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Now fully grown the big fish, twelve hundred pounds and thirteen feet long, was homing in on a faint flutter of something in distress near the shoreline. The shark couldn't tell how big it was, or what it was, just that the struggling vibrations usually meant food usually meant food. As it moved in closer, it felt more violet motions in the target area and sped up. It could now taste the fish and blood in the water column as it passed through it, and saw the silhouette...
Now fully grown the big fish, twelve hundred pounds and thirteen feet long, was homing in on a faint flutter of something in distress near the shoreline. The shark couldn't tell how big it was, or what it was, just that the struggling vibrations usually meant food usually meant food. As it moved in closer, it felt more violet motions in the target area and sped up. It could now taste the fish and blood in the water column as it passed through it, and saw the silhouette on the surface. One mighty surge of its tail, and it was on the unsuspecting victim, its teeth lined jaws engulfing all. Then it was gone, as quick and quietly as it had come, sliding back into the depths of the lake.
"Well, where are they," yelled Walt, as Jim swung his boat into his assigned slip. "Still in the wet water," shouted Jim in reply. Jim had known Walt ten years or more. Between the two, they probably had the most knowledge of the lake and its inhabitants than anyone else. They fished or scouted the lake at least five or six days a week. The fishing had been pretty good until that last summer thunderstorm rearranged the shoreline, and raised the water level quite a bit. The water level had since dropped back to normal. However the fishing seemed to slack off in one area for a week or so, then it would start back up, and another area would slack off.
"Jim," continued Walt, have you noticed the action on the lake has become more and more sporadic and has just about stopped in places?"
"Yeah," Jim answered, "and I don't think high water had a lot to do with." "I just get a strange feeling now, when I'm on the water and I just can't put my finger on why."
"Same here," agreed Walt.
"I'm thinking about checking out the Little Smith creek area, you want to come," Jim asked?
"I'm low on gas and Old Man Beal said the truck won't be here until tomorrow," replied Walt.
"Hey man, your no stranger to my boat, hop in," Jim said.
Within minutes the two old friends were up the outlet, and into the lake. Climbing up on a plane, Jim headed northeast across the lake towards Little Smith creek.
Over the sound of the motor, Jim asked, "Have you seen Old Moses lately?"
"No, but gator season is almost here, about another month, and you know he gets pretty scarce about that time," Walt replied.
As they approached the Little Creek area, Jim slowed the boat down to almost an idle and swung it into the eel grass. He cut the engine off, and without a word, Walt, who was setting up front, swung the bow mounted trolling motor off the deck and into the water.
"Which way do you want to try first?" Walt asked, since they were close to the creek's mouth.
Jim said, "Hang a left and we'll go west, stay about thirty feet out from the shoreline and we shouldn't spook anything in the grass."
After looking for twenty minutes or so, Walt looked at Jim and said, "This area between Little Smith and Big Smith creeks should be crawling with mud fish this time of year."
"When you're right, you're right," quipped Jim, "and I don't see all the gar that are normally as thick as flies in this area either."
"Well that's Lake Pan for you," replied Walt.
Looking at the curvature of the lake, Jim said, "You know this lake was formed by a meteorite don't you?"
"Yup, and it's fifteen miles long, and six miles wide at its widest place, near Casey's Point, and it's sixty feet deep in the scar down the middle of the curve," answered Walt, not to be out done knowledge wise about the lake. Walt continued you could see he was on a roll now, "We have Darnell Creek at the southeast end of this banana shaped lake and Parnell Creek at the southwest end." "Along with six springs we know about and probably a few in the middle so far down that they have never been counted." "All this accumulation of water is drained from the lake via the Outlet River/Stream, depending on if it's flooding or not," finished Walt.
"Your preaching to the choir bro," laughed Jim, "how about pulling up the trolling motor and let's head in, it's starting to get hot."
Walt turned the trolling motor back on and moved the boat back to deeper water, then swung it back on board as Jim fired up the main engine and they headed home.
He flicked an eyelid to shoo away a pesky fly, and remained motionless on his bed in the cattails, deep in the slough. He was a good half a mile into the swamp that surrounded most of the lake, yet nothing escaped his notice. He heard the sound of the outboard motor off in the distance and felt no cause for alarm. Secure in the knowledge, that even man's air boat machines could not penetrate the ring of cypress trees and their attending knees.
Some had tried and tore up their boats and lost their gear, for their efforts. This was not the most hospitable place to be in, day or night, especially, if you got turned around, lost, drunk, or hurt or any combination thereof. Old Moses, as he was called by the locals, was an alligator and he was just a shade over fourteen feet long. He weighed in at about eleven hundred pounds, and he was most definitely at the top of the food chain in his neck of the woods, that being all of Lake Pan.
The humans gave him a grudging respect, knowing full well, that without their guns and boats, they were just another prey item on his very extensive menu. That is until hunting season for alligators rolled around. Then with proper tags and licenses, humans could legally attempt to kill his kind for sport and profit. The alligator season only lasted five weeks, and humans could not start hunting until an hour before sundown, and had to stop an hour after sunrise each day.
