On July 26, 1999 Don Hoglund, President of Granite Audio, caught "Big Otto".  At the time, Otto was the 1999 Arizona State Record German Brown Trout.  Otto was the biggest brown taken in Arizona in 15 years and the biggest ever from Woods Canyon Lake.  Official weight 10 pounds 11 ounces, and 26.5 inches.  It took 45 minutes to net Otto on a 4# test line and ultra-lite rod.  This is the whole story and it's all true.

"BIG OTTO" was taken at Woods Canyon Lake on the scenic Mogollon Rim in Arizona.  I've fished about every lake and stream in Arizona, and this lake is the most beautiful!  The next page has some breathtaking photos of this Arizona jewel as well as "Big Otto" himself.

After fishing Woods Canyon for 30 years I was ready to catch something bigger than the thousands of 9" trout I'd already caught and eaten.  Oh don't get me wrong, those 9 inchers make for a great meal.  Just ask Otto.  They're his usual diet too.  But, things were different on Monday July 26.  I was standing in the lake store contemplating a new lure.  Up above the lures there are several previous record fish mounted on the wall.  The largest was another big brown caught on a Rebel Black Crickhopper.  I wanted one of those.  So, I took the lure up to the register and while paying for it I told Bette, the store owner, "I'm getting this lure and then I'm catching one of those monster browns like you have on the back wall."

Bette chuckled and said "Good luck!"  She gave me some priceless advice about how to rig the lure with a weight to take it down to where the big ones lay in wait.  This was about 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  By 4:30 PM Larry and I were on the water in my inflatable Sevylor boat.  Around 5:45 PM we were trolling at the deep end of the lake and contemplating the major storm that was closing in on us.  We added extra layers of clothes to brace against the chill.  The sky had turned charcoal gray and the first rain drops had started tapping the boat hull with little hollow thumps.  A powerful thunderstorm was cracking and slapping the earth less than a mile away.  Larry and I were tired and fishless.  We had caught at least 3 dozen small fish and put them back to grow bigger or be caught by some youngster who would imagine them to be as big as they thought they were.  I threw one back that was barely bigger than my Crickhopper luThat's when it happened.  My line started to stretch out and there was no "wiggle" on the end of it.  I gave a few instinctual tugs to either set the hook or yank it loose of whatever I'd hooked on the lake bottom.  My lure was out about 120 yards and had to be near the lake bottom at 45 feet down.  The tugs yielded nothing.  My Minnkota electric trolling motor was in first gear taking my rubber craft further from the snag and stretching the line to it's limit.  Aaaaaargh!  My first thoughts were that I'd snagged the bottom but good and was about to lose my brand new $5.00 lure and most of my brand new Berkley line.  I always put on fresh line when I'm going after the big ones because the big ones will break an old damaged line.

I put the trolling motor in reverse and we headed back to the snag to save as much line as possible.  It took 10 minutes or so to backtrack, with me tugging and jerking the line all the way.  When we got above the snag Larry wound the line around his hand and pulled like he was lifting weights.  The dead weight on the end didn't budge.  Not even a little.  Larry pulled until the line was cutting into his skin.  I told him to let go of the line so I could reel in as much as possible before cutting it and losing the new lure.  Larry let go and I started reeling in the slack.  I reeled in so much line that I thought it was already broken.  As the line came in I looked around at the looming storm and the lake.  We were the last boat on the lake.  More sensible fishermen had already headed for cover.  As I scanned across the water I saw something floating on the water about 30 feet out.  I called to Larry to see what it was.  Just then a bolt of lightning burst bright overhead and for a moment the object flashed a shiny dirty brown color. "It's a boot!"  Larry, "What?"   As I took the line in and the slack came out of the water I could see that the boot was on the end of my line.  "It's a boot.  I've caught some idiot's boot."  Larry, "What?"  "I caught a boot.  We dragged some idiot's boot up from the bottom of the lake."  Larry, "What are you talking about?"  Just then I hit the end of the slack and the last crank on the Shimano spin cast reel gave a tug on the boot.

