One day I returned from a fishing venture with the usual hang-dog face. My buddy Frank asked for my “fishing story.”
“Well,” I stammered, “I didn’t have much luck, so…”
“STOP RIGHT THERE!” Frank bellowed in his hoarse tough-guy voice. “I said fishing story. Since when did a fisherman tell the truth?” Reminding me of a tough old wise guy, he grinned and patted me on the shoulder.
“Ah,” I replied. “So it’s a story you want, eh? Sorry, I’m a bit slow.”
“I know,” Frank said. He had the most ornery-looking smile and evil-sounding chuckle attached to it. “So let’s hear it. How big was your trophy this time?”
Perhaps honesty works against me as a fisherman. I had no answer.
“Give me a few days Frank, and I’ll recollect it for you.”
“Make it a good one,” he growled, “I have faith in you, Patty me boy.”
So I thought about the trip that night, and new memories gradually surfaced. Perhaps the trauma was too much, and I had blocked it all out. Regardless, it all came roaring back.
Early one summer morning, my friend Bob and I were creeping upstream on the Black River northwest of Alpine, Arizona. Bob chose an inviting spot just ahead of a series of rapids and cast his line. I moved upstream a few hundred yards and came upon a deep, serene pool about 50 yards wide that stretched a good 80 yards downstream. The edge I stood upon featured old-growth Ponderosa pine trees, about 10 feet above the water. From the looks of the pool, it was largely populated with good-sized trout, and in my excitement to throw a line out, I slipped and nearly fell. As I caught myself, I saw an extremely large fin breach the surface and disappear.
This fish was waiting for me. Taunting the World’s Worst Fisherman. I cast a few spinners out and was almost immediately rewarded with a nice foot-long Rainbow. My hackles arose as the sound of a deep chuckling rumbled across the small canyon. Annoyed, I threw the fish back and decided to go for the big fella. He breached again, sending a large ripple my way across the pool’s surface.
Selecting a larger lure and slathering it in some stinky slime “Guaranteed to Land the Big Ones,” I launched a perfect cast toward the spot he’d just been. Before it landed, a monster exploded upward, his cavernous mouth of razor-sharp teeth wrapped around my pole and arm, yanking me down into the water. Helpless and afraid this beast would rip my arm off, I feebly punched his at his face. Swarms of smaller fish accompanied him as he dragged me to the depths of his domain. As my life’s newsreel began to play, he released me.
I surfaced within a majestic and enormous cave. Greedily gulping air, I closed my eyes and rubbed them in disbelief. When my vision cleared, I saw that yes indeed, it was actually… decorated! Trophies you’d expect to find in the home of a human hunter adorned the cave’s walls. A man’s hand, two wild turkeys, and a mangled bear claw. Oh my God, I thought, this fish is so big he hunts bears!
The monster fish pulled me around his acre-sized pool, as if giving me a tour. He let loose of my arm and gripped my fishing vest. Amazingly, my arm was sore but intact. He promptly released me. Losing strength after treading water a few moments, I became frantic. Close to going under, I felt a massive shape bump me from my left side, propelling me sideways. Not sure if he was saving me for dinner or the taxidermist, I was grateful when my feet felt gravel beneath them. He pushed me to a sand bar and watched as I half-sat up and scooted backward.
Light from across the pool framed this massive fish, and I gasped as I fully comprehended his size. He was more whale-like than rainbow. From tip to tip, I estimated he was 20 feet long. He seemed to shake his head and slowly swim away, making circles around the pool.
“Welcome to my humble home,” I heard somebody, or something, say. Was this voice a product of my oxygen-starved brain? My drenched hackles dripped disbelief as it continued. This fish was speaking!
“Yes, it’s me.” He lifted his head above water and I saw his mouth moving. “What did you expect, Charlie the tuna?”
“W-w-well,” I managed, “I’ve never heard a fish talk before.”
“You’re hearing one now, greenhorn. You may call me Bubba, although I usually require subjects to address me as ‘Sire’,” he said in a predatory tone. His voice resembled that of a Rhodes scholar, mixed with the attitude of a street fighter.
“You sound… educated,” I managed to say.
“Why thank you,” he said in a more relaxed tone. “You know what they say, you are what you eat. And that stout fisherman I had for Christmas dinner in ’99 did have an English accent.” He chuckled after this statement, and seemed to abandon his menacing tone.
Although Bubba had mellowed a bit, I would still have to rely on my supposed superior human intellect to survive. With a talking monster fish named Bubba. I shook my head in disbelief.
“So,” I said softly, “to what do I owe this honor, Sire?” Perhaps I could stall for time, conversing with a fish!
