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Thursday, 28 February 2013 00:00

The Big Year

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The Big Year Photographs by Chris Funk

A few years ago, there was a movie called The Big Year about crazy bird watchers chasing as many species as they could. I wish I could say they got the idea from me, because I have had my big year planned for a while. The major difference was my big year wasn’t about chasing birds; it was all about chasing fish.

For most of my 30s, I had been planning a special adventure. I had set in my mind to try to catch forty species of fish in my 40th calendar year. Any legal method would count and size wouldn’t matter - this was all for fun. As January rolled in, I was already planning my attack. A work trip to Florida gave me my first chance to hit the salt. A little free time brought the first three species to the kayak: a trout, a red, and a flounder. Before I left Florida, a couple of new kayaking friends let me accompany them on an excursion. With their help, I added several new fish and brought the tally to 17 species.

chris funk big tuna shark

My first shark from a kayak

One unforeseen benefit of my adventure was that every time I had a fish on the line, it was like a gift. Each new species was like a small victory, and the anticipation of something new was intense! As my home Alabama water warmed up so did the fishing, and I quickly knocked out a few more species on several trips. There were a few highlights on those trips, such as six species one night on a bowfishing trip with my son, and three species of bass on one day. The three bass species were a largemouth, spotted bass and a shoal bass - we call that a Chattahoochee Slam. A bonus fish came on a trip while working with my wife on her fly casting. A small sunfish hit my popper. As I went to unhook it, I noticed the brilliant markings of a pumpkinseed. Normally a small sunfish would not be exciting, but being a new member of the list put this fish at trophy status!

chris funk popper panfish

Not all of this adventure has been fun, though; there have been a few heartbreaks. A giant white crappie straightened the hook out right beside the boat, and I did not hook another the whole year even though I tried several times. Bowfin eluded me all year, and they are usually easy for me to catch. To add insult to injury, I have caught three bowfin in the first two weeks of 2013! A grass carp is one of our usual bowfishing species, and every contact I had with one during my big year ended up with me on the losing side. To be so close to adding a species and lose it at the side of the boat was heart breaking.

The day before my Big Four Oh, I was in fishing heaven. I was floating on a mountain lake in Montana with my bride, son, and our guide Bob. As my fly rod bent double, I was standing at 39 species. All I had to do was to land that trout and my goal would be met. When that bead head fly came zipping past my head and the rainbow swam free I was dejected. It wasn’t long before one of those beautiful trout blessed me with its presence and became the 40th species in my 40th year. It was a moment of mixed emotion when I thought about having nothing more to chase.

chris funk red snapper

The biggest red snapper of my life!

As I watched the trout swim away in that clear mountain water, I amended my original goal from 40 to as many species as I could catch till the end of the year. That goal kept me wondering what kind of critter I was battling every time there was a bend in the rod. Not all of the species were glamorous or attention grabbing, like the tiny puffer fish or the homely oyster toadfish. Some were special to me, like my first ever wahoo, the biggest red snapper of my life, or the first shark from my kayak.

chris funk small puffer

I caught fish on many types of gear: fly, spinning, baitcasting, cane poles, bowfishing gear, and cast nets for bait. I fished on foot; off piers, beaches, and river banks; and in kayaks, powerboats, and even a big deep sea rig. The people I have met and the places I have seen this year have been a true blessing. It has been an adventure since day one and will always rest in my memory as my big year.

On New Year’s Eve I stood on the banks of a north Georgia stream with one last hope of increasing my total. My son’s fly rod bowed over and a beautiful brook trout came to hand. He said, “Dad, that’s the one you needed.” I have to admit I would love to have caught a brookie, because I still haven’t added that fish to my life list. The sun set without me landing a brook trout, and my list stopped at 75 species.

The time spent with my bride, my son, friends old and new, and the beautiful fish I was allowed to capture through the year will forever stay with me. Who knows what the water holds for my adventures in 2013? I will let you in on this part though; my list already has two species I have never caught before!

Read 9935 times Last modified on Wednesday, 27 February 2013 20:58
Chris Funk

Chris Funk is an avid outdoorsman and rabid photographer. He tells folks his life revolves around 6 "F"s, his Faith,Family,Fur,Fins,Feathers and Fotography. He paddles all over the Southeast with his bride Angie and son Ethan. They fish for any critter that will tighten a line and it doesn't matter if it is with conventional gear, fly gear or bowfishing gear. He and his son are on the Jackson kayak fishing team and the whole family helps with an awesome group called Paddle4Tomorrow that gets people with special needs out for a day of paddling.


# Heywood 2013-02-28 08:08
Glad to be a part of the quest Chris.
# Hammerhead 2013-02-28 08:23
I loved the idea when I first heard you describe your goal last year. And it sounds like it was a great adventure for you and your family, and I have enjoyed watching it from a distance. I turn 40 next year and now I'm wondering what I should try to do.
# mdelprin 2013-02-28 15:08
Great Read!!! Thank you for sharing!
# smj190 2013-02-28 17:59
Fantastic! Thank you very much for sharing.
# Cathy Greene 2013-03-04 07:54
Your article is wonderful! Once again you've made your old school marm proud! I'm actually amazed you were truly paying attention during those composition lessons :lol:
I need to hook you up with my baby brother, a regional manager with Pure Fishing. It's not difficult to imagine the two of you talking for hours on end about his great love also, fishing.
Please stay in touch. I think of you often too.

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