3.05.2010

A Fish Story: The One That Almost Got Away.

(photo of a typical alligator garfish)
When I was a kid, I had this 12 ft. wooden pirouge-style boat that my Paw-paw made for me outa plywood scraps and stuff he had laying around. He always was a packrat with piles of wood, etc. etc. leaning up against his shed. The boat was a sickly bright green, slathered with paint that was left over in old paint buckets he had rescued from the oil field where he worked. I think the 47 coats of paint, which he periodically spread on it, is what held it together and kept the li'l boat almost dry inside. I wish I knew how many miles I paddled that thing around the bayous 'til it finally got trashed when I was about 12 years old. (another story) Anyways, this time of the year we usta wait 'til we saw the big "gars" rolling on top of the water in the bay by the house. When we did, I'd paddle out and throw some lines. We used some willow logs 'bout 2 inches in diameter by 2-3 feet long for floats. We tied a fishing line to one end of the 'logs' and a li'l bright colored cloth to the other end, so it was easy to see. The line had a big brass swivel snap with a loop on it, and the line went down into the water about five feet deep. Typically, we baited with pumpkin seed shad, or dead shiners. (We kept shiners, but that's another story.) When a gar would take the bait, the loop would tighten around his top jaw, and as he tried to swim away, the log would stand up, waving the bright 'flag' (cloth) behind him. I'd be sitting in the shade, watching the dozen or so lines, 'logs' and flags that we had all set up, and when one would try to swim off, I'd paddle out, get him, bring him back near shore. I'd pull his head in over the side of the boat, give him a whack with a li'l pipe I had for that purpose, then drag him in onto a bed of moss I had picked fresh and was all ready for him, in da boat. The moss was a disposable lining, if ya will, to protect the horrid green bottom of my boat from becoming encrusted with bloody fish slime...made cleanup a lot easier, too.
Now a couple of years earlier, one lazy Summer afternoon when I was only about ten years old, I sat up on a long branch of my favorite big live oak tree, that leaned way out over the bayou and was practicing on the first harmonica I ever had, and watching the logs bobbing on the bay. Paw-paw was heading for the fish table with his fish cleaning knives in a big dishpan. As he passed by, he hollared at me, "T-Ray! Pay attention!! One of yo logs just took off heading' down da bayou!" I looked up from my cheap, banana-shaped souvenier Six Flags harmonica and sure enough, there was one of my logs, moving so fast it was leaving a wake as it sped down the bayou. I ran down the tree, jumped in da boat and paddled after it in hot pursuit. The fish went deep around the big bend of the bayou almost out of sight, so I 'cut the point', padding furiously, took a short-cut through the swamp and came out into the bayou again, just ahead of him. My short-cut set me up so I could snatch the log as it came sailing by and throw it over the stern of my little boat. I had a notch carved in the stern of my boat where the string always fit. With the log in the boat, and the string in the notch up there in the stern, I could tow the bigger fish along as I paddled back to the fish cleaning table, where Paw-paw was cleanin' the other fish and waitin' on me. It was a good plan and it had always worked before.
Well, this time when I snatched da log outa da water, threw it in the boat behind me and notched the line, (a practiced manuver, all done in one smooth, quick flip) but the line snapped tight with a hard jerk, and instead of me pulling him, there I went being towed backwards down the bayou by the fish! I knew he would tire eventually, so I didn't fight him; I let him take me for a ride. Finally, about a mile later, we slowed to a stop, so I grabbed a paddle and started rowing and easing my way back home. The big gar let me tow him back, only occasionally tugging me back down the bayou a little ways. Eventually, I made it all the way back around the bend, with the fish grudgingly following along, and started approaching the bank, where Paw-paw was waiting. I got to within 5 ft or so of the landing when the fish got the idea he didn't wanna be dragged to the bank and bagan thrashing mightly and pulling my boat, with me in it, back out into the deep water. That was the first time I had seen his massive tail and it plum scared da bajezzes outa me! I hollared at Paw-paw, telling him da fish won't let me get to the bank. By now my shoulders hurt and I was drenched head to toe with sweat, and fishing wasn't fun anymore.
There we were, locked in a tug-of-war, and what with me and Paw-paw hollaring at each other, we soon drew a small crowd of neighbors and a couple of fishers, who happened by. They all stood on the bank shoutin', "Come on boy, paddle!!" while I struggled to tow the fish in. I'd get close to the bank and the ol' boys would lean out, trying to grab the bow of the boat, but just as their fingers would reach the boat, the fish would drag me back out into the deep. This went on for quite some time, until Paw-paw got impatient and waded in after me. He latched one of his big ol' burly hands on the bow of my little boat, leaned way back and dragged me, the boat, the fish...the whole lah-lah up onto the bank. I was wore out, but da fish was caught. He was right at 6 feet long, and had to weigh over a hundred lbs. It was 20 years later before I ever saw the likes of that fish again, but das another story. (and just so ya know, while this aint me, I wanted ya to know that I wasn't exaggeratin' about the size they can get to.)
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