Out near the centre the big fish sulks. It is seemingly collecting it’s thoughts after taking him in all directions because of the light-action Abu’s lack of grunt. On land, he cautiously leans back on the rod and feels gradual movement towards him, like the times he’s hooked a log or similar and attempted to slowly drag it close enough to free whichever lure it’s tried to claim. Then the fish starts to move left again but not with the purpose of before. Is it tiring? It’s put in enough effort over the last five solid minutes to need a rest. How old must it be? He hadn’t considered that until now. He has no concept of how many summers and winters the epic fish has seen. It obviously can’t be young any more. And perhaps, like an aging heavyweight who can still start the first few rounds strongly, it’s there for the taking by the seventh. Then another thought concerns him; what if it’s too tired after fighting too long to be able to swim away afterwards? Bloody hell, if it died that would be worse than losing it. He would rather the fish threw the lure and lived due to his lack of skilful playing of it than stayed hooked but couldn’t recover because he’d played it carefully. So he decides to go against all his learned angling behaviour and horse the fish to shore as quickly as he dares. And if it escapes because of that......well.....he’ll lose sleep for years, but so be it.
He tightens the drag on the Citica and leans the rod back, much harder than before. This already feels completely wrong but he’s chosen it as the way forward and resists the urge to steady up again. The line starts to travel slowly right and he pitches the rod leftwards to side strain in the opposite direction. He feels the fish turn and for the first time since he hooked it he feels progress in his favour. As he draws the fish towards him he winds the gained line onto the reel and now anticipates no threat of it being taken back from him. The sheer weight of the perch still feels for the entire world like a snag but the gradual movement, as he draws to what feels like breaking point while winding line onto the spool, tells him it’s all fish. And it’s getting nearer. A vast swirling boil in the water just ahead of the line’s entry point jolts him as the reality of potentially physically holding this fish sinks in. The blood is pounding in his ears again and he can feel his heart beating in his throat. This is scarier now because he’s so close. Injury time. The final lap. The short span of minutes when losing hurts way, way more than back at the start of the match or the race. The eternal knowledge that it was right there and won’t be again. Another almighty swirl of water, closer now, and he physically sees the vast back of the perch, clear of the surface and not far in front of him, with it’s mast-like dorsal dominant. The fish is almost stationary and he barely knows how to proceed because the spectacle of the scene is causing a lack of brain function like never before. He stands with the line just tight and the perch like a dog, static on the end of a barely adequate lead. The fish has no more fight. He can clearly see that. But he’s fumbling his thoughts. Draw it nearer? It’s too shallow now; the fish is in the last of the deeper water that his net would need. Go in for it, then? The lake bed looks more stony here and he would risk walking on it. He takes his first steps to the edge and, as slowly as he can, his first steps into the pond. He feels the slight chill of the autumnal water going in through his boots and all the time he’s braced to nervous breaking point for the fish surging away again from in front of him. It holds, mercifully, in situ.
Burned out by it’s efforts it can only suspend with swaying tail and fins as he edges nearer, heart pounding and his mouth drier than
. As he shuffles closer he slowly turns the
handle on the reel to take up what line gradually becomes available. And then he’s there. It’s right in front of him and, ready as he
thought he was for seeing the fish close up, he realises nothing could have
prepared him for this. Nothing before or
since. He sees all the colour and detail
and vastness that he could never
imagine. Now trembling, he reaches behind his back with his left hand and feels
the handle of his net that is, somehow, still clipped to his waistcoat. He hoists the handle upwards and feels the
net pop free of the metal ring that holds it there. He prays for an uneventful gentle flick-open
of the net and gets it; none of the inverted mesh or hinge hook-ups of the
past. Oh God, this is so close. He starts to reach the net towards the
mighty perch before him. He’s going tail first to give it the best chance of
fitting within the frame. The fish’s
head starts to sway and it’s body with it.
