You were only as long as my forearm, but you fought like a hurricane. Your torpedo body whipped and strained against my line. I pulled you into my hand and you calmed. Trying to hold you was like trying to hold an eel. You had a beautiful spoonbill mouth – rounded, not sharp like the garfish or the alligator. The triple barbs of my treble hook were buried in your mouth; I’m sorry. I’m glad that were a young fish with small, backward-facing teeth that did not bury themselves into my hand. I admired your perfect camouflage; from the side and above you look like green water with irregular windowpanes of light. I worried that I had hurt you, but once I removed the hook and slid you into the water, you sulked off into the rocks and disappeared like smoke into fog.
It was nice to meet you.
P.S. If you enjoyed this letter, you should read John McPhee’s essay,“The Patch”.
A classic print (1896) by S.F. Denton courtesy of The New Yorker magazine.
The tip of my rod tickled the air. I only looked up from book four of the Game of Thrones series. Whatever was on the other end of the line either wasn’t big enough or wasn’t on the hook yet. I shifted my feet in the hot sand until I found the coolness of the thermocline’s underbelly.
The rodtip danced and the rod shifted. I picked up the rod and waited until I felt a good hard tug and jerked back. It wasn’t a big fight, but it was good to feel my line taut. Silver and pinkish scales shimmered as I landed the fish. As soon as I pulled it from the water it croaked at me furiously, like a politician frog giving a heated stump speech.
But frogs are not the only aquatic critter to croak. On the end of my line was the aptly named Atlantic croaker, Micropogonias undulatus. The croaker and it’s relatives in the Scianidae family (aka the ‘drum’ family for obvious reasons. Includes red drum, black drum, spot, etc). A croaker croaks by flexing abdominal muscles against its air bladder, like drawing a tight rubber band across a balloon. We don’t really know why the croaker croaks, but it’s likely for communication. Interestingly, it is typically the males of the drum family to let other males they are around but also to serenade lady drums. As a result, drums typically only drum during mating season. But both sexes of croakers croak and do so all year round. Maybe they have a lot more to say than, “Hey, baby.”
Croakers and the drums are not the only fish to croak. I remember catching catfish in the ponds of Arkansas when I was a kid and listening to their Gwork, Gwork of their croaks.
As I pulled the hook from his mouth, he croaked feverishly – his own piscine version of cussing. I would too if you jammed a meathook through my cheek just as I took a bite of steak and then drug me outside by my cheek. I let him go back into the murky water so he could go tell his croaker buddies about what had just happened. But apparently some didn’t listen as I caught 7 more.