Started the weekend off with a massive fish fry. Hundreds of fillets of blue cat, channel cat, flathead cat, crappie, large mouth bass and sand bass were fried up, feasted upon, packaged up and passed out to friends and family. It took me just over 3 hours to fry all the fish up. Clearly I need to invest in a basket fryer. Everybody enjoyed the fish and a good time was had by all.
I was now out of fish.
That simply wouldn’t do. Having depleted my entire reserve of fish fillets I immediately set out that evening to replenish my stockpile with a glorious night of me vs the wild currents and school bus sized logs of the Verdigris river… 10ft+ out of its banks..
I got the boat in slightly after the sun started touching the horizon. Huge logs were everywhere zipping by the calm water by the boat ramp. The smell of fresh forest rain steaming off the leaves of the trees smelled so much sweeter than the stink of fresh rain on oily asphalt in the city. I didn’t even have any poles in the water but the stress of a busy week was already evaporating away. The sounds of rushing water and wood on wood impacts were all around me as I turned the boat up river. With all the logs in the water I set the engine on forward idle to be safe. Usually this provides plenty of power to get me moving when the river has dangerous amounts of wood floating around, but not Saturday. A quick glance at the shore line let me know that my armor plated tank of a boat was moving backwards with the current. A bit more gas and I was on my way up river, forcing sticks and logs to move over as they got in my way. After a few minutes I had made my way to my bait gathering spot and got a good chunk of shad piled up in the live well.
As I left I noticed that the inlet to the little offshoot channel I was in had some very impressively sized eddy currents swirling around. This gave me an idea..
Up river about a quarter mile was a little dry stream bed, normally covered in weeds and other assorted vegetation just off the main channel. Figuring that the water was high enough to flood this area it seemed to me that it would be a likely spot for a great night of big cats. Sure enough it was flooded… A quick sweep with the sonar showed 25 ft of water shifting to 2 feet of water over a distance of about 8 feet. Jackpot.
Ok so first off I have to explain my anchor. I fish in a lot of nasty weather because I’m insane and I’ll fish in just about any environment short of an active tornado near enough to be of concern. Because of this I have had to equip my boat with large 28 pound double pronged naval anchors. This allows a lot of flexibility to let me do whatever the heck I want where ever I want to do it. So when the first three attempts to position my boat perfectly perpendicular over that drop off, with the butt of my boat hanging in the wind of that rushing river and the nose of my boat hovering over a 2 foot deep section of calm water, failed miserably and resulted in me scrambling to hoist my anchor up while getting pushed down river I was a little annoyed. Eventually I got it hunkered down but I had to motor up, move up into that 2ft deep channel and let nearly 40 feet of rope off on the front.
By this time the sun was down. It was near pitch black with only a tiny sliver of the moon barely detectable behind light cloud cover. There were so many mosquitoes that I couldn’t use my main LED lighting arrays with serious negative repercussions. Using my head lamp resulted in so many bugs in my face that I couldn’t open my eyes without eyeball-on-bug contact. Me being me of course though, I was prepared. Half a can of Off, change of clothes & ATV goggles got me in business. I quickly set about to putting lines in the water.
The thing I love about the Verdigris river navigation channel is that it’s vastly under-utilized and has monstrous catfish all over the place. When I fish this river I forgo the usual method of fishing I do at my local fishing hole near home and put out several “wishful thinking” (80lbs mono, teflon coated steel cable leaders, shark hooks the size of your fist) poles as opposed to just one. You see it can be risky to use small tackle here because most of the time whatever bites the end of your line is going to be a big, bad monstrosity of a fish. The biggest fish of my life (43lbs blue) and my wife’s grandfather (68lbs flathead) came from this river.
I set only two poles up with small rigging in what I imagined would be a futile effort to catch crappie to use as bait, and the rest with world record class rigging. Just as I put the 3rd cat line in the water one of my wishful thinking poles hit hard. It was in one of the pipe pole holders on the back of my boat and had been tossed into the deep rushing current of the eddy area of the main channel. You see the idea behind what I call my “wishful thinking” poles is that it acts as a size limiter preventing smaller catfish from being able to physically fit the hook and bait ball in their mouth. A 4 inch long hook with 10 shad stuffed on it makes a very attractive meal to a big cat. It’s kind of nice having several of these big tackle poles in the water because you don’t really have to pay much attention to your lines. When something hits on this large of rigging the whole boat shakes and the oversized saltwater reel screams as line gets ripped off the spool. Looking up at that solid fiberglass pole bending over on itself always gives me an adrenaline rush. I flip the LED light array on as I jump up to remove the pole from the holder and the fight is on. This poor fish had the bad luck of biting down on the biggest baddest rigged pole in my collection. My fishing buddy and I call it “the gator pole” on account of an alligator we may have had hooked one time, but thats a different story. This solid (not hollow) fiberglass pole is indestructible, the reel is the size of a folgers coffee can and the rigging can lift a semi truck tire clean off the ground. After about 30 seconds a nice healthy looking 15lbs blue cat was squawking away at me at the bottom of my boat. A wonderful start to what I planned on being a very long night of outdoor therapy.
