Part Sixty-six

Randy Fratzke

Update on the Monster

By Randy Fratzke

Several people have asked if I've seen my monster Northern Pike lately and my response has been "not since the mid May flood." I've been wondering if it got washed down stream like so much flotsam during that flood or one of the subsequent ones. I was really feeling like Captain Ahab, finding myself sitting on the front deck of the house (hey, it's almost like a dry docked ship…) watching the water for the tell tale signs I'd come to know it by. The huge splash as it took down a duckling or a large fish for breakfast and supper, the big "vee" wake from its dorsal fin as it crossed into the shallows after for some light snacks on gillies and chub.

But the river has changed so much from the floods. I can now wade on the sand bar from my dock to Willow Beach without so much as getting my butt wet. I can clearly count seven trees washed into what used to be the channel and numerous stumps sticking up, their roots looking like alien fingers pointing in all directions. But still, such a powerful and old fish, I just couldn't imagine it being gone, 22+ lbs for a Northen Pike in this area is nearly unheard of, and one that's been caught, tagged and released even rarer.

But it was Saturday morning, about 5:30, and something woke me up. Not the alarm clock either, it gets shut off on Friday after the final bell of the week, and turned back on Sunday night to start the weekly grind over again. No something else had woke me. I heard the Blue Herons' distinctive "graaak" that is like something prehistoric, usually an announcement of relief that it's airborne. But the ducks and geese were making one heck of a racket also. Honking, quacking, and a lot of water splashing, no need for an alarm clock to raise the near dead from our sleep. I crawled out of the bed, grabbed my robe and headed for the front room and then out to the deck, binoculars in had, pulse racing. Could it be?

The ducks had just hatched a second (or third) batch of ducklings a few days ago. We had commented that they'd be lucky to get them grown and ready for the strenuous flight south in a couple of months, considering all the "nature signs" were pointing towards an early fall and winter. Obviously, the reproductive drive of the geese and ducks doesn't take into consideration the "weather signs" and they'd already lost two broods to floods already this summer.

I looked up onto Willow Beach and it was dotted with drakes, hens and ducklings, ganders, geese and goslings, all carrying on, all making a racket, I smiled… not because I new the hunters would be having a good season (which is where I get a lot of my tying materials) but because all the water fowl were watching the water and the huge "V" zig-zagging around in the shallows. I went back inside and fixed a pot of coffee and headed out to the deck, my 16oz. steaming cup of coffee in one hand, 10x50 binoculars in the other. There I watched, almost drooling, feeling more like Ahab than I had in a long time, watching for my Moby Dick to breach again. But the water was calm, flat, mirror like. Had I missed the show? Was its huge belly full already and it was already heading back to its day-time hide out or had somethng else just frightened everything?

I slowly sipped my coffee, felt my systems starting to kick into gear, and decided to just sit back and watch the dawning of a new day. The waterfowl had even settled down and were starting to reenter the river. Soon ducklings and goslings were back playing tag, skittering across the water, testing their wings and flight control systems.

On the far side of the river I heard a small splash and noticed a "V" heading across the water. I grabbed the binoculars and focused on a mother muskrat and three little ones following her in the water. Then another disturbance in the water behind the last muskrat, and then there were two little ones, not a sound had been made, no big splash, no huge breach, just an underwater attack, enough to pull it under. The mother was about half way across when I noticed the "V" coming up from behind her. One of the ganders had also seen it and gave a series of "warning" honks which started a cacophony of noise from all the other birds, all trying to locate their young, all trying to get out of the water. Now there was just one young muskrat following its mother, both swimming frantically towards shore. It finally made it, looked at the one baby, looked back at the water, searching for the other two for a moment or two, then headed into the weeds.

At least now I know 'The King is Back.' I could gear up, continue watching it's feeding patterns, prepare the right leaders, the right flies, the right rod. I've lost this fish three times already, I don't want to lose it next time. I want pictures, certification, verification, then release it back into the water. But, I want to catch it, just once (okay, maybe a couple of times. . .) Maybe tomorrow, it's my birthday, my wife is headed for the State Fair for the day. . . Yeah, maybe tomorrow will be my day to fish. Maybe I'll go after the monster. . . ~ Randy Fratzke

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