Imagine that you are floating down a peaceful river and there is a 40-pound raccoon in a tree limb above the water. As you pass he loses his balance and falls into the water, 20 feet below. Imagine, if you can, what that would sound like.
I was floating down the river just like that and I cast my topwater lure over against the bank to my left and retrieved it, ruffling the surface as topwater lures of that kind are suppose to do. The slight current carried me forward a little and when the lure was halfway back to me, I stopped it in a shady swirling spot where the current slowed, then reached for a drink of cold water from my canteen. Now the lure is behind me somewhat. I jerk it a time or two, fixing to retrieve it and make another cast.
That’s when the coon fell out of the tree… right on that lure. Only it wasn’t a coon. It was a fish, and a gosh-awful big one. Imagine that splash that I heard back behind me to my left, knowing it sounded like a falling coon would sound. Maybe in my lifetime I have heard 10,000 fish splashes, including those made by huge muskies in Canadian waters. But in the Ozarks, I have never heard one like that. Out of thousands of splashes, representing huge and not so huge basses mad as heck at some topwater lure, out of hundreds of splashes representing hungry bass after frogs or bugs or baby ducks, there has been nothing to equal that splash I heard that early June afternoon.
If you have read my writings at any spell during the last 50 years or so, you know how rarely I exaggerate when it comes to telling fish stories. So you’ve got to believe that if I figure that splash equal to one made by a 10 pound bass, it was a reg’lar hawg what done it.
In that stretch of river I once caught a largemouth over eight pounds on a topwater lure and he made a dandy splash. But it didn’t equal that splash I heard behind me that day. I have caught a few four pound smallmouth there on topwater lures over the past 25 years and on a scale of one to 10 there were some bona fide splashes there of six or seven on a scale of 10. But compared to that splash they were sunfish… which technically I guess, all bass are, so forget I said that. But what I am trying to get across here is that the splash that day was a 14 or 15 easily, an eruption of foaming, exploding surface water, made by something in the category of a small, no… a medium-sized alligator.
My daughter, Christy, can vouch for all this. She was sitting in the bow of my johnboat, and she said she thought, when she heard that splash behind us, that it was a good thing we weren’t over there where it was, ‘cause she figured it was a big sycamore limb falling in the water. So we come to the question… what the heck was it if it wasn’t a falling limb or a coon? Well, I was hoping you’d ask. ‘Cause I have a theory.
A few years back, there was a beautiful private lake near that stretch of river that didn’t survive the days of hard rain that come upon us. The earthen dam broke an emptied the lake’s fish into the river below. Only a few months before, my Uncle Norten and I were fishing that very lake at night when he caught a huge bass, nine pounds or better.
Uncle Norten, a fishing guide on Ozark lakes since his return from World War II, had once caught a 12-pound largemouth in the 50s and four others in Ozark lakes back in the 60s that weighed from 10 to 11 pounds. That night an hour or so after we turned that nine-pound bass back, he hooked into one that pulled our boat around for 15 minutes before burrowing down into a brushpile in deep water and escaping. Norten said that he had never been ahold of such a bass. He said he would come back and catch him again, nick-naming him “the hooky monster”, for the number of hooks he had to have engulfed over the years. Then came the deluge and the dam broke.
It was only a year or so later that I caught the eight-pounder from the river, and my uncle was sure it was a bass from that washed out lake. He said somewhere in some deep hole where a rock bluff sheltered dark water, the hooky monster lay quietly enjoying his old age, with hooks hanging from his monstrous jaw, slurping up shimmering schools of shiners and shads and frantic, fleeing frogs from the protection of rock ledges where fishing lures couldn’t reach him.
I figure, though it has been five years or so, that the fish which we heard humiliating my topwater lure has to be about 12 pounds or so, most likely that same bass Uncle Norten nicknamed, “the hooky monster”. I know now where he lives and on some quiet dark summer night, I will slip into that river eddy in my johnboat and cast a big jitter-bug into the middle of it. Thinking that fishermen only operate in daylight hours, the monster will swim out from beneath that bluff, sure that the lure bloop-bloop-blooping along the surface is a baby muskrat. And then it will be just me and him and 14- pound line and number four treble hooks… man against beast. And we will see who gets the last splash then.
Remember that we have a 50-acre ranch for underprivileged children available this summer that is free for any smaller churches which cannot afford the commercial Christian camps. We have cabins and lodge which can accommodate two dozen kids, a sports field for softball, baseball or soccer, a swimming beach, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, fishing and trap shooting. This is available near Collins on Panther Creek and can be used by small groups, with counselors, etc. at no cost.
To learn more about it, and see pictures of this “Panther Creek Youth Retreat” be sure and see our summer magazine. Get information on both by calling our office, 417/777-5227.