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The Big One

Estimated reading time — 12 minutes

The competitors of the thirtieth annual “Super fish” tournament sponsored by the Angler Warehouse could not have asked for a better day; seventy-five degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  The competition was open to just about every type of fish that Lake Michigan had to offer, but when several large Pumpkinseeds or Rock Carp counted the same as an average sized Sturgeon or Catfish, the fishermen were always on the hunt for “the big one.”

The teams consisted of no more than two to a fishing boat with a single outboard motor only.  Most serious anglers, however, make little to no use of their motors, preferring the stealthier approach to their favorite spots that basic oars provided.  Team “Dan’s Garage and Repo” was no exception.  That morning, however, the team consisted of just Dan who, being a temperamental asshole on occasion, had alienated the rest of the team the night before at the bar; too much tequila.  He only hoped they would be back at work on Monday morning.

There were well over a hundred different boats heading out, all with aspirations for the trophy and ten thousand dollar grand prize, but the size of the Great Lake provided privacy for them all.  Forty minutes after setting out Dan could no longer see another boat; he could barely see the mainland shimmering on the horizon.  He knew exactly where he was going, having the location saved on his GPS.  It was the one spot where he always hit gold, in both volume and weight; bringing in both a forty-two pound Lake Trout and a thirty-nine pound Muskellunge from that location.

Making anchor, baiting his line, and casting it, Dan reclined in his mounted chair and sighed.  He was starting to feel bad about the way he had acted the night before with the guys.  He couldn’t actually remember all of what happened, but he remembered enough to know that he had been a king-sized dick.  It was probably nothing that giving everyone a little bonus wouldn’t fix.  He wasn’t going to fixate on it.  It was an amazing day and, if he were being honest with himself, fishing was something he preferred to do on his own anyway.

It was true that the extra hands could have been useful for the tournament, but he still had six poles and six places to mount them on the sides of the boat.  Once he got them all set, hopefully, he would stay too busy to notice.  Worst case scenario would be two lines hooking whoppers at the same time but, even then, Dan’s fishing skills were up to the task.  His father had been bringing him out on the lake since he was old enough to walk and had a pole in his hands as soon as he was able to hold it.  Fishing was all second nature and muscle memory; there were no abilities, save working a car engine, which he felt more confidence in.

It took about thirty minutes to get all six lines out.  Probably would have been quicker had two of the lines not been tied up with little Ruffies in the process and, of course, they had to be thrown back; not even worth the space they might take up.  He hoped he hadn’t parked in a school of them.  When he got back to his seat, beer in hand, he checked his watch:  not quite six hours to go.

“Alright fish,” Dan informed them.  “Let’s get busy, shall we?”

The first hour passed with relative disappointment and although there was an eight-pound Carp in the hold, Dan was contemplating a new location as inconceivable that might have been before he got there.  This was, without a doubt, Murphy’s Law in action.  Throwing his third empty Coors bottle into the water and sighing for the way-to-manyith time, he reached for the GPS mounted to the front dash.  His hand never got there.

The rear starboard line took off like a shot, whirring loudly.  Whatever he had hooked was moving fast and it was big.  With jackal reflexes, Dan pounced on the pole and locked the spooling line in place; the pole nearly leapt from his hands.

“Yes…Yes…hell yes!” Dan screamed at the lake.  This was it.  This was the big one.  Half of his life, or more, had been spent on the water and he had never hooked something this big.  It was nearly impossible to reel it back in and, had the anchor not been set, it would have dragged the boat.  The rod itself, made from bamboo, was expensive, designed for deep-sea fishing.  It, in theory, should have been able to bring in a shark but whatever was on the other end was giving it all it could handle.

