Tony Yap on San Luis Reservoir

It’s a savage task, wrangling old comrades for a day on the water when the piscatorial gods are as unpredictable as a three-legged mule on a greasy slope. These jaunts are fraught with complications—not least because the ravages of time have clawed at my friends, leaving them speckled with ailments and age. But these old warriors are legends of the line; they know the electric thrill of a stellar day on the lake like the back of their gnarled hands.

Tony barrelled into my driveway an hour early, his eyes alight with the old fire. The day loomed large—the sort you mark on the calendar and watch approach with a mix of dread and anticipation. As we rolled towards the lake, the conversation veered from the mystic rituals of catch and release—our asian families never quite got that—to the leviathans of our youth and the ghosts of comrades no longer by our side. Tony, ever the sage, was prepping for a casting seminar. “Just need a couple of good ones today,” he chuckled, “show those greenhorns what they’re aiming for.”

The lake was a hive of activity, 17 other vessels churning the morning mist. Perfect. More boats meant less hassle from the dam monitors, those ever-vigilant buzzkills. We set course for the trash racks, a spot that had paid dividends last week. The fish were there and somewhat cooperative,   We dredged a few up with our weighted craft fur clousers and t-14 lines.    After bagging a dozen solid fighters just under keeper size, we ventured to the notorious Bay of Pigs, hunting bigger game. My last jaunt here was a masterclass in what I affectionately term ‘Crawdadin”—pulling dark brown and orange clousers over the rocks to mimic the scuttle of a fleeing crustacean. I snagged a couple of keepers, but Tony drew blanks.

As the sun clawed its way higher, the day’s madness truly began. A bald eagle swooped, a flash of feathered grandeur snatching a shad in a spray of silver. I cast shad flies into the schools of Shad that surface in May, half-expecting miracles in the shimmering chaos, but the lake held its secrets close. We shifted tactics, heading to the dam’s rugged north Dam near Monument, where the true behemoths lurked.

We flailed away at the dam north of the Racks, and I boated another keeper. But Tony was floundering with the Crawdadin’ technique. “You gotta snag the rocks now and then,” I suggested as I released another fish, “it means you’re in the zone!”  As we approached the end of the dam near Monument,  we both made the 80 ft cast to the rocks and let our flies sink  retrieving them like low flying cruise missiles just above the submerged rocks of the dam.

On his fourth strip,  Tony’s line jerked to a halt—snagged at 20 feet. I swung the trolling motor towards the shore to rescue his fly while madly stripping the slack out of my line avoiding the same fate as Tony,  Then, a sudden halt of my fly line—an ominous stillness. Not a snag, but a pull! I peered into the depths—about 15 feet down, a ghostly flash, a monstrous striper twisting violently at the end of my line, having claimed my faux crawdad for its supper. “Tony, it’s a beast!” I howled, as the behemoth dove, dragging the boat into deeper chaos.   I chased with the trolling motor on high.

The scene turned slapstick fast. Tony on the stern, still snagged, battled the trolling motor’s pull like a mad conductor wrestling his orchestra. Both rods bowed in ludicrous opposition. I couldn’t help but laugh amidst the madness, yelling to Tony over the roar of the chase, “Break it off, man!”

For many an angler, snapping a 17 lb leader is hardly cause for alarm. But for Tony, an octogenarian wielding an antiquated fly line that stretched like taffy, it was akin to an intense session on a Bowflex. As his line finally gave way under the strain, the trolling motor jolted us forward, and the chase was on to catch up with my exiting backing.

Tony, charged with pessimistic excitement, fumbled with his cell phone camera, snapping shots of the striper as it arched magnificently above the water’s surface as it that would be the only shot of the fish.  There’s hardly a spectacle as breathtaking as the sight of a yard-long striper, its back glistening in the sun, breaking the water for the first time in a fierce battle. Tony’s concern was palpable—he feared the fish might slip away. But one glance at the solid hookset, and I knew this leviathan was ours to claim.

Yet, my thrill was tempered by caution; a brute this size could quickly succumb to hypoxia in the lake’s tepid embrace. My instincts told me resuscitation might be a lost cause, so I planned to handle it as little as possible. As the striper neared, I deftly inserted my thin fish grippers between its lock jawed lips, securing it with a tethered clip. This ritual, honed from years of losing giants, allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief as I released the fish,  letting the fish remain in the water breathing, its life preserved by lessons learned from past escapades.

The Insta360 looping cameras failed us, overheated like the rest of us in the relentless sun, capturing nothing of our initial struggle. A reminder, perhaps, that not all tales need digital witnesses.  But I managed to revive them in time to capture the end game and release.

As the day waned, we chased one final glory. Tony, now versed in the dark arts of Crawdadin’, landed a beautiful 22-incher in the Bay of Pigs to end the day with two limits of fish.   We ended the day with a respectable 17 fish including the beast.   The ride back was rough, the wind a herald of the end of an almost mythical day.

Looking ahead, as I imagine fly fishing with the weight of 82 years, I see myself as Tony—grizzled, maybe, but surrounded by the spectral presence of those who taught me the lakes secrets. We caught fish, yes, and witnessed nature’s raw spectacle, but above all, we laughed—laughed like the madmen we are, lords of the lake and its tales.  It was an unforgettable day.

3 thoughts on “Tony Yap on San Luis Reservoir

  1. Meng, great story & video of your day with Tony Yap and the “Monster” Well done & good on Tony for hanging in there when it’s not always easy. Ed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * logo