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Second Place - "The Catch"

2004 Anne Horton Writing Award

Second Place Narration/Description

"The Catch"


Joseph Dunn


The water was calm and clear that morning as the boat headed out on the lake. The sun was just beginning to peek over the trees. The air was crisp and cool, and the sky was light blue with scattered wisps of clouds. The oars creaked lightly and the water lapped softly against the bow of the boat as it glided quietly across the water. A young boy and his sister gazed around at the familiar surroundings, taking in every sight, sound, and smell. The week was over, and tomorrow they were heading home. The fishing had been lousy all week, but the forecast for that day was better. Determined to land some kind of fish, the young boy and his sister woke up early and set out to do just that. Little did they know that this fishing trip was going to be different.


The boy was thirteen years old and loved the lake. Every summer he and his family would pack up and drive there for vacation. From his point of view, it was the perfect haven to escape to from the endless routine of daily life. He loved every part of the lake, from the towering, majestic forest encompassing it, to the old, rustic cabin on its shore. The boy loved to swim in the crystal clear water, hike on the beaten trails, and fish for the big ones that were said to inhabit the lake. For hours at a time he would sit in a boat, drifting along the shoreline, casting different lures and using different types of retrieval methods. Sometimes he would get a bite, and sometimes he would hook a fish. Usually he caught largemouth bass or small pike, mere minnows compared to the titanic muskellunge. The thrill of the catch kept him fishing even in the dreariest of conditions.


School was starting in less than a week, but he tried not to think about it. Instead, the boy immersed himself in the outdoor experience, swimming, hiking, fishing, etc. until the vacation was almost over. Fishing had yielded few catches worth noting. This went for the rest of his family, along with his sister, several years his elder. Frustrated, but not discouraged, the siblings decided to get up early on the last day and head out on a fishing expedition. They gathered their gear and loaded it into one of the old but trusty johnboats. Thoughts of fish on the line filled their heads as they shoved off from the dock and headed out onto the lake.


The boy had always dreamed of catching a muskellunge, or "musky" as they were commonly known, ever since his childhood. At first he was somewhat intimidated by the fish. Framed musky jaws hung on the wall of the cabin, their sinister teeth puncturing the air around them. A "No Swimming" sign with the silhouette of a musky, human legs sticking out of its mouth, hung next to the front door. In addition, his uncles told stories of kids who swam out too far, and were pulled under by the monstrous fish. As he got older, the boy became more and more interested in the muskellunge. He had seen the pictures of his uncles and grandpa, holding these huge fish that were nearly four feet in length, in contrast to the foot-long bass he usually caught, and was amazed by them. His fishing adventures would sometimes put him with one of his uncles as they fished for the legendary monsters. Enthralled, the boy would watch every move they made, every technique they employed, and he absorbed quite a bit of knowledge.


However, the one thing that fascinated him the most was seeing these fish in their natural environment. They would sometimes appear following the lures as they were reeled back to the boat, but never attacking them. They would sit and look at the boat for a short time, and then disappear. They emanated a feeling of higher intelligence, like they weren't just average fish that happened to be larger than average They seemed almost as if they knew what was going on, and weren't going to let themselves be caught The muskies in the lake were notoriously cautious, following lures more often than attacking them. The boy and his sister often speculated on whether or not the fish knew the difference between lures and actual food sources. Because of the muskies' unusual wariness, they were almost convinced that the fish were indeed intelligent to that degree.


The power of these fish astounded him as well. Several times he had witnessed the water exploding around a surface lure and the terrific fight that ensued. He himself had lost a perfectly good lure when he felt a bite, set the hook, and the line snapped clean off. One of his uncles had a scar on his hand which he suffered from a musky's teeth when trying to unhook it All of the legends and lore surrounding these fish spurred him on even more, encouraging him to defy the odds and bring one in. He knew what he was up against, and he wanted to emerge victorious.

The boy and his sister knew where the best places to fish around the lake were, since they both had gone on many trips with their uncles. Nevertheless, they decided to tour the entire lake, Slowly and methodically they rowed down the shoreline, covering every inch of water, but saw nothing. Cast by cast, the siblings fished around the lake. The sun crept across the sky. Long shadows began to appear across the water, shielding the fishermen from the sunlight, but at the same time indicating darkness was approaching.


