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Open Season: Mystery menace more than mildly malicious

The author catches a surprise while fishing during a family vacation on Minnesota' Lake Vermilion. He's smiling here, but rest assured, the novelty of the occurance faded quickly. Forum Communications Co.

Apparently they're delicious. Boiling them in a big pot with some choice seasonings and spices can be darn near heavenly.

Or so I've been told.

I wasn't really thinking with my stomach when I saw the first one, up close and personal, a few weeks ago while on a family vacation to Lake Vermilion in northeastern Minnesota.

By week's end, however, cooking and eating some, if nothing else than for spite, may have curbed my mounting aggravation.

Sadly, none of them put up much of a fight; it felt like dragging a clump of weeds up from the lake bottom. Myself, my wife, Erin, and my grandfather, Vern Drechsel, were trolling a 16-foot-deep sandy point for walleyes. The day before, I had managed to wrangle up two eaters just under the 17-inch slot size, and that same evening we'd caught three that went back after being too small even by our standards.

But this morning, for some reason, we weren't having much luck.

That is, until I brought up that first surprise catch.

Bad luck is still luck, right? Or maybe this would be considered plain unlucky.

In any case, I must confess that of all the oddities I've caught while fishing - from amphibians to reptiles to, yes, even birds - this took the cake.

And I would have continued to consider it an oddity had we not continued catching them throughout the week.

I use "catch" loosely, as we never actually hooked any. The creatures, more or less, just grabbed onto our bait and held tight as we reeled up to check the line.

It wouldn't have been such a big deal if they didn't mutilate our bait in the process. Those poor leaches and night crawlers didn't stand a chance under the iron grip of their captors, and wound up looking like they'd met the business end of an industrial meat grinder - twice.

And if the little stinkers had just let go instead of being so frustratingly tight gripped, I'd hardly have thought them more than a slight nuisance.

In that same breath, discovering the technique to finally detaching the stowaways involved much trial and error, but repeatedly flicking them with your finger seemed to work - albeit imperfectly.

You just had to be sure to dodge their mandibles of doom. One successful pinch and you were in a world of hurt.

After a half dozen carefully aimed flicks, they'd more often than not reluctantly give up their meal and plop back into the lake.

I secretly kept hoping to see a smallmouth bass swallow one as it sunk back down to the freedom of the tannin-stained depths.

But that monotony soon commandeered our fishing excursions. Reel, reel, reel...flick, flick, flick...plop, repeat. And between trying to dodge rocky snags and being forced to remove the gluttonous bait-stealers, few walleyes graced our live well.

As of now, I've grown much disdain for our inundation of the hard-shelled pests.

Those incessant invertebrates.

Those menacing mudbugs.

Those cantankerous crawfish (see also: crayfish, crawdads, or as they say in Australia, yabbies).

Before July, I had little interest in the miniature freshwater lobsters. But now, I hope there's a special level in hell set aside just for them.

In some way, if not minute, this diatribe should adequately express my newfound overwhelming disdain for the creatures. I'd go as far as to say hate, but I reserve that for the truly despicable things, like paper cuts and parking meters.

No, we'll stick with disdain. I disdain crawfish. At least on the end of a fishing line while targeting walleyes.

Then again, I've had similar experiences with perch. More than one school of the zebra-striped jumbos has caused my blood pressure to near nuclear holocaust levels.

But not as quickly or efficiently as crawfish.

Or crayfish, crawdads - whatever.

The point is, they're annoying, and until that fateful week in July, little did I realize just how annoying.

Now I'm better informed, and for reading this, so are you.

Take some advice, however; if you're in a swarm of the arthropods and find yourself on the verge of hysterics, turn the tides and keep a few. Who knows, the ensuing feast of white-fleshed morsels, dipped in butter of course, may just quell your fires of hatred.

I know I would.