The catch of a lifetime: Youngster's fish returned to lake
After landing giant striper, 12-year-old cancer patient chooses survival over trophy

After catching what may be one of the largest fish ever landed on Lake Lanier, 12-year-old Ethan Daniels was given an option: Keep the fish to mount or release it back into the water.

While most would opt to keep it as a trophy, on Sept. 21 Daniels decided to free the striped bass that weighed in at 28 pounds on the boat.

“We decided to let the fish go back into the water because we wanted other people to catch it so they could have a lot of fun, too,” he said. “It was a lot of fun and it made me feel good after being in the hospital for a whole week.”

Ethan was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma in March.

“I felt really cool when I pulled it out of the water, because while I am going through chemotherapy sometimes I don’t feel like I am as strong as I used to, but once I pulled the fish out of the water I felt like I still had my strength,” Ethan said.

The group included Ethan, his father Brady, friend Dave Floyd and professional striper guide Doug Youngblood.

“Ethan had two weeks off from treatment and we tried to do a lot of things to have fun before he went back into his final stage of treatment,” Brady Daniels said. “I jumped at the opportunity to take him fishing, because he hadn’t been in quite a while and we had never been on Lake Lanier to fish before. He only had about three days left before he went back on heavy chemo treatment.”

They had caught about 15 average-sized stripers before the young boy hooked the largest fish of the day.

“The battle ensued for about 10 to 15 minutes with Ethan battling the fish all by himself with no physical assistance,” Floyd said. “The celebration could be heard for miles around the lake as we were in awe at the size of the fish this young man had caught by himself.”

According to Floyd, Youngblood said the 28-pounder was the largest striper he had landed since December of last year. The lake record is 48 pounds.

“I felt a tug on the fishing pole so I started reeling and tugging back for like 15 minutes until we finally saw a glimpse of it in the water and it was huge,” Ethan said. “When I pulled it up out of the water, the guide had to put it in a net and lay it down on the boat.”

Though Youngblood “does not normally advocate mounting fish,” he said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime fish.”

“I expected Ethan to beg his dad to keep and mount, but he never spoke a word,” Floyd said. “After a few moments of contemplating, Brady said ‘Let’s let him go.’”

Belly up, the fish laid on top of the water for several minutes.

“We all found ourselves cheering the fish on in hopes that it would swim off and after five or six minutes we all began to get worried,” Floyd recalled. “A few minutes later the fish flipped over and shot to the bottom like it was shot out of a cannon.”

Everyone celebrated once more, but none were more excited than Ethan.

“He was elated. Going through treatment, you don’t have the opportunity to do a whole lot where you really feel like you’ve accomplished something,” Brady Daniels said. “I think he felt a pretty big sigh of relief when the fish finally went back down.”

Floyd said it was the first time he had met Ethan and he found him to be “an extraordinary and well-mannered young man.”

“I truly feel blessed to be a part of the memories that were created during that 20 to 30 minute window,” Floyd said. “I fish quite often and am 51 years old, and feel quite confident that this will be the best fishing story that I will ever be a part of and share.”

Ethan, though officially in remission, has been through a tremendous amount of treatment over the last seven months.

“We found a tumor on his head that started growing so he immediately started treatment and has been through several phases of chemo. He is just now starting a phase called ‘delayed intensification’ so it is the last really rough patch of what they consider front-lying chemo,” Brady Daniels said. “It has been quite the journey for him. It has been a lot of medication, in patient stays and many rounds of chemo.”

He described his son as “a great kid, super smart and social.” Ethan is home-schooled, plays guitar and enjoys acting.

Once he finishes his last round of treatment in December, Ethan will continue on maintenance and therapy treatments for three more years to keep the cancer from returning.

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