Yesterday my friend Jack called at the last minute to ask if I wanted to go fishing. Family was passing through town, and he wanted to take a young nephew out on the river. When a friend with a boat says that he is going fishing, it’s unusual for me not to jump at the chance to go along. It was already 6pm by the time Jack and his nephew picked me up, so we drove directly to the stretch of river nearest my house. We put in on the Black River about a half mile upstream of its confluence with the Upper Mississippi.

If anyone spends enough time fishing, quirky things happen. Many people who panfish, for example, have reeled in a bluegill, only to have a big northern take it while the smaller fish is struggling on the line. While ice fishing, I once caught a crappie without a hook, because it followed my bait all of the way up the hole and then didn’t have room to turn around. Another time my father-in-law broke his line on a big fish, and for a half hour we watched his bobber move around the lagoon where we were fishing. On a whim, I put a heavy Daredevle on my pole and was able to snag the bobber. My father-in-law landed his fish by pulling in the retrieved line hand over hand. 

Yesterday another unusual thing happened. Fishing was not very good, and in two hours Jack caught only two fish. More accurately, he caught one fish, but he caught it twice. First he caught a sheepshead. The fish had swallowed the hook, so rather than hurt the fish by yanking out the hook, he cut the line at the fish’s mouth and slipped the fish back into the water. Fifteen minutes later he caught the same fish. He could tell it was the same fish, because the original severed line from the first catch was dangling from the fish’s mouth. 

Someone who does not fish the Upper Mississippi watershed might not think that catching the same fish two times is anything noteworthy. After all, we were anchored atop a feeding ground, and it was dusk (prime feeding time). Why wouldn’t a hungry fish hook itself twice? The reason that I am surprised by the oddity is that the Black River and Mississippi River near my house are the most fertile fishery I’ve ever fished. I sometimes describe it as “fish so thick and water so muddy that the fish must be bumping into each other.” Even when I’m not catching anything, I still assume that I am sitting atop hundreds of fish. Jack was fishing on the biggest river system in the country (i.e., the fish had lots of places to go), and he was hovering over hundreds of fish, yet the only fish he caught was the same fish twice. Maybe this coincidence wouldn’t impress most people, but I thought it worth mentioning.

Steven Simpson