by A Determined Fisherman

                It was October31, 1998, Halloween.  The moon was almost full, and the weather was unseasonably warm, 85 degrees at four in the afternoon.  I decided to go fishing.  Of course, I chose Lake Purdy; I always caught fish there, I loved the peaceful ambience of the undeveloped lake, I enjoyed swapping lies with the guys in the bait shop and always got great advice from them, especially Gary, their professional guide.  And, of course, I always spent way too much money on tackle, bait, snacks, and the many novelties they stock there.

                I was a young man then, recently married, expecting our first child.  But I was over Halloween!  I had enjoyed the spooky holiday as most kids do, but now, working full time and struggling to make ends meet, I didn’t want to deal with it.  I convinced my dear wife to stay at home and dole out sweets to all those cute, little ghosts and ghoulies and let me have a few hours of private time on the lake.

                I gathered up my gear, thanked Barbara profusely and took the snacks and drinks she had prepared for me while grumbling about leaving her alone, kissed her and her swollen belly, and sighed as I took my place in the driver’s seat of my work truck.

                I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered as I drove the thirty minutes to the lake.  There was a report that three convicted murderers had recently escaped from a prison in Oklahoma and had last been seen near Irondale, just a few miles from Lake Purdy.  Oh, well, I thought, why would escaped convicts want to go to Lake Purdy?  Then, again, Lake Purdy could be an isolated and lonely spot at night….

                When I got to the lake I breathed a sigh of relief even before I parked.  The lot was virtually empty, and it seemed I would have the 1,050 acre lake to myself.  The moon was just rising in the east, there were clouds building in the west, but it promised to be a productive and enjoyable evening in this idyllic setting practically in the middle of bustling Birmingham, just four miles from busy highway 280.

                I rented a regular jon boat, an anchor, and an extra battery, and bought some tuffies from Ken, the friendly proprietor of Host Recreation, the owner and manager of the lake’s boat rental franchise.  I had brought my own trolling motor and battery and felt safe in knowing that I would have the requisite power to get back after I had avoided the pesky little kids who were no doubt already descending on my dear, loving wife.

                It took me about half an hour to load up my boat, attach my running lights, rig up my rods, and eat one of the sandwiches and a brownie that Barbara had made for me.  The young helper – I forget his name now – as always, was there right on time to push me into deeper water with his “Mad Max” golf cart.

                I planned to fish for bass until nightfall, and then switch over to minnows for crappie.

                I could hear the rumblings of thunder in the distance to the west, but the forecast was only for scattered thunderstorms, so I wasn’t terribly worried.

                I was trolling with a deep-diving crankbait looking for that big lunker, I’d been fishing for about an hour when my rod suddenly bent double and I set the hook.  Oh, what a fight!  This way and that, under the boat and back again and finally she broke the water, all the way out, like the cover of Field and Stream.  After probably fifteen minutes I got her to the boat, holding my breath as I reached for the net.  I had her!

                I weighed her with my spring scale – six pounds, four ounces!  I put her into the cooler, turned around and headed back to the boat landing, hoping I could get there before the fish died.  Ken was running “Cash for Lunkers,” a stimulus package for the economy: $50 for a five-pound bass, $50 for a two-pound crappie, or $50 for a one-pound bream, but for live fish only.  Hopefully, I had paid for my trip.

                Ken weighed the fish and actually seemed pleased to hand me a $50 bill from the cash register.  “Fish for fun, fish for food, fish for cash!”

                Money in hand, I returned to the boat and released the fish.  I love fishing for bass, but for eating my wife and I prefer crappie.

                Clouds had covered the setting sun and the lightning was getting closer.  I don’t mind fishing in the rain, but lightning is another thing.  A lot of times these pop-ups go away as night falls, so I decided to risk it.

