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Evolution Of A Ozark Story



In 2008 I managed to hook myself while topwater fishing alone. Below is the original post I put up the next day on the Ozark Anglers forum.

OK. I apologize in advance for the bad typing.

I went out after the rain around 4:30 PM. The wife was at the Green Forest high school graduation - she teaches there - and I figured the rain and cloud cover would have the fish shallow.

Turns out I was right. The fish were shallow. Between 4:30 and 7:30 I caught 7 LM. 20, 18, 15, 15, 17.5, 12, 19.5 inches. Estimate best five were more than 18 pounds but less than 19. All came on a customized original size, silver black Zara spook. Best day in many many many trips.

After I netted the last fish, I was dreaming of more as I tried to unhook the fish. Of course the bait tangled in the net, so I tried to unhook the bait from the net first. Then I could unhook and measure the fish. The fish flopped hard. Suddenly, the 2x Gamakatsu Round Bend #2 treble I installed on the bait was buried in my right index finger near the first joint. Shucks. Darn. Golly. Fish flopped again and another barb caught the life jacket I was wearing. Double darn.

I used my left hand (Did I mention I am very right handed?) to slide my pants knife out of my pocket and somehow opened the thing one handed with my left hand. I then sawed my bait out of my life jacket.

Next I concentrated on unhooking the bait from the net. Every time the fish flopped, I explained in a calm voice how her efforts were counter productive. If she would lie still, I promised to release her as quickly as I could. Have you ever noticed that females don't listen?

After forever, I got the bait out of the net. I bit the line to take the rod out of the equation. My dentist will just have to understand.

Down to her and me, I used my needle nose to get her loose. I did measure her, as well as I could with a Zara Spook in my hand, before I turned her loose.

Resigned to quitting before the bite ended, I used my left hand to pull and secure the trolling motor, turned the key in my boat, and headed home. As I approached the slip at Holiday Island, new difficulties appeared. The boat I have is not responsive at slow speed. The slip I have requires a dogleg left at the last minute. I was excited and hurting. Things went awry.

I put the boat in neutral and went forward to keep the bow from slamming onto the right post of my slip. I used my left hand and arm since my right was occupied. The boat kissed the slip post soundly.

Ok. So there I was in the water. I had my left hand on the gunnel and grabbed for the dock with my right. Shucks. Darn. Golly. The right the hand was still full of hooks. That didn't work well.

Somehow I got the boat in the slip. Next I had to try and figure how to get in the boat or up on the dock with only one hand. That was a job for trained professionals. Don't try it at home, kids.

It took nearly twice as long as usual to tie off the boat, plug in the air pump and raise the boat, put the rods in my carrier, plug in the battery charger, and do all those other right handed things.

Then I walked up to the car. Just as I got there, my slip neighbor pulled up. Where was he when I needed help in the water? He was headed out and wanted to know if they were biting. He didn't even ask why I was standing there dripping lake water with a Zara Spook in my right hand. I will call tomorrow and apologize for telling him jigs at 20'.

I drove to the emergency room in my stick shift car. Pause for a moment and think about cars. Besides the stick shift, try to imagine putting on your seat belt and turning the car on with a fist full of Zara Spook.

I walked in the ER door, lake water draining onto their nice clean floor, and walked up to the counter. Without looking up, the person at the counter slapped a clip board with a form in front of me and said, "Fill that out." I explained to her, in that same calm voice I used with the fish, that she was being insensitive and uncaring. After all, how would she feel if I had had a farm accident and was carrying my own severed arm?

I must not have impressed the counter lady. She stuck me in a little cold room. Thirty shivering minutes later this teenager in scrubs wanders in. I started to tell him I didn't need my bedpan changed, but he introduced himself as the doctor.

Young Doctor Kildare thought my story was the best he had heard in forever. Several times he had to stop trying to take care of my hand because he was laughing so hard. Do you suppose the hours they keep make them punchy?

I got home around 10:30.

The wife, without looking up, said "How was your fishing trip?

A very good friend who has published 5 or 6 books, Larry Yadon, read the story and suggested I turn it into a Field and Stream type story. Over the space of several months, with his help, I reworded the story.

What follows is the revised version.

Shucks. Darn. Golly

I love to fish topwater baits, and beyond argument, the Zara Spook is my favorite. Bass don’t bite them. They explode on them, crush them, or create sudden, trashcan sized whirlpools to suck them under. You can never predict or anticipate a hit. You must have icy nerve control not to set the hook too soon. I spend hours custom painting Spooks; changing the standard hooks for expensive, black steel, oversize, acid sharpened trebles; and tying on white and red feathers. I prefer the four and a half inch original size and would rather “walk the dog” than fish any other way. As with all obsessions, there are occasional consequences.

Late last May we had a fierce, but brief, afternoon thundershower just as I let my eighth graders out. As I drove home the storm cleared. Nancy, my wife, was not due for some time. She had to attend graduation at the high school where she taught. I decided to go fishing. I’ve often had luck following showers.

I was right. The fish were shallow and active. Almost immediately I hooked a good largemouth on one of my Spooks. In the next three hours I caught six more keepers. The best five would have weighed more than eighteen pounds. It was my best day in many trips. Better yet, one of my custom Spooks accounted for them all.