Fifty years ago, when Old Moses was about half grown, he'd discovered his hide- away. It happened while he was following the stench of a rotting wild hog on the air currents. The big boar hog had eluded some hunters after becoming wounded, further up on the higher ground. The wounded animal had worked its way down into the swampy low lands, crashing through briars and thickets that were impenetrable to man or dog. Then the big animal died.
Since then the briars had grown thicker and saplings were now full grown trees. So now when hunting season approached, the wily old reptile would feed heavier than usual, and retreat to his hunter proof liar, by way of a submerged tunnel through the root masses of several cypress hammocks. He would remain there for the duration of the hunting season. By not hunting in that section of the marshy wet land, he would lower the chances of someone seeing him coming and going to his hideout and maybe leaving wear marks as guides for trackers to follow.
As an added benefit the animals in that area would not be used to an alligator attack, and he would have an untapped food supply. Only now and then would he check his retreat to make sure no squatters of his race had moved in to mess with his food supply. Trespassers always paid the ultimate price if they were caught in there. Therefore the noise of the boat out in the lake, even close to where he was currently at, was of no cause of concern to the giant ninety-five year old reptile.
The big fish flipped its tail and propelled the streamlined, though bulky, body upwards in a slow spiral, towards the grass filled shallows that bordered most of the lake. The fish was new to the lake, having come up the outlet in a thunderstorm a few weeks ago during the night, looking for food. It had been in the river system for years, starting, when as a pup, it had followed a scent trail, flowing from the river's mouth into the Gulf of Mexico.
That had been after the monster hurricane Donna, sent a twenty foot storm surge crashing into Florida's coastline. From Homosassa to Apalachicola, the gigantic wall of seawater swept everything before it in-land. Things, such as small ships, were found fifteen miles in-land from their moorings on the harbors scattered along the coast line. Saltwater covered farms and ranches, killing all that stayed behind, in defiance of the evacuation, order when it was given.
When the flood waters began to recede, the damage was revealed. Buildings were flattened or missing altogether. Drowned livestock was found in pens or hung up in treetops. Dead animals, and the few humans that failed to heed the warnings, were drifting in the receding flood waters, and being sucked into the various rivers, as the water levels began dropping.
The river's currents collected this grisly debris from the shattered inland areas and faithfully deposited it in the gulf. This stream of gory nourishment attracted many marine scavengers to a hellish banquet in the tidal estuaries at the river's end. Many marine creatures could not tolerate the low salinity levels at the river's mouth, and they maintained a comfortable distance out in the bay and waited for the currents to bring the food to them.
The small bull shark had no qualms about going into fresh water sources such as streams and rivers, following prey such as mullet. This high tolerance to low or no salinity levels gave it a marked advantage over many of its own kind and saltwater fish in general. By all means, there were plenty of big bull sharks, mixed in with the tigers and hammerheads feasting at the river's mouth.
The food was being carried to them so they really had no reason to go into the river itself. And that was another reason the small bull shark went into and up the river, bull sharks are very cannibalistic, and as for the rest, he was just another prey item. The shark sampled the gory buffet as he continued up stream in the high water, pausing to nibble on the decaying carcasses of deer, cattle, goats, and one human, who had been at a hurricane party ten miles inland, when the storm surge hit the house. There were no survivors of that party.
All the lakes along the river's flood plain were spilling their excess waters into the river by means of creeks, streams, and even just connecting, low lying terrain features. As the flood water receded, the shark became landlocked from the gulf. It was too far upstream to feel the water pressure rise with the incoming tides, backing up the fresh water and affording a possible escape. At this time there was plenty of food, so the young bull shark became more adapted to what this ecosystem had to offer and thrived on it.
Now fully grown, the big fish twelve hundred pounds and thirteen feet long, was homing in on a faint flutter of something in distress near the shoreline. The shark couldn't tell how big it was, or what it was, just that the struggling vibrations usually meant food. As it moved in closer, it felt more violet motions in the target area and sped up. It could now taste fish and blood in the water column as it passed through it, and saw the commotion on the surface. One mighty surge of its tail, and it was on the unsuspecting victim, its teeth lined jaws engulfing all. Then it was gone, as quick and quietly as it had come, sliding back into the depths of the lake.
Jim and Walt returned to the marina, and secured Jim's boat in its slip. Then, into the bait/office building they went to get a cold drink. As usual, the marina staff asked them if they caught anything. One of the staff had a penchant for grilling the two men and then relaying the fresh news to old friends, especially, if the report involved bluegill or shell cracker beds.
The guys didn't care; it helped the marina's business of renting boats and cabins. In addition, people could also purchase either hunting or fishing license in the office. The bait side of the house sold artificial and live bait such as minnows and shiners. They also sold worms, and some, like the Canadian earth worms, had to be kept in refrigeration until sold, and boy were they big, almost the size of a small snake.