Recharged in part, it contemplates departure. He sees these signs and goes for broke. The net is in the water and the frame is
passing over the huge tail at pace. The
mesh is flowing behind as the frame reaches the hand-like spiked dorsal. Now the fish feels the mesh at it’s tail end
and decides to leave. In a desperate
move he drags the net onwards, up the fish, then tries to lift. The massive perch erupts with a final
pent-up, saved-up burst for freedom and again hurls it’s head left and right
like a pitbull as it tries to shed the lure and net in equal measure. He throws the rod. He needs both hands for the net. He grasps the frame and hoists it clear of
the water with his now free right hand while still gripping the net’s handle
with his left. The big perch has
just-and-no-more slid down into the mesh which is bulging ridiculously under
the strain of it’s bulk. The rod and
reel are lying in a foot of water beside him with the line leading up into the
net and, beyond that, to the plastic cray wedged in the cavernous mouth of the
huge fish. He holds the Y of the net
frame with his right hand and reaches in with his left to free the lure. The
Castaic is set firmly inside the epic jaw and it takes a couple of downward
pushes to ping the hook free and liberate the crayfish. He drops that, also, down into the water to
join the rod and reel that cast it then staggers to the bank, gazing down all
the time into the straining net he’s carrying, at the gigantic perch bulging
within it and all the while saying out loud to nobody in particular New Mexico
in a voice that sounds like it has stage fright at a school play.
He’s up onto a thick bank of leaves deposited over weeks by the prevailing wind. In the absence of the mat (that he decided he would never need at a perch pond) this will be the landing pad for the massive striped visitor during it’s short stay away from it’s natural element. He wants all this done as quickly as possible. Weigh it in the net, photograph (next to the net for scale) then back in the lake. The net is resting down on the leaves and he can barely take his eyes from the vast area the mesh clad fish is covering in front of his feet. He’s dug the little Salter scale from a pocket and is hooking it onto the net frame it’s zeroed for. It’s black metal hook rattles as his hand trembles all through the procedure. Then it’s the time. He starts to raise the scale upwards and feels it strain against the net it’s trying to lift. The tiny white marker sails down the line of numbers, past three pounds, four pounds then five pounds. Bloody hell. The net and it’s spiked captive are still firmly grounded. The marker passes six pounds and he feels what is almost anxiety course through him. Six pounds and the fish still hasn’t left the leafy ground it seems rooted to. His hands and the scale are wobbling with a mixture of effort and adrenalin. The familiar pulsing in his neck has returned. The marker is down to seven pounds. Seven. Pounds. It can’t go any further. (Literally it can’t, because the scale has bottomed out at that figure.) Seven pounds. Whatever it weighs beyond this will never be known because that’s as far as it goes, end of the road. Seven pounds. He really may well be sick at any second. The tackle shop owner’s voice is in his head;
catch a perch that bottoms these out and you’ll be famous.
The marker is wedged down at seven. The fish is raised but still resting on leaves. He lifts further and, with slightly more effort, he feels the net and perch gently swing clear of the ground. How much more was that? He’s frantically trying to guess....four more ounces? Five? No way to ever know and no way he ever will. But one thing is doubtless.....the fish went seven pounds and, in the knowledge of that, he needs to kneel down before he keels over from the light-headed daze surrounding him.
Photograph. He goes to the chest pocket he slid the camera into. Not there. Oh shit, no. The jetty. The camera dug into his ribs and he placed it on the jetty. He looks back along the shore. Jagged wooden legs jut from the water to show where the jetty (and his camera) used to be. That. Cannot. Have. Happened......
But it has. So....phone camera. Which is on his phone. Which had no signal. So stayed in the car to make more room for the actual camera. Which is at the bottom of the lake. You. Are. Kidding.