“Oh please, Patrick,” Bubba said. He seemed disgusted. “Do away with the flattery. It’s been an eternity since I’ve engaged in intelligent discussion, so I welcome you with open fins. You are here for no more than a recreational nature, for your arm tasted terrible. Ugh! The most dreadful stench emanates from you! I eliminated homo sapiens from my diet long ago. Your species gives me gas.”
“Sorry,” I said, stifling my Irish temper. “I don’t bathe while camping. Nor have I ever spoken with your species before. Only to, and usually cursing you at that. Am I hallucinating? How the hell do you know my name?”
Bubba’s laughter was a deafening roar which echoed through the cavern. He actually turned onto his side, overcome with hilarity.
As he recovered, he righted himself and looked at me. Once again, he erupted into more laughter. It was an odd sight, being mocked by a fish.
“I’m… so… sorry,” Bubba managed to say as his laughter subsided. “But to finally meet the infamous Señor No Fishy after hearing about your escapades all these years! It’s too much.” He swam in wide circles as he continued chuckling.
“Well,” I said, “my friends do tease me quite often, but I had no idea my efforts were so popular with the, er, um, aquatic population up here.”
“We refer to these stories as ‘The Patrick Chronicles,’ and they’ve been passed down a few generations now,” Bubba said. “Why I wouldn’t be surprised if our cousins in Canada are telling stories about you this very moment!”
I don’t usually take offense to good-natured ribbing, but this beast was beginning to annoy me.
“OK, worm breath, knock it off,” I huffed. “If you hadn’t spooked me I’d be tying your rotting carcass to the top of my car by now!”
Bubba’s previous laughter paled in comparison to the roar he let out at this point. He actually rolled over on his back, his enormous sides shivering with glee. If fish could cry, he would have flooded his own river.
“You… couldn’t… tie… a piece of cheese… to a sandwich,” Bubba sputtered.
“ENOUGH!” I shouted.
The commotion had summoned hundreds of his subjects, who while unable to express themselves like Bubba, seemed to be enjoying themselves. They circled and jumped to and fro. It felt like they were teasing me.
Bubba was desperately trying to compose himself, but each time he looked at me, he lost it again. Squealing like a hyena. Gills heaving and his mouth opening and closing rapidly, I wondered where his vocal chords were located. Reminded of Jonah and the whale, I dared not venture close to his gigantic mouth.
Finally, Bubba grew serious. He circled around and glared at me.
“So this is where you tear me to pieces, I suppose?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “Like I said before, you taste baaaad. Like bear shit. Besides (chuckle), it’s long been an ambition of mine to meet you, ever since those cutthroats stole your bait up at Bear Canyon. I just couldn’t believe such a loser exists, but here you sit!”
“I’m so glad you find me so entertaining,” I said, trying to sound bored. “Too bad my friends will never believe this story.”
“Well,” Bubba said, “I’ve told many about you, but you’re starting to bore me. Time to leave, before I decide to take part of you for my trophy wall.”
“Gladly, Sir Bubba. But how the hell am I supposed to get out of here?”
“Climb aboard, dumbass, and I’ll take you. Just hurry up, you’re stinking up the place. It will take days to get the human stench out of here! Ugh.”
Bubba circled a few times in the cave before he went deep, allowing me to take a deep breath before he plunged into the tunnel connecting the outside world to his hidden domain. As I felt him rising up, he suddenly stopped and flicked his tail. I soared through the air and crashed into the brush on the rocks above. Except for a few bruised dents from Bubba’s earlier attack, I was unharmed.
Scrambling back to the ledge, I peered over to see Bubba’s massive body hovering just below the surface. After a moment, he turned and deliberately… winked at me! Then he quickly turned and I watched his tail fin disappear into the depths.
A few feet away, the remnants of my fishing pole lay in the weeds. Bubba had snapped it in two, the line dangling in the breeze. Making my way back to camp, I wondered how I’d explain my appearance to Bob. He greeted me with a wide grin, holding up a string of nice 15 to 20-inchers.
“What,” he asked, “did you fall in? Why are you so wet?”
“Just tangled with a monster fish,” I told him.
“Looks like he won.”
“Well if you’re spoiling for a fight, I recommend you tie a rope to a log and throw in a side of beef for bait.”
“Yeah, right,” Bob chuckled. “And his name is Bubba, right? I’ve heard that particular fish story before. Now shut up and fetch me a beer, Señor No Fishy.”
After Frank finished reading, he nodded appreciatively.
“Now that’s a fishing story,” he said. “I can’t wait to see next year’s.”
“Oh no,” I sighed.
Bubba, care for a rematch? I’ll be ready next time.
© 2002, 2014 by Patrick B. Coomer. All rights reserved.