By Mark Fike
Years ago my father used to take me fishing for catfish on the Rappahannock River in Virginia at night. I really enjoyed it and look back at those memories 30 + years ago very fondly.
Back then the blue catfish had just been introduced a few years prior, so we were not overrun with numbers of small fish. When you caught a blue cat you caught a big one.
We were after big blues so we used fresh cut bait. Sometimes it was perch, sometimes bream and sometimes shad. Occasionally we would get some eels or even splurge and a peeler crab.
We had several places we liked to fish, but we always tried to find access to the river from the bank where we could cast to the channel. Such places often were around deep holes where huge logs were washed up on the shore.
Dad would fish in one end of the hole and I would often go fifty yards away and fish the other end. We would spend hours listening to the whippoorwills, owls and frogs while waiting on a good bite.
Depending on our spot, I often would try to set up on a large log where the tide would allow me to wade to it. I could prop my rods behind me and turn my head to see the tips skylighted and watch them, leaving my hands free to swat a mosquito or rebait the other rod. I did not use my flashlight that often.
Dad did not like noise or lights. He liked peace and quiet. The ebb and flow of the tide was soothing to both of us and it sustained the life we were fishing for.
One night I was set up on a monstrous log. On my right I had two rods set out. One was out deep while the other was in the shallows. On my left I had precut a half dozen pieces of bait and spread them out with my pocketknife stuck in the log.
My feet were dangling in the water in front of me and I could feel the wash of the sand sometimes and I could feel the minnows flipping around my ankles. A few hours into our fishing adventure I had caught two or three five to ten pound fish, nothing huge, but good enough to eat.
I started to slip into a semiconscious state when I realized something was near me. I knew it was not a great idea to turn on my light so I strained to see in the dark what was near me.
The moon was ducking behind the clouds that night, so I had to keep looking hard to my left. I finally could make out what appeared to be a raccoon. The silvery white shapes of my precut pieces of bait were dwindling in number too!
I realized that a coon had joined me on the log and was taking my cut bait. When the cloud moved past the face of the moon, the new light shed on the log revealing a bigger surprise. Momma coon was now standing within reaching distance of me and she was busy showing a line of little ones where the bait was.
They squirmed up under her and around her and one even slipped off the log and splashed in the water near my feet which startled the stringer of fish I had. They splashed, drawing the attention of the mother. She began chortling and making sounds while showing interest in moving on to bigger and better eats!
Without thinking, I moved quickly to drag my fish to the other side of me and hooked my foot around the stringer to keep them out of immediate sight. The coons were all peering into the water.
I was amazed that they did not care about me sitting right there. I decided it would be a good idea to draw them away from me before I got a bite and things got interesting. So, I sliced up some more cut bait and tossed a few pieces to the grassy shallows.
They soon got wind of it and after realizing no more bait was left near me, they walked down the log making little noises in their throats “talking” to one another. The mother hurried them along as I watched.
I hoped they did not come back looking for more any time soon, but it sure was interesting to watch them eat while they were visiting. Who would have thought I would share a log with a family of coons while night fishing?