The Old Fish of the Mountain
The guys all swore it was at least three feet long. Even old Jesse Sawyer, the mountain man, believed that it existed. I was the only one who wasn’t convinced.
“Come on,” I would say. “Who ever heard of a three-foot-long bluegill?”
The guys would stare at me as if I had recently arrived from Mars. “We’ve heard of it, buddy, and you’d better believe it.”
“Well,” I’d say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
The ‘it’ in question was a legendary fish that supposedly resided in Weed Lake, in the deep, inaccessible hole that no one had fished since medieval times. Years before I moved to the country, a local farmer had been fishing Weed Lake. Soon afterward, he came dashing into town, crazed and exhausted, claiming to have seen a three-foot bluegill leap out of the water to catch a dragonfly that was zooming past. No one believed him at first, mostly because he had also recently announced that Martians landed in his field and gave him some miracle fertilizer that turned his wheat into corn. Of course, he was making excuses, because he had just spent all night switching his dead wheat for his neighbor’s thriving corn.
But the sightings continued…of the fish, not of the Martians and their miracle fertilizer. A good friend of Jesse’s, another mountain man named Cyrano McBaggit, insisted he saw the fish, although he passed away while telling Jesse about it later in the day. Even the town mayor claimed to have seen it, although it’s rumored that there was alcohol involved.
Many people attempted to catch the old fish, but nobody succeeded. A few jokers claimed to have hooked it, but it always managed to get free somehow.
By the time I turned twenty-two, I decided to put an end to the three-foot bluegill foolishness that had plagued the town for years. Accompanied by two of my friends, Stretch Wheenie and Kirk Jackson, I would camp by the lake until the fish was either caught or proved to be nonexistent.
All the believers, and they were many, turned out to bid us farewell and wish us luck. An Irish farmer even handed me a four-leaf clover that he had made with one and a third regular clovers. We took to the mountains with the townspeople waving and cheering us on. It was all very touching. It was pretty ridiculous too.
My first suggestion upon reaching camp was to drain the lake, which would allow us to easily spot any three-foot bluegills.
“Are you crazy?” Stretch asked. “We can’t drain the lake! It would empty into the town!”
“Yeah,” Kirk said. “And besides, how would we dig a trench through fifty feet of solid granite?”
I pulled some dynamite out of my backpack and waved it in his face. Stretch turned pale and backed away.
“That’s illegal,” Kirk pointed out. “You can’t use dynamite without a permit.”
“What if I do have a permit?” I asked, lighting the dynamite and tossing it on the ground at his feet. I turned and sauntered away.
I’m not exactly sure what happened next, but within two seconds, Kirk was in a tree and the dynamite was in the lake. Stretch was impersonating a terrified kangaroo, which was pretty entertaining.
Then there was a tremendous boom, and the lake erupted in a geyser of water, fish, lake weeds, and old beer cans.
“How about that,” Kirk said, climbing out of the tree. “The water didn’t put out the fuse.”
“Well, as long as Kirk is going to illegally fish with dynamite, let’s put the dead fish to good use,” I suggested.
We paddled around the lake in our raft and gathered as much of the fish as we could carry. Still, we didn’t come across any three-foot bluegills.
“What’s Plan B, genius?” Kirk asked over fried fish that evening.
“I don’t know!” I whined. “Do I have to do all the thinking around here?”
“You’re the one who doesn’t believe the old fish exists,” he snapped. “If you’d just believe it, we could all go home and forget about it.”
“If there really is an old fish in the lake, then why wasn’t it killed by the dynamite?”
“Oh, dynamite doesn’t faze old things of the mountains,” Stretch said seriously. “They’re too tough to be bothered by such trifling explosions.”
“It certainly fazed you,” I said. “I thought you were training to be an old thing of the mountain yourself, but before the dynamite went off you were already a quarter mile away, leaping over trees in your haste to escape.”
“I thought it was the type of dynamite that shoots off in an unpredictable direction before it explodes,” Stretch explained. “I wanted to be far enough away in case it came toward me.”
“Yeah, right,” Kirk muttered.
I yawned. “Well, I’m tired. Let’s get some sleep and wait until morning to decide what to do next.”
I settled into my sleeping bag and listened to the mosquitoes say grace before their meal. Out there in the mountains everything is religious, even bloodsuckers.
We had hardly been in our sleeping bags for ten minutes when Stretch began to wiggle about like a large grub. He had a peculiar habit of crawling headfirst into his sleeping bag and sticking his feet out the top. I think it was because his feet smelled so bad that they were able to ward off any mischievous animal life, such as mosquitoes, bears, and myself.
