When Tom Yacovella peered over the side of his 12-foot Sea Nymph at the potential record-setting brookie below, he said a quick prayer.
"I said, 'God, just let me get this one in the boat and I promise I'll be good,'" he said with a laugh.
Minutes later, Yacovella's prayers were answered as he eased the 5-pound, 4-ounce brookie to the net. At just 21-inches, the football-shaped female had a massive girth of 15 inches.
He caught the monster June 7 on Raquette Lake in 24 feet of water on a three-and-a-half-inch Rapala. Yacovella described the fight as "vicious" and said he is still amazed he was able to boat the fish by himself.
The fish has been certified by the state and appears to have broken the former state record set by Jesse Yousey in 2006 by five ounces. An official state announcement is pending.
While Yacovella has 52-plus years of brook trout fishing experience under his belt, he said he never thought he'd hold one of the most coveted freshwater records in the state.
In fact, he didn't set out that spring day to set a record - only beat his personal best of a four-pounder.
But, as fate would have it, the Utica-based wildlife artist and avid outdoorsman managed both.
For Yacovella, it was the ultimate culmination of a lifelong love affair with native brookies.
"I'm still in shock, it seems surreal," Yacovella said. "I absolutely love brook trout. I think they are the purest strain in the Northeast."
Although humble about the feat, Yacovella is most certainly deserving of the big fish. Those who know him are well aware of his attention to detail - a fact evident in his artwork as well as his outdoor pursuits.
In a recent discussion about the record fish, Yacovella quoted French chemist Louis Pasteur, who said "chance favors the prepared mind."
"In other words, the harder you work at something, the luckier you get," Yacovella said. "Sure, there is luck involved, but the more prepared you are the better your chance of success."
From that perspective, Yacovella is a student of the brookie. From the conditions of the day to line weight and color, Yacovella left little to chance. He chose to fish June 7 "because there was a slight ripple and it was overcast," and because "the black flies were at their worst."
On smaller ponds, Yacovella runs the age-old favorite of a Lake Clear Wabbler and a worm. On larger water, like Raquette, he prefers a minnow imitation. He runs 6-pound test to a three-way swivel, with a pencil-lead sinker pulling it down and a 48-inch, 4-pound leader to a floating Rapala.
"I feel that keeps the lure tracking straight and gives it the most realistic action," he said.
Because Yacovella runs such a light leader, he constantly checks for frays and changes them often. He prefers steelhead rods of 9-feet or longer with a fast-action tip, to ensure the fish is fighting the pole and not the reel or line - and relies on back reeling big fish instead of his drag.
Finally, Yacovella studies thermoclines, and intentionally weighted his Rapala that day to run at 24 feet - above the lakers and below the smallmouths.
It was a combination the big brookie found irresistible.
Ironically, when the brookie was being certified by Dave Erway, the fisheries biologist in the Department of Environmental Conservation's Utica office, a three-inch minnow was found in the fish's gullet.
"I told my buddies I intentionally matched the hatch," Yacovella said with another quick laugh.
To be certified for a state record, a brook trout must be dissected by a state biologist like Erway who counts its pyloric caeca - or the finger-like projections in the small intestines. Brookies have between 20-55, splake between 65-90 and lakers between 95-200.
Yacovella's fish had 37, making it easily certifiable.
While Yacovella has been fishing Raquette for years, he readily admits the number of brookies he's taken there are few.
Still, he held no doubt Raquette had the potential to produce a slammer - he'd seen evidence of that on a past ice fishing trip.
So, he intentionally targeted the species, and said he was content to wait all day if need be, which he very nearly did. The trip began at 5:30 a.m. and Yacovella's fish hit at 3:30 in the afternoon.
It was his only hit of the day.
"In my mind, anything that gets that big is either lucky or selective, so you have to be prepared to put in your time," he said.
Other photographs of Yacovella's trophy fish can be seen on his Web site, www.tomyacovella.com.
Steak Bake planned at Hague Fish & Game
Steve Ramant of the Hague Fish & Game Club dropped me a line last week to get some publicity for the club's annual Steak Bake, which will take place July 11. The dinner will consist of a grilled New York strip steak from Green Mountain, baked potato, salad, roll and desert - all for only $13. Refreshments for both adults and kids will be available on a donation, ticket basis.
In addition to the meal, a horseshoe tournament will start at 2 p.m., Ramant said. There will be a $5 per-person entry fee and a blind draw for teams. Prizes will be awarded for first and second places.
"In addition, a famous local DJ will be spinning your favorite tune for your enjoyment in the sunset set hours," Ramant said.
Ramant also encouraged attendees to check out the newly completed range shelter. The shelter has been and will continue to provide many hours of enjoyment for club members, he said.
"As your eating, I'm sure you'll see the Clubhouse's many renovations as well as the new tables, and 4 screen Direct TV service. Ask any member for for a membership form & join in the fun. See you on the 11th & come hungry," Ramant said.
Fishing tournament planned at Lincoln Pond
The Elizabethtown Fish & Game will host a fishing tournament at Lincoln Pond on July 12. The event is designed to raise funds for the local club and is open to all ages. The entry fee is $10 for those who register before June 30 and $20 thereafter.
Those interested can call Angie Wallace at 873-3277 for additional information.
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.