Saturday, May 11, 2013

River Monsters

Some of my readers know I have a fear of sharks. Actually, its not so much a fear of sharks themselves. Its more of a fear of swimming in deep water where something larger than me, or toothier than me, could take a bite of me. Does that make sense? I mean, I've gone shark fishing and had a blast. But the idea of my arse tipping out of the boat into chum and shark infested water really freaks me out. One can imagine that there is a very fine line between fun and fear whenever I attempt to enjoy water related activities. So my heart skipped a beat when I heard Dawn make the following comment.

 "Let's go to the river!"

 She has been so busy with school and the end of year activities that I was pretty shocked by the suggestion. But far be it from me to pass up a chance to go fishing.

Jeremy Wade from Animal Planets, River Monsters.
 "I'll grab the gear, you pack the food and whatever you want and put it all on the porch. Then I'll pack the car and we can get some gas..." Dawn interrupted,"Mike, the river is eight miles away. This isn't a cross country trip. I don't even know how long I want to hang out there. We aren't going for a 'walk-about' and you are not Jeremy Wade."

 "Um...please don't let me get to the river and start fishing and suddenly you want to leave. I'd really like it if this didn't go south within the first ten minutes of getting there." I mentioned.

 "Just get your stuff Mike. Don't over think this." She smiled, gave me a peck on the cheek and flitted off to find something cute to wear. Finding something cute to wear is code for packing the heaviest bag of stuff possible without looking like a bag lady.
Then I have to carry it once we get to the destination because, "Honey, this is really heavy."

 It wasn't long before we had everything in the car and were on our way. The Roanoke River is connected directly to the ocean without any dams or obstacles between the location I planned to fish and the Atlantic. It is also the Rockfish Capital of the World! Rockfish get big, as in, "HOLY CRAP THATS A BIG FISH!" sort of big. Average size is four feet long and they can live thirty years!

There are also catfish the size of me in that river and it wouldn't surprise me if there were Bull Shark in the fresh water as well. There was a real possibility that I may lace into something akin to a "River Monster". Little did I know what was in store.

I went through a mental inventory of my gear as we drove and questioned my tackle selection. I simply wasn't equipped to deal with anything larger than a few pounds. In the event that something monstrous took my bait I would be in for one heck of a fight. For those of you who are anglers I'm sure you understand what it means to have 5 lb. test, a light action rod, and no a river full of rocks, and potential river monsters. The prospect of landing anything appreciably large seriously decreases when those variables are taken into consideration.

"Hey! Park right there in the shade so the car doesn't get hot." Dawn quipped as we pulled up to the river.

"Ah...honey...that spot is a country mile from the river where I'll be fishing. Would it be OK if I......" She cut me off. "You never fish in one spot Mike so just park in the shade and everything will be fine. I'm going to sit by those trees right there."

"Yeah but what if I catch a nice fish? I want you to see it and you can't see the river from that spot. Don't you want to be near the bank where you can see the river better?" I sounded hopeful.

"Mike, there are geese and ducks all along the river. You know they leave turds big as small dogs. I'm not sitting in a bunch of goose poop."

I looked at the river bank. Sure enough, the bank was full of geese, ducks, and a pair of swans. I could see a great blue heron wading near the opposite bank. He plunged his head in the water and came up with a wiggling fish.

Dawn and I walked across the parking area together. At the moment we were going to go separate ways we gave each other a kiss and I trotted off to the river bank.

As I walked across the parking area a gigantic silver diesel pickup truck slowly pulled up next to me. "You gonna have a heck of a time fishin' here buddy I promise ya that!" The driver called as he neared me. My heart jumped a bit. I smiled, looked at him and said, "Really? That good huh?" He smiled ear to ear and drove off. There's nothing better than good news from a local when you are about to go fishing!

The Mighty Roanoke River
The Roanoke River was there in all of its grandeur, stretched out before me. The dam was open, the water was high and countless eddies and swirls behind boulders offered more than enough places to toss a bait. I quickly found the most goose poop free stretch of real estate and set down my gear. After looking at the water for a few minutes, I opened my tackle box, pulled out a bait  and regarded it with intensity. The wrong bait would be sure to invite a river monster but the right one just might catch something I could deal with. I sat there pondering my options.

With my selection made I began to prepare my rod. As I assembled the pieces I began to get the feeling that I was being watched. I glanced around and realized I was the only person fishing. Dawn was back up the bank lounging and reading in the shade. I shook the feeling off and focused on the task at hand. With the rod assembled I peered down its length to insure proper alignment of the eyelets, checked the reel and began threading the line up the rod. As I neared the last eyelet I looked over my outstretched right arm and noticed a huge swan standing extremely close to my tackle box. "Shoo, there's nothing for you in there." I said and finished threading the line. A smart fisherman never leaves a tackle box open if he isn't actively using it so I wasn't worried about the swan getting hooked. With one hand on the end of the line and the rod in my hand I tried to gently nudge the swan away from my tackle.

