URBAN LEGENDS are, I suppose, merely citified versions of charming, folksy tall tales. The thing folksy folk seem to possess that urbanites apparently do not, however, is common sense. No one ever really believed that Paul Bunyan konked 14-pound mosquitoes with an oversized frying pan, whereas city fools like you and I readily accept urban legends as truth and argue that it is indeed conceivable that a hapless bloke spontaneously combusted while standing at the bus stop.
But here’s an urban legend that I can attest is the truth and nothing but. Lurking mere feet from the walking and running paths of the chain of lakes that snake through Minneapolis’s populous and tony neighborhoods is a Minnesota version of Jaws.
Jaws as long as my forearm. The jaws that bite, the claws the catch. And I’m not talking about some frumious Bandersnatch. Very real jaws swim beneath the Minneapolis city waves, waiting to snap, snicker-snack, upon the chubby behinds of inner-tube floating humans innocently bobbling there.
But first, a little aside from an August 27, 2004 Duluth News Tribune story by outdoor writer Sam Cook, who reports that 11-year-old Mason DeRosier was attacked in Island Lake—by a fish. A fish that delivered three stitches worth of chomping on Mason’s foot and another eight stitches worth on his hand when Mason tried to beat the dang thing off. Coulda been a northern pike, coulda been a muskellunge.
Keeping that thought in mind, let’s take a little walk on the water of Lake Harriet standing up in the flat-bottomed boat with a muskie guide, manuvering only inches from the public dock, within wading distance of the kiddie beach.
For those of you who have never tried to cast a rod hung with a six-pound piece of wood painted to look like a frightened perch, let me try to explain the lure of muskie fishing. Muskies are fascinating creatures, suspicious enough to eye a bit of bait for what seems like hours without yielding up a nibble. Muskie fishers say it takes 10,000 casts to get one bite, but it’s worth the wait: the fish are fierce fighters and startlingly enormous, growing to half the length of the boat or more. After a long career of catching sunfish and bullheads, I wanted to catch-and-release myself a muskie.
Well, “catch” is a hopeful term. Getting one on your line is so rare that fisherpersons count as successes just seeing the fish at all. Getting it to follow your bait is noteworthy, and snaring the elusive “slurp,” a sort of sniff the muskie gives a lure to scent if it’s desirable eats or not, is a story to retell around the campfire (while you eat some other kind of fish that is much easier to catch).
Necessary to muskie hunting are polarized sunglasses, and let me suggest that you pop on a pair, sit on the dock sometime, and look down toward your toes. You just might jerk ’em right up out of the water.
Muskies like the shallows. As we slowly snaked around the lake in water no deeper than my armpits, I kept seeing logs in the water. Logs with eyes. Logs with teeth. Logs as long as me, for crying out loud.
I applaud the state for peopling our waters with these magnificent game fish, but…yikes. Big ’uns. Right there with their teeth hanging out, inches from guys launching their boats and toddlers splashing after beach balls.
The happy news is, of course, that it is nearly impossible to force muskies to nibble, much less get them to make a shore lunch out of your knees. For hours, I cast a schoolbus-yellow wooden lure made to look like a baby duck with one injured wing that plop-plopped, plop-plopped pathetically all the way back to the boat as I reeled it in. I tried a segmented fish-like thing with extra eyes that was dipped in smelly goo. I tried a fake hopping frog. I tried a fake swimming frog.
Eight sightings, two follows, and one slurp. These are things muskie fishers count, because the big fish just don’t bite. But if they ever turned, if they ever screened Hitchcock’s “The Birds” underwater and the muskies schemed a copycat takeover of the humand world, if the muskies ever decided to go to lunch at the beach…get outta the water.