Two trips — a thousand miles apart, one on a Florida lake and the other along the shores of the Chagrin River in Ohio — will forever be linked in my memory.
Both outings reminded me of Tarzan movies in which the Ape Man’s enemies often met grisly deaths by one of the unseen dangers of the jungle.
The first took place when I was 12 and on vacation with my parents in Clearwater, Florida. My dad and I managed to sneak away for a day of bass fishing on Lake Seminole, just north of Tampa. We rented a boat and headed onto the waters in search of lunker bigmouth.
For weeks leading up to the trip, my father had built my excitement by telling me stories of Florida’s giant bass — twice the size of the ones swimming in Ohio lakes.
We didn’t catch any of the huge bass, but we did land a few Ohio-sized ones. It was when I went to land the one and only bass I caught that the day got interesting. As I began to lift the fish from the water, a dark shape materialized just beneath the service. I pulled the fish into the air and the water broke — it was an alligator, at least 8 feet long! I frantically removed the hook from the bass and threw it into the gator’s mouth. He chomped and dove, under the boat.
I was terrified that, just like in the Tarzan movies, the gator was going to flip the boat and devour us as well. When it didn’t and we realized it was gone, my dad had a huge laugh at my expense — insisting he wasn’t scared.
About two or three years later, my dad and his friend took me and a buddy to a remote section of the Chagrin River in hopes of catching some smallmouth bass.
My friend and I split up from my dad and his pal, and soon we too had parted, wanting to find the perfect spot on our own, so we could later show off our fishing prowess.
There was a lot of mud along the river shore, and I did my best to steer clear of it. Then I came to a small tributary where the mud was everywhere and it was impossible not to step in it. I had waterproof boots on, so I wasn’t too worried about ruining them. I took a few steps and suddenly my right leg sank up to my knee into what I’d thought was mud, but turned out to be oozy, slimy muck.I tried to pull my leg out, lost my balance when it didn’t move and promptly deposited my left leg into the same muck bed.
I’d seen enough Tarzan movies to realize that I’d fallen into a pit of quicksand! (Of course, it was really muck, but semantics didn’t matter much at the time when I realized I was stuck.)
They say when you get into quicksand you should lie back and try not to move, or you’ll only sink deeper. Muck is much the same. Except it’s muck, and I did NOT want to lie down and have to explain later why my clothes were drenched in mud.
Just like they say, the more you move, the deeper you sink, and soon I was up to my waist. Fears of embarrassment vanished and I began screaming for help. But I’d wandered so far from everyone, they couldn’t hear me. It was only as the afternoon wore on that my dad began to wonder where I was and started searching for me.
Finally the group found me. I was saved! Except for one small problem. I was so stuck they couldn’t pull me out. After 15 minutes or so of trying various ways to free me, my dad and his friend each grabbed an arm and pulled for all they were worth. I thought my arms would come out of their sockets, but out I came with a sickening slurping sound. I was so happy to be free it took me a minute to realize everyone was laughing at me. I didn’t see what was so funny; after all, I might have died.
My friend just pointed at me and laughed even harder. I looked down and realized to my horror that I was missing my pants and boots! The muck had claimed them as a souvenir.
Fishing can be fun. It can be exciting. And sometimes it can be downright embarrassing.