Dan had never seen a pole snap in two before…until it happened.  The reverberating shock from the break stung his hands, causing him to let go and watch as the shattered pole disappeared into the green water.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” he exclaimed, throwing his stinging hands into the air in disgust.  His opportunity to go down the annals of fishing lore as a legend had just swam away with one of his all-time favorite fishing poles.  What the hell could that have been anyway?  It felt larger than the Lake Michigan record, a one-hundred and ninety-three pound Lake Sturgeon.  It felt like, of all things, a shark or something bigger but, of course, that couldn’t be possible.

Despite internet prankster’s attempts to convince people otherwise, it was impossible for sharks, whales, squids and all number of creatures to survive in the Great Lakes; salt water species just weren’t designed for the fresh-water bodies of water.  Whatever it had been, it had ruined his day, whether he won the tournament or not.  There was no doubt in Dan’s mind that he would never, ever forget the “one that got away”.

He threw himself back into the “captain’s chair” and grabbed another beer, utterly sickened with the turn of events.  The alcohol never reached his lips.  Another line, this time port side, whirred into frenetic action, much like the first.  Dan jumped up and locked the reel, snapping the line to tautness and bending the rod to an unnatural angle.  Leaving the pole in its mount, Dan spun around to grab his rubber gripping gloves from the tackle-box.  His hands had already paid to learn a lesson he wasn’t keen to repeat.

With adrenaline fueled speed, Dan had the gloves on in seconds flat, unfortunately, it was still too slow.  The fishing pole’s mount, which was drilled into the fiberglass hull of the boat itself, tore itself free; the pole, mount and a small chunk of fiberglass vanishing into the lake before his shocked gaze.  Gawking in disbelief, Dan’s mind fighting to rationalize what the hell he had just seen, a third line began zipping away to his right.

“What the…”  He locked the line down and grabbed the handle in his gloved hands.  There was no damn way he was losing another pole.  He knew immediately that it was the same beast that had already stolen from him twice.  It made no sense.  Even if he had somehow managed to hook some mutated, five-hundred pound Sturgeon…twice…it went against its primitive instincts to hang around in the same area.  After getting away the first time, the son-of-a-bitch should have been a hundred miles away by now.

Fish are primitive creatures which act on generations of repeated behaviors to dictate their actions.  They’re not capable of higher level thought processes along the lines of…revenge, but damned if the thought didn’t go through Dan’s mind as he battled against the beast.  Behind him, another reel began to go…and it was a pretty good one, but nothing compared to what he had on the other end of the line in his hands.

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Instinctively, he removed one hand from the handle to lock the other line down for the time being…and that was all it took.  Dan was a strong guy, he worked with his hands every day and had even won a couple arm-wrestling contests.  It didn’t seem to matter.  The pole went flying from his one-handed grasp and that was all she wrote.  The stream of profanities that escaped his mouth could have set a Guinness Book record, were such things rewarded.  Fully aware that the screaming would most likely scare away any fish that might have still been in the vicinity, Dan was unable to restrain himself.  It was the first time he ever longed for his shotgun while on the water.

Still cursing, Dan reeled in the line that cost him his third pole, and the four grand they were all valued at.  It popped out of the water about ten yards away:  it was a Catfish, twenty-five or thirty pounds at least.  It was a good catch…a really good catch.  It was only a few feet away, Dan could see its blurry image struggling beneath the water, when something massive came up from nowhere, absorbed his catch and began to swim away.  Dan had no choice but to give the thing some line, having already learned the hard way that he was no match for whatever that thing underneath him was.

He managed to get the pole locked back into his mount on the boat and scrambled through the tackle-box for his knife; just barely able to cut the line before it reached its end of one-hundred and fifty yards.  He immediately shifted his attention to the two lines remaining in the water and cut them both.  Whatever anomaly was down there, he was not prepared to catch it.  He may have been a jerk sometimes, but he wasn’t a dumb man; knowing when to throw in the towel.

