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When Cob van de Sande headed out onto East Grand Lake with family and friends during February vacation, one day of ice fishing didn’t begin exactly how he’d planned.
In fact, van de Sande’s day couldn’t have begun much worse — or colder.
“It was like negative-4 with the wind blowing 20 [mph],” the 14-year-old from Amherst explained.
But cold weather is part of ice fishing, so he busied himself preparing a trap to catch lake trout, sounding the hole to see how deep the water was (90 feet), and attaching a sucker for bait. Then he lowered the sucker down the hole and had an instant bite.
“So I put my trap down away from the hole and I’m waving and yelling at everyone else, ‘I’ve got a fish, I’ve got a fish,’ and I look over — I’m away from my trap — and my trap’s going across the ice. Sliding across the ice. Something’s pulling it down the hole,” van de Sande said.
The young angler ran after the trap and tried to catch it before the fish hauled it down the hole, and he nearly succeeded.
“So I’m running, trying to get to my trap, and I jumped and shoved my arm down the hole, a little bit past my elbow, all the way down, and felt it on my fingertips,” he said. “I felt it slide down the hole. Gone. The entire trap. With 90 feet of line out.”
His friend Brady Smith, also 14, was fishing nearby, and said that van de Sande’s reaction to the situation didn’t immediately make sense.
“We thought he was injured, because we could hear him yelling but we didn’t know what happened,” Smith said.
Van de Sande explained it differently.
“Brady’s uncle thought I cut my finger off,” he said. “I was freaking out. I’d never had that happen.”
Van de Sande retreated to the ice shack, where he thawed a jacket sleeve that had frozen solid when he pulled his arm out of the lake. His mother told him there was always a chance he’d get his fishing trap back, but van de Sande knew that was extremely unlikely.
Adding insult to injury, some in the fishing party didn’t even believe a whopper of a fish had stolen the trap.
“Nobody bought it,” van de Sande said. “They all thought I kicked it down the hole.”
For hours, van de Sande had time to second-guess his actions, and to wish he’d thought to extend the cross-pieces on the trap, which would have made it less likely to fit down the hole.
Some seven hours later, the day of fishing was over.
Van de Sande pulled each of his traps, calling it a day. And at the last hole — some 400 feet away from where he’d lost his trap that morning — he reeled in the final line of the day.
When he saw the hook and the bait in the hole, he also noticed something odd: There, wrapped gently over the hook, was green ice fishing line.
Van de Sande explained that only one of his traps had green line on the reel — and he’d lost that trap hours earlier.
“I knew instantly [what I had],” van de Sande said. “I just started screaming. ‘I got the trap back!’ I’m waving my arms, yelling. And [everyone] was like, ‘No way!’”
The story gets better.
After he hauled in the line (and the trap), he looked down at the hole, and the length of fishing line that vanished into the darkness. And he began to wonder, to hope.
Then the fish gave a tug.
Seven hours later, the lake trout was still attached to the other end of van de Sande’s line, and after several tense minutes, he hauled the fish to the surface. It was a 30-inch togue that weighed 9 1/2 pounds.
“It was amazing. It’ll never happen to me again,” van de Sande said.
But that doesn’t mean his fishing success was over.
His family was fishing for the entire week, you see. And they weren’t done yet.
“[What happened afterward] won’t top the story, but it’ll top the fish,” van de Sande said. “[On Saturday I caught one that was] 32 1/2 inches, 13 pounds.”
And the topper?
If you head down to East Grand Lake and try your hand at fishing for togue, and you get lucky enough, you might catch one of those fish.
That’s right: van de Sande released them both.