Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Birthday Fish Tale

My fortieth birthday dawned with grey and overcast skies in the Northwoods - just how I like it. After being shocked and delighted the day before with a surprise visit by my parents to celebrate with me, I woke up giddy to spend a day doing whatever I wanted. My list was simple:

1. See a musky,
2. Take a nap during the rainstorm, and
3. Enjoy a fabulous dinner out with my family.

So after breakfast Mr. Musky and I headed out to try our luck on Echo Lake. Storm clouds gathered so we stayed close to home just in case we had to dash back to get out of the rain. Based on the loon nest we saw in May, I brought along my camera in anticipation of seeing a new baby on our lake.

Meet the Echo Lake 2012 baby!

Once we were settled and began heaving our lures in an effort land a big one, we noticed a small boat off to the west of us. No less than five minutes into our angling effort my musky man commented, "Wow, Hon. He's got a fish on over there."

I immediately picked up my camera so I could get a better look, figuring I'd take a picture of his fish just in case I didn't "boat" (fish speak for 'catch') one of my own. He was definitely having a hard time, and he was solo.

I discreetly snapped a few photos of the gentleman, then put my camera down to catch Big Brother. I continued to furtively spy at the gent, marveling at his bravery and wondering how he planned on netting whatever beast was on the end of his line. I don't do dead animal clean up, I don't start campfires, and I definitely don't fish for the big ones alone.

Suddenly, we heard it. A feeble cry. Almost like an infant, but audibly intelligible. Desperate.

"Um...can you help me?"

With a giant sigh that probably woke our kids from their slumber back at the cabin, Mr. Musky put his rod down and started up the engine. "This is your deal," he grumbled. "It's your birthday, and you wanted a Musky. It's yours."

If you haven't read about it before, Mr. Musky has a thing about helping boaters in distress. But this was different. This was an angler with a potentially very large fish on his line. And he knew. That no matter what, in some sort of secret, hidden, fisherman brotherly code, that the fish would end up in that man's boat and there would be pictures to prove it.

As we approached the sweet elderly man, there were no introductions. There was no "howdy do" or "great day, eh?" exchanged. This was serious business. "I don't really know how we're going to do this," worried Mr. Musky aloud.

Grandpa was shaking in his shoes, weakened by the beastly struggle. The fish was taking out line, he was releasing line, reeling back in, fight-or-flighting. As we approached his boat, he asked the unthinkable. He asked me to get in the boat with him.

Say what??? Can't I just net it from the comfort of my own boat, thank you very much?

But I could tell that I was going to have to get in there and really get dirty with him and the fish. He had a giant on - we could tell by the bend in his rod. So I gracefully hopped into his boat, completed an arabesque and slid the net into the water to produce a marvelous giant musky for the man to cuddle and snuggle and hold forever.


I plopped into his Tuffy with a huge thud and found my balance as we rocked uncontrollably. I willed the boat to steady so we could continue on. He had a net, yes. A nylon net that was big, yes. But he didn't have a Frabill Cradle or a Big Kahuna or Kwik Kradle (no - I'm not joking - these items all exist) engineered with tangle-free material to prevent hooks from embedding in the net and to protect the fish from hurting itself. So I threw my hand out to Mr. Musky and demanded, "NET!" like a surgeon asking for her scalpel. Immediately a giant net capable of cradling toddlers to sleep was placed into my quivering hand.

"But I've got a net here...I've got a big net!" protested Grandpa.

"That's just focus," I replied in my most soothing and encouraging voice. "I've got this. I'm more comfortable with my own net."

Seriously. Am I having this conversation?

We finally got a glimpse of the water monster and I practically puked immediately all over the poor man. It was huge. Super-colossal. Positively gargantuan. The catch of this man's life that he would discuss over beers with his cronies at Johnny Nick's for the rest of his life struggled at the end of his line. The fate of his ability to land that sucker and immortalize the catch rested solely on me. And on Mr. Musky's ability to manage two boats at once in a driving windstorm with thunder and lightning threatening while changing the lens on my camera as I tried to calm this man's nerves.

The fish took line back because he kept giving it slack. "What test are you using?" questioned Mr. Musky.

"Fifty," replied Grandpa.

