Mark Spitzer is an associate professor of writing at the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Season of the Gar: Adventures in Pursuit of America’s Most Misunderstood Fish, Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West (Bison Books, 2017), and In Search of Monster Fish: Angling for a More Sustainable Planet (Nebraska, 2019). Spitzer has consulted for Nat Geo’s Monster Fish and appeared on Animal Planet’s River Monsters.
Flashbacks from Senegal
In Chapter 8 of In Search of Monster-Fish: Angling for a More Sustainable Planet the story is about going after monster fish in Senegal while witnessing mass tuna decimation. Still, a lot of other stuff happened on that trip which didn’t make the cut. That’s what this blog installment is all about.
The first thing that comes to mind is the colossal cubera snapper I found in the labyrinthine corridors of a small fishing village near Dakar. This fiercely fanged monstrosity was nearly five feet long and weighed upwards of eighty pounds. It was just lying there amidst dinkier fish waiting for someone to come by and buy it. When I asked a local what it was, he blew my mind by replying, “Carp”—a word usually reserved for an invasive species with little food value. This interpretation, however, comes from an American perspective. In West Africa, the carpe rouge geante is a lunker rockfish that can surpass 132 pounds and scare the pants off Satan himself. I mean, just look at those massive mastiff jaws, those super-sharp saber-teeth, that mouth that can swallow a Butterball turkey! Wowza! This bully of the benthos immediately shot to the top of my fish wish list. Just imagine hooking into one of those!
Then there was the russet monkey which some numb-nut tied to a pile of trash in front of our hotel. That little fellow had an extremely expressive face, and my wife and I were instantly drawn to him. Unfortunately, some neighborhood bullies were throwing junk at him, taunting him, siccing dogs on him and giving him beer to drink, then laughing at what a drunk he was. We were disturbed and concerned but couldn’t risk trying to free him. Luckily, a French woman came along and told those jokers off, but it wasn’t enough to help a primate out. To our disgrace, he remained chained like a slave under the scorching African sun. We still think about that guy a lot.
We also visited a crocodile farm. To get inside, you had to go through a local museum. That’s where we encountered the Circumcision God. Apparently, this fringy Frankenstein-monster of a bark-clad boogie man meets recently circumcised boys under the Circumcision Tree then performs some sacred rites to protect them. I’m not sure if I got those details 100 percent correct, but I do know that when Lea reached for her phone to take a picture, the forces that be sent it spiraling out of her hands and down to the flagstone where it totally shattered. We were both pretty spooked by that.
So what does all this have to do with searching for monster-fish? Absolutely nothing and absolutely everything, that’s what! For what they’re worth, these are the bycatches of going after monster marlin and mega-mahi-mahi. Maybe they provoked the imagination, maybe they bummed us out, or maybe they conjured superstitious associations. But whatever they did, the conversation had begun. A conversation about what? Well, to find out, just get yourself a copy and dig in. But watch out for the merciless Circumcision God!