When I hit the water there was just enough light to see dark clouds of mayflies overhead. I decided to tie on my favorite Hexagenia Limbata imitation. Because of its dimensions, this two-inch long, drab-yellow fly is known as the Giant Michigan Mayfly. This was the hatch I had dreamed about fishing, and finally, here I was in the heart of Michigan on one of its most renowned trout streams, the Manistee River.
As darkness fell, nighthawks and whippoorwills took to the sky and began to preach their inimitable songs. Small lightning bugs took flight and flashed their Morse Code in a desperate attempt to attract a mate. And with the safety of darkness, the larger fish began to feed on the surface.
Because it was now dark, the fishing was much more challenging, but I knew that if I placed my fly over a nice brown, I was likely to get a rise. I cast to every fish I could hear taking bugs off the water. It was a good thing I brought an ample supply of flies, because the alders behind me claimed many of them. I didn’t dare retrieve each fly I lost, for the bushes were filled with spider webs and other unseen dangers. Fishing in this spot gave me a creepy feeling, but it was the only spot I was even somewhat familiar with. The cattails, trees, and tall stumps looked like grotesque creatures in the dark, and they sent chills down my spine. But the rising fish dismissed those fears. Unfortunately, I had somehow overlooked the fact that I had been sinking into a seemingly endless layer of quicksand-like silt. My wading shoes were buried in the soft, manure-like mud, and the water had risen above my waist.
After midnight, the peepers grew silent, a ghostly stillness filled the air, and the only sounds were the bubbling of the water and the occasional splash of a fish. An eerie fog slowly crept down the hills and eventually blanketed the river. It was very thick, and felt cool against my sweaty face. In the midst of this dreary setting, a fish rose to my fly. I set the hook and felt the resistance of a large trout. Keeping enough pressure on the line to prevent the fish from burying itself in the extensive logjams was difficult. When I finally landed the beautiful, male brown, it was exhausted. I flicked on my headlamp only to discover that the batteries were dying, and it was almost useless. I held the fish up against the end of my rod and estimated it to be roughly twenty inches. After carefully removing my fly from the corner of its mouth, I cradled the brown in the water, lightly grasping its middle and pumping water through his gills, hoping he would soon swim away on his own.
While trying to revive the fish I radioed my father and told him about what I’d caught. When I looked back down, I couldn’t see anything because something suddenly disturbed the silt. Then abruptly the fish was pulled backwards out of my hands. As the silt settled, I spotted a giant shadow about one inch away from my left foot. I slowly moved my hand out of the water and stood still. I must have resembled a ghost, for my skin had lost its color, and the fog seemed to give my hands an iridescent look. I knew this shadow was not a log. My gut tightened into a solid mass, and my heart ascended into my throat, causing me to choke. I gasped for air and screamed at my dad. “Dad! Something happened! Come quick!” My feet were stuck in the mud, and horrid visions from “Jaws” filled my mind. The shadow seemed at least five feet long, and what looked like a head appeared to be the size of a soccer ball. I struggled as hard as I could to get out of the water, thinking of all the times I’ve witnessed a struggling minnow being engulfed by a famished pike, whose mouth was full of miniature razors. This image only made me struggle harder until the silt finally spat me out. I felt a small pain when my back struck a large tree root, but that was the least of my worries. I stumbled up the muddy bank and sat down against a broad cedar treee. I was breathing quickly, almost panting, and my body was trembling. My eyes were fixed on the narrow path leading through the woods.
At last, I saw the beam of my dad’s flashlight. I felt like running towards it, but I couldn’t move. All I could think about was some sort of beast that eats twenty-inch brown trout out of a human hand. I checked to make sure I still had all of my fingers. When dad saw me safely on shore in one piece, he was relieved, but I wasn’t. When I explained to him that a monster ate my fish, he only laughed. But when he shined his light in the water, we discovered a new definition for “monster”–a four-foot long snapping turtle that could easily take off a finger or hand. This snapper had been sitting under my foot the whole time. Now, no matter where I’m fishing, there could be another big turtle waiting to strike.