"Then reel it in. That fish is going nowhere. And it's tired. Get it in so we can give it a rest," Mr. Musky replied in his no nonsense voice. He meant business. And was worried about the managing two boats thing. Thank you God, for inspiring and encouraging my husband to go on week-long fishing trips with his buddies every fall so he knows what the hell to do. Because if it were up to me and Grandpa? We'd have chatted each other up about the storm clouds gathering and what's for dinner later.

So he steered his baby toward me, reminded me to net it head first (duh), and I committed the carnal sin of missing the fish. I thought Grandpa was going to cry on the spot. And hurl me out of the boat. And jump in and wrestle the brute himself. But he collected himself, and restarted the process of guiding the wriggling giant to a place it most certainly did not want to go.

Thankfully, the fish remained hooked so I could make another pass.

SUCCESS! I sank to my seat, loudly exhaled and wished for a jumbo dirty martini with blue cheese olives and oysters on the half shell to magically appear before me. My limbs were like jello and I continued to shake uncontrollably. So did Grandpa. But we fist pumped and high fived and jumped up and down while Mr. Musky gently suggested we return our focus to the cold-blooded aquatic vertebra in the net, who desperately needed to be returned to its natural habitat quickly or be converted into a mount for Grandpa's wall. In musky fishing the "release" is just as, if not more than, important as the "catch."

I looked up at the man of my dreams, successfully maneuvering two boats away from the shore and out of danger, batted my eyelashes, and implored him to jump in the boat and take over. Because I had a sneaking suspicion that Grandpa was going to need some assistance in getting the hooks out of his impressive catch.

"No way. Nuh uh. This is your deal, your birthday, your fish," he insisted.

"OK." I mustered. "I can do this, I am woman," I told myself.

I looked at Grandpa, and said, "OK buddy. You did it! Now get him off."

The kind old man looked at me with sparkling topaz eyes sized as quarters and simply said, "How?"

Jeez. OK. Here I go. My inner surgeon reappeared and thrusted her hand out to the general direction of the boat behind me. "PLIERS!" I commanded.

"Oh - um, I have a wrench here. Want that?" Grandpa pleasantly suggested.

A wrench. And what am I going to do with that? Mug the poor thing?

"No, thank you. I think I'll just use the tool that I'm used to."

Right. Because I spend all of my free time at the cabin releasing 40 plus inch muskies from treble hooks that are imbedded into their skeletal tissue. I'm a verifiable pro at this! No problem! You'll have your baby swooped into your arms for your future generations to gaze at forever in no time!

I plopped down on my knees (graceful ballet motions were now out of the question completely), prayed that a gust of wind wouldn't blow up my skirt to moon the poor man, and went to work on his day's achievement. I'd witnessed Mr. Musky do this several times, but nerves took over and my heart raced and fingers shook. I knew I needed to clamp the pliers onto the treble hook and shake the beast free - by pulling up on the pliers so the animal's weight would resist and remove the hooks from his jawbone. Easy, right?

"How many hooks are on your lure?" I questioned so I knew what I was looking for and dealing with.

I didn't get a straight answer. But Grandpa did remind me to be careful because the musky's teeth are very sharp. That was helpful information.

Luckily, the fish was suddenly free after one shake. Maybe from exhaustion, it helped me out. Thanks, fishy.

I knew what was next, and was grateful that my work was complete. "OK, dude. Picture time. Pick your fish up and pose!"

Grandpa just looked at me, dumbfounded. "But how am I going to do that?"

Arm thrust. "GLOVES!" my surgeon self proclaimed. They appeared.

"Here. Put these on - they will protect the fish and keep your hands from getting cut. Now pick it up."

Grandpa tried. He really did, but he jumped three feet back every time that fish thrashed in the net. At one point he suggested that maybe he could use the pliers to pick it up.


He finally looked up at me, batting his own eyelashes (swear) and sweetly asked me, "Do you think you could pick it up, and I'll take a picture of you with my fish?"

Good Lord. Chivalry, my friends, is officially dead.

So I did. By now every inch of me trembled madly because I knew that seconds counted in terms of keeping that fish alive, and when you have a 43 inch Esox in front of you the adrenaline just courses through your body. It's truly one of the greatest rushes ever, even if you didn't catch the darned thing yourself. I knew that I needed to grab it firmly under the jaw and hoist it up with two hands, holding it a bit away from me to keep the slime intact so it remained healthy. Holding the fish out in front of you also makes it look bigger for the photo.  We needed to work fast, and I had to keep the writhing, slippery, eel-like creature from bouncing out of my hands and breaking its back on the side of the boat.

