Hell and Back

Hell and Back

by Milan Nikolin

It was a chilly, windy autumn night and I was fishing my favorite swim in the North Country with my dad and Ivelin. The river was cooling quickly, and the fish were feeding heavily, sensing all too well that winter was just around the corner. My cold weather clothing that I was wearing offered little protection as every gust of wind pierced right through to my skin. The rods were going off left and right with plenty of chunky fish to show for…One of these was a stunning low thirty common that my dad managed to land. We decided to sack it so that he could take pictures in the morning when the light would be better. We placed the fish into a shallow bay in about 2 feet of water as it was nearly impossible to sack fish in front of us due to the current and waves. The runs continued into the night and we finally managed to catch some sleep in the wee morning hours.

At the crack of dawn we were awoken by splashing sounds. Not fish rolling or crashing but rather hard splashing coming from shallow water. We ran out to investigate and saw the beautiful common that we sacked earlier fighting for its life. It was being dragged close to the shore and being eaten alive right through the sack by a snarling raccoon. Reacting quickly we chased off the little devil, then turned our attention to the fish. We managed to restore life into it by getting it back in to the water quickly and the once stunning common was now a gnarled mess missing chunks of its body, dorsal fin, and tail.

We doused the injured warrior with antiseptic using up a half of a bottle of a natural propolis base spray with hopes of giving it every chance to survive.

My dad reluctantly took a few pictures so that we could remember this wounded beauty before releasing it back in to the depths. It was a bitter end to an otherwise unforgettable fishing trip.

This late session was followed by a brutal winter. As cabin fever set in I could not stop thinking about fishing and often wondered “would the raccoon fish survive? Did we use enough antiseptic? Could we have done more?” The cold winter passed and with spring in full swing my thoughts and questions about the fish gradually faded away. I was convinced that we did all we could and hoped the fish had made it through the harsh winter. As the seasons passed we kept fishing and soon enough October rolled around and we were back on the same water and the same swim, my favorite swim. We got there and did what we do best…we “fished hard”. The fishing was just as good as the previous year with no delay in the action. We were hauling and couldn’t have been happier with how the trip had progressed.

On the very last night the stars aligned and something extraordinary happened. The stunning common, the fish that was being eaten alive a year earlier and whose chances of surviving the brutal winter were slim, slipped into my net. At first we thought it was just another thirty from this amazing water but after closer inspection, and to our amazement, it was the raccoon fish in all of its glory. Miraculously I had recaptured it exactly one year and one day from its original capture…Its missing chunks of flesh were now mostly covered with scales and its half-eaten fins were regenerating and looking much better. We took very good care of it snapping just a few pictures before sending her back on her way.

Carp can localize in certain areas in rivers at certain times of the year, meaning it is not a total coincidence we recaptured the same fish almost the same day a year later. However, with countless fish along hundreds of miles of this magnificent river I’d like to think this recapture was nothing short of a late season miracle.

As this unbelievable session wound down the resilience of this magnificent fish made me dig through some online documentation. I tried to understand more about how carp regenerate. As far as the scales go, carp will fully regrow them if the scale pocket is undamaged and there is no ulceritis or infection preventing the cells’ regrowth of the scale. Carp fins will regenerate as long as the fin rays are not damaged too closely to the muscle tissue. Tail fins regenerate more readily than other fins, so this fish was somewhat lucky in that respect.

As yet another season fades in to memory and the dreaded cabin fever sets in again I sit here writing this blog pondering “will she survive another brutal north country winter, will she be back again next year… will I be so lucky to catch her at an even higher weight and in better shape?”

Fish Hard and Stay Lucky!

Milan “The Kid” Nikolin