(From Sept. 17, 2005)
I went fishing last weekend.
I caught some fish.
But I almost caught something else too. Something ... big. Very big.
We were out in your standard fishing boat - shallow bottom, aluminum, twelve or fourteen feet long, an older outboard motor on a wire so that you could throttle and steer from the forward seat. The boat was like an older more beat up version of the typical three seat fishing boat you might see on a fishing show (I know you don't really watch fishing shows - but maybe you saw such a boat as you were quickly flicking past the channel).
Well, we had been fishing for many hours - and catching many fish - mostly Jack Fish (Northern Pikes) and Bass, both small mouth (they have the red tinted eyes) and large mouth. We did catch a pickerel or two, but that was it - amongst the three of us who were fishing, we caught perhaps 40 or so fish. The Jacks were particularly thick - as they are getting fat for the winter - which is one of the reasons we were out fishing - we like to catch, big fish.
Things were going swell - we were doing a lot of trolling, and some of the jacks we were bringing in were big - eight or nine pounders - and upwards of 30 inches in length. But it wasn't until the later end of the day that something changed.
We had been pulling them in pretty regular - the water was choppy, on account of the wind - but that wasn't stopping the fish from biting, and it wasn't stopping us from fishing. On Shaol lake in Ontario (where we were fishing), there are many islands -and when the wind gets too bad you can swing behind an island and troll there for a while in the relatively calmer waters. In this capacity we were trolling along the length of one of the "skinnier" islands when we began to notice a slump. The fish just stopped biting.
Recall if you will, that fishing is, essentially, throwing a string into a giant puddle of water, and hoping that something living unseen beneath the waves will be in the vicinity of that line as it goes in the water - and will in fact be so hungry that it is willing to eat anything attached to that string - even say, a sharp hook that has been dressed up with a metal spoon in the hopes that it resembles a smaller fish.
I am not a fish psychologist. No really, I am not. But I am capable of empathetic reasoning. That is, I can put myself in the fish's head. "My wife thinks that such a thing isn't all that big a jump", which I regard with cautious suspicion - is she saying I am talented, or fish brained? Hmmm. Talented. It's gotta be. Anyway, I can picture myself as a humble little fish, well, I mean not so little as humble - I would be a big enough fish to command some sort of respect in the food chain. I see myself swimming around beneath the lake - perhaps I am singing a song to myself - well, humming - I wouldn't really be a singer since fish haven't any language per sé - but it would be a cool hum - not tethered by the frailty of human endeavor, it would be like a pure instinct driven humming. Na -na - na - humph-ah, Dum de dah DUM dah! - I think fish can probably hum like that - some kind of high energy driving beat, screaming through the fish mind like a maddening jungle drum pounding out a frantic primal heart beat in time with that mysterious unseen submarine dance. You get the picture. Here I am some fish in tune with the world around me - I ignore the shadow of the boat and the noise of the engine - I am hungry, and I am a predator.
What's this? A shiny piece of metal attached to a sharp hook, about which a spoon of metal is revolving. Hmmm... I -am- hungry... I think I can digest that... I'll just give it a little nibble here to see if it tastes yummy or not...That is how I see it at least - you know, the fish is down there, it knows that this thing isn't from around here - and it doesn't care, it just wants to eat it.
So we are trolling and it suddenly gets all quiet - like in the movies before something really, really, terrible happens. The water is still, and even though the motor rumbles on, there is a stillness that doesn't seem right. The sun has slipped behind some clouds, and into this sudden vacuum where life seems to have suddenly paused - it happens.
I snag a weed.
Weed snagging is the anti climax of trolling. You experience a pull on your line, and pregnant with hope you pull a bit to set the hook - but instead of feeling the fight, you feel like you have pulled up a bit of salad and now your hook is heavier, and you have to reel in and cast out again.
So I started to reel it in. But sometimes when you are reeling in a weed, the hook grips other weeds and you get these little phantom jerks - not unlike perhaps a very clever fish. So you pull a bit harder - but then the line is just as heavy and unresponsive as before and whatever hope you had of perhaps landing a clever fish washes away. ... Unless - perhaps it is a very, very clever fish - who knows that the best way to appear not to be a fish is to swim along all slow like - and pretend to be a weed. It could happen.
It did happen.
I was hauling in what I was sure was a Caesar salad, complete with the salad bowl, when the strangest thing happened. We wouldn't have noticed it, but Dave, who was driving, killed the motor. Now if it had been a bonifide snag, I would notice that when I stopped reeling the line should go slack - but that didn't happen.
It was at this point that I got back into fish psychology mode. This was no bass - they fight like the dickens the moment you get them on the hook. Nor was this a small Jack - they fight too - not quite as rigorously as a bass - that is, they don't change directions ten times in the space of five seconds, but instead fight to go one way or the other, and you just have to crank it to get them in. They fight, but it is not the same as a bass, or of an older Jack.
