Leona Mae and Marge determined that this would be their last vacation at Musky Lodge. For the past 15 years they and their men-folk had made the trip an annual event. The men would fish all day, make up lies and drink all night, while the ladies would share the latest details of their kids lives, put up with the men and shop the local establishments.
They vowed that this year would be different. If they could pull it off, they would end this thing once and for all. Cooking fish and picking up after their husbands was not their idea of a fun vacation. The shopping? Well, they could do that anywhere and at any time. With any luck next year they would be playing the slots and sailing the warm waters of the Caribbean. One way or another this year was going to be the last one spent in the musty, moldy, dilapidated cabin on Opaloopygooma Lake.
The drive over in Jack and Leona’s Vista Cruiser was filled with the normal banter. Jack and Elbert recalled past trips, fish caught and fish lost ...while in the backseat the girls sat quietly as expected...listening, but not saying a word.
“If I had landed that fish last year it would have been our largest in years,” said Elbert. “In fact, it would have been larger that everything you caught last year stretched out end to end!”
“Yeah, it was big alright,” says Jack, “and if I had been holding the rod you wouldn’t be sayin’ a word right now. It would be hangin’ on my wall...right above my walleye.”
“Tell you what wise guy, whoever catches the biggest one this year can dictate everything we do on next years trip. How ‘bout that, Jack?”
The lake’s share of the world musky population had been dwindling for years. And they had been getting smaller too. Nowadays, a fish of thirty inches would illicit “wows” and “what’d ya catch him on?” comments from the guys at the bait shop. And so far this year, it was worse. Cruising the lake from end to end in Jake’s metal flake monster they had little to show for their efforts. Just some chain pickerels and a few stunted yellow perch. If not for the tradition of it all, they would have left this lake years ago.
The girls spent their days as they always had...cleaning, cooking, grumbling and shopping, and shopping, and shopping. They had inventoried all of the antique shops and made two runs to Wal-Mart. Other than the groceries they had bought to make up for the lack of fish, they had no more to show for their efforts than the men had to show for theirs. Boredom. Pure boredom. Combined with the general grumpiness of their men, their once upon a time “idyllic cabin on the lake” was getting smaller by the day.
Around mid-morning on their last day at camp, long after the men had headed out and after the breakfast dishes were done, Leona Mae had the bright idea to go fishing.
“Marge, I can’t take another day of this. Another day in Wal-Mart is not gonna happen. What say you and I go fishing?”
“Hmmmm...Well, let’s think about this Leona. For starters we don’t know how to fish, and secondly, the men have the boat.”
“Well Marge, apparently we can fish as well as the men can, and regarding a boat, I remember seeing an old canoe over at the next dock. The folks that own it are nowhere around, and there’s an extra pole out on the porch. Let’s do it.”
Beginning what built into a hysterical laugh, Marge agreed, “Why not, if those two old fools can do it......” So grabbing their sun scarves, they rushed for the door like two giddy school girls heading out for recess.
The canoe looked sea-worthy and there was a fine looking Minn Kota hanging off of the back of it.
"Is that the motor for this thing? Looks like a toy compared to that engine on Jack’s boat..."
"Yep, and in place of a gas tank it has a battery. I think it’s a trolling motor, Leona. It's one of them electric things. I’ve seen them on those super exciting fishing shows that dumb-ass watches on Saturday mornings when he should be tending to his chores."
Leona climbed in without upsetting things much, but Marge, with her girth and well documented tendency to stumble, had a tougher time of it. That they only took on a cup or two of water and stayed upright while escaping the dock was a miracle.
“Whoopee! We're sailing!" shouted Marge between gasps for air as the canoe drifted out. "Now let's do some fishin'!"
Leona Mae was up first. “Alright darlin’ let’s show the guys how it’s done. Let’s get us a big one.” The rod was a stout Cabela’s model and the reel was open face bait casting.
“Oh yeah, I’ve used these things when I was a kid,” Leona said confidently as she reared back and let her rip.
“Did you see the bait Marge? It’s a really shiny, red and white stripeddy thing. I never saw it hit the water.”
Well, the “really shiny, red and white stripeddy thing” did hit the water...right behind her, not five feet from the canoe. And as it dropped to the bottom, although Leona didn’t see it, something else did.
Meanwhile Marge was cussing the motor. She had jiggled the connections and pushed the buttons till her thumb hurt, and the thing just wouldn’t start. As Leona was contentedly reeling and reeling and reeling and getting nowhere because of a faulty reel, Marge finally gave up on it.
“Leona...the motor won’t start and if you haven’t noticed, we don’t have any paddles...and we are drifting away from the dock. How are we going to get back!”
“Oh, don’t fret Marge. It’s a pretty day so let’s just keep fishin’. Soon enough the men will be back for lunch and they can rescue us. It’ll make them feel all useful and manly.
“Forget that! After all the talk about how helpless we are, I’d just as soon swim back to the dock as hear any more of their crap.
As the Dardeville fluttered to the bottom, a musky, a very large musky from his safe haven under the dock had seen it fall. With one push from his massive tail he was on it. He swallowed it half way up the wire leader and felt the treble hooks sting deep into his throat. With the open spool as the only pressure, he headed for the deep water of the lake.
Unaware of the event unfolding beneath the waves, Leona figures out that there’s something wrong with the reel. “Marge, this thing aint workin’. I keep cranking on it and nothing happens.”
“Give it to me dear. Maybe I can fix it.” And for once today, Marge managed to push the right buttons.