The boat approached a familiar spot, a fallen log flanked by weeds on one side. The shore was a good forty feet ahead of them, the water growing progressively shallower as it approached land. The boy recognized this place immediately, having spotted suspicious swirls and splashes in this area over the past week. With renewed confidence, he cast toward the log. The lure clunked off the dead stump and plopped into the water. Letting it sink for a moment, the boy then began a sporadic retrieve, imitating an injured fish. This technique was practiced to perfection by his uncles as well, and he had picked up on it over the years.


The boy's line suddenly went taut. He initially thought he was stuck on a submerged stick, and the best way to get free, without rowing toward shore, was to snap the rod sharply. This would either unhook the bait or break the stick, freeing the line. He was about to snap the rod when the line abruptly tightened again. Confused, the boy slowly pulled on the line. To his surprise, it began to pull steadily away from the log. The line began to pull out from the reel, clicking quietly as it went. The boy glanced quickly at his sister, who stared back with wide eyes. Squinting, he thought he could see something moving around beneath the surface. Somewhat bewildered, the boy began to realize what was happening.


His adrenaline started pumping, his heart pounded in his chest. Tightening his grip on the rod, the boy bit his lip and pulled as hard as he could. Instantly the line jerked forcefully back the other way, yanking the boy off his seat. Frantically he righted himself and, bracing his feet on the side of the boat, pulled on the rod with all his strength. The peaceful surface of the lake erupted. For a brief moment a large, dark fin was visible through the spraying water, and the boy knew that this was it. He finally had a musky on his line.


The only way to conquer one of these fish was to let it wear itself out. As he pulled, the boy exerted directional force on the fish, keeping it in front of him. When it headed left, he pulled right, and vice versa. With this method, he could keep control over the fish, hopefully long enough to reel it in. Sweat poured down his face, stinging his eyes. His breath came in short gasps. The power of this fish was awesome. The minutes ticked by, but they seemed like hours as the two fought desperately in a watery tug-of-war. Though time was passing, neither one seemed to be gaining any clear advantage. It was the thrill of the fight that kept the boy going.


The boat was drifting slowly down the straight shoreline. As the occupants concentrated on the fish, they completely forgot what lurked ahead. "Gruesome," as it was called by his uncles, was a huge pine tree that jutted up from the bottom, about four feet from the surface. It had claimed many a lure from the fishermen on the lake, and had even snared fish on the hook as they were being reeled in, enabling them to get free while the bait caught on the twisted branches. On a sunny day, the tip of the sunken behemoth was clearly visible, covered with algae and surrounded by baitfish.


The boy, keeping his eyes on the line, suddenly caught sight of Gruesome, and panic struck him. If the musky ran into the submerged tree, it might escape. As if reading his mind, the musky lurched toward Gruesome. For a second, an unnerving thought pierced his mind: It knows how to get off. With all his strength, he pulled the fish toward the boat, determined to keep it from Gruesome's clutches. It worked. The fish veered to the side, barely missing the threatening, gnarled mass. Now it was headed directly toward the boat. Looking down, the boy could see the menacing form of the awesome predator racing toward him--and right beneath him! His rod bent over as the fish charged fiercely under the boat. Leaning back, the boy clenched his teeth and summoned all his strength to his arms. He was not going to let this fish beat him. With one huge tug, the boy halted the musky's retreat and forced it back in front of the boat.


The fight raged on for another fifteen minutes. Gradually, the boy could feel the fish losing strength, and it became much easier to control. Grinning broadly, he began to reel the musky in. It continued to struggle, but could no longer compete as the boy pulled it in. From the depths, the musky rose to the surface, completely exhausted. The boy reached out and grabbed hold of the fish under the jaw. Its mouth gaped open, exposing rows of razor-sharp teeth. The boy swallowed nervously. Its dark eyes stared into his as he unhooked the lure from its mouth. The fish seemed to accept its defeat, humbly remaining motionless as the boy removed the lure. Trembling with excitement, the boy hoisted the massive creature from the water and held it next to him as his sister snapped several pictures.


All the boy had ever dreamed about fishing was summed up in that moment, as he grinned proudly for the camera, a forty-seven-inch muskellunge in his hands. He was completely speechless, uttering only a quiet farewell as he placed the fish back in the water and released his grip. The musky hovered in the water for several seconds, watching the boy almost respectfully, then it slowly swam away. The boy sat down, physically exhausted. He looked over at his sister and they burst into laughter, exclaiming their disbelief over what had just taken place.


The boy has grown a lot since then, and has caught many more muskies. But he will always remember the first one above all, when he finally conquered the creature of legends, the epitome of fishing, the mighty muskellunge.