If you work in this writing business long enough, well, there are stories you remember for a long, long time — even longer. And when you started writing about fishing darned near 50 years ago, some stories fade.
But, not all, and some you’ll read here will carry places, but not names.
Most started with a phone call, not cellphone mind you, but those old desktop models, and the most memorable started one fine spring morning.
“You the outdoor writer?”
It was a woman. Her voice was calm, but soon grew in pitch and volume to the point where she could have sung high soprano in any Metropolitan opera.
“See,” she continued, “my husband and I were fishing in that pond up on North Sherwood (in Baton Rouge) and we caught this fish that looked like a cross between a bream and a sac-a-lait.”
Me: “So how big was it?”
Her: “About the size of a big bream, but it had a stripe and was a fatter than a sac-a-lait.”
Me: “Any other markings?”
Her: “Well, it had some gold flecks in it, but it had teeth, teeth like we’d never seen before.”
Me: “Teeth? How big.”
Her: “Little and pointy.”
Me: “Diamond shaped? Kinda like sharp little daggers?”
Her: “Yep. They was sharp.”
Me: “Did you eat it?”
Her: “Yep. Husband filleted it. It ate good.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her she’d caught a piranha, nor throw a scare into her, but did call Wildlife and Fisheries’ Inland Fisheries folks, who told me it wasn’t the first time they’d heard about such instances.
Seems like some folks think it’s cute to have this voracious flesh eater in tanks, then, when they no longer can feed them, or risk a fine for having such a “pet,” they discard them into a local pond thinking these sorts of fish won’t survive.
Strange encounters, Part II
Flounder are a saltwater fish, right?
There was this Sunshine Bass Club tournament and my partner decided our best chance for morning action was in Flat Lake. The water was muddy, so a square-billed, crawfish-colored crankbait worked around the stumps seemed to be a good choice, especially when, on the second cast, the hard strike, the ensuing, drag-pulling battle indicated it was.
“Get the net. Got the big bass, but it don’t feel like a bass.”
Knew the treble hooks were solid, and the fight hard, but dreams of hauling in the big-bass pot, even first-place stringer evaporated when this hefty flat fish came to the surface.
What the heck was a flounder doing in Flat Lake? Except that a tropical storm had hit around Morgan City a couple weeks earlier. That explained it.
But storms didn’t explain the next memorable call.
Didn’t recognize the accent, but the woman on the other end of the line was excited.
“My husband and I were fishing where the Whiskey Channel splits off from the Atchafalaya (River) and we caught this fish we’d never seen before. It was flat and has eyes on the same side of its head.”
Me: “Ma’am it was a flounder.”
Her: “A what?”
Me: “A flounder. A saltwater fish.”
Her: “What on God’s Green Earth was it doing up there?”
Me: “Guess it got lost.”
It was as good an explanation as anyone could come up with, except all of us can wonder how that fish showed up more than 150 miles from the nearest saltwater — except the Atchafalaya had been unusually low that year and saltwater wedges do invade far north in our waters, and knowing bull sharks have been found in the Mississippi River as far north as St. Louis, that’s St. Louis, Missouri.
Strange, Part III
Again, the phone rings on the desk, and, again, a woman launched into a question about a fish, and, again, she was fishing with her husband. Ah, seems all these start with some sort of piscatorial marital bliss.
“We was fishin’ in the channel, Whiskey Bay, and we caught this fish with big teeth.”
Me (thinking, no, not another piranha): “What’d it look like?”
Her: “Big. Big teeth, and stripes and pointy fins, and big. It took 10 minutes to get it in the boat.”
Me: “About where?”
Her: “Just south of Krotz Springs. We’d never seen a fish with such big teeth.”
Me: “Didja take a picture?”
Her: “Shore did.”
Me: “Here’s my address. Send a copy, please.”
Four days later, a photo of an eight-pound sheepshead fell from the envelope. Returned the photo with a copy of the sheepshead page from Jerald Horst’s “Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico.”
All true, and there are no names here just to protect the innocent.
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