If you want to learn more about practical joking, just hang around some fishermen a while. It’s a sure bet you won’t wait long before witnessing shenanigans intended to embarrass, perplex or discomfort the victims.
Here are a few examples.
The Arkansas Snook
My friend Mel worked in the public-relations department of a big bass boat company. His job had recently taken him to Florida where he displayed a new boat model to the pros at a fishing tournament.
This had kept him busy, but he managed to get in some fishing time, too, and landed a big snook. It was so big, in fact, Mel decided to have it mounted. To get the fish back to his Arkansas taxidermist in the best shape possible, he decided to keep the snook alive in the boat’s livewell.
Before visiting the taxidermist, however, Mel had another stop to make. A bass tournament was underway on Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita, and once again, the PR man was expected to be there to show the new boat. When he arrived, however, the fishing contest was already underway. Instead of waiting for the anglers to return, Mel decided he would launch the boat and fish.
Sometime while he was on the lake, an idea struck him. Wouldn’t it be funny to show up at the tournament weigh-in with his big snook? He was pretty sure most of the Arkansas anglers had no idea what a snook looked like and figured it would be funny to see everyone’s reaction when he walked to the stage holding the big saltwater fish. He immediately headed back and convinced the tournament director to participate in his ruse.
The next day, a photo of Mel holding the snook appeared on the front page of a local newspaper. The headline read, "Man catches strange fish during Ouachita bass tournament." In the following paragraphs, Mel was quoted by the reporter as he described how he caught the unusual fish, which later was identified by a state fisheries biologist. Of course, the biologist couldn’t explain how a saltwater snook wound up in the freshwater environs of Lake Ouachita.
Mel never ‘fessed up in public. To this day, if you spend a morning at one of the lakeside restaurants, you’ll often overhear conversations about the time that dude weighed in the weirdest fish ever seen at an Arkansas bass tournament.
Old Latex Head
I don’t care for fly fishing. Just never turned my crank. My buddies Cliff and Gregg, however … well, to say they love fly fishing would be an understatement. They’re obsessed. Over the years, as we’ve traveled together, the three of us have visited some of the country’s finest trout waters.
On a trip to Pennsylvania, my friends determined we were near the Yellow Britches, a famed fly-fishing stream. In short order, we were on the famed catch-and-release stretch near Boiling Springs. I decided to shoot photos while Gregg and Cliff fished, and off I went. When I returned to check on them, they were waist-deep in the water discussing what fly pattern to tie on next. The ones tried so far had failed to tempt a big trout they could see near a fallen tree on the stream’s far bank.
They pointed the fish out to me, and sure enough, I could see its shape beneath the water’s surface. I walked downstream and crossed a bridge to get a closer look, much to their dismay.
"Get away! Get away!" they shouted. "You’re going to spook it." When I peeked over the bank, however, I saw what appeared to be a huge trout was actually a condom lodged in the tree’s branches. Water running into the open end caused it to inflate. The condom undulated in the current just like a live fish.
I said nothing and just sat nearby watching my companions repeatedly place flies within inches of the "fish." Nothing they cast would tempt the cagey monster, however, which both estimated at 8 to 10 pounds. I offered regular encouragement, suggesting they should break the rules and try a live night crawler so they could see the trophy trout.
I laughed for hours while they plotted and strategized, casting this fly then that as they tried to coax a bite from the "fish" we later dubbed "Old Latex Head."
Rod for Sale
My friend Robby is a catfishing fanatic. A few years ago, while motoring to one of his favorite flathead holes, he passed a houseboat owned by his friend Dale. Dale loved catfishing, too, and he had anchored the houseboat in the same bay Robby intended to fish. No problem, though. Robby set up farther back in the bay and patiently waited for a flathead to hit. I’ll let Robby take the story from here.
"Late in the night, one of my reels began a slow clicking indicating a flathead had picked up that bait,” he says. "When I set the hook, though, it felt mushy. I thought maybe the catfish was swimming sideways, creating slack in the line. So I reeled quicker, set the hook again and felt the unmistakable throb of a flathead.
"When I reeled in far enough to see the hook, it didn’t have a fish on it, but another line. At first I thought it was one of my other lines, but I pulled it in to make sure. To my surprise, I retrieved a rod and reel and a fish was still on it! I reeled in the line and landed the flathead."
Robby knew now it wasn’t his other rod. The only other boat nearby was Dale’s. It must be his fishing outfit. Robby continued fishing, and a devious plan emerged.
"It was Saturday morning now," he said, "and I knew Dale and other anglers would be at the marina for breakfast and to show off their catch. I also knew I could easily travel the four miles in my aluminum fishing boat much faster than Dale could with his houseboat. So I went to the marina, cleaned the rod and reel and fashioned a for-sale sign. I placed the sign beside the fishing outfit at the front counter, then ordered breakfast and waited."
Several anglers asked how much he wanted for the rod and reel, but Robby ignored them. They were puzzled but figured something was up, so everyone waited to see what was going on.
