Friday, June 28, 2013

The Swamp Spook

We were down by the great Salahatchee Swamp in Southern Florida a couple years back, hanging with a guide named Skidmark Pete who we'd hired to take us deep into the swamp to help us locate a legendary gator down in those parts. We'd heard of him at many a bar in the Southern Florida region. They called him "Big Pierre" because he was the size of a damned Volkswagen Minibus and had an affinity for Frenchmen (the two confirmed kills attributed to him were a couple of French tourists but I'd bet he ain't that picky). Of course I had my tackle box with me and was hoping to land some Bass on the way. I believe I was using a Pork Plugg (God Bless You, Maynard...wherever you are) and as it turned out, the fish in the Salahatchee Swamp go absolutely nutso for that lure. 

We'd started out at about 9am which was a little late for me but Petrus had "gotten into some white" (that's moonshine, boys) the night before and I could have stuck a cherry bomb in his butt and he'd have still been sleeping at 8. That "fro" of his was all cockeyed and he was chumming the fish all morning. Maybe that helped. Anyway, I was nailing the bass left and right.

It was a banner day and I guess I got carried away because it was getting into the afternoon when old Skidmark told me I'd have to put my rod away if we were going to get serious about finding Pierre. The day had turned a little foggy and the heat sat on us like a damp blanket as we got down to business, winding our way through the maze of cypress and general swampweed.

I remember thinking "This Skidmark fella must have an internal compass lodged in his grape." as he navigated the place like the aisles of a supermarket. Boy was I wrong.

Turns out, Skidmark had been "into a bit of the white" the night before as well and, waking up feeling much like Petrus did, he got BACK into some first thing in the morning. I thought he was running some high-test in his outboard but the fumes I was smelling were his breath. Skidmark was drunk as a swamp-skunk and we were lost.

Now, a swamp is a funny thing in the pitch-black of night. Downright creepy actually. Especially if you know there's a gator out there who could eat you, your catch, your cooler...your boat. I was a little worried. Well, moving forward was useless. We'd just end up deeper and deeper into the swamp, so we found ourselves a little cove, dropped anchor and tried to catch some sleep on the deck. The night was buzzing with a million mosquitoes and the whine of cicadas created a drone that seemed to mute the terror of it all and I guess I dozed off.

At 3am, things changed. A fiendish cackle burst out of the night just beside the boat and jerked us all out of our sleep in an instant. I remember opening my eyes and being disoriented...I was staring up at the night sky through the cypress branches and wondering where the hell I was when that cackle erupted again and sent an ice cube straight into my right ventricle.

It was otherworldly. Sitting up, I bumped my head against the seat and was wincing when I looked over the starboard and was met by a bluish glow surrounding bright yellow eyes. White teeth flashed out as the thing lunged at the boat, cackling and cackling like a damned critter straight from the bowels of hell. Thinking fast, I reached into my cooler and grabbed one of the bass I had stowed on ice and tossed it to the shore. The thing wheeled and tried to catch it but, missing it, followed it to shore where it began to devour it. This allowed me a chance to get a better look at whatever it was. Damned if it wasn't a raccoon! Not your everyday 'coon but more scraggly and larger. It glowed an eerie blue and as it turned to look back at us, it's yellow eyes made me say "What the..??!!". It waded into the water, glaring at us, it's mind obviously made up that it wanted the rest of my catch. Petrus' camera clicked away as the engine roared to life. Skidmark was hitting the road, directions be damned!

We wandered through the swamp as the sun rose. Never did get a look at Big Pierre. By the time we'd found our way out, it was hot as hell and twice as bright. As Skidmark stepped off the boat onto his rusty-ass pier, I could see where he got his nickname.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Last week I received a e-mail from Pedro De Pacas, a guy who runs a charter-boat operation down off the coast of Brazil. He told me a chilling account of an encounter he had with the rare and terrifying Psychofish while taking out a group of off-duty cops to land some tarpon. He sounded pretty shook up about the whole deal, apparently it was a hell of a day. Here’s Pedro’s account: 

Olá Senhor McFinn,

I am writing to you in regards to your great knowledge of the creatures of the sea. You see, I had a remarkable thing happen on my Charter-Boat the other day. Perhaps you can help me.

We were off the coast of Salinópolis with about 8 police officers ready for a break from a rough week dealing with some gang activity in the slums. It was a beautiful day, a day my ancestors would call “Bueanafunaticalita” or “Mar belo e bom de pesca”, blue skies and calm seas. We were outfitted for tarpon and reports had stated large schools in the area so, we were ready for some great fishing and we were not disappointed. The tarpon began hitting almost as soon as we dropped our lines in.

Now, these policemen were real cara durão or what you Americans call “tough guys” and they were pulling the fish in with relish while smoking charutos gordos and drinking cold cervejas . Many of the guys would smack the huge fish in the face as they pulled them out of the beautiful blue water and exclaiming “Quem está difícil agora?” which roughly translates to “who’s tough now??”. I guess they were taking their frustrations out on the tarpon and letting off some steam or “desabafar”. It was pretty funny but also a little unsettling as they were getting more and more aggressive.