The older, bigger Jacks - they tend to be pulling in a log - they are heavy, and sometimes roll themselves in your line so you pull them in sideways -and they feel like you are pulling in something much bigger. They may fight at the boat - but they are not athletes - they give a charge or two, then tucker out.
So I am thinking this isn't a young Jack - but it feels pretty light.
It was then that I began to reel "in earnest" - at first I was reeling in a diagnostic fashion - perhaps I had had my brow was knit, my expression thoughtful and my head tilted towards the reel as though I were a doctor listening to a patient's faint heart through my stethoscope - my reeling went from "whirr... [listen and wait] to a frenzied WHIIIRRRRRR. Where before I was pensive and even distant - now I was biting my bottom lip and pumping at the reel like a wild man - yet it was still somewhat diagnostic - was this fish was gonna fight me? Was there really a fish there?
At this point I accepted defeat - I was clearly dragging in a log. Then something odd happened.
I should explain that I am not your finesse type of fisherman - that is I have a nine foot cat fishing rod that is practically unbendable - and I use fifty pound spider wire - I don't lose hooks, I will pull up a tree from the bottom and even straighten out a thick metal hook - but my line doesn't break. In pulling up a log however, I expect certain things given the laws of physics - that is, I expect that when I am pulling up inert, and water-logged debris - to experience in my line only as much resistance as my own reeling produces. If I slacken up - I expect immediate an "real time" reponse. Only that didn't happen. I slackened - and so did my "load" - but there was a pause between the two events that shouldn't oughta have been there. Hope rekindled in my heart - surely, this was no log - it was just one,
So I began to suspect that I was pulling up something - something big - and if I might digress into prose - something so ancient and beautiful in its obvious antidiluvian splendor - that it was clearly a crime against humanity to exhume it from its dark watery journey and into the harsh naked light of day.
I confess, the stress of that moment still plays on my reasoning - I am not sure that I actually saw the foam - or if my mind was simply supplying the details that my eyes had missed, but surely there was a barmy wake rising from the deep - the roiling of sizzling water as something unnatural meanders through it.
It was at this point that a pull came from the line. A pull I say, that had authority in it. Supreme authority. I put my fish psychology aside - there was something very big on my line, and in that one pull, I suddenly wondered who had caught who.
I shouldn't dwell on that one tug - but how can I not?? It was perfect. It was a 49.99 pound tug, the kind that says, "Humph - 50 lbs Spider wire... I have to be careful not to pull too hard..." I mean it was a long pull - one that said, "I have you, you don't have me." I may have lost control of my bladder at this point, I am not really sure, a chill passed through me, and I was wet - it could have been splashing water, my mind wasn't really paying attention.
If you could picture 30 feet of water heaving up suddenly, you might understand what it looked like when this thing came up out of the water. Not all of it mind you - just it's head. It's head was black as the depths of the sea, and this salty demon wasn't showing itself to us, it just came up to look at as. It hung there motionless for a long moment - it's impossibly massive head standing out from the water. Not in the manner of a dolphin - you know, wagging its flipper to keep its head out of the water, and thereby giving the dolphin a sort of happy bobbing up and down kind of look - no. It was as if most of this thing were still laying on the bottom, and it raised its head above the water while still touching the floor of the lake - it didn't bob or waver - but held the air for a second looking for all the world like a massive stone trunk motionless and ungiving.
It's big, wide, blacker than black, back was to us, glistening like an obsidian statue in the last rays of this days light - that is, it's large head was slightly turned, and it's one eye observed us - like a man looking over his shoulder back at something - was that smoke coming from it's nostril or mist from the lake?
What happened next happened so fast it is hard to really describe it. There was a sinking feeling in the lake, as though the water level in the lake suddenly dropped on six inches, and simultaneous to this the thing moved, though it seemed to disappear in a flash. My rod told the story that my eyes couldn't follow, bending full in half, and receiving three sharp jerks.
I pause at this point because there were three of us in the boat. Hmmm. Three jerks - what was this fish saying??
But then it happened. My rod came snapping up, no hook, no fish.
He bit through my leader -that is the metal part that you tie the hook to. you know, you could suspend your boat from it - he bit through it. There followed a moment of silence - not like it should have been - you know, the removing of your hat in respect for the mercy shown by a superior foe on the field of honor - no, this was the utter disbelief kind of silence, where you shattered psyche is trying to put enough of you back together to form a coherent thought.
I think I babbled for a bit - but the guys were wise. You don't make jokes about losing something like that. It would be like asking how your mother's dancing lessons were going if she had just lost both legs to cancer - it ain't right, and no one has to explain it to you.
Sometimes at night I wake up screaming...
But that doesn't really have anything to do with this story.
The bottom line? It was a great time fishing, and I really did almost catch the big one.