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    The Big Fish

    By walt | November 30, 2008

     Well, I better finish this fish story while I’m still remembering it. Thanks for the comments everyone. 

    Back on Red Rock, before the pause, this had happened:  “Walt, he’s just smelling the bait. Wait, Walt”. He sensed my impatience. Then a moment later, “Sluooop”… the cork sounded and  disappeared under the water. “Now!” Rich hollered. I jerked back hard on the fishing stick and held on tight as the stick doubled over and began to vibrate and pull like a Bull Mastiff on a leash. 

    Richard continued to coach me while he worked fast to get Stephen’s fishing stick finished and in the water. We could all be catching fish. He didn’t have another cork in the tackle box, so he found the right size twig over in the driftwood that could float the bait. He tied the stub of wood to the line, not bothering to teach now, rushing… I could smell his mind burning with excitement as I fought my fish.

    My right hand was squeezing the pole so tight that it hurt. A sharp stump was sticking me in the soft palm. I was afraid to adjust my grip for fear of losing this fish. There was only ten feet of line out, and that’s not much give and take for a fish to run with. I quit worrying about my hand as I began to slide on my butt toward the Red Rock cliff, closer with each tug from the fish. Darn, I didn’t bargain for this! “Rich , I’m sliding.”   Rich had already heard the sound of my butt on the dry clay of Red Rock.  I was about a foot from the edge, with my left side facing Richard. He commanded, “Stephen, go hold on to Walter! Hurry!” Stephen got up and walked over to my back, sat down and put his warm arms around my chest and held me tight. I stopped sliding, but now I  really felt the rod digging into my palm.  “Ouch”   “What?” Richard inquired.  “My hand is bleeding from this spike.” That got his attention, and he came over to take a look at the situation, still tying on his hook.  “It’s just a scratch! Stephen, grab the pole with Walter.”  Rich  was done with Stephen’s pole and began to rig  his own pole. I could hear him testing the drag. Stephen scrunched tighter to my back and reached towards my fishing stick and grabbed it.  When he stretched to reach the stick, though, he lunged forward a little, pushing my butt off the clay and my center of gravity shifted to my bare feet.  That was all it took. The fish felt the slack and dove deeper into the water, dragging me and Stephen with it. Richard leaped towards us, barely catching  Stephen’s waist band, pulling him backwards with his other hand, and grabbing me as we all fell onto the red clay. He reached for, and saved, the fishing stick as well. Now all three of us had a hand on the stick, and were laying in a puppy pile, trying to land the fish. Richard started crawling backwards.  We followed his lead, and the fishing line got “tight as Dick’s hat band”… (Dad never told us who Dick was, just that he wore too small of a hat). I mean, the line was tight and beginning to sing. “It’s gonna break”,  I cringed, and then I saw it.

    At first it was just this huge mass of muddy water swirling up from the darker depths, the size of a garbage can lid. “What the hell!” Richard said, as we continued to pull this thing toward us. Then a swish in the water, barely catching my eye. Was that a snake ? No, it’s too short. Our mind’s were reeling, trying to figure out what we had caught. Then a claw broke the surface of the water, splashing us all.  Is that a possum?   No… Then a long neck stretched out of the water towards me, with a snout and two beady eyes, a shiny hook in its mouth. I focused hard. This thing was huge, bigger than home plate. “All together lift… One,… Two…” Richard began to count…   “three!”  We wrangled  it up and onto Red Rock. “Stephen, stay behind me!!!” I said, and spread my arms to block him from coming around me “What is it?!” he exclaimed.  Richard held the fishing stick by himself now, and named the Being. Richard shouted, “It’s a soft-shell turtle and  it was perfectly camouflaged”.  “Right,” I said “and she is now pissed as hell!” 

    The turtle was upside down and trying desperately to right herself. I’d only seen small ones, and this one was incomprehensible for a 7 year old boy, eyeball to eyeball. This was the Mother of the soft-shell turtle clan for sure. Richard finally said the magic words,  “She won’t hurt you”.  I could feel my breath exhale, and Stephen let go of my arm. We still kept our distance, though. She was beautiful with a white underside and sandy brown top side, almost perfectly round.  Fighting to get right-sided, she stretched her neck and head under her body and tried to pirouette off to one side.  Using her legs for leverage, two legs would pull and the other two push,  one more great attempt to reach the tipping point and roll over. It wasn’t an exact science because she had already failed four times in rapid succession, since being rudely hauled top side. Her body was so flat, like a badger or a flounder. Her feet had dark, almost black, claws that were making noise as it scratched lines in the red clay.

    “I name her Sandy.” Steve said proudly. He was now on my right side. “Steve  go get my pliers out of the tackle box. “Richard said in earnest, Steve got em and ran back over to his side. “You guys listen up, we are gonna have to hold her down to get that hook out her mouth our she might die” Richard said as he knelt down and hesitantly grabbed Sandy’s hind legs just above the claws where she couldn’t scratch him. “This is how you are going to have to hold her guys while I get that hook out so she can go home to her youngen” he said with convection so we would know there was no backing out. “Walt you take this leg” he said. I nelt next to him, then reached out and he carefully put her left leg in my hand, claw facing up and away from my wrist . “Both hands” he added and hold on real tight or you wil get scratched he said mater of fact. “OK Steve you …. but Steve started backin away. “No way” Steve said . “Oh don’t be a baby we need you” I said, Steve shot back immediately “I ‘m not a baby I’m six now” he walked over nelt down beside Richard then showed him how to safely hold her Right leg. I said “her leg feels like  a live chicken neck” I noticed now her claws were webbed. Sandy was really tugging, I felt her power once again. Richard put His foot on her belly, grabbed her just behind the head with his left hand, then with the pliers in his right hand he grabed the now bent  hook twisted and looped his wrist, done the hook was out. A very small amount of blood trickled out of her beak, the bright red contrasting  with her earth tone. There she’s free Richard said you guys can let go. We did. He lifted her buy the neck and put her right side up. We stood silenlty still as she scuttled quickly into the water, not bothering to look back towards us at all. We watched as she dove deeper, swimming fast and smoothly, creating a beautiful swirling slip stream behind her….. gone. We looked at each other lonely for her already. Steve broke the silence “hey I lost my grasshopper”.  “Come I”ll go with you we’ll catch some more” I put my arm around his shoulder he grabbed my waste, we began to walk up the trail towards the grass field.

    “I loved this place I said to Steve “ya never knew what was going to hapen here”.

     “Yeah” was all he said.

    Downhill I heard the sound of Richards Shakespeare reel s…inging, as he cast it far into the deep waters off Red Rock. 
    All I could think was “Gods Got Us” in this beautiful Place.

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