                I headed for the slough just across from the boat landing where I had had luck before fishing for crappie.  As I rigged up for minnow fishing the weather took a decided turn for the worse.  The wind began to blow and the lightning was within a mile.  Soon, the clouds had covered the moon and rain began to pour down.  I turned on my bow light and reached up to turn on my stern light and saw that when I set the hook on my prize-winning bass I had hit my stern light and broken it.  It was now completely dark and the only illumination I had was the red and green bow light which cast an eerie glow in front of me.

                I thought about returning to the boat landing to wait out the storm, but as quickly as it began, the storm stopped.

                No thunder, no rain, only inky, black dark.

                I had forgotten my flashlight!  I didn’t have any matches.  I could hardly see a thing.

                Oh, well, I thought, it’s not the end of the world.  Just pretend you’re blind and deal with it.  I grabbed a minnow and was putting him on the hook when I felt the boat run aground and heard a sickening crunch from the trolling motor.  I pulled the motor up and turned it on.

                Nothing.  It was a pretty old motor and had hit more than one obstacle in its day.  Well, I would get some exercise paddling back to the boat launch.

                I felt around in the bottom of the boat and found the paddle and set it down beside me.

                I was about to put my minnow in the water when I heard rustling in the brush above me.  Raccoon?  Possum?  . . . Bobcat?  Mountain lion?  Escaped murderers?  I didn’t know, but I was going to get out of there anyway.

                I looked up the hillside and found myself staring into two glowing yellow eyes.  My bow light blinked a couple of times, and then went out completely.  Total, utter darkness.

                A tremendous roar came from the woods near me, sounding more like a woman’s scream than anything else.  I tried to push the boat off with my paddle, but I was too far on shore.  I pushed and pushed but couldn’t get myself into clear water.

                Another scream, this one even closer.

                Suddenly, I felt the boat being pulled further on shore, an inch, another inch, and a full foot.

                More scared than I’ve ever been in my life, I dove into the water and started swimming toward where I thought the boat launch would be.

                Another scream.  Another!  This time with a sense of anger, if that is possible.  I heard the boat being pulled even further on shore what sounded like claws being dragged along its length.

                I could probably have won an Olympic medal as I raced to get out of there.  I swam and swam until I must have been fifty yards from the boat.  I stopped and tread water as I caught my breath and ditched my sneakers.

                The screaming continued but seemed further away.  The clouds parted and the moon shone down.  The screaming became mournful and further away still.  I could see the lights from the boat landing and continued my way towards it.

                By the time I reached shore, the sky had completely cleared.  There was absolute silence, except for the frogs, crickets and other normal nighttime sounds around Lake Purdy.  The moon shone brightly and illuminated everything clearly.

                I dragged myself on shore and sat down on the guide boat pier trying to collect myself.

                I was exhausted, more from the terror of whatever I had encountered across the lake than from the swim.  How I made it, fully clothed, I will never know, but I vowed, then and there, never to venture onto my favorite lake again at night by myself.  What’s more, I could never tell anyone about my ordeal – they just wouldn’t believe me. I wasn’t sure now that I believed it myself.  Maybe I had imagined the whole thing.

                Gary called me the next morning and said that my boat, 5724, was on the landing and all my gear intact.  I was baffled.

                This all happened fifteen years ago, and I’ve been true to word – I haven’t been on Lake Purdy again at night.  But we have relatives coming in from out of town, and Barbara wants some crappie for a fish fry.  Halloween is approaching, but perhaps it’s time I put my nightmare behind me.  After much thought I think now I know who and what was responsible for my harrowing experience.

                I’m going fishing!  At Lake Purdy!  At night!  And this time I’ll be prepared for my tormenter.

By: A Determined Fisherman

Mike Williams writes ode to Night Fishing 

Lake Dweller

Lake Dweller, lured with worm, struck at midnight

where Ceasar watched in dogged devotion.

The moon captured the bass in rising flight,

pictured her surface walk--grace in motion.

With strength her huge mouth pulled line from the reel.

She wanted no part of a fisher's creel

While thunder stormed and the lightning ran free,

old Ceasar howled and moved closer to me.

Lake Dweller came in slowing down her rounds.

Heavy with roe, the lunker weighed eight pounds.