The shiners were kept in large concrete tanks full of chilled, aerated, flowing water. Strategically placed by the shiner tanks was what the locals called the, "Show and Tell", tank. It too, had chilled flowing water in it. The bass fishermen especially, were encouraged to show off their biggest catches (six pounds or better), for all to see in that tank. It didn't matter what bait (artificial or live), the fishermen caught the bass on, because as soon as they left, the bass was automatically caught on shiners, just like the ones in the adjacent tanks.
After giving the people in the office the low down on their observations, Jim and Walt headed back to the picnic table by the boat slip. It served as kind of a focal point for the guys when they came in off the water, and to share their experiences for the day.
Several of the guys were just in, and several were still on the outlet coming in. As Walt and Jim walked up, Randy asked, "Where have you guys been?" "It's too hot to be fishing this time of day."
"We have already been out and back, with nothing to brag about," said Walt.
Jim said, "I asked Walt to take a run up north with me to check out something about the lake."
Randy said, "All I caught was a couple of throw backs and a big damn mud fish." "The fishing seems off for this time of year."
John, another one of the "guys" got into the conversation saying, "I had a big one on down south by the pads at Darnell." "He came up once so I know it was a bass."
"Well, where is it?" Jim grinned.
John got serious and said, "For the life of me I don't know." "One minute I had it on." "Then it came out of the water, like it was trying to escape from something underneath it." "When it re-entered the water, it felt like something heavy grabbed it and broke my line."
"Are you still using that old line from last year?" asked Randy.
"Nope, I put new twenty pound on last week," replied John, "and I don't think it was an alligator." "I waited for twenty minutes or so and nothing came up, like a gator would, to eat or swallow that big bass."
"Well," Randy started, "we all know that alligators can't swallow things like we can." "They don't have the muscle configuration to push the food down their gullet." "They have to raise their head above their shoulders and let gravity slide the food down their throats." "So, it would have had to surface to swallow your fish."
Walt agreed with Randy and said, "Jim and I were just talking about how the fishing in general seems to have really slacked off."
Jim nodded, "It was more apparent after the rains a little while back than before them." "You never know, when something could have washed into one of the creeks with the rain runoff and got the fish off their feed."
Walt said, "That Fish and Game biologist is about due to come over from Brooksville for his monthly vegetation check and water samples."
"I heard old man Beal tell a customer, that Steve (the biologist) would be here in the morning," added Jim.
John said, "We'll have plenty of time to get our fishing done in the morning, Steve never gets here till around nine o'clock."
"Well guys, I am going to call it quits for today," said Jim, as he got up from the picnic bench.
The rest of the guys seemed inclined to do the same and in moments the picnic shelter was deserted.
As the sun started sinking on the horizon, activity started slowing down on the lake. Anglers were bringing in their line and starting for their home ports. A soft summer breeze carried the aroma of home cooking out across the lake, reminding the die-hards of what they could be missing.
Late evening was also a prime time to fish for the big bass. A lot of local fishermen ate an early dinner, just to fish that magical hour between dusk and dark. A lot of nocturnal creatures started rousing themselves too, for their nightly hunt for food, during this time period.
The alligators started crisscrossing the lake's flat surface, hardly making a ripple, as they searched for sunning turtles and gar fish on the top. Here and there on the surface, dimples and rings started to widen as small fish made a last try for an evening meal. Every now and then, there would be an explosion on the water, as a larger predator surfaced, in an attempt to catch its prey.
The shark too, was brought up from the depths, by the sounds and smells of the evening hunt. Silhouetted on the darkening surface above, a five foot juvenile alligator was in the act of swallowing a small turtle it had just caught. With its head stuck up in the air, the alligator would throw it back with a sharp jerk and toss the turtle further into its bone crushing jaws.
With each crunch of its jaws, the turtle shell would crush inward a little bit, allowing the gator to position it for swallowing. Body fluids and blood ran into the water as the turtle was slowly consumed. This left the alligator totally vulnerable to attack from below. But nothing normal to the lake would attack like that except a bigger gator, and then it would snatch the prey under and drown it most of the time.
The foraging shark started homing in on the smell, until its eye's locked on to the alligator's silhouette. Picking up speed the shark zeroed in on the unsuspecting hapless creature. Hitting its prey in the midsection, the shark clamped its vise like jaws around the alligator as they both went airborne from the shark's momentum.
When they came down the impact made quite an explosion in the water. The shark was savagely shaking its head as the alligator fell apart in three pieces. The center piece was in the shark's mouth and was promptly swallowed. The head and tail sections started sinking immediately. The shark worked the surface for a few minutes, receiving confusing sensory signals. The smells of the alligator and turtle were dissipating in the water column. The big fish picked up stronger scents as it sounded beneath the roiled surface. Crisscrossing the scent trail of the sinking body parts the shark quickly narrowed its search pattern. Finally, it was homing in directly on the still sinking remains. It scooped up the head and swallowed it before making a sharp banking turn and wolfing down the remaining piece long before it would have reached the bottom.
Excerpted from Lake Pan by JAMES C. MADDOX Copyright © 2012 by James C. Maddox. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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