Anyhow, Stretch was wiggling around, and soon I heard some muffled noises that seemed to be coming from the general area of his head.
“Pipe down and go to sleep,” I snapped.
Stretch came wriggling backward out of his sleeping bag. “Who put a dead fish in my sleeping bag?” he demanded.
“I don’t know,” Kirk replied. “And how come you didn’t notice it until after ten minutes?”
“Well, I noticed something,” Stretch said, “but I thought it was my socks, until I moved around and it touched my face.”
“I wonder who would do a thing like that,” I muttered, rolling over and falling asleep.
When I awoke in the morning, there was a dead fish in my boot. Or maybe it was Stretch’s socks. It was hard to tell, because it smelled foul and I threw whatever it was into the fire without a second glance.
Over breakfast, fried fish of course, we discussed our next course of action.
“Why don’t we just have Kirk toss a stick of dynamite into the hole where the old fish supposedly lives?” I suggested.
“Because it’s illegal, that’s why,” Kirk replied.
I rolled my eyes. “Detonating two sticks isn’t any more illegal than detonating one.”
“Well, we can’t do that anyway,” Stretch said.
“Why?” I asked, watching him suspiciously.
“Because last night when you were sleeping I took all your dynamite and threw it into the lake.”
“You did what?” I screeched, grabbing Stretch’s cup of ice-cold water and dumping it down the back of his shirt.
“Hey!” Stretch whined. “That wasn’t nice!”
“That’s for wrecking my expensive dynamite and putting a dead fish in my boot!” I snapped.
“I didn’t put a dead fish in your boot!” Stretch retorted. “It was my socks!”
“How dare you put your socks in my boot!”
“Well you put a dead fish in my sleeping bag!”
“A dead fish is nowhere near as foul as your socks!”
“Oh yeah? Maybe I should have put my socks in your canteen!”
“Uh, guys…” Kirk began.
“You keep out of this,” I blared at him.
“Okay, but there’s a huge fish right near the shore.”
All eyes turned toward the lake, as well as all the noses and such. The silence was deafening.
“Where?” Stretch asked finally.
“It jumped and ate a blue jay while you guys were acting like spoiled brats.”
All arguments were forgotten as Stretch and I scrambled for our fishing poles and raced down to the water. We fished in silence for nearly half an hour, each of us intent on catching the old fish of the mountain.
Then our rods simultaneously bent double. We heaved and strained and sweated, and for fifteen minutes we fought our fish. Kirk joined us with the net, and he kept shouting annoying encouragements in our ears. We were too concentrated on the fish to yell at him.
Finally we got somewhere. I could see my swivel, so the fish wasn’t much further out. Then, at exactly the same time, Stretch and I yelled, “It’s huge!”
Kirk was reaching out with the net, when my line scraped across a rock and snapped. Stretch’s pole was yanked from his hands as the huge fish took off across the lake. Kirk remained frozen in an awkward position, staring into the water.
“You guys hooked the same fish at the same time,” he said at last. “And it was an enormous bluegill!”
“No it wasn’t,” I said. “It was clearly a certain species of carp that looks very similar to a bluegill from a distance. Bluegills simply do not grow that big.”
“But…” Kirk blurted, not wanting to believe it.
“Let’s face it guys, the old fish of the mountain is a slightly large carp.”
Kirk and Stretch were devastated. I strutted triumphantly back to the campsite and they tagged along with dejected frowns.
“I guess you were right all along,” Stretch said. “There’s no giant bluegill.”
“Yeah,” Kirk agreed. “Let’s go home.”
“Don’t forget to take your dynamited fish with you,” I said to Kirk.
“Oh, come on! Let’s split them up. I don’t want to eat fried fish for the next four and a half years.”
We returned to town bearing the anti-giant-bluegill news. Unfortunately, no one believed us, even when we showed them how Stretch’s pants had split while he was fighting the carp. So much for disproving the myth.
To this day, the old fish of the mountain remains fixated in the locals’ minds. They won’t give it up, even though Weed Lake was drained five years ago (don’t look at me). The bluegill must have made it into one of the local ponds, they say. I think they’re crazy, but some people will believe anything. Not me though. I’m pretty sensible.
Which reminds me, I’ve got to get some sleep before I head out to track down that sixty-eight-point whitetail buck that’s rumored to be in the area.