Around 11 am things got hairy and the “merda bater no ventilador”. As one of the cops was pulling in a beautiful tarpon, the water suddenly exploded with whitewater, blood and chunks of tarpon flying all over the place. There was a flash of bright color and the guys line snapped. Just then, another guy’s line went stiff as he landed a tarpon and the same thing happened. Like an explosion in the water and the fish was gone. Needless to say we were all on that side of the boat now trying to get a look at what was happening, you could see a streak of color now and then just under the water and catch glimpses of chaos below. Some “monstro marinho” was tearing into the schools of tarpon below and bubbles and blood were rising from the depths as its jaws ripped through the fish. Again it flashed near the surface and the boat erupted in gunfire! The cops all had their handguns out and were firing like mad, screaming “Tome isso, bastardo!” and “Maldito seja! Demônio da sea!” It was nuts! Bullets flew past my head and the water was transformed into a fine mist. Then, just as quickly as it had begun, it ended. The officers erupted in laughter and there, on the surface of the water lay the Demon Fish. Remarkably, one of the shots had nailed it right between the eyes and it was “Mortinho da silva” or Dead as a Doornail. I fished it in and took this photo. Please Mr. McFinn, if you can help to identify this as an actual Spiny, Speckled Psychofish I would be greatly honored.



Friday, June 7, 2013

Banging Away at the Bucks

A few years ago, I went out to Wisconsin to visit an old high school pal, Gig Winters. Not too swift on the uptake in school, Gig was one of these guys who managed to tie a sheet to his butt and somehow found himself sailing through life without a care. He'd gotten a job as a garbage man straight after he was kicked out of the 11th grade for blowing up toilets with cherry bombs and over the years, the crazy guy managed to inherit the business and make a mint. He spent a HELL of a lot of money in sporting goods stores and spent all of his time screwing around fishing and hunting and drinking beer...lots of it. So, I was a little hesitant when he invited me out for one of his excursions into the hinterlands. I wasn't thrilled at the idea of getting half of my head blown off by my drunken millionaire garbage man dropout pal, but...I said yes. Gig was at the very least a fun guy to be around and I needed a break.

Gig told me on the phone that he had something I needed to see that I wouldn't believe and, you know me, that's the one thing you need to say to me to get me to jump. I was on a plane in 3 hours and in Wisconsin in 5.

We set off in his truck, loaded with about 8 shotguns, some high-powered rifles and about 2 million rounds of ammunition. Gig's buddy Mick was going along for the ride as well. Mick was a bout 5 foot tall, skinny as a rail with coke-bottle glasses on and he smelled a little like Wild Turkey, bacon and cigars. I don't think the guy could see a foot in front of his face even without the half a bottle of Turkey he'd poured down his gullet that morning. Apparently this was Gig's yearly gift to Mick. Once a year, Gig explained as he weaved down the country road we were on, he took Mick out to hunt the very animal that was put on this earth expressly for guys like Mick (read: drunken, blind guys): The Target Speckled Whitetail. You see, this poor sap of an animal was born with actual targets all over it's coat. The damned things have all but gone stark-raving mad, running through the woods like a bunch of maniacs, constantly watching their backs for some trigger happy hunters like they had a "Shoot Me!" sign pasted to their butts. Mick was going to score him one of these if it was the last thing he was going to do.

Well, we made our way north to Lake Hunksahumpkin, stopping every 20 minutes so the drunken fools could empty their bladders and pour another beer down their throats. eventually arriving in one piece (amazing) at Gig's secret campsite. Now, you must be thinking I'm a hell of a fool to be hanging out with these two maniacs but I figured that I better stick around if only to stop these two fools from shooting each other. We set out along the shores, heading for a shallow area where the deer were often found hanging out, looking nervously here and there between sips of lake water. I was a few minutes ahead of Gig and Mick, hoping to get a glimpse of the critters before they got blown to Kingdom-come and sure enough, there they were. It was amazing! There were 6 of them in the shallows, their markings bright in the sun just begging for a bullet. I got my camera out and was setting up a shot when Blind and Drunk, the dynamic duo, stumbled out of the woods burping and giggling. Well, let me tell you, those deer took of running for dear life like a flock of birds and the whole damned world opened up with the Thunder of God as a hail of bullets flew over my head like it was Omaha Beach on D-Day! I hadn't noticed that Gig had given Mick a fully automatic assault rifle with a huge clip and the little guy was opening up a can of hellfire on the lake, his thick glasses shaking on his head as the gun rocked him back against a tree until the clip finally ran out and he crumpled to the ground with that gun smoking like Winston Churchill in a smoking jacket.

The deer were now deep into the woods on the other shore, running for their lives. Unscratched. I guess it happened this way every year, Mick had never bagged a deer in all the years Gig had taken them out and apparently, the ritual now included a laugh-filled trip back to camp and the consumption of many more beverages before a long night's sleep.