The fight was real. That much can’t be disputed. Which story is more accurate, depends on perspective. There’s the truth of the fisherman, rod in hand...that of the fish, who took the bait...and then…what really happened.
“There are many ways this could have gone down,” Jack said.
He had floated into the shoal, having fastened a crutch from the weeds. Wondering Eye Walleye hovered at the bar and lifted his brow in silent question when Jack joined him. Talking out of the side of his mouth, Jack ordered a stiff algae punch from the bartender.
Perched under the hanging willow, the thick wall of reeds offered protection from the sun and shielded the patrons from eyes above. A school of minnows turned to stare in disbelieve when Jack laid his crutches to the side. He knew he looked more than a little worse for wear for the usual catch and release crowd. Small guys like them typically never came back.
Jack nodded and turned back to the bar and the drink. “Sure I shouldn’t have taken the bait," he said. "But how many of us can resist?” He spoke as though Wondering Eye had asked. He needed to tell it regardless.
He brushed a fin by the side of his jaw where the wound still smarted. The lost tooth would be missed, for sure. “Three times,” he muttered as though to himself. “Three times in the water, three times on the dock before they let me go.”
An audible gasp from Patti Pike encouraged him to go on. Her milky gaze looked on sympathetically. The school had swam closer to hear.
“That’s right, still on the hook.” He paused to take a swig from the mug, wiping the foam from the drooped side of his lips. “He hooked me, yanked me out of the water, prodded and tossed me back in.”
“Yup,” Jack straightened his spine and spread his fins. He’d made it out where other’s hadn’t. “A three pronger.”
“No.” the word drew out on a chores of gasps.
A brethren of his fellow Jack Fish eased closer to hear.
“For a while we stared at each other. I alternated one eye to the other from under the dock and him with his full frontal lenses from above,” Jack continued. “But I held my ground. There was nowhere for me to go ‘til I could get that damned hook loose. But I knew right then and there he wasn’t getting the better of me.”
He’d finished his drink and without asking, a new mug appeared before him. He couldn’t smile, so waved his fin in acknowledgement.
“And get this.” He turned in his chair to address the patrons and Wandering Eye followed suit as hooked on the story as Jack had been to the rod. “For a while there I just dangled from the stick he hooked to the side of the planks while he walked away. By God, that’s when I thought it was the end.”
“Where’d he go?” Patti Pike asked.
“Dunno, but he wasn’t gone long.”
“Gone to get the hammer.” Wandering Eye spoke for the first time.
“Gone to get something,” Jack confirmed. “Then he sprung me again. I tell you I hit those planks like the time ol’ Yellow Perch rammed the speed boat. I saw stars and that’s not just ’cause I couldn’t breath.”
“Sure, sure,” Juniper Jack said laying a fin on the bar top, easing his girth. “I was sprung once. I know what you mean.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack said. “He stuck the lever in but couldn’t seem to spring me.”
“Ouch,” the minnows said in unison.
“That’s when I started to fight back,” Jack drew breath. “I flopped and got ’im too. Nailed him good with my tail. Didn’t know what hit ’im. He dropped me then and threw me back in the lake.”
Without waiting to be asked. “Yes, yes, still hooked.”
Wandering Eye brushed a fin by his own jaw and shook his head.
“I’d started to bleed then. It was him or me.” Jack swiped the foam away and licked the drip oozing out of the injured side of his mouth. “Third time up. Yank. Smash. Boom.” He’d swam in a tight circle and gestured with his fins. “I was almost down for the count. One. Two. Three. And on it went. The metal went in and finally.”
A collective breath seemed to whoosh out of the crowd.
“That’s right and a piece of my gill with it.”
Patti Pike was bent double holding back a wretch, looking more green than grey.
“Just before I turned tail fin on the tormentor," Jack said. "I spat my tooth at him and told him to keep. It’s a souvenir.”