"Competition of the Week" story # 3

Grand Rapids, Michigan           September 8, 2001

"Crayfish scare me," said Sergei, the Spanish foreign exchange student, one night at my family's house.
     "Don't ever admit that out loud," my dad told him. "Crayfish don't get to be more than two inches long."
     "Yes," said the Spaniard, worriedly, "but they have pinchers."
     They did have pinchers. The big crayfish had big pinchers. That's what made hunting the little lobsters a sport. And while some people like to catch crayfish for fish bait, in our family, we just like to catch 'em.
     My brother, I, and my cousins were all shown the ropes by old Grandpa Breen, a legendary bare-handed crayfish hunter in his day. As he watched his young grandsons wading in the cold, quick, winding stream of Townsend Park, old Grandpa Breen wouldn't tolerate fear of a crayfish pinch or anything less than a 40% catch rate. He made us into men in that creek. That is, if an obstacle only two inches long could make you into a man, which I'm pretty sure it couldn't.
     We even hunted crayfish on vacation. It was during one family trip to Tennessee where we stumbled upon Crystal Falls, where all good crayfish go when they die. Here, sheets of water tumbled thirty feet down a squarish rock wall, forming a pristine pool among the trees below. Upon entering this pool, my cousins and I soon learned we were outnumbered by hundreds of sharp-clawed crayfish.
     There was nothing to do but catch 'em. We assumed positions. I hid on top of a log, my brother huddled beneath the waterfall, my cousin Kyle hovered over some rocks in the middle, and cousin Ben hung out on the pool's side. We spent hours flushing the crayfish families from their hiding spots, clasping the slower individuals, "yowch!"ing when a big pincher got us bleeding, and then letting the captives go. It was good, old-fashioned fun, and my brother nabbed over seventy crayfish.
     Crayfish, crawdads, yabbos, crabberoos, "Johnny" - call 'em what you want, but they know what to call their worst enemy: "Brandon." That's my brother, now 20, who hosts crayfish-hunting picnics, usually with ham-and-cheese sandwiches. They say that a crayfish in his eyes is as good as a crayfish in his hands. He attributes his success to the highly renowned strategy he coined, which he calls the "Pin, Pinch, and Pull" technique.
     It goes as follows:

1. Pin the crayfish, with the palm of your hand, to the river bottom.
2. Pinch his back with your other hand.
3. Pull him out from beneath his rock and show him off to friends.

My brother flew home from college during my second week in Michigan. He brought his lightning-quick fingers with him, I took along the scared Spanish kid, and we headed to nearby Townsend Park for "Competition of the Week" 2: nighttime crayfish hunting.
     Never before had we attempted to enter the crayfish's dangerous domain at night. I opted to bring my snorkel mask.
     My brother, however, was disgusted by this idea, and controversy ensued. "Justin, you can't use a snorkel mask," he said. "You're supposed to catch the crayfish 'bare-handed."
     "I know," I said. "But my hero, the Crocodile Hunter, also hates using devices that put animals at an unfair advantage. But, one thing he will use is a snorkel mask."
     "Well, then, the Crocodile Hunter is using ..."
     "Don't you bad-mouth the Crocodile Hunter!" I began to wrestle with him.
     "You can't use it," said Brandon. "It's un-natural."
     I couldn't believe the fuss he was making. It wasn't like I wanted to use a NASA-designed crayfish-catching robot.
     "But if I can't use the snorkel mask, I can't pull out my strategy," I said. I wanted to get down and dirty with these crayfish. "That's like saying you can't use the 'Pin, Pinch, and Pull' technique!"
     Brandon wasn't having it. He didn't care that I had handicapped eyes. Without the snorkel mask, I needed to either A. Not open my eyes underwater, for fear of losing my contacts - B. Not wear my contacts and be nearly blind - or C. Who cares if my expensive contacts get lost? The important thing here is that I really crush my brother, thus avenging the little brat for when he pushed me down the stairs eightteen years ago! Rrrgh ...
     Or, I could get my handicap fixed. "Well, then," I told Brandon, "pull up to the nearest laser eye surgeon and