Good grief, it was HEAVY! Like an awkward gyrating sack of twenty-five pounds of dead weight. So I did the only thing I could. I cradled it like a baby, and became one with fish slime. It covers those suckers in multiple layers. It stuck to my shirt, seeped through my bra, oozed all over my hair and dripped down to my waist, legs and into my shoes. Its wounded mouth bled all over my shoulder and into my hair. Meanwhile, I instructed Grandpa in a shaky voice to pick my camera up and take the picture. Fast.

I looked up and gave him the most dazzling, I-rock-the-fishing-world smile I could muster while also trying to look svelte and sexy and tough. I waited. And waited.

And waited.

Gramps finally spoke. "Like this?"

To my horror, he literally had my DSLR upside down and backwards with his fish-slimed thumb mucking up the lens. How do you do that? I can understand upside down, maybe, but backwards too? I knew that I was going to have to climb down from my anxiety tree to talk him through how to hold my camera, focus and shoot without dropping it into the lake. I could see him visibly shaking, to the point that any picture he managed to take would be so out of focus because of his nerves.

"OK, turn it. Turn it again, That's it - Great! Now, turn the entire thing around. No - not that way, turn it so the lens points at me, not you. Good Job! Now, there's a button at the top. Take a deep breath, peer into the little square window, then push down that button. No - not the button by your thumb on the back of the camera - that's ok, just relax and breathe - see the little button on top by your index finger. Your index finger, not your middle finger. It's by the power. It's ok - you'll get it - No - not the button that says AF-ON - by the power button. You know, the one that says on/off?"

SNAP! He got it!

Here's his fish photo:

At least my pliers coordinate with his flannel.

Exasperated beyond his limits, Mr. Musky finally interceded. "Hon, I got some on my phone." It's gonna rain, we need to release that fish and get outta here. Get it in the water, and he can work on ensuring it's revived and swims away."

Picture that subsequently went viral on Facebook with everyone thinking I landed the Neanderthal of the Sea on my Birthday. Note the hunched shoulders on both of us - sheer tension - and the coaching I'm giving on how to operate a Nikon D300s, secretly praying, "Please don't drop it. Please don't drop it." He was praying the same.
We were perilously approaching the shoreline, and Mr. Musky feared tangling up in the weeds or worse, ruining the prop on a log or rock. As I shifted positions to release the beast, it suddenly woke up, thrashing again in my arms and I almost dropped it in the boat. The chair in the above photo saved the fish, I regrouped, and heaved it up again into my arms, along with half my skirt and Grandpa's flannel. Look up mess in the dictionary, and you'd see me. Meanwhile, I instructed Grandpa to hand my beloved camera back to my betrothed so we could get out of there.

"Babe, Quick! Snap a few!" I insisted, hunched over trying to wrestle the fish back into an appropriate photo-taking position.

I knew that my camera would take superior pictures to the iPhone camera, and I just HAD to have a good shot of me and the Echo Lake Monster on my birthday.

So here...I give you...the greatest fish picture ever captured on the face of this earth.

Good gravy, I'm such a dork.

Grandpa's giant 43 inch musky was finally released on Echo Lake, and after thinking about it for a good 20 minutes, it eventually swam away so we can catch him again another day.

Note the slimed shirt and hair. Lovely.

And the musky blood on the shoulder of my shirt.
We continued on with our fishing adventure that morning, but alas, neither of us reeled in our own trophy. But it didn't matter. I was just happy to see a Musky, even if I didn't catch it myself. The glee on that man's face was simply priceless.

Mr. Musky was just happy that Grandpa didn't keel over from a heart attack, the way he was convulsing.

I simply can't end a post with such absurd photos of myself. Thankfully, my family obliged for some 40th birthday photos before dinner.

Slime free.

Happy Fishing, people. It's a rush.


1 comment:

  1. LOVED your story!!! I don't think I've laughed so much in a while. I need to go out fishing with my husband...when he lands a big bass it is quite a comical show!!! Glad you had such a great and memorable 40th birthday!