Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Following the Rules

I’m a rule follower. Always have been. Product of my guilt-based Catholic upbringing, I suppose. So when I found myself nose-to-nose with a duck-faced Tennessee submarine, the first thing that popped into my mind was...

Would a noodled musky get me disqualified?

Dave saw the swirl as we sat on the bank enjoying our hard-earned lunch. At least he thought he saw a swirl. Your eyes start playing tricks on you after you’ve spent a day or two scanning the waters behind your chicken-sized streamers for signs of apex predators. But it left enough of an impression that we quickly wolfed down the remnants of our sandwiches, chugged the last of our beers, and rowed across the creek to check it out. Shallow water with a couple of deadfalls. The kind of water from which we’d moved a few fish throughout the morning. Since Dave was the one who saw the swirl he got the first shot, dropping a popper against the bank and splashing it noisily home. Nothing. Pitched it again. Still nothing.

Tom was on the sticks so I sent a streamer into the area, draping it over a submerged trunk that it didn’t clear on retrieve, burying the big stinger deeply into the swollen bark. I couldn’t roll cast it free so we worked our way over, figuring that, by then, the hole was blown. That is, if it had ever been inhabited in the first place. But as I leaned over the gunnels and reached down for the fly, stuck a foot under water, I heard Tom hoot.

Look at that!

I glanced up and saw nothing so returned to my extraction. But as my eyes dropped towards my dangling digits I saw what was causing Tom’s commotion. An arm’s length away, in that shallow foot of water, the object of our search lay suspended, a big one, calmly contemplating my wiggling fingers. Musky grande. Mid-forties, at a minimum, and thick as the tree I was digging my hook out of. Everything stopped except for the hypnotic fluid fanning of the musky’s splayed pectoral fins. He was so close I could grab him.

But would the rules allow it? Did my bare hand fall under the category of fly fishing gear only? It wasn't trolling or chumming. And just how much did I like my fingers? Hell, a fish that big, just how much did I like my arm! But this puppy was, hands-down, the tournament championship for our boat. There was no doubt. The little devil on my shoulder whispered Just win, baby.

Or maybe that was Dave.

But a shiver ran down my spine as I remembered Sister Agnes’s yardstick-enhanced lessons in ethics and I did what a good rule follower would do. I slowly pulled my streamer free of the submerged log, reached out, and plopped it in front of the beastie’s face. We held our breaths as the feathers fluttered to the bottom, settling six inches in front of our prize winner’s snout.

I swear, the thing grinned. A contemptuous fuck you sort of grin. Then it turned, slid silently under the boat, and disappeared into the deep, green Tennessee waters, thus violating the final and most important rule of the Hardly Strictly Musky tournament.

Don’t Be An Asshole.

But then, I’ve come to learn that musky don’t seem to care much about our rules. Or us in general. So if that's how it's going to be, next year I’m bringing a gaff. Maybe put some hackle on it so nobody notices. Won't look much different than some of the big stuff we're already throwing.

Forgive me, Sister Agnes, for breaking the rules, but musky are straight-up assholes.

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