After getting his last three poles stowed away, Dan grabbed his cell phone and set it to record video, desperately wanting to get some type of footage.  No one was going to believe him.  Shifting from side to side, front and back, he held the device over the water and strained to see something…anything.  The water was a beautiful greenish teal but murkier than usual; as if something were stirring up huge amounts of sediment.  Occasionally a massive shadow would pass by but it had to be some natural combination of the sunlight in the water because it was way…way, too big to be something that could live in the fresh-water Great Lakes.


If Dan were to believe that the dark shape in the water was…whatever that thing was, then it would easily be the size of his tow-truck.  Sure there are creatures in the ocean…deep in the ocean…that achieved that kind of mass, but for Lake Michigan, it would have to be something like “Nessie” the Loch Ness Monster; a semi-mythical, possibly prehistoric, widely-doubted aquatic animal of questionable origins.  Maybe he’d be famous for discovering the “Lake Michigan Monster”?  It did have a nice ring to it.

Seeing the hazy shadow, Dan jumped to the front of the fishing boat, really only a glorified dinghy, and leaned over the water as far as he safely could.  Suddenly a thunderous crashing and ripping noise blasted out from the rear of the boat simultaneous to the boat itself violently jerking port side and nearly capsizing in the process.  Dan’s guardian angel kept somehow kept it upright but not before a number of contents spilled out, including his cell phone.  He ended up needing both hands to grasp the boat and keep from going into the water as well.

Dan waited for the rocking to cease before peeling himself from the water-logged bottom of the boat and turning to see what the hell had just happened.  What greeted him at the rear of the boat was like nothing he could have imagined…even in his nightmares.  His six horsepower, Mercury outboard motor was…gone; completely torn away from the boat’s hull, taking a substantial chunk of the boat with it.  A U-shaped hole now sat where the motor once was, water splashing into the boat over the gap and Dan was once again frozen into immobility.

How could something like this even be possible?  What sort of…thing…was even capable of the inconceivable devastation just waylaid on the biggest love in his life:  “The Jenny-Sue”.  The original Jenny-Sue had left his life nearly twenty years ago but that boat never strayed, always remaining faithful; and now she was…

“Oh God.” Dan gasped, feeling as helpless as a child.  He wanted to know what to do, wanted to jump into action, but none of his skills and experience had prepared him for…this.  About to take a step towards the destruction in some meager attempt at an evaluation, Dan was knocked to his knees again.  The Jenny-Sue jerked forwards again and began gliding through the water with more speed than should have been possible with her motor gone.

Gripped with fear, it took Dan several terrifying seconds to discover the source of the propulsion…except he wasn’t being propelled; he was being pulled.  Something, with strength that shouldn’t have been possible, had taken hold of the anchor and chain and was pulling the boat to an unknown destination.  Water splashed over the sides and rear, soaking him and causing a shiver, despite the warmth of the day.

His brain felt locked by panic and it was only by some miracle that he remembered the emergency release for the anchor which would dis-attach the chain from the vessel entirely.  It felt like slow-motion as he fought the growing momentum and made his way to the release latch in the front.  He pulled the latch and Jenny-Sue slowly cruised to a stop as the chain rattled off its spool and into the deep.  Dan fell back into his seat with a huge sigh of relief and reached for a beer; they were gone.

“Of course.”  Dan surveyed the disaster that he once considered his most reliable vehicle. It was nearly unbelievable; would have been unbelievable had he not just lived through the attack.  No one else would believe him.  The Boy Scout began to slowly take control and Dan scanned the horizon.  Land could not be seen in any direction and the sun was directly overhead to boot, so it would give no indication of the direction he needed to go for another hour, at least.  At least he still had the GPS mounted on the hull.

Dan grabbed it and peered down at the screen.  It was still working!  In the quick moment that it took for his middle-aged eyes to adjust their focus, a loud splash could be heard from behind him.  Dan spun in his seat just in time to see the two-foot, algae-covered anchor and thick chain coming down through the air and hooking itself on the rear of the hull, onto the side of the gap where the motor once was.  The second it became hooked the chain went taut and the boat was in motion again; except the wrong way this time, resulting in a much choppier ride.

