The Big One Part Two
by Gloria Salavarria
For the last 10 years, the Middlebury Parks and Recreation Department and LECTU (the Little Elkhart Chapter of Trout Unlimited), our local fisherman’s club, have sponsored a fishing tournament as part of Middlebury’s annual Summer Festival.
Parents bring their kids to the Essenhaus pond to encourage them to fish and have fun. Part of that fun is that the fish the kids catch are counted and measured for length, and then tossed back into the pond (or to be caught again if the fish didn’t learn the first time not to bite a worm on a hook). The results are tallied and at the end of the tournament, kids are awarded prizes within each of three age groups for the most fish caught and the largest fish caught.
In 2014, however, we had an unusual catch that wasn’t a fish:
The task was to bait the hook, swing the rod so that the bait and bobber sailed out from the shore to deeper water – and then hope that a big one would bite.
That’s what 8-year-old Conner Lantz had been doing and with remarkable skill and success for a young man his age, but his biggest catch didn’t get recorded in the final tally of the fishing contest here in Middlebury.
Conner Lantz is a good fisherman – a dedicated fisherman who caught the most fish in his 6- to 10-year-old age group but his biggest catch of the day caused folks to wonder just who caught whom.
As his father, Doug Lantz, along with Middlebury Park Superintendent Tom Enright and a small crowd of onlookers stared into the water, the catch stared right back at them.
“Well, it’s not a fish so it doesn’t fit into any of our winning categories,” Enright said, puzzled as to what had happened here and what he could do about recording it, if anything.
There was the question of just who caught whom because the creature simply released the hook and settled back down into the mud to begin the mutual staring contest going on at the edge of the pond.
“Guess he’s not really caught because he let go of the hook – thank God!” said Conner’s dad who was glad he didn’t have to extract the hook from a creature with a reputation for having one of the meanest, most cantankerous tempers in the Midwest.
And so, everyone just stood there and looked.
It was a snapping turtle who came up from the bottom, took a lung-full of air, turned and swam away into the murky deep of the pond, thus ending the stand-off between turtle and mankind.
The fishing contest ended less than an hour later, with Conner Lantz joining five other winners for the final photo but the biggest winner of the day was sitting down at the bottom of the pond.
Earlier this summer, while construction workers were building our newest bicycle/pedestrian trail, the Ridge Run Trail, that goes right past this pond, I saw some of the workers gathered at the same spot where I had seen that big snapping turtle back in 2014. These men were excited and delighted to see this beast but I didn’t get there in time to take a picture of him again before he disappeared into the depths of the pond but I was glad to know he’s still there.
This year, when I attended the fishing tournament that still is a part of the Middlebury Summer Festival, I went to the same place again to take pictures of a father with two young children fishing from that same spot. This time, the snapper again appeared to the delight of the children, their father and me.
He didn’t take the hook this time. Just came up to check us out and then he disappeared once more into the depths of his pond to wait for us to go away and leave him alone.
We all are creatures who prefer to live undisturbed in our own territory.