on when it is caught and some other rules considerations.

With that kind of money on the line, there are a bunch of rules to comply with, of course, and complete contest information can be found on the Cabela’s website ( Anglers catching a tagged fish are required to submit digital photo of the fish showing the tag, then to remove the tag and release the fish.

To claim a prize, the angler must report the catch on the website as instructed. To be eligible for the big cash prize, however, an angler must also have registered for the contest online before catching the winning fish.

I’m not sure how one would calculate the odds of catching one of the Cabela’s tagged fish, but I imagine they would be about as remote as being struck by lightning, hit by a meteorite and winning the lottery all on the same day.

In spite of that, I have registered for the contest because several of the 12 waterways in Pennsylvania that have tagged fish are places like Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County, Sayers Lake in Centre County and Presque Isle Bay in Erie County, where I fish regularly, so why not sign up just in case Lady Luck smiles on me one time.

Keystone Lake in Westmoreland County is also in the contest, and Jason fishes there often, so you might now begin to guess where this tale is headed. On a recent trip to Keystone, he boated a two-pound largemouth bass that displayed an official Fish for Millions tag next to its dorsal fin.

Unfortunately, my friend had neglected to register for the contest this year, so he took a photo of the tagged fish and released it. Needless to say, he is now registered and has been spending lots of time back at the lake trying to coax that bass back into his boat again for a chance at some huge prize.

I’m rooting for him to do it. That would make an even better story down the road.