You know what? Balls to it. He wants the huge fish back in the water now and staggers to his feet then heaves the net and fish off the leaves and up. He reverses the journey with the net, grasping the frame with both hands again, back to the water’s edge. He sets off slowly into the lake once more and sees his rod and reel lying on the bottom ahead of him. He passes them and stops when he’s knee deep in the pond. Then he lowers the net slowly down to the surface and beyond and sees the fish stir as the water immerses it’s hefty body. After a minute of letting it acclimatise he tilts the net down and back while reaching in and supporting the fish from below. He realises this is the first time he has physically touched the almighty creature. Then he slides the net away and drops the handle to let it fall back to join the already submerged rod behind him and he’s left cradling a perch so immense that it renders him speechless by it’s might. He sways it gently back and forth in the water. The fish puffs it’s gills and lake debris discharges from it’s giant mouth, collected when it inhaled the Castaic crayfish currently lying on the lakebed near his feet. He raises the fish’s vast spiked dorsal and gazes in disbelief at how it does indeed match his hand for size. A seven pound perch. That’s what he’s holding. That’s what he’s rocking to and fro in the cool water and that is what is now starting to show signs of recovery. The big body has a fresh tenseness, as though muscles have renewed strength. The amber fins are rippling and the dorsal is raised unaided. He continues to sway it and the water makes a subtle flowing sound as he does so. He feels the first flex from the fish but keeps hold. He wants a couple more of those before he releases it’s huge frame from his hands. He knows it’s leaving soon and he strokes it’s vast thuggish head because he also knows he’s going to make a point of never seeing it again. The perch flexes once more, now with renewed strength, and he suddenly feels how it was able to power away from him with such ease when he hooked it. He slowly removes his hands from the fish’s flanks and instead holds only the thick wrist of it’s tail. The perch stays perfectly upright in the water and begins to sway itself against the gentle restraint he’s using to make sure it’s energy is restored. It flexes powerfully now, it’s bearings regained, and he opens his fingers to release the tail he’s been holding. He feels that tail flow from his hand. Then he stands fully upright to watch it’s progress, willing to wade in (hell, swim in) if he has to in order to help it further if need be. But that won’t be necessary, because it glides away like a ship moving off after getting launched on the
Clyde. He strains
to see it for as long as he can below the gentle bow-wave it cannot fail to
cause. Then it’s lost to him, blending
in to the deeps as the wave peters out.
No trace exists. No sign to even
show that the startling event he has just experienced ever took place. His
brain is absorbing a barrage of mixed emotions; jubilation, despair, anxiety
and disbelief. Then after standing and
staring at the surface of the lake for longer than he’ll ever realise he turns,
reaches down to retrieve rod, reel, lure and net and swishes his feet towards
shore where he badly needs to sit down.
He watches water drip from the Citica and vaguely accepts he’ll need to take it apart to clean. He’s got most of his gear packed and is readying himself for the thorny struggle back to the car. He looks again to where the jetty once stood and briefly contemplates an attempt at retrieving his camera from the lake but disregards the idea. It shall forever remain an offering to The God Of Striped Fish. He pledges a media blackout. None of the angling comics will hear about this. In fact, nobody will. The circus will not descend. There’s no photographs, so no catch. A blank, in fact. Bloody crayfish everywhere, he’ll say.....ruined the place.
Then one last shake of the watery reel and the Citica is back in his largest pocket. So, where does he go from here? What will motivate him after that fish? Will he really head out, on a wet day, to the muddy canal with it’s dog-crap riddled towpath, to jig for perch that weigh ounces and can be swung to hand and held between finger and thumb? Oh, this is going to be difficult. This does not bode well at all for what has been his primary focus (and enjoyment) for decades. He briefly remembers a history lesson at school and the ancient words from a book about Alexander the Great that he was forced to plough through;
And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.
No more worlds to conquer. The elation from today’s event is caving in to hard reality. The slump after the peak. What does he aim for now? An eight pounder?
At the moment, getting back through the savage undergrowth, as uninjured as possible....that can be the start and he’ll take the future from there. He manages a last look at the surface of the lake. The silence and calm seem to bizarrely contradict the events of the day. He takes one final moment to pat a waistcoat pocket, checking a particular small lure box is securely packed there. It is. This small lure box is the one thing he must NOT forget to safely take home. Because it contains a now much treasured item.....the Castaic crayfish that never got to ride a fast boat on
Lake Tahoe, never got to
hang out in ’s
tackle den and, for that matter, never managed to sneak a peek at
Kaylee-Marie’s poolside ass. But did
manage, with the whole world unaware, to become the most famous crayfish to
leave the Castaic lure factory. Ever. Chad
Then he turns again to face the mass of branches, briars and brambles ahead of him. It’s a long trek back to the car and he knows Mother Nature has every intention of tearing him to pieces.