“Oh my Lord, Leona...there’s a fish on here! Get out of the way before the line takes your head off!”
Recognizing the sensation from previous battles the big guy fought back, pulling harder each time that Marge gained a little line. It was an epic battle...an Old Woman and the Sea saga in the making. With the butt of the rod buried in Marge’s ample midriff, they were soon fifty yards out into the lake. But inch by inch Marge was gaining ground, and within twenty feet of the boat the leviathan surfaced.
“Good gracious Leona, that’s the biggest fish I’ve ever seen, much less caught!”
“Hold your horses there sweet-thing. If I’m not mistaken I was the one that threw the bait at him. If anyone caught him, it was me.”
“Shut your mouth Leona and help me,” panted Marge. “Take the pole...I’m pooped. I don’t think I can get him all the way to the boat. We can argue about who caught him when he’s officially caught!”
As Leona reached for the rod she fell over the middle thwart right into Marge’s lap, knocking the rod loose and in the process signaling round three to the fish, who immediately came back to life and headed under the boat. With rod in hand, Leona couldn’t figure out which way to turn. The fish circled under and around the canoe, then after a few laps the line went still...
“Oh no Marge! I think he’s gone! Or he’s died...the line just stopped dead in the water.”
Strangely calm after the recent excitement, the girls just looked at each other. Leona laid the rod down and started laughing.
“Well, we almost had him Marge. Whew, that was fun!”
Then they noticed the canoe moving. Against the wind and seemingly with purpose. Looking in their direction of travel they saw the dorsal fin of the huge fish humped out of the water as the creature plowed towards the far shore. But the line was still slack. What was he attached to?
“He’s tangled up in the little motor Leona and he’s taking us further away from the dock! If we don’t get him untangled he’ll take us clear to the other side of the lake!”
As the fish steadily pulled the canoe backwards, Leona, with hands on the gunnels, stepped gingerly over to Marge’s end of the canoe, and in frustration reached around Marge’s shoulders to deal with the problem.
“If you could get your big...your self...out of the way I think I can set him free Marge.” And with that Marge began to cry.
“I’m sorry Leona Mae. I’m so sorry. I should never have agreed with you about this fishing trip. If I had protested we’d be at Wal-Mart now and the worst thing we’d have to worry with is buying the right weight of batting for your quilt. Oh Lord help us. I’m so sorry!”
“Enough Marge. What’s done is done. Now please just get out of the way.”
Getting “out of the way” in a canoe is best done carefully and slowly, and by people that have a sense of balance and timing. Marge had neither and sure enough the canoe went over...and they went under. Marge bobbed up, looking like a huge water-spitting jellyfish with her blouse full of air and her arms swirling in the water. Fortunately Leona was a strong swimmer and was able to get her partner back to the overturned canoe. Hanging on for dear life, they had the good sense to stay with the canoe and try to work it towards shore.
Kicking and paddling, soon they were in shallower water and were able to touch bottom, so it got a little easier. If they could get the fish to work with them it would be easier still. Tiptoeing along, step by step, eventually they reached the shore. They drug the canoe down the bank, righted it and tied it up to the dock.
A couple of hour later, after cleaning up themselves and the canoe, the girls heard the men laughing as they approached the cabin.
“All right, Elbert your fish takes the prize. I know, I know that fish you lost last year was bigger, but this one you actually landed. I guess I’ll be cleaning all your fish next year?”
“Well, Jack...I’ll have to do some thinking on that. But yes, you’ll be cleaning fish...and some other stuff too! I haven’t got it all planned out yet.
“Hi ladies! How was your shopping trip?” Jack said as they entered the cabin.
“Well Jack, it was fine. Thanks for asking. We caught, I mean got... something really amazing.”
My, my...so did we! Come on down to the boat and take a look. You’re husband took the grand prize and will be in charge of next year’s trip! You gotta see this fish...come on.”
Elbert climbed aboard the boat, reached into the live well and brought out a pretty nice musky. Expecting oohs and ahhs, Elbert was a little upset with the girl’s blasé reaction.
“Yes dear, that IS a nice fish, but I was expecting a big one.”
“Listen Leona, we fished all day for this and it’s the biggest one of the trip, so how ‘bout showin’ a little respect to the prize winner, huh?”
Sashaying over to him, Leona looks the fish up and down, grabs the stringer from her husband and with her other hand firmly around its tail…hoists the wiggling musky high above her head.
“Why Jack, no husband of mine is gonna be keepin’ minnows. This aint nothin’ but bait!” as she throws the thing, stringer and all, out into the lake.
Jack nearly dove in after it and Elbert thought he felt the big one comin’ on. Shocked and shaking with rage, Jack hollered, “Leona if it’s the last thing I do I’ll get even with you for that! I’ll be damned if we’ll ever bring you back here!”
“Oh now Elbert, it was just a fish! And besides, we WILL NOT ever be coming back here. Marge, reach down there around that post and pull up that clothes-line rope…and Jack, she’s gonna need some help…get over there and help her.”
As the two of them pulled up the largest musky that any of them had ever seen, the men were awestruck.
“Where did that come from? Has that been tied up there the whole trip?”
“No way Elbert. Marge and I caught that while you two fools were out motoring around the lake swillin’ your PBR’s. And according to the rules that you set yourself darlin’…WE won the contest!
“This time next year Marge and I will be sailing the Caribbean in one of them ocean liners sippin’ exotic drinks and makin’ eyes at the lifeguards. You fellows want to come, you can carry our bags and fetch stuff for us when we holler! We’ll be cruisin’!