A fun fish tale originally published in The Fisherman
Armed with a Paddle
It’s not every day you get a chance to fish in Maine, but being prepared is important anywhere. So I had phoned months in advance to make sure we would get a canoe rental for Long Pond, a narrow lake stretching seven miles on Mount Desert Island with abundant smallmouth bass.
My wife, Patricia, our son, Matt, and I loaded rods, tackle, a portable graph recorder, drinks and sandwiches, and Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. Patricia would spend most of the day in the 19th century instead of this gorgeous lake with rocks so clean and visible through clear water it seems no sediment has accumulated for a thousand years. We paddled persistently to mark shallow, flat depths on the graph for several hundred yards figuring that paddles served this single purpose of getting us on bass and within photo distance of a covy of loons, if you can refer to a few water birds by this name. We soon came to a pass where opposite shores merged close. Sure enough, drop-offs on either side to 17-foot depths were accompanied by large, jagged rocks.
I was into a 14-inch smallmouth on a Senko-type worm right away. Matt persisted with his nightcrawlers.
“It’s big!” He said. “But it’s a weird fight. Slow.”
I saw what would soon prove to be the culprit come into view. “It’s a snapping turtle,” I said.
I cut the line and the big snapper sank away.
Patricia said, “I wouldn’t want to see one bigger than that.”
Hooking snappers wasn’t new to me, and Matt had encountered plenty otherwise. Just to be sure we were done with this awakened mud monster—if any mud exists in Long Pond--I lifted anchor and we paddled away about 15 yards and anchored again to vantage the same drop-offs.
I cast the worm for all it was worth beyond the drop-off to my left way up in about three feet of water.
My excitement raced ahead to the question I had hoped would leap up—is this that five-pound-plus smallmouth I’ve wanted to catch? The bass had bulldozed the worm after no more than a second. With water that clear, I sight-measured the fish about ten seconds later—a good one, but no five-pounder. I figured about three-and-a-quarter pounds, and I was right on the mark.
Matt caught a small bass, and I remember shifting the lunch cooler to give myself foot room. Turning my head slightly to my right, I saw the slightest hint of shadow and motion in peripheral vision, something just barely irregular in relation to slight surface wave rhythm. I looked directly and the first thing I noticed was the size of the individual claws, but the first thing I thought—without words—was big, chuzzling snapping turtle beak about to embed its cutting edges in my naked thigh by a long neck. This was the turtle’s aim exactly—about eight inches from lake surface to my skin.
I remember how quick I had the paddle and thrust it into the front of that yawning space between carapace and plastron. Once, twice…it felt like a shovel breaking ground; the turtle went down. But even though I knew without contradiction that I had to use that paddle with uncompromised force, I did feel a quiet voice within me speak as I used it. The voice represented respect for creatures of any kind, yet didn’t diminish or hinder the force I pitted against the turtle because I knew the decision was me or it, and I struck hard enough to turn it back.
“Who would think!?” Patricia said. “Why would a turtle go for a guy?”
“Better me than you.”