Northern Lights

I first saw northern lights from a hillside in Forestport NY, 1962 or ’63, thirty or so miles north of Utica. Hilary and I were visiting my old roomie, Bill Tapley. Not only were they astoundingly beautiful to watch; you could hear them! They snapped and crackled and popped.

Northern lights take unusual trip down south reminds me today: and prompts me to recreate an fishing module sooner than I might otherwise have gotten to:

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / Themes / Sports /

Martians in the Everglades</p

My Summer Spillway bass piece promised more personal encounters with strong fish. Well, the strongest fish I’ve ever tussled with, salt water or fresh, is part of a bigger story.

1989, spring in the Everglades: Within a few weeks of catching my prize first largemouth, I’d gotten the knack and was catching bass left and right: no more lunkers that year, but I was holding my own with the regulars. Now the canoe I’d caught my nine-pounder from belonged to a neighbor. “So long as you stay in the pond, just take it whenever you want it. I’ll holler from the bank if I need it back.” Well here I’ve been using Melvin’s boat everyday, but I’ve never fished with him, never bought him a beer. So one day I see him chumming an area on the ‘Glades’ side of things with cat food. “Gonna get me some catfish he said.” Come dusk, I make a point of joining him, my easy-going benefactor. I start casting a gold spoon, making sure it goes no where near his bobbers.

I’m getting hits on almost every cast, though the water so was full of hydrilla that the fish all had an easy time of unhooking themselves. Fine by me. I was enjoying the sport. (I also had no idea that my cheap rod had the backbone of a banana peel. It was a miracle I’d penetrated my lunker’s tough old mouth.) (Now I use graphite that sets the hook like hammering a nail! Wham!) (No wonder I seldom bring to hand soft-mouthed fish like crappie.)

Melvin is doing diddley and I’m landing squat. “What’s that?” Melvin asks. “Is that that fire still burning?”

This northerner was surprised to learn that parts of the Everglades burn throughout the winter. The fires are mainly underground and only occasionally flare into visibility. A week or two before, one had started spreading, and the rangers, making an error or two with their back-burning, had almost wiped out our camp.

I look up and see a red glow in the sky. No flame. No smoke. Must be miles from here.

The next events all happened at once. “Holy …” Melvin sputters. RRRRRrrr … goes my reel. Melvin starts looking at my rod bow-over in the dusk: I look up to see the biggest, brightest pair of headlight beams I’ve ever seen. The alien vessel landing in Close Encounters was nothing compared to the planet-sized space ship sending these beams. The beams have got my wonder, but a monster fish has got my spoon, and my muscles all automatically went with the fish.

“Reel her in,” Melvin is screaming. “I’m reeling, I’m reeling.” I already had the drag turned to maximum and this fish was spooling off line as though my bail were open. I try to add drag by running backwards up the bank while cranking as hard as I can.

Gary, the airboat welder, is running in circles up in the parking lot. “What the hell is that? What in hell is that?” He didn’t mean my fish; he was craning his neck at the “headlights.”

We hear more hubbub from further away, but suddenly, half the excitement subtracts from the wonder. No new tension is added to my line. The line is taut, caught on something, but the fish is gone. I can switch more attention to the sky. The sky is redder than ever. And two shock-clear halogen beams penetrate the red in perfect parallel, and from forever away. “Gary,” I call. “There’s a flashlight on the floor of the back seat of my car. Would you get it and shine it on my damn line here, please?”

There was my line, still stretched pretty tight. Hanging the length of it were rags of hydrilla, water lettuce, water hyacinth … The light reveals it going straight to the air boat dock. By this time Melvin has forgotten his inactive catfish and is standing next to me. I ask him to take my rod and keep some of the tension on it. I take my flashlight from the still jabbering Gary and go to find out what happened at the business end of the line. I didn’t have far to clamber out onto the air boat dock before I found my spoon where the fish had transferred it to the hose the captains used to wash their air boats: at least several feet above the water’s surface. A Michael Jordan of a fish!

By this time the headlights were gone. The red dimmed. In a minute I’d go home to supper and a night of work. But first I went into the camp store to study the mounted trophies and to try to figure out what in hell Martian fish had jumped out of the UFO and grabbed my spoon. There had been a brief moment when I saw it’s huge mouth at the surface. It was round, but not perfectly round like the mouth of a fully opened largemouth. Big as that mouth was, I had a feeling that the fish itself was far bigger than any bass would be for that size mouth.

I’ll never know, but these years later I’m satisfied with the probability of my hazard: I had a baby tarpon on my gold spoon. Yes, it’s a salt water fish, but the young tarpon hang close to freshwater and sometimes come into the ‘Glades. This was very far into the ‘Glades: almost to Highway 27, almost to Fort Lauderdale. I know they came that far because I’ve seen their dorsals jutting above the water, like a freshwater shark.
(Carp too project a fin above the water surface sometimes, but their dorsal fin is way back on the body.)
Understand: a “baby” tarpon can go ninety, one hundred pounds!

It’s a miracle my line didn’t snap. I’m mostly a light line fisherman (though lately I’ve been experimenting with the tougher braided lines), and the line I used then was very light: 8 LB test at the most. The softness of my amateur’s rod no doubt had something to do with it.

But the real miracle was explained the next day. Front page of the Miami Herald. The Northern Lights had been visible from the Everglades for the first time in more than twenty years. I wouldn’t have imagined that they’d ever been visible that far south. But I was there. I saw ’em.

Every fisherman knows that fish bite in rhythm with this and that natural cycle: the approach of dawn; moon overhead at midnight, the sun in more or less direct line on the other side of the earth … But it’s not everyday a tarpon sees the Martians landing at the same moment that a gold spoon flashes.

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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