A truly enjoyable benefit about being a professional fishing outfitter are the friendships you build with repeat clients. The Engel family is one those groups to me. Paul Engel (father) Greg and Tom (sons) always stop in for a day of world class catfishing with me as they head up north on one of their annual Manitoba fishing vacations.
Of all my regular clients these guys just have a knack for catching big fish. 38”+ channel cats are not that easy to come by but these guys manage to land monsters every time they are here. It’s really kind of unbelievable. Last year Tom caught one of the biggest cats I have ever had in my boat measuring only 38.5 inches but weighing in at 32.8 lbs. The same day Paul got a 39 incher which was equally as impressive of a fish just not quite as heavy probably closer to 28lbs. It was a trip to remember, but little did they know it at the time it would be Paul’s last trip to the Red. This past year the guys tragically lost their beloved father after a tough battle with cancer. Their father and fishing partner now off to rest leaving behind his beloved family and a life well lived.
I always say the best way to grieve is not to mourn the loss but to celebrate the life lived and the influence they had on you. Another trip to the mighty Red was planned by the boys, one man short this time, and it was to be a special one on so many fronts.
June 9th 2017 the boys arrive at the Selkirk park boat launch ready for their trip. We meet, exchange greetings with a somber acknowledgment of Paul’s physical absence, however we all know he is there with us in spirt. This will be the Paul Engel memorial catfishing trip and none of us realize just how spectacular it will be.
We start off with Greg tossing bobbers (corking) at the dam for kitties while Tom mans the back lines. Greg just loves corking. It’s what he looks forward to ever since I introduced it to him a few trips back. Once he’s got that bobber cat rod in his hands at the front of the boat well you might as well forget about him because he isn’t coming down for nothing. The bite is fast and furious on all fronts and before you know it, we were scrambling with triple headers all morning. Now I have to say thinking back on past record setting trips, I never really figured they would end up being spectacular days until half way through the day, and this day was no different.
After 3 hour of pounding fish the bite lets up a hair and we make a move to catch cats where I can also stock up on bait. We make quick work on another 10 fish limit of goldeye for bait all the while catching cats off the back. Remember I said these guys get big fish? Well yeah, I forgot to mention Tom already caught a 38.5 inch tank at the dam in the morning. Normally a really big fish is the highlight but on this day it’s merely a conversation piece.
I started to make note that we were getting up there for numbers. I am a little fuzzy here but by 12:30 I think we were already at 44 cats and I was starting to wonder hmmm… maybe? The cats were “showing their cards” (cats are terrible poker players) and busting goldeye all over the surface in the current seam next to us. I figured we would make another move into the fire and if the bite continued the way it was we would be taking a shot at my boat record of 65 cats in a day with guests. That moved paid off and probably produced the hottest action of the day and it was an assembly line of reeling in cats, baiting hooks and repeat.
Well Fast forward, 2 moves later at 3:34pm, a new Blackwater Cats guest record long in the bag and a minute before I start packing up gear to be back at the dock by 4:00pm, Tom hooks into fish number 80. WOW what a day!
As we were reeling the lines in to quit, the added significance of the number 80 was revealed as Greg says OH I just missed one and uncharacteristically rips his line in and says “80 is a good number we’re done”. You see in 1980 Paul, Tom and Greg were all at a historic event together. They were all at the “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid New York. For those of you not aware of what that is the 1980 U.S.A men’s Olympic Ice hockey team were massive underdogs yet achieved one of the biggest upsets in hockey history winning the Olympic Ice hockey gold medal by beating the defending gold medalists, the Soviet Union.
To commemorate this event they had received 3 Vintage Team USA jersey’s all with the number 80 and “Miracle” on the back. They got pictures of all three of them posing in their jerseys not long before Paul’s untimely passing. I’ll let that soak in and you can draw your own conclusions but it kind of sends chills down my spine and makes me smile all at the same time.
I look forward to next year with the Engel boys.
R.I.P. Paul Engel
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