The boot's tail went up in the air and it's nose went down.  There was an explosion in the water and my drag started going out wizzzzzzzzzzz!  As I watched in amazement my spool was emptying faster than a Saturn Five rocket.  "It's a fish!  It's a fish!"  Larry, "What?"  "It's a fish.  I've got a monster fish!"  Larry, "What about the boot?"  "It's a fish."  Larry, "Where's the boot?"  "It's a fish the size of a boot!"  Larry, "What?"  "Drop

everything.  I've caught a fish the size of a man's cowboy boot."  Larry had no idea what was going on except for the unmistakable whir of my drag screaming out at lightning speed.  The drag was so loud you could hear it over the now pounding thunder.  Big Otto had come to the surface for a little breather.  He had laid on the bottom for 15 minutes waiting for us to break the line and go away like so many others before us I'm sure.  When Otto's Plan A didn't work he decided to get ready for the monster fight and his certain return to freedom.

I've caught a lot of 18 inch browns in my time and knew to expect some serious action.  I knew there would be a long fight and lots of whilily fish tricks.  Browns are the hardest to hook and the hardest to net of all the trout.  But, I was not prepared for all Otto's tricks.  He taught me a new one.  He first did the standard deeds.  He headed for the prop first and tried to wind the line around it.  I used my other hand to hit the reverse switch.  The Minnkota has three reverse speeds and I used all three to make Otto chase the prop without catching it.  He made at least a half dozen runs at his first standby ploy.  When Plan B failed him, no problem.  Otto had a formidable arsenal of plans to turn to.  He instinctually went to Plan C and headed for the shore to wind the line around some tree stumps that had invaded the lake.  Uh, oh.  There was no way for me to move the trees out of his reach.  And, restraining Otto was going to be a major challenge with only 4 pound test line.  My mind was racing.  How much strain could the new Berkley Trilene line take?  From past experience I new it could take plenty more than you would think.  But, I knew I couldn't totally rely on the line to hold Otto if he decided to do something drastic.  I kept the drag set so he could take the line whenever he wanted.  It would wear him down but not break.  But, I couldn't keep him from the shore.  With the motor off he was dragging the boat and taking more line.

In seconds he would have the line wrapped around the lone tree trunk, snap it, and the dual would be over.  I went for the motor once again.  With five forward speeds the first gear is only 3 pounds of thrust.  Perfect.  I planned to "tow" him back to deep water without tightening the drag or risking more strain on the light 4# line.  I had to wear him down without getting the drag so tight he could snap it or giving him enough roaming room to wind it around something.  My plan worked.  Otto was back in deep water, but he still wasn't worried yet.  Otto was just getting started at 30 minutes into this exciting match.  My heart was racing.  My mind was trying to keep up.  What would he do next?  Larry was yelling, "Don't you lose him.  Take your time.  Wear him down.  You can't force him."  Otto had already taken the line out a dozen times, only to take it out again every time I reeled him close enough to see the boat again.  So many times I gingerly pulled him close only to watch him rip the line off my spool again at will.  I watched helplessly as this clever thief stole my line off my spool.

Time for Plan D.  Otto took the line out perpendicular to the boat hull about 30 feet in a split second.  When it didn't break he turned on a dime and charged the boat.  I could see him coming straight for us like a speeding torpedo.  What was he up to?  He shot under the boat at full speed and started sawing the line against the hull.  That little rascal. 

I'd never seen this before.  He did this maneuver a half dozen times.  He would shoot out about 30 feet away from the boat and then run back to saw the line he'd taken off my spool.  Otto, all by himself, gave my Shimano reel more of a workout than the previous thousand fish I'd caught on it.  I don't know that I would have netted Otto without the "Fighting Drag" feature that allowed me to change the drag quickly and easily while in the heat of the fight.

When Otto's Plan D failed he was mad.  He had sawed the line in vain.  I wondered how many times he'd cut other's lines on the jagged hulls, protruding rivets, and sharp edged patches on the 60 rental boats at Woods Canyon Lake?  I guessed Otto saved this exercise for last because it obviously took a lot of energy to take the line out and then swerve back and forth for the sawing motion.  It was certain that Otto had done his homework in the fish "school" of life.  But, his plan was useless on the smooth vinyl hull of the Sevylor raft.