As Gill turned to start the motor, she stopped short. “Good Gouda,” she gasped.
“What? What is it?” Pike asked, his voice raising an octave. From his seat at the bow, he strained to see what was going on.
“The stringer. It’s gone.”
She untied what was left of the stringer and held it out for Pike and Griffy to see.
“It looks like it’s been cut,” Griffy exclaimed. “How …”
The three surveyed the water around them, fear growing on their faces.
“Vamanos, Gil. Vamanos,” Pike ordered.
She jumped to action, cranked up the motor, and turned the boat toward the lodge and Suicide Rock. Luckily, the rocking boat had moved them a little closer to home.
The Lucky 13 sped—as fast as a four-horsepower motor allowed—for the dock at Whispering Pines Lodge. They almost made it, too, but the muskie pole, resting against the side of the boat, suddenly slipped and caught on the underside of Griffy’s seat.
“Whoaaaaa, Gil. Whoaaaaa,” Pike called, waving his hands back and forth over his head.
Gil cut the motor.
“Muskie pole’s still in the water,” Griffy explained as he reached down to dislodge the reel. As soon as he got it free, the pole jerked sharply backward. Griffy wrestled it with both hands before being pulled spread eagle toward the stern of the boat.
With only seconds to react, Gil jumped away from the motor as Griffy and the fishing pole flew at her. As it had with the muskie pole, Griffy’s bench seat stopped him. His feet caught on its side saving him from being pulled out of the boat.
“Hit the drag! Hit the drag! Give it line!” Pike ordered.
But Griffy couldn’t move. All he could do was hold on.
“Don’t let go, Grif!” Pike pleaded as he leaped to Griffy’s aid.
With one hand, he grabbed the muskie pole just above the reel. With the other, he pushed the drag button and released the line. He wasn’t quick enough to save Griffy, though. With the tension gone, Griffy dropped—kerplunk!—to the bottom of the boat.
“Sorry, dude,” Pike winced as he took the fishing pole from Griffy.
Griffy moaned and pulled himself up. He flexed his hands back and forth. They hurt, bad.
“Do you think we snagged a log?” Gil asked quietly as she settled back in at the boat’s helm.
“I don’t know,” Pike answered. He started reeling the line in. “We’ll soon see.”
Griffy watched Pike in tense silence.
With the pole held high, Pike reeled and reeled. He heaved the pole back. It bent dangerously low. “Ugh,” he gasped. “It feels like a log—dead weight—but it’s moving.” He kept reeling, but it was difficult and slow going. “Here, my arms are killing me,” Pike said, passing the pole to Griffy.
“Geez!” Griffy exclaimed. “It weighs a ton.” He reeled and reeled, heaved and heaved working the log closer and closer to the boat.
“Let’s just cut the line and go in,” Gil stated. Her hands were shaking.
“Take over, Pike,” Griffy called out. “My arms are about ready to go.”
Pike grabbed the pole and started reeling again. Strangely, the line became very slack, gathering in curls at the water’s surface.
“Hey, I think we lost it,” Pike announced and reeled faster.
Curious, both Gil and Griffy peered into the water.
“I don’t see anything,” Gil said.
She spoke too soon.
A flat, reptilianlike head almost as big as hers broke water about four feet from the boat. The beady-eyed muskie flashed its cream-colored belly and then disappeared.
“Ohmigod!” Gil gasped.
“Did you see it! Did you see it?! What was it?” Griffy shouted.
Pike stopped reeling. “Mu-u-uskie,” he stammered.
Somehow, seeing the five-foot monster muskie didn’t frighten Griffy as much as it excited him. He yelled at Pike and Gil. “Wow! Did you see it?” He punched Pike in the arm. “Keep reeling! Keep reeling!”
The punch seemed to get Pike back on track and in fisherman mode. He quickly got the slack out of the line and gave the pole a heave. The muskie, playing dead before, came alive. It frantically jumped out of the water and flipped violently in the air, trying to free itself from the lure lodged in its mouth. Its massive body crashed back down, spraying the kids and The Lucky 13 with cold lake water.
“Holy chedda cheese!” Pike and Griffy yelled.
Gil didn’t ask anyone’s permission this time. She sat down at the motor and cranked it up. She was getting out of there—fish or no fish. Out of the corner of his eye, Griffy saw Gil pick up the wooden club that Mr. Hanover had given them. “When you see that muskie, hit it and hit it hard,” he had told them. Griffy saw her place the club’s leather strap around her wrist and, with her other hand, grab the handle of the idling motor.
“Brace yourselves, boys,” she warned. “We’re going in.”
Pike and Griffy battled the muskie as Gil inched them closer and closer to shore. The muskie fought vigorously now. The small motor was barely a match for it. The fish kept pulling the boat sideways.
“The pole’s holding up. The line’s holding up. Our only hope is to wear him down,” Pike instructed as he wiped sweat off his face and onto his T-shirt. The double-eyed cane pole showed amazing flexibility against the muskie’s weight. Griffy didn’t know how much longer he could battle this monster. His arms ached. The thought of winning that five-thousand-dollar prize and showing his dad was all that kept him going.
Gil seemed to have her own agenda. “I see bottom!” she yelled. She cut the motor, grabbed the anchor’s rope, and jumped out of the boat.”
“Gil! Are you crazy!” Pike screamed after her. “You’ll drown.”
“Will not! I’ve got a life jacket on. Duh. I’m anchoring us on shore.”
She took a couple determined steps through the shoulder-high water, but without the pull of the motor fighting against it, the muskie was too strong. The fighting fish pulled her and The Lucky 13 into deeper water. Griffy noticed Gil treading water instead of walking. She obviously couldn’t touch bottom anymore. The anchor looked like it weighed a ton.
“Hold on, Gil,” Griffy commanded. He passed the pole once again to Pike and readied the oars.
Griffy oared with all his might, trying to push The Lucky 13 back to shallow water. With Gil kicking hard and fast, she was soon able to stand again. She lowered her head and, with determination, began dragging the anchor to shore. Griffy stopped oaring and instead used one of the paddles as a wedge. Digging it into the lake’s bottom, he pushed off again and again with as much force as he could muster. Gil struggled against the now waste-high water, lunging herself closer and closer to shore.
Underwater, less than seven feet from The Lucky 13, the muskie whipped its head back and forth trying once more to dislodge the lure implanted in its mouth. Go deep, its instincts said. But the muskie couldn’t. The water was too shallow. Find a weed bed. But in this part of the bay, the weeds weren’t plentiful enough for a five-foot, seventy-pound fish to tangle itself up in. Get to open water. But whatever had hold of it wasn’t letting that happen. Escape, its instincts cried out. Find a way to escape. Any way. So the muskie changed its tactics. The massive beast turned away from the depths of Lost Land Lake and swam with torpedolike speed toward the bottom of The Lucky 13.
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Ancient Elk Hunt:Amazon Kindle | Paperback | BN
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