Fish Stories with Grit

No doubt you’ve many times heard that ancient summary of grit and fight and courage; “It ain’t the size of the fish in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the fish.”

Today’s stories may have something to do with that. The first couple have to do with Anna – last of the girl Hucklings, and the best, most skillful, legendary, or luckiest, fisher among my brood (depending upon the story teller). The finale is Beverly Loeffers’ winning entry from this year’s outdoor adventure writing contest. Some fish never give up.

Late in the last century, on one of those hotter-than-blue-blazes late June afternoons in Paradise, I hauled the Hucklings to McCabe Pond for a little evening fishing. On earlier trips, they’d managed a few small trout and spiny-rays, but McCabe always provided priceless moments. On this particular evening, eight-year-old Edward was cheering Anna and Tena on, stirring bigger and better McCabe fish dreams (maybe even something bigger than ten inches).

When Anna’s rod starting twitching, she grabbed it and set the hook. Whatever was on the other end almost took the rod from her hands. Over the next twenty-plus minutes, whatever it was triggered several startled squeals of delight as it yanked away. Edward cheered her on. At long last, the two-foot fish thrashed its way through the murky water and into the mud and weeds at our feet. It was a five-pound-plus channel catfish. Turned out that it didn’t like being released any better than it had liked being caught. All that mud, mess, and fun became family legend.

Two years before the catfish event, the Hucklings and I were on a long summer weekend camping and fishing trip to Jefferson Lake in South Park, a nice drive into the mountains southwest of Denver, Colorado. Over the weekend, we managed a nice mess of rainbows (Anna demonstrating her normal ability to catch the most), some good hiking, and many great s’mores. Saturday morning, the brood voted to fish one of the shallow inlets. With nothing biting, we decided to move around the lake. I was already on the move when Anna snagged up – one of those snags that seemed to move a bit. After fifteen or twenty minutes of “Snag… NO! Fish!” the crystal clear waters of that mountain lake revealed a very large lake trout. Despite offers of help, my sixty-five pound ten-year-old was determined to bring the fish to shore by herself. She also insisted on carrying that six-plus-pound laker – all 28 inches of it – to the rig on her own.

The next morning, we found several other fishermen at “our” inlet. They regaled us with tales of the “tiny five-year-old girl who caught a twenty-pound laker right here yesterday” – and carried it to her family’s Jeep all by herself. We just smiled at each other. That tale, I’m told, hangs over Jefferson Lake to this day. Anna is legendary.

And here, below, is Beverly Loeffers’ legendary tale of a large fisherman and a northern pike with grit.

“One evening in Minnesota many years ago, Dad, Mom and I were ‘Shore Fishing’ on Lake Washington north of Mankato. We were wearing canvas waders, standing armpit deep in the water, and casting toward a weed bed. Four of Dad’s friends were lined up about 50 feet apart further on down the shore.

“Suddenly, one of his buddies, Heine, started screaming in pain and tipping over, as he thrashed the water into foam. It was very loud, given the way sound carries on water.

“‘My God,’ Dad yelled, ‘Heine’s having a heart attack!’ Another fellow helped get Heine to shore as he flailed around and shrieked. All five men sort of wrestled on the ground in the darkening night.

“‘Get those waders off! Help him breathe! Who’s got a knife?’ Mom and I were urged to stay way back, so we sat some distance back, on a log, wondering what was going. Then Dad yelled, ‘What’s that? It’s blood – lots and lots of blood!’ They were cutting his waders off and there was a long, terrifying, silence before all the guys began to laugh.

“Dad roared on the trip home. ‘That damned fool. Any man who doesn’t know enough to knot his stringer through both jaws of a twelve or fifteen-pound northern pike deserves to be bitten. He could have given us all heart attacks screaming like that!’

“I still marvel at the spirit of that fish. Outweighed by at least 220 pounds, it still bit through the heavy canvas and hung on through the fight. The long loose stringer let the fish get Heine in the rump and hang tight. It sounds funny now, but we were really scared at the time.” Beverly Loeffers

It’s a perfect time of year to be thinking about warm summer and fish with grit, don’t you think?

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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