Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Me and the Monster of Carey Creek

A true story by Patricia Davids.
Warning, long post

This happened one year ago.

 It was my birthday. Not any birthday, a momentous one. I turned 65. Old-ish, Medicare ready, Social Security on the way, I was happy to hit another milestone but what I wanted for my birthday was a little bit of nostalgia. I wanted to go fishing in the creek that runs through my dad’s farm. 

Carey Creek is hardly big enough to deserve a name but it was one of my favorite spots as a kid. I waded in it, swam in it, seined minnows, caught crawdads in the muddy water and I fished there. First with a long cane pole when I was little and later with a rod and reel when I got older. I caught sun perch and pumpkin seed perch and if I was lucky a few bullheads big enough for my mother to fry up for supper. 

My whole family loves to fish and we have our favorite place near Delevan, Ks where a spring fed creek hidden in the Flint Hills harbors some awesome bigmouth bass and catfish. Dad likes to fish for wipers and bass on Milford or Herington Lake from his boat. I admit I like that, too, but my favorite fishing is done from the bank of a creek in the shade of a tree with the birds and the wind for company. 

So, for my 65th birthday that was the plan. I would walk down to the creek, sit a spell and maybe hook a bass or two on a spinner or a bullhead or channel cat on some beef liver and look back on my life3.
The sun was setting by the time I tired of casting a spinner. I caught and put back two nice bass. My dog Sugar was busy running up and down the bank trying to bite the fish I caught. She’s a rat terrier. I guess to her they look like water rats.

Finally, I put some beef liver on my catfish pole with its long rod and twenty-pound test line. It was a bit of overkill on the creek but I didn’t think it would matter. I set my bobber at about two and a half or three feet which is the depth of that stretch of water that parallels the dirt road on the south lane. 
The wind died down and I took a deep breath of pure air as I watched the sun set through the trees. Trees that weren’t there was I was little. It had been a horse pasture then. Just grass. It was a jungle now of the hackberry, cottonwoods, Osage orange and elm trees that had grown up over fifty years to make the pasture unrecognizable. White-tail deer, wild turkey and the occasional bobcat prowl the shadowy depths where my brothers and I used to play football and I trained my horse to jump over wooden barriers for fun. 
My tall orange and white bobber ducked under the water once. My pulse raced as I picked up my pole. My brother Mark is a fly fishing guide in Montana, a professional fisherman. He says “the tug is the drug,” and he is so right. The bobber dove under the water and I set the hook and Zower, there was a big fish on the other end.

Eeeerrr, my reel squealed as he lunged against the drag in his dash upstream. I pulled him back, cranked in a little line, pulled again, cranked in a little more then, Eeeerr, he made a dash downstream and I knew I had a monster on my hands. 

I have never seriously fought a fish. I have caught some three and five-pound wipers or bass or even trout that took some time to reel in but this was different. This was a fight. My little dog Sugar was going crazy at the sight of my orange and white bobber flashing across the water. 

I was wondering how long it would go on. Five minutes? Had it been five minutes? The Monster didn’t act tired. I wasn’t going to admit my carpel tunnel affected wrists were hurting. I cranked, he spooled out more line, I cranked some more. The dog barked. The sun set in a brilliant ball of orange. Suddenly, the ultimate outcome of this epic battle came into sharp focus for me. I could reel him in but I couldn’t land him. 
The banks of the creek are five-foot high in my fishing spot. Straight down into the water. Even if I got him to the bottom of the bank there was no way I could lift him five feet straight up out of the water. I did not have a dipnet with me. Why would I? No one has ever caught a fish like this in our little creek.

So, we had a Mexican standoff. I couldn’t land him, he couldn’t shake my hook but by golly he tried. He rolled and lunged and splashed his tail. And then I heard the put-put of my Dad’s four-wheeler coming down the road. Maybe, just maybe, I was going to win. “Dad, get a dip net! I need a dip net!”

Dad waved. “I’m coming. Figured you’d be done fishing by now.”

“Go get a dip net! I need a dip net, Dad. Get a net!”

For those of you who don’t know my dad, he is stone cold deaf unless you are a foot away from his hearing aide. Seriously and that’s if he has it turned on which he didn’t. He walks with a cane and his unsteady gate makes it dangerous for him to get close enough to the bank to help. 

He waved again from his four-wheeler on the road. “No rush.” 

“No rush.” I looked at the fish at the bottom of the bank just visible in the fading light. He was a flathead, black and sleek with a huge head and beady eyes. Ten pounds, maybe more. He was on his side. His gills were flapping. I knew he was done, but so was I. I couldn’t get down to get hold of him. My only choice was to try and lift him straight up. Sugar was pacing at my feet sure she was going to get a nip in. I had him two-thirds out of the water when my line snapped. 

Oh, no! “Sugar, get him!” I yelled like my fifteen-pound dog could land a ten-pound fish by herself. Sugar gave it a look. She was ready to jump when I came to my senses yelled, “No!” 

Then I saw it. Caught in the bush a few feet down from the top was my cork. Please let the line still be attached. 

If I could just get my hand on the line. The fish was gasping in the shallows.
I threw myself down on my belly and grabbed the cork as the end of the line slipped through my fingers. With a flick of his tail the Monster was gone. All I had to show for our epic fight was grass stains on my shirt and the bobber in my hand. He had my hook. 

I’m ashamed to say I pounded the ground in frustration. My dad came gingerly through the grass and stopped a few feet away. “Are you done fishing yet?”

I bowed my head. “Yes, I’m done.”

My birthday adventure was over. What could possibly top hooking a Monster like that? 
I’ve been told swallowing a hook won’t always harm a fish. My fisherman brother assured me an old catfish would likely live a long time and might even pass the hook one day. I hope so.

I rose to my feet, dusted off my hands and stared at the now still surface of the water. The balance of power in that little world had shifted for the both of us. Why? Because he knows that I know he is in there. There will be another meeting. There will be a dip net within reach. 

Thank you Monster of Carey Creek for a most memorable birthday.

4 comments:

  1. Definitely a birthday worth remembering! Fun adventure, Patricia. Hope you get another crack at him!

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  2. What a great post, Patricia. And you are not oldish at all. You are clearly vibrant and celebrating life. And bless the monster of Carey Creek for giving you a memorable birthday.

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  3. What fun! Definitely a birthday you will remember. Until you and the Monster meet again.

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  4. OH, Pat what a great story! You kept me riveted--hooked!! I hate to lose a fish but that did sound like a monster. I'm thinking that was fun and that you two will have an epic Moby Dick kind of reunion. Maybe the moral is that we sometimes have to fight with monsters to keep pushing ourselves in life. But … you are a winner because you didn't give up until you had no other choice!

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