There are a number of poor decisions I've made in my life. I will be the first to admit my shortcomings  But nothing prepared me for the result I was going to face after touching a swan with my rod tip.

The air in front of me exploded, my rod bent and a thundering kind of air horn noise nearly deafened me. The swan was attacking. Me.

I back peddled and dodged the first strike the swan took but caught a fore-wing between the legs. The blow connected firmly with my tender bits. As my knees buckled I put my hand out to protect my face and chucked the rod at the swan. Fire shot up my arm as the swan took hold of my fingers and shook its head like a pit-bull.

"GAAAAAAHHHHAAAA! Swan quit! Quit!" I shouted. The swan paused in front of me with its wings at half mast. It hissed a long angry sound. Its knife like tongue quivered angrily and I realized that the damn thing was far from done with me. It lunged again.

A split second before it got me I felt a searing pain in the back of my right leg where the butt cheek becomes thigh. You know, that really tender skin that isn't designed to withstand swan attacks. I shrieked like a woman, grabbed my ass with both hands and ran like hell. Now there were two swans attacking me. One from the front and the other from behind.

I could hear Dawn calling to me in the distance. "Mike, quit messing with those birds!"

"Gaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! HAAAALP ME!" I shouted as the swans connected with me again and again.

There was only so far I could run before I tired out so I decided that turning to face my attackers might be the better thing to do. I planted my feet, crouched and shouted, "Hey!" at the top of my lungs in the hope that I might startle my attackers.

In the event that you should ever find yourself the victim of a swan attack do not stop and face
them. That is exactly what they want. The first swan jumped and spread its wings and hit me square in the chest. It slammed its beak into the top of my head and I'm sure it pulled out hair as we fell to the ground. My instinct was to grab the swan and tuck my head into it to avoid the hammer blows it was trying to rain down on me. So that's what I did. The swan shrieked like an air horn. The sound it made was different than the rage filled shrieks from a moment earlier. Was it scared? Did I turn the tables?

Swans may or may not mate for life. I honestly don't give a shit about their matting habits actually. All I know is that if you have a pair of swans attacking you then they are likely mates. They are a team. A dangerous and efficient team capable of inflicting grievous amounts of pain and embarrassment with lightning fast attacks. I buckled under the barrage of wings, beaks and shrieks.

As I was falling to the ground I thought about my life and the ones I love. As I hit the ground I thought about the good life I'd had up to the moment before the attack. As I came to rest in the fetal position I actually wished that Dawn had a camera running to record the last moments of my life. The video of my demise would surely get more than a million hits on YouTube I thought and almost smiled with the far away content sort of smile that I imagine a dying man would make while being killed by waterfowl.

I hit the ground in a ball. Suddenly a crazy loud honk pierced my ears and I was bathed in hot blowing air. My eyes were shut so all I could imagine was maybe a bear had joined the assault and was now standing over me roaring its hot diesel smelling breath across my back.


The swans were silent.

Most people never want to see the underside of
a truck like this. I was all to happy to feel its
hot diesel breath wash over my battered body.
I opened my eyes and looked up. There, only a foot away from me was the front bumper of a silver diesel truck bathing me in hot air from the radiator fan. The guy I talked to earlier saw my predicament and slowly drove his truck over me and scared off the swans. I jumped to my feet, ran past the driver and didn't stop till I was on the opposite side of the parking area. After a quick glance to ensure I wasn't followed I collapsed to the ground huffing and puffing in pain.

Soon Dawn and the driver of the truck were standing over me with smiles on their faces. "You OK?" Dawn asked.

"Hell no! I'm pretty damn far from OK."

"Told ya you was gonna have a heck of a time fishing there buddy! Least I stuck around ta see if you'd git attacked. Good thing too cause them birds got the better of ya!" The driver of the truck said all high and mighty.

I struggled to my feet and began to examine my injuries. Bruises and raspberry bumps appeared all over my arms and my head was pounding. I put my hand up and could feel stubbly hair in two places where the swans had nearly ripped it out by the roots.

I thanked the driver of the truck and gave him a big hug. He strongly suggested I not hug him like that and maybe we should work on getting my rod and tackle box back before he left. I lifted my head from his shoulder, looked up at him and with a sheepish grin I said, "Thanks." He gently pushed me away and wiped the hug off of himself.

He pulled his truck up near my gear and honked a few times to shoo the birds away. I was going to shake his hand one last time and thank him before he left but he probably had enough touching of strangers for the day and drove off with a funny look on his face. I guess hugs aren't popular in the south. Especially man hugs.

"Um....Can we go home honey?" I asked Dawn as I returned to the car.

"I got everything in the trunk already. Lets get you home and cleaned up. You have goose crap all over you and you probably need some mild medical attention."

I cringed at the idea of being covered in feces but after a cursory glance it didn't appear to be that serious. I stretched a blanket over the passenger seat, plopped down and shut the door. Dawn started the car and we drove away. As we left the river I looked back and watched as two white river monsters flapped their wings and gracefully settled down on the bank of the Roanoke with all their graceful swan like splendor.

Nobody got time to put up a dang sign?

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