Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The One That Got Away

I had occasion recently to remember a fish tale (of sorts). Something I mentioned in a post the other day jarred my memory; Captain Corky's mentioning his impending fishing trip spurred me to write about it. Sometime in the very early 1980's, my father decided to take my brother and me down to Rock Creek to see if there were any fish there. The creek had practically died from pollution (PCBs, et cetera) in the previous decade or so, but he had heard talk of a revival or a rebirth of the creek, and he had to see for himself.

At the time, we were living on Sigsbee Road in Wheaton, MD, in a neighborhood known as Veirs Mill Village (or to all who were aware of it, simply, The Village). I shan't go into much detail here, but I must say that it was a place where the term "village idiot" was a redundancy (no offense to all you Villagers who aren't idiotic...). Rock Creek was close to home, less than a five-minute walk downhill from our house, so we just grabbed four poles (Zebco 202s), the tackle box, a five-gallon bucket and the coffee can full of night crawlers that my brother and I had filled the night before.

Sidetrack: "Nightcrawling" was the term my brother and I used for our worm hunts. After twilight on summer evenings, we would walk a block away from our house to the strip of grass between the street and the fence in front of the house on the southeast corner of Charles and Gridley Roads. If there had been a thunderstorm the afternoon before our hunt, we would fill a coffee can within an hour (ten dozen or so). While on our hands and knees, we would use a flashlight with dying batteries to spot them without spooking them; many was the time that we would catch pairs mating and get them both.

We crossed the Randolph Road bridge over the creek and set up right at water's edge, on a small patch of ground with a three-foot high "stump" on it, maybe fifty yards upstream from the bridge. We baited our hooks and began fishing; my father set up the fourth pole with a bobber, just in case. We caught a couple of small bluegills, maybe a shiner or creek chub or two; we had enough action to keep our focus on the poles we were manning.

My father got a snag that he couldn't coax out (the creek was littered with debris of all sorts, natural and man-made); as he was re-rigging his line, he noticed that the bobber on the fourth pole had gone under. He picked it up from its y-stick perch and remarked, "Damn, another snag." He was trying to free the hook when he discovered that whatever it had snagged was not firmly fixed on the bottom. He figured it was a branch, so he began easing it in to save the hook. After a few seconds, he cried out, "It's moving!" My brother and I knew he wasn't talking about any branch; we set down our poles and got beside him.

When the head of the creature on the line reached the surface of the water, I was mystified. I had never seen a fish at all like it; once my father got it on shore, I understood why. He had landed a snapping turtle! It was monstrous. Its shell was bigger in circumference than the "circle" my outstretched arms make even today. Its neck had to be a foot long; its head about the size of my father's two fists. It had swallowed the hook and was thrashing its neck to try to break away. When it opened its mouth, it hissed so loudly it scared me. The damn thing looked like a throwback to the dinosaur era; I wanted no part of it.

My father struggled to keep the turtle on land; he was trying to figure out how to bring the ugly son-of-a-bitch home to show my mother! Before he could devise a scheme to make that happen, the turtle whipped its neck when the line was taut, snapped the line, grunted and went right back into the water. We had only our eyewitness testimony to prove what had happened.

To this day, that turtle stands as the biggest creature I have ever known to have been pulled out of Rock Creek.

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