Welcome to Panfish

Part Seventeen


"Mud Wrestling With Monsters"
By Randy Fratzke

A few weeks back there was an article in our local, small town news paper about a local lake that was to be drained so that work could be done on the dam. The article stated that DNR was going to allow people to take fish during a one week period during the draining by "any means they are capable of doing so, barring only dynamite, fire arms or ammunition of any kind, and that there would be no limits on any species taken from the lake area".

Sounded like a dream come true for most of us who knew the lake and fished it regularly for its bass and crappies. I got several phone calls from fishing buddies asking if I'd seen the article and if I planned on being there "opening day"? I said that I planned on, but I planned on fishing, not netting, bow hunting, seining, spearing, snagging, or hand catching the fish. I figured I'd at least go about it half way fair to the fish. Wow, was I naive.

First of all, this is a rather small lake, about 400 acres, mixed mud, sand and gravel bottom and both creek and spring fed. It's right in the heart of our local Amish community and seldom do I visit it without seeing at least a few old fashioned row boats full of straw hatted, bearded fishermen (apparently Amish women don't fish...?) I was about a mile down the highway from the lake turnoff when I encountered a line of cars, pickups, and horses with the familiar black Amish carriages waiting for the park gates to open. There were sheriff department and highway patrol personnel on duty directing traffic and keeping order. It looked like a cross between a United Nations meeting and a butchers convention. The only thing I didn't see were fishing rods. Except mine....

As the DNR unlocked the gates and traffic started moving into the park all sense of order was lost. The DNR had drained all but about 4 feet of water out of the lake already and most of the fish were concentrated in that rather small pool of water. I didn't even bother getting my rod out. I simply stood by my van and watched in utter amazement as hundreds of people trampled down the shorelines and into the slippery mass of terrified fish. Some of them were dressed in waders, some in cutoffs, still others in their long legged bib tops and straw hats.

All were wrestling fish into everything from garbagecans to gunny sacks. One bunch of guys had set up a "fireman's bucket brigade", scooping fish up with laundry baskets and handing them up to each other on a bank and emptying the baskets into the bed of a pickup truck. When that truck was filled another one was brought in. Large and small mouth bass, crappie, blue gills, sun fish, bull heads, cat fish, carp and suckers, the species being taken were totally indiscriminate. It was merely take as much as you could haul!

In another area was what I would call "the bartering area". This is where some of the Amish had set up a "trading station" where they would trade bass that they had caught for carp that others had caught. I have to admit, they do have some of the best smoked carp I've ever tasted! The DNR did come around once in a while and reminded them that none of the fish could be used for "commercial purposes". One old bearded elder, eyes agleam, just nodded, and said he understood the rule. After the DNR officer left he looked at a couple of other Amish men and asked if they had marked the ones they had taken from the lake? They said they didn't know they were supposed to, the elder just smiled again and said, "guess it'll be kind of hard to tell which we caught and which we fished for then..."

I only stayed and watched for about an hour. I was told that the "four day event" only lasted about 6 hours. Nobody had any record of how many pounds of fish were taken or how many of what species. I understood that this was probably a much "saner" way of salvaging the fish when work needs to be done, as opposed to simply poisoning the lake and throwing all of the fish away, but, for me, it was still a bit gut wrenching watching a mob scene fighting for a bunch of trapped fish in the bottom of a mud hole. It really makes fly fishing seem like a sport with dignity and honor.

I do plan on going back over to the lake in a few days to photograph the bottom structure and I'll take a few photos as the lake refills for future reference. I don't really consider that "cheating", I consider it having a slight advantage when fishing a lake or river. I also know that if I ever see another notice of a lake drainage "massacre" not to even go near the place until it's all over with. I'm sure that those that participated feel justified with lines like "the fish were going to die anyway" and "if I didn't take them, somebody else would have". I just couldn't justify it myself.

~ Randy Fratzke

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