SANDPOINT — Somewhere, out there in the depths of Lake Pend Oreille, Old Man Sparkles is telling his own fishing story of his daring escape from the hands of a mightly young angler.
“You should see the one who got away …”
Old Man Sparkles — the name given to the 36.5-inch, 22-pound Gerrard trout caught by Sophie Egizi, 8, of Sagle — was recently certified as a state record for catch-and-release for the species by the Idaho Fish and Game. Sophie, the daughter of Bob and Jessi Egizi, caught the fish Oct. 11 trolling a fly while fishing with Capt. Bob Wiley of Pend Oreille Charters. The family learned Oct. 31 that the Sophie’s catch had set the record.
“We were trolling and then it just hit,” Sophie told the Daily Bee, looking back on her catch. “I grabbed the rod and then it just went down and down and then down some more. Then it was 30-40 minutes and fighting it.”
By the end, Sophie said her hands were cold and her arms sore but she never considered giving up. She was determined to land her fish.
“So I get him up to the surface then he dove down a couple hundred feet,” she said. “I kept doing that until I landed it.”
When the trout finally made it onto the deck of the boat, Sophie was impressed by its size. She knew it was a big fish but didn’t know it was a record. It was Wiley who had a hunch — and when Sophie decided she wanted to release Old Man Sparkles back into the lake, took the necessary measurements, photos and witness statements to ensure the record would be official.
When the family received word via email that the record would be officially recognized, there was a great deal of excitement.
“We were so excited,” Bob Egizi said. “As parents we were so excited because we know how hard it is to catch that big fish. And yeah, we were just ecstatic for her.”
Having lived in Florida on a small fishing island, the family knew a lot of captains and know how stoic they can be. So when Sophie grabbed hold of the rod and landed the Gerrard, the excitement on the captain’s face made it clear how big a deal the fish could be, Jessi Egizi said.
“When she landed it, he was shaking,” she added “His face was full of excitement and we were screaming because we wanted her to get a big fish and she did it. after a few minutes of that, Sophie was, ‘Just “calm down” because she doesn’t like us to cheer. Yesterday when they wrote, we were screaming …”
“All day, all night,” Sophie breaks in.
“She told us, ‘Enough. You guys are so dramatic.”
“For a few minutes, it’s OK,” Sophie tells her parents as they bite back smiles. “But for hours and hours, not OK.”
Wiley was amazing and made the trip special for their daughter, Jessi Egizi said. “He was just so cool to Sophie about everything.”
While the trout was caught 15-20 minutes into what was scheduled to be a half-day trip, the family realized they couldn’t top Old Man Sparkles and decided to end the excursion after Sophie’s catch.
“We said, ‘We’re done, Bob. This is what we came for,” Bob Egizi said. “And he said you know what, you could fish all day you could fish all week, you could fish all year and you’re not going to get another one like this. I said, ‘We’re done. This is what we wanted to come for.’
The family is having a replica made of the fish since Sophie opted to release Old Man Sparkles. Photos and measurements have been giving to a taxidermist who is creating the mount for the young angler, which will include the pin Sophie received for catching a 20-pound fish.
Sophie said she has always loved to fish and enjoys the challenge of fighting the fish to try and land it. In Florida, where the family recently moved from, it was common for Sophie to be found with a pole in hand, fishing from the shore or out on a boat.
“I like to see how strong it is and how long I can hold it,” she said, adding she can’t remember a time when a fish she wanted to land had gotten away.
While she hasn’t kept track on how many fish she’s caught, Sophie counts among her biggest catches a 15-pound black drum and a baby bull shark as well as the record Gerrard trout caught on Lake Pend Oreille.
Sophie said all the fish she has caught are her favorites and can’t pick out just one as the best.
When she caught the baby bull shark, Sophie said she knew what it was from watching the Netflix show, “Chasing Monsters”, adding the shark was several feel long, holding her hands more than shoulder-width apart. Because of watching the show, she said she knew it wasn’t a black tip as originally thought.
“I’ve just watched so many fishing shows that I knew,” said Sophie, whose favorite subjects include math and English.
While her parents have photos of Sophie as a young toddler, fishing pole in hand, the youth said her first clear memories of fishing were of the black drum caught when the family lived in Florida. Sophie, then 4, was out fishing with her dad and one of his friends when she announced she was going to the other side of the bridge to try her luck.
Bob Egizi expressed doubts Sophie would have any luck, noting he’d never caught anything there. Sophie just put a shrimp on the hook and set off for the opposite shore.
“All of the sudden she says, ‘Daddy, I’ve got something,’” he said, adding he was still doubtful after taking a hold of Sophie’s pole before realizing his daughter had caught something after all.
“He thought it was a snag,” said Sophie.
“It was half the size of her,” Jessi Egizi said.
While Bob Egizi and his friend helped get the black drum onto the shore, Sophie reeled the fish in, declining any efforts to help land it,
“It was huge,” he said. “We were in shock. I’ve fished my whole life down there and have never caught a black drum.”
Now that she’s caught a record Gerrard, Sophie told her parents she’s set her sights on catching a record northern pike and bass as well.
Idaho Fish and Game officials said Lake Pend Oreille has a well-deserved reputation for producing trophy trout, noting the lake still holds the certified weight record Gerrard rainbow of 37 pounds set in 1947. In addition, the lake recently produced a new catch-and-release record bull trout — 29 inches — set by Aaron Fox.
Gerrard rainbow trout in Idaho are unique to the Clark Fork River drainage, and have long been handled as a separate trout record species because of their notorious trophy sizes, IFG officials said in a press release.
The night before Sophie told her parents she was going to catch a record fish. Although, she now admits, there might have been a little smack talk going on.
”I think I was trying to make them think I was going to,” she said, prompting her parents to start laughing.
“Is that what it was?” laughed Bob Egizi as his wife, Jessi, added, “Oh, so you were putting on a challenge.”
Sophie just grins.
Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.