The night went on and the hours went by. Surrounded by the ambience of the pitch black river, my only companion was culmination of a thousand sounds of nature. The anchor ropes scraping against their pulley guards as the river futilely tried to take possession of my boat added an eerie atmosphere to the whole night. The sound of a beaver munching away on some sapling so close yet not visible. The worrisome much-too-loud splashing of some creature of the deep. The frequent slams of a log on hull impact would often interrupt my light dozing off. The howl of coyotes in the distance. The ear piercing screech of some very large waterfowl I’ve never heard before on the other side of the river. Frogs humming. Giant clumps of mud falling into the water from the shore line. Cicadas by the thousand in every tree. The ever present hum of a billion winged insects in every direction. All the sounds of the night are so vivid when you can barely see your hand in front of your face. And throughout it all the most awaited sound of the night… WHAM! THUMP THUMP THUMP BUZZZZZZZZZZ! Fish on!
As the night went on the fish fights kind of blurred together. Memories of the previous fight fight would meld into the next and the next. The dreary state of my exhausted mind combined with the frequent adrenal rush of a good fish fight in an environment of personal challenge and solitude made for an evening of ultimate mental replenishment. Like a vision quest the 10 hours I fished in the darkness felt like an immeasurable eternity. I never looked at the clock; only the barely visible shape of the shore line to make sure I hadn’t been torn from my fishing spot and the sky for signs of the coming dawn. At some point in the darkest part of the night when I seemed to be the furthest away from the land of consciousness and civilization I awoke from my light dozing off to the sound of a pole rattling in it’s holder. I opened my eyes and looked around to see who it was. To my horror it was my ultralight 7 foot crappie pole. This pole had no leader, no shark hook, no strength. It had 6 pound line with a size 2 crappie hook with the pole strength of a fly swatter. The pole was grossly disfigured into a shape that no longer resembled a fishing instrument of any kind. The entire length of the rod had been bent into a circle with the last two thirds of it under the water pointing under the boat.
The adrenal rush was exquisite. Wrenching the handle from the pole holder I quickly discovered that this was to be the biggest fish of the night. It’s a good thing I had a full spool of fresh line on the reel as this fish wanted to take all of it. I thought to myself.. 6 pound line.. no leader.. tiny paperclip thin hook.. I’ve got this……. I set the drag low and began what would be the longest fish fight of my life. The first 20 minutes the fish was the master. When it dove it took me with it. When it ran I struggled to keep up. The spool was about half empty, doing quick math I figured that was about 50 or 60 yards of line that had been pulled. My arms were getting tired, stress slowly began to replace excitement. The fight went on. 30 minutes passed by, 40 minutes.. Up river, down river, deep & shallow the fish went. An epic struggle to survive by one of the most delicious creatures on the planet. How long would the line hold up? How could 6 pound line possibly survive the abrasion of a big cat’s gaping maw. How could that little hook possibly grab enough meat to not tear through? Still line on the reel, no need to get hastey… Patience.. Patience…. At this point in my life I’ve fought enough big cats that the push and pull, take and give game of drag play has become second nature. Without thinking my hands would switch from rapid line retrieve to drag release, retrieve release, pull and pull and pull and reel. At about the 1 hour mark the fish finally made a mistake. One last bolt swimming up river against the current was all he had left. The line went so slack I thought I had finally lost him, quickly I set to retrieve.. the dead weight of a 30 pound blue in tow. Finally I catch sight of the quarry, pole in my right hand, net in my left scooping him into the boat. Sitting back in my seat I looked at the eyes of that fish. It was as if he was looking back at me, giving me some look of recognition. Some invisible nod of approval at being caught after such a difficult and risky fish fight. The hook had somehow managed to get around the bottom jaw bone. The line felt like sand paper and was half the thickness it should have been. For the first time I realized my left hand was shaking and my right forearm was burning with a cramp. I took a picture of it lying next to the 15 pound blue and 8 pound flathead. It dwarfed the other two so much that without a frame of reference they looked small in comparison. By all means not the largest fish I had ever caught, but definitely the best fish fight of my life. A meal of fried catfish for four, and a memory for a lifetime.
Several more cats were caught before sunup, but paled in comparison to the big fight of the night. Nothing really worthy of the tackle and bait I presented to the river. A little river turtle decided he liked my cut shad. A baby alligator gar hung around for a while eating bits of shad tails I’d toss in for him. My life jacket made a good pillow for an hour.
Finally, morning. One more cat and I’ll return to my family, to the hustle and bustle of the real world. To the responsibility and hard work required for high network uptime.
Well, I did catch one more but it wasn’t a cat. It was a very angry, very aggressive snapping turtle. Normally one would just cut the line, but I like my tackle. I got the net and scooped him up. Just as I placed him on the deck of my boat the real life river monster sprung like a coiled spring right off the carpeted deck at my mid section with and airborne snap, its’ jaw cut through a small portion of my net, and my tackle too. Boo. Lost a nice hook but gained a new appreciation for the ferocity of 40 million years of evolution. Good thing I still had a firm grip on my net.