Where in the West is Mark Spitzer?

Mark Spitzer loves fish and he loves to fish. As a nationally known author (Seasons of the Gar, Return of the Gar), writing about fish and their issues is what he does best. In this blog series, Spitzer shares his experiences traveling the American West while researching a select number of freshwater fish that are often considered monstrous or freaky or hideously grotesque. Don’t miss the full version of this incredible tale, which can be found in Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American Westnow available!  

Mark Spitzer_Aug post

This is no hundred-pounder, but that’s my point. In the Okie Noodling chapter of Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West, I make the point that there are no hundred-pound catfish on this continent anymore due to pressure from overfishing. But do I mean this definitively? Nope. I mean it in general. In the 1800s, catching flathead and blue cats over 150 pounds wasn’t as rare as it is now. In the same way that species are officially labeled “extinct” even if a few individuals still exist, it’s the same for monster cats. A few hundred-pounders might remain, but they’re basically gone. That’s not to say, however, that we can’t get their populations up to snuff again (the solution is in the book). In the meantime, here’s a poem to consider:

Monster-Cat Apotheosis

Sometimes there’s that rare
tension in the limb
you can see the line shimmying
at an off angle

when I paddled up
the branch was bowed
and the thick black braid
was slowly scribing
figure eights
in the lake

there was no question about it:
a fish was on
and it had heft

bumping up
I pinched the line
felt the vibe
and the creature on
the other end
sensed me
sensing it

its instinct was
to swim straight down
I could feel it adjusting
for the descent

so I wrapped that line
around my wrist
got it in my fist
and began
to lift

I’ve caught thirty pounders
out in these cypresses
even caught
a sixty once
but with this one
the tug I received
shot a cold shock
to the back of my neck

the translation was
an in your face
Sorry, Jack!

and as the force fought back
Jerk Jerk Jerking back
increasing in vitriol
I knew this was
     The Mother Lunker!

Steeling my knees
against the gunwales
I poised myself
to raise a massive
flathead cat

cuz how could it be
anything else
holding its mass
against my own?

meanwhile
down in the black
it powered down
motoring chugging
drawing my forearm
into the drink

Holy Hell!
I couldn’t believe it
it was a tug of war
between me and one
     bulging
     belligerent
     hundred pound
     Monster Cat

—a fact established
by every sizzling
cell in my system

having caught two wels
well over a hundred pounds
this was a measure
I was sure of

nevertheless
its tug begat
instant mythos
and out there alone
in a wobbly canoe
I was honestly
petrified

to suddenly see
my fingers go in
my hand go in
my forearm go in
the waterline
inching up

it didn’t matter
if I pulled or not
that hulking fish
was hauling me down

four inches to the rail
three inches
two inches
the lake’s dark skin
about to rush in

so I was leaning hard
in the other direction
to counterbalance
those two hunching muscles
aligning the spine
and that ray splayed tail
driving the keel
into the murk

I couldn’t see it
but I could see it:
its flattened extra
terrestrial skull
its bruised and blunt
battered head

the bow was now
a foot off the water
it was rising and I
was riding a wheelie
in place

so what was I gonna do
let go and cry
“I’m afraid!”
or haul that bastard
up from the muck?

so I threw my back
into it
but that badass cat
wouldn’t budge
it was like being anchored
to a concrete slab

but I kept on pulling
how could I not?
And how could it not
eventually breach?

Still
I might as well
have been tied to a stump
because stretching that
130-pound test
to its max
was the equivalent of
pulling up
a dump truck

until the sickening
     sound of SNAP!!!
     it was off
     and nothing
     but slack

when I pulled up the circle hook
it was bent as straight
as the needle in my brain
piercing the epiphany

that this meeting of wills
between muscle and meat
and gristle and grit
was proof of the truth
that we can witness
what’s beyond us
even if
we can’t see it

and that, my friends
is as close as anyone
can ever get.

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