It was a struggle to stay aboard and make his way back to the anchor, the boat nearly tipping twice with his weight shifting towards the rear.  Desperately trying to grasp the firmly hooked anchor, his hands kept slipping off the slimy metal.  Fear had every nerve in his body tingling; he didn’t want to die here.  He wasn’t even wearing a life-jacket, for heaven’s sake.

Dan heard a slight cracking noise beneath the splashing waters, drawing his attention to the small, but expanding fissures in the fiberglass beneath the anchor.  Jenny-Sue was beginning to pick up real speed as the front of the boat bounced violently up and down on the water, higher and higher each time.  There was no way he would stay upright much longer.


Bracing his back against the base of the seat, Dan began kicking the anchor.  The cracks got larger and larger and just as the boat reached a vertical position, ninety degrees from the plane of water, Dan was able to shatter the portion of the hull that had been caught, sending the anchor zipping into the water.  Jenny-Sue came crashing down on the water with a thud; the momentum bringing it to a complete stop.

Gasping for air, teetering on the verge of hyperventilation, Dan had never been so terrified in his entire life.  When he was ten years old Dan had walked in on an argument between his mom and her “boyfriend” at the time:  Frank.  They didn’t stay together for long and that moment was the reason why.  Frank like to use his mother as a punching-bag and on that particular day, after seeing his mother lying on the floor and bleeding from the mouth, Dan decided he’d had enough.

Attacking Frank with all the hatred and fury that a child could muster, the end result was his being nearly choked to death.  Frank would have killed Dan had his mother not clocked him from behind with a frying pan.  In the moments it took for Frank to gather his senses, his mother got them out of the house and called the police.  The fear he felt then, and the weeks subsequent to Frank’s release from jail, were the bar by which he would measure every scary moment in his life.  No matter what terrible thing might happen he could always tell himself, at least it’s not as bad as that day in the kitchen with Frank.

Until now.  This shit blew everything he ever knew out about fear out of the water.  Heart pounding its way out of his chest, sweat mingling with lake water, he had never known such distress could exist.  It was beyond anything his mind could easily digest.  Before he had any semblance of a chance to calm his nerves, a familiar splash came from behind him somewhere.  Dan closed his eyes and prayed, please God, just make it go away.

For the moment his prayer was answered by the loud clank of metal on fiberglass as the anchor glanced off the port side of Jenny-Sue.  The ricochet’s vibration was the jolt Dan needed to break free from his anxiety-induced state of catharsis.   Gripping the captain’s chair, he got to his knees and strained his neck to scan the area.  It seemed calm.  He had to get out of there or it was going to kill him.  With trembling hands he reached for the oars strapped to the side of the boat.  It was the only way he was going anywhere now.

The splash came again and Dan spun his head to see the anchor shooting up into the air and then arching back down towards the boat.  This time it made better contact, hooking one of its three inverted prongs into the plastic fishing-pole holder, mounted to the edge of the boat.  Instantly it was pulled tight again, but instead of dragging the boat it merely ripped the pole-holding piece of plastic from the boat.

Dan fumbled for the oars again.  This was getting desperate.  He managed to free one when the splash came from directly in front of him.  This time he saw the piece of metal eject itself from the still water like a rocket; it was going higher each time.  He watched it intensely at it curved in the air and came…right at him.  With masterful precision, the anchor lodged itself on the side of the boat, right in front of him.

Dan’s mind was working a little quicker now and he realized two things right off the bat.  The…thing…would start pulling again and with the anchor hooked on the side of the boat, it wouldn’t be going very far before flipping or just breaking into pieces.  The second thought, amazingly enough, was even more disturbing than the first.  The way the anchor and chain had sailed through the air…it was…familiar.  It resembled the way his own fishing line looked when he cast it out into the body of water.  Whatever it was, he was not fishing for it; it was fishing for him.  He was “the big one” and it seemed he would not be getting away.

Credit: Shannon Higdon

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