Susie Q: A Christmas Story (Part I)

I swore I would never tell this story, but here it is Christmas time and maybe I’ll take a crack at it.

I have the coolest little 9-acre lake that sits right in front of my home. It’s about 18 years old and from time to time strange things happen on it. Really strange things.

The Game and Fish Commission first stocked it as it was filling up back in the day, and they put in bait fish, blue gill, about 100 bass fingerlings and two dozen channel catfish that were about 10 inches long. I didn’t ask for any catfish, but as I remember they were just some fish left over in a cage so they threw them on the truck.

Remember this. Three or four of those catfish were albinos. Solid White.

For the first few years of the lake’s life, I would pitch feed off the end of the lake and the channel cats would go crazy. It hadn’t taken long for these guys to get to weighing 10 pounds or so and feeding time was special. Especially with those albinos in the mix.

My story starts about five years after that stocking, and I’d hauled my bass boat over to nearby Bull Shoals Lake for a few hours of bass fishing with my young grandson Michael. Fishing was slow, but Michael caught one nice bass that probably weighed 3 pounds. He wanted to keep it for awhile so I put it in the livewell.

Now the days over and I’ve made my way back home and while crossing the dike of my lake I remember that I forgot to release the Bull Shoals bass. No problem, I’ll just stop, get her out of the boat livewell, and my lake just 5 feet away will be her new home.

As I was reaching into the well I remember that I had a small fish tag in my boat glove compartment. A tag with a tiny piece of red plastic on the tip and if I stuck this in the fish right behind the dorsal fin, it wouldn’t hurt the fish, would last forever and I’d know if I ever caught her again.

So I performed that little procedure, went over to the water’s edge and lowered her into the lake. She quietly began drifting toward the deep water. Michael and I watched as the red tag slowly disappeared.

“Way to go Susie Q, have a great life,” I said. Don’t really know if she was a she, but from that point on “she” would always be known as Susie Q.

Kind of a strange part of that story was the fact that as I raised up to go back to my vehicle, I caught sight of two “white” catfish in about 3 feet of water, just stilling there seemingly watching Susie Q swim away. I think they had witnessed the whole thing.

That fall I was standing on the end of the dock with my black and tan miniature dachshund. Without pitching food out on the water, the catfish we’re gathering with, of course, the albinos being part of the gathering.

It was pretty cloudy, so you couldn’t see real well, but below the catfish I could barely make out the profile of a nice bass and, you guessed it, I spotted a small red dot through the water on its back. Lasted for a split second and maybe I was just imaging the whole thing.

Next couple of years saw cold weather and a frozen lake then floods that pushed water over the dike and lots of good weather with good fishing. But no sign of Susie Q. Matter a fact, I only spotted the albinos one time.

Now it’s 3 years after Susie Q was put in the lake. I’ve almost forgotten about her. In fact maybe she’s gone.

It’s spring and my dachshund Norman and I are walking down the dike. I’m looking for fish on beds and finding several. Norman’s way ahead of me and locked into something in the water. I’ve seen 2 or 3 beds with small bass on them, but when I reached Norman, he’s staring at a 5-pounder. She doesn’t run like most of them do and, oh my gosh, there’s the red tag. Not only is Susie Q alive, but she’s going to be a mother as well.

Watched her off and on for a couple of days and on one occasion the albino catfish were just out of sight of her. Then she was gone and I looked across the lake and was so proud that this piece of water had taken such good care of a special fish.

The next time I was to see Susie Q was 2 years later and this occasion was not as pleasant as the spawning adventure.

I was coming home from grocery shopping in Mountain Home and came up to the dike and 2 youngsters in their teens were fishing off the bank. When they spotted me, they dropped their rods and took off across the field. I jumped out of my truck, grabbed their rods and took off after them.

Didn’t want to tar and feather them, just wanted to give them their fishing rods back and invite them to come back at anytime. All they needed was to ask.

Over the fence they went and out of sight. Norman is too old to make a sprint like that. Instead, he’s back where the boys were fishing and very concerned about something. When I get back all I saw was a bucket of live minnows. While I was dumping them in the lake, Norman continued to scratch at a chain hooked to the bank, which turns out to be a stringer and I’m horrified as I pulled it out of the water. One blue gill, two snow white catfish and a 6-pound bass with a ragged red flag behind her dorsal fin had been captured and were probably only minutes away from a filet knife.

I turned the blue gill loose, then the albinos, who didn’t go much farther than 3 feet away from the spot where I had released them. They acted like they weren’t leaving until they knew Susie Q was loose as well.

Then I unhooked Susie Q, and I will always believe she knew who I was, and that I was there to save her. A creature that beautiful and that wild should never have a stringer snap put through their jaw … Never.

For the fourth time over the past 6 years, I watched that red tag slowly fad into the deep water with her white chaperones right behind.

Norman seemed to know exactly what had taken place … and all was right in the world. At least for the moment.

(Click here for Susie Q: A Christmas Story, Part II)

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