When I landed the seventh fish, it was nearly as large as the first, almost five pounds. Naturally the bait tangled in the net. A Zara Spook always tangles in the net. I reached to untangle it. As I worked to free the fish and bait from the net, the bass flopped hard and buried the Size 2, Round Bend, UltraPoint, Gamakatsu directly and deeply into the first joint of my right index finger. Shucks. Darn. Golly. I bent close to the fish and net to get a better look at the damage. Before I could react, the fish flopped harder still and hooked the other treble in my life jacket. Faster than I can explain it, the fish, the net, the life jacket and I were now all hooked on the same Zara Spook.

By the time my nerves settled enough to begin solving the problems, my finger was truly hurting. I remarked my displeasure another time and began to sort things out. I disconnected the rod and reel by biting the line. My dentist would just have to understand. Then I snaked my left hand into my right pants pocket for my knife. My left hand has zero coordination, but I somehow got the knife out and opened with one hand. Sawing the bait from the life jacket was next. In the mean time, the fish flopped and wanted loose. Between expressions of discomfort, I tried to explain to her that she was not helping. Have you noticed that females often do not listen?

I was tempted to use the knife on the net as well, but the good nets with long handles and rubberized netting cost more than I wanted to spend twice. I did not want to cut it up just to get loose. After several minutes of fumbling, left hand work, the bait came free from the webbing.

Now we were free from the net, but the fish and I shared the same treble. To free fish you normally just jerk the hook backwards. That meant I would be jerking a honking large hook buried in my hand. I had to find a better way. I decided I needed my pliers. Where were they? They weren’t in the holder I had specifically installed on the boat to hold them. Oh - they were on the front boat deck where I used them on the previous fish. The upset and flopping fish and I went forward to retrieve them. I reminded the fish of our earlier discussion.

Pliers in hand, I tried several approaches. All seemed to drive the hook more firmly into my finger joint. The only solution was to hold the spook in my right hand and jerk the hook from the fish at the same time and in the same direction as I moved the Spook. At first, the fish refused to lie still enough. Yet more discussion. Eventually, after several painful attempts, I got the fish, the pliers, and hand jerk coordinated and yanked the bait from the fish. I put her back in the lake. Good riddance.

Now free of everything else, I looked more closely at the finger. The point was embedded straight down into the joint. The push through method wasn’t going to work without professional help. There was more daylight and the fish were biting, but my day was ended and I wasn’t happy.

As the boat approached my slip at the marina, new problems became obvious. My boat is not very responsive at slow speed. Docking the boat requires a last instant dog leg left with a simultaneous wheel turn and throttle adjustment. That evening I was hurting and one handed. I cut the motor and turned the wheel. It was clear the boat would hit the post at the side of my slip. I scurried forward to fend off the collision. I reached across my body with my left hand and pushed. The boat still kissed the post soundly - too soundly.

The water was chilly but surprisingly warm for May. I was glad I hadn’t taken my life vest off when I was hooked to it. Instinctively, I reached for the dock and the boat rail with each hand.

Shucks. Double Darn.

The right one was still impaled. Hanging left handed from the boat rail, I kicked until I could maneuver the boat in the slip. Next I slithered and leveraged myself up the dock cross beams until I was out of the water.

It took nearly twice as long as usual to tie off the boat, plug in the air pump and raise the boat, load the rods in my carrier, plug in the battery charger, and do all those other right handed things. I sloshed up to the truck. Just as I arrived, Bill, the guy with the slip next to me drove up. Where was he when I was in the water? As he got out, he asked me if the fish were biting. He didn’t ask about the wet clothes or the Zara Spook in my hand. He only asked what they were hitting. I later called and apologized for telling him they were taking jigs at twenty feet.

Once I was in the truck, the challenges just kept coming. The engineers who designed manual transmission cars and trucks did not envision my predicament. Drivers use their right hands to put on their seatbelts. The key switch is on the right hand side of the steering column. The shifter is made for right hands. Each of these facts does not allow for a big hook deep in your finger and a bulky plastic lure dangling from that hook.

The hospital was only about ten miles away, but those ten miles were hilly, two lane miles with stops, starts, and downshifts. The distance seemed much longer that evening.

Still wet and dripping, I entered the hospital emergency room. I waded to the counter and started to speak to the lady engrossed in her bodice ripper novel. Without looking up, she slapped a clipboard on the rail in front of me. “Fill that out.” No hello. No “How may I help you?” Just “Fill that out.” I explained to her that I couldn’t, “Fill that out.” My hand was full of hooks. Using the same calm, controlled voice I had used with the fish, I asked her if farm accident amputees had to “Fill that out.”

My new, unimpressed hospital friend arranged a small, cold room for me. Thirty shivering minutes later, a teenager in scrubs came in the room. My first impulse was to tell him I didn’t need a bed pan change. It turned out he was the doctor.

He looked at my hand and asked if I had caught a big one.

Then he wanted to know how I managed to set the hook so well.

Next he wanted to know why I was all wet. Every time I answered him, he burst into laughter.

He shot my finger full of lidocaine, backed the hook up and pushed the black steel through. Smugly, he clipped the barb off and backed the bend out. When he finished, he wrapped the wound with gauze and slipped a condom over it, “to keep it dry until you get home.” Then he started cackling again. I’m sure the hours doctors spend on duty must make them punchy.

I took my precious, customized Spook, now short a hook, with me when I left.

Driving home was much more comfortable, but it was nearly ten thirty before I walked in my door.

Without looking up, my wife asked, “Did you enjoy the fishing?"

Sometime later I was able to submit the piece to an editor and it was published in January of 2011 in the Water N Woods Magazine. A copy is viewable online.

I know I am no Patrick McManus, but I was very proud of the finished piece.


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