"Finally, Dale came in the marina to get breakfast," Robby says. "When he saw his gear with a for-sale sign on it, he snapped, ‘Who’s selling this rod?’ I told him I was, and he bellowed out, ‘That’s my rod!’"
Without missing a beat, Robby said, "I met a flathead last night that said it was HIS rod."
Everybody in the restaurant burst out laughing—everybody, that is, except Dale.
Fighting a Big One
Capt. Bill is a great guy. I’ve fished with him often in the coastal waters of Louisiana where he used to guide. On one trip, he took my friends Lewis and David and I to some offshore oil rigs to try for sheepsheads.
The fish were biting. We’d already caught several 3- to 7-pounders, but Capt. Bill had started to annoy us. He had a new cell phone (one of the first available at the time) and regularly walked into the cabin of the boat to talk to some friend. When he did, he’d stick his rod in a rod holder and say, "Watch that until I get back."
We didn’t really have time to watch Bill’s pole. Ours were bowing up regularly as we hooked our own fish. But Bill would snap at us if a fish got on his rig and we didn’t reel it in.
Next time he walked in the cabin to talk, Lewis or David—I’m not sure who—whispered, "We should tie that 5-gallon bucket of sinkers to his line and toss it overboard. That’ll give him a surprise."
So we did. As the bucket filled with water and sank, the current grabbed it and it raced away almost like a fish. Bill heard his clicker going off and hurried to grab the rod, cursing us for being inattentive. He set the hook, so he thought, and the fight was on.
While he reeled, Bill described what he believed was at the other end of the line. "It feels like a big shark,” he said at one time. "Or it could be a trophy amberjack."
The longer the fight went on, the more we worried. We were certain Bill would be furious when he finally got the bucket to the surface, and the longer it took, the more upset he would be.
Fortunately, he handled it better than we thought. When the bucket finally surfaced—one hour and five minutes after the battle began—Bill used a gaff to snag it and bring it in.
"If that line had broke, I’d’ve kicked all your asses and made you buy me more sinkers," he said. Then he walked back to the boat cabin and called a friend to tell them about his big catch.
Walking on Water
There were stingrays in the water the day Capt. Mark took two clients wade fishing near Sarasota, Florida. While they were wading one flat, a very large ray swam nearby, greatly concerning the customers.
Not to worry, the guide said. Just keep an eye on that one, and shuffle your feet as you move around. The stingrays will stay out of the way. But the only way he could get the two anglers to stay was to promise a free fishing trip if they didn’t catch some fish.
The anglers eventually lost sight of the ray and became anxious once again. Mark assured them they were fine, and they kept fishing.
"After a little while, I let them get in front of me, and I rubbed the rod against the back of one of the guys’ legs," Mark says. "He walked on water. I saw it with my own eyes. His friend came unglued he was laughing so hard.
"Fortunately, they caught lots of fish and were happy to pay. They even included a generous tip."
"He cut my line!"
And finally, this infamous prank, which I suggest you never duplicate.
My buddy Jim loves practical jokes. He’s gotten himself in a pickle now and then because someone thought his joking went too far, including one day on Arkansas’ Little Red River where Jim and I were trout fishing with our friend Glynn.
Glynn hails from Louisiana. At the time, he hadn’t caught many trout. But he was hoping to catch a wall-hanger, which the Little Red is well known for producing. By mid-morning, however, we’d caught nothing but 9- to 12-inch stocker rainbows.
Then suddenly, wham! Glynn’s rod went down so hard it slapped the gunwale. He quickly set the hook, and it was obvious he’d hooked something sizeable.
"Oh, my gosh!" he exclaimed. "This may be the trophy I’ve been hoping for. It’s bigger than anything I’ve hooked so far."
Back and forth the trout raced, then finally it jumped. Everyone gasped. It was a hell of a nice fish. But the battle wasn’t over. The powerful trout took lots of line and gave Glynn one heck of fight. Our fishing pal was well up to the challenge, though, and soon brought his trophy near enough to net.
Jim jumped up to help, but he didn’t grab the net. Instead, without Glynn seeing it, he pulled a pocketknife from his jeans and flipped open the blade.
"Swing your rod close so I can grab the line," he told Glynn. Poor Glynn did as instructed.
Jim reached out and grasped Glynn’s line, raised it so it was right in front of Glynn’s face, then cut it with the knife and let it fall. The big trout swam away.
All the color left Glynn’s face. Then, not understanding what had just happened, Glynn turned and looked at me, a mixture of horror and disbelief in his eyes.
"He cut my line!" he screamed. "The s.o.b. cut my line!" Then, aiming his tirade at Jim, he spouted a string of expletives that would make a sailor blush. Jim just grinned and chuckled.
I finally quit fishing with Jim and Glynn in the same boat. Ever since that day, when one of them hooks a good fish, knives are drawn, and a miniature version of a Musketeers’ sword fight ensues.
So far there’s been no blood shed, but I can’t wait to see the look on Jim’s face when he finds the big rubber snake Glynn put in his tackle box.