Mention the word “fishing” and I reckon most folks think of Tom Sawyer, cane pole in his hand, chewing on a length of straw while sitting along the banks of the mighty Mississippi. I guess this vision is acceptable in most cases – from experience, fish can be sly, tricky and in some cases downright ornery.
I know it’s hard to think of a largemouth bass as being a vicious creature, much less any other freshwater fish found around here except possibly one, the lowly bowfin. More commonly known as a mudfish, these fish are somewhat prehistoric and usually inhabit swamp-like ponds or rivers. Because these places usually have little oxygen in the water, the bowfin have that problem covered by being able to stick their head out of the water and gulp air.
And talk about a mean fish: Bowfin will eat just about anything that moves, and when caught on hook and line, their abnormally large head and dagger-like teeth will put a hurt on you in a heartbeat if it gets a hold of you. Besides that mouth, they are incredibly slimy, making handling them almost like trying to grab a greased pig. Is this experience talking? Absolutely.
On the slippery meter, I would have to put flounder right up there. Since I have a passion for fishing for flatties rather than gigging them, I have had a number of run-ins with these wet bars of soap and, in most cases, lose these wrestling matches.
As I said there have been many encounters with flounder, but some of my more notable ones happened during my teen years. Because I didn’t have a boat at the time, I was big into lagoon fishing on Hilton Head, especially in brackish water lagoons. Being young and dumb, it never occurred to me to bring a landing net when I fished these impoundments – and boy oh boy did I pay for my ignorance.
One lagoon in particular always seemed to produce big fish, and I mean big — redfish over four feet long, trout over 10 pounds, tarpon and on occasion even a snook or two. It was during one such trip to that lagoon when I hooked into something big, but by the way it fought I wasn’t sure what I had on the end of my line. It stayed on the bottom like a stingray often does, but something was different about this fish. After numerous runs, I was finally able to see the fish, and it was the biggest flounder I had ever seen – and I had landed some whoppers prior to that day.
My heart was pounding like crazy, and with no net my only option was to try to find a spot where I could slide the fish up the bank. I knew I had to do it slowly so my line wouldn’t break, and I finally got the nerve up to go for it. I had that monster about 3 feet out of the water when there was a loud snap and my line broke. I threw down my rod and jumped on that flounder. It went nuts, I went nuts and the fight was on. Back and forth we went until it made it to the water and off it swam. If only someone would have videoed our struggle, it would have gone viral. Knowing that flounder was in that lagoon, I became obsessed with catching it. Three weeks later, I got what I am sure was that darn flounder and it weighed in at 14 ½ pounds. It was larger than any doormat I have ever seen.
Another fish that has a tendency of often getting the upper hand is a dolphin fish or mahi-mahi, especially the large ones. Hooked, a big bull dolphin or male dolphin has an extremely broad side, so it’s like pulling in a sheet of plywood with the flat side against you.
But that’s nothing compared to the moment you decide to put one of these bruisers in the boat. From the moment you gaff the beast and drop it on the deck, my only suggestion is to get way out of the way because they almost always go ape. I have had them flip high enough to go back over the side, but more often than that I have seen them darn near break legs with their powerful tail.
One such incident happened years back when a woman onboard caught a 50-pound bull. It hadn’t been in the boat more than a few minutes when she insisted on a picture with her prize catch. To no avail I tried to warn her, so I held up this huge dolphin and just as the camera clicked that tail took her out. A day or two later I ran into her and from hip to foot her leg was jet black, a bruise that took weeks to disappear. I have taken dolphin tails to about every part of my body.
It isn’t always the big fish that can get you. Chopper bluefish and Spanish mackerel both come into the boat snapping away, and both of these species have razor-sharp teeth that mutilate a finger or toe quicker than a Ronco Chop-O-Matic.
But when it comes to pain, nothing beats a bite from a triggerfish. Unlike mackerel or bluefish, triggerfish have a small mouth with human-like teeth that won’t necessarily slice you open, because their forte is quite different. Given half a chance they will play dead, and then when your hand is within biting distance they strike and hold on. It’s like having a bulldog grab you. The more you try to pull away, the harder they bite down. In addition, the times they have gotten me have always been in the most sensitive parts of my hand, such as the skin in the palm of your hand.
So the next time you see a fish and think they are cute little fishies, think again. They’re all out to get you, and if you wonder if that is experience talking — absolutely and positively yes!