Where in the Monster-Fish World is Mark Spitzer?

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. Spitzer’s previous guest posts can be found under the heading “Where in the West is Mark Spitzer?”.

Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty in the Italian Alps

Looking back on photos from my fishing research in Northern Italy for the nonfiction lunker study In Search of Monster Fish: Angling for a More Sustainable Planet, I’m struck by a number of narratives that never really breached the surface. First, I’d gone to the Italian Alps to catch a zander, a close cousin of the walleye that had reportedly been attacking humans. The night I arrived, my guide Fabrizio took me out to Lake Como and hooked me up immediately. I caught a small one and a medium one, which freed us up to fish Lago di Pusiano the next day. That’s where Cicco “The Zander Master,” wielding his secret weapon, caught the Big One, which I hardly focused on in the book because I was focused on pike at the time.

That zander, however, deserves some attention, mostly for its ghostly fierceness. I mean, just look at the steely, stealthy, torpedoific shape of this blade-finned predator with the gnashing chompers of a fang-faced barracuda! But most of all, check out those glowing, inhuman, otherworldly eyes intent on ripping a pound of flesh right out of your ass! That’s what freaked the Germans out, which led to the Euro-media hyping up the zander’s crimes against humanity when really it’s just as defensive as us when it comes to protecting its young. In a world, I should add, where Nature has nothing to do with whipping up monsters. As usual, it’s humans who do that best, based on what we choose to see.

So when a five-foot, eighty-pound siluro (wels catfish) came bubbling up from under a dock, and when an overgrown, corn-fed whiteboy (me) saw the monstrous mug of the Underworld coming up from the depths of Hell, you’d think this’d be the point where myth begins. But that didn’t happen. I lowered that whopper back from whence it came to wait for the scientists coming to collect tissue samples.

The most important part of this chapter, though, has to do with the conversations we have with ourselves in which we get down to what’s important. That’s what I found myself doing in Zanderland in order to get cracking on my decision from the prior chapter to explore ways to put back more than I take out—a concept which runs the risk of coming off as “liberal BS” that might not really matter to some.

But it should. Because we all take out more than we put back, and that ain’t sustainable. So if you haven’t had that talk with yourself, how do you justify your small part in the worldwide decimation of resources that’s contributing to trans-global fishery-annihilation right now? And how do you allow for your micro-role in the accelerating acidification of the oceans taking place at this exact moment? And isn’t it true that “Silence Is Violence” as the lawn signs claim? Or do you just turn away like most brains that stop cold when they start to envision what they can’t change? And ultimately, how do you make your piece of your peace with that? Or not?

Well, if considering this is a bummer for you… then good! You still have a choice. And you still have luck—which we’re all gonna need a whole lot more of on this irreplaceable, irrevocable, indispensable water-world where monsters are still possible as long as we are here to keep creating them for the amusement/survival of the Imagination.

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