I was very lucky as child, I got to go on so many adventures that I often felt like a modern day Huck Finn. One of the largest contributing factors to these adventures, was my Mother. Her job and the nature of it frequently took her to some wild places, and whenever possible, she would let me or one of my siblings tag along. She was a brave Mother, not just for allowing us the freedom to roam, but allowing us near her employment.
Whether it was driving boats along a three day journey up the amazing Lake Powell in Southern Utah, or a weekend watching movies in a ski lodge in the high Rocky Mountains, we always had fun with Mom.
One of these trips yielded me a whopper of a fishing story, and unlike all the other whoppers you’ve heard, this one is completely true!
It was back in the eighties if I recall, in South East Texas. A beautiful lake named assumedly after the nearby town of Conroe. My Mom had allowed me to come along on a work trip, and while she was busy working through the details of resort management, I was busy trying to get a fish on my line. The lake shore came right up near the back of the condominium where we were staying, and there was sort of a wooded boardwalk along the edges covered by trees.
Now keep in mind, though I was but a pre-teen fishing geek with knee-high socks, I was a fishing legend amongst my peers. Despite my young countenance, I had read many books, and some of Dad’s bass fishing magazines, and I knew the kind of monster fish that lurked in the warm and muddy waters of the south.
I could hardly wait to get my bag carelessly tossed into the room, and snap my Zebco rig together so I could get deep into the fishing. I wasted no time getting to the water’s edge.
After several hours, things were not going as planned.
For the first time in my fishing career, I was dumfounded. It was as if these haughty Texas fish didn’t know who they were dealing with. I tried all my old tricks, the things that made me a legend among the channel catfish at Lake Powell. To this day, those fish associate the muddled sound of my voice with hot dogs and warm anchovies, and they come running.
None of that seemed to matter at Lake Conroe though, all I wanted was to hook into a big, ugly, monster catfish. And even for all my wishing, and my stellar career in fishing, I found myself sitting on the edge of the boardwalk, watching families feed the disheveled ducks who looked like they’d escaped a homeless shelter. Not a single fish to my name, I too looked like a confused duck sitting in the hot Texas sun.
I have never been one to get skunked fishing, there are few things I hate more. So I doubled down my efforts, and kept after it. And just a few moments later, something happened that I myself wouldn’t believe had I not been there.
As I sat there, rod in one hand, and bait in the other, I watched as the ducks continued to feed on the bread they had been tossed. The murky water stirred by the impatient kicking of their feet, but there was something else there, my fishermans eyes saw it. And it took my mind a few moments to catch up.
There, only a few feet away from my rod tip, there was something lurking just under the surface, my eyes squinted as I tried to focus on two dark shapes. Time slowed, the dark shapes I was so focused on were infact the eyes of a slipery leviathan. His skin was almost the same color as the muddy water, and as my jaw dropped slowly to the ground, I witnessed him gulp down a chunk of floating bread. Both the homeless ducks and I jumped when we realized what was swimming amongst us, though the excited stain left in the water was mostly from them.
I was imediately terrified of the pressure of the situation I now faced, my whole life had led up to this point. Every fish I had ever caught was just a warmup, for now, feeding right before me, there was a true monster. A fish so big he could fit my He-Man lunch box in his mouth, and a whole ham sandwhich was just the bait I needed.
As sweat ran down my face, I quickly baited my hook with a healthy wad of bread. Then shewing the ducks away, I gently set the bait on the murky water. I knew it would only be a few seconds until he returned to the surface, to inhale another gallon of bread laden water.
I mentioned I had a Zebco right? Just like every other kid. Probably had some junk six or eight pound line on it, tied at the end was a crumy hook with dried catfish bait on it, tied with a kid’s knot. And of course a bobber, you couldn’t fish in the eighties without a bobber, that was required equipment by Fish & Game.
Well luck was not with me, my bait had sunken out of sight, and I sat there watching that bobber like as though the earths continued existence depended on it. At long last, a tiny ripple, and then the bobber dipped out of sight pulling away from me. Not being a rookie, I let him have it, better for him to think he got the better of me. After a moment or so, my line began to tighten, and like a seasoned pro, I pulled the hook right into his lip.
I couldn’t have fathomed that my high performance professional grade Zebco would fail me, but just as I felt the weight of the fish come on to my rod, the line broke. The limp and curly line lay there on the water lifeless.
I was in shock, I couldn’t believe that the biggest fish Id ever seen, had just skunked me harder than I even knew you could get skunked. I sat there in the evening sun, filled with disbelief, thinking about my escaped trophy.
I was feeling a lot like Chief Brody in the movie Jaws, and just like in that scene in the movie, I suddenly noticed my bobber out in the water. At first I thought it had come free, but then I saw it disappear under the water again. Several times I saw it surface and go under, and it was moving against the wind.
I decided I wasn’t going to be skunked after all, and I devised a plan. I searched out a rock of the appropriate size, and I tied it to the end of my line. The plan was to cast past the bobber, hoping to entangle it with the rock and line, then retreive my monster. I knew it was a long shot, but this was the ninth inning here and I had to do something.
One cast after another until I finally landed the rock just past the bobber, I let it sink hoping to cross the line beneath. And to my delight, I felt and saw the bobber move as I reeled it in. But was my monster cat still there?
I felt some resistance, but it was nothing like a big cat would pull. I figured he had gotten off, perhaps tangling the line in something. So I reeled the line all the way in, and when I finally had the bobber in my hand, I lifted on the line below it. There was still something there, but it was no monster cat.
At the end of my line, was a little baby ham sammich eatin bullhead catfish. Maybe eight inches long, and growling up a storm like catfish do.
I kinda chuckled a little at the situation, I had gotten my tackle back, and I was no longer skunked, my reputation and honor intact. But the growling little catfish seemed to be laughing at me, but the joke was on him because I eat catfish.
But not that day, I let the little guy go. I dont remember much else from that trip, but these old stories about ham sammich eating monsters are what keep us comming back to our favorite fishing holes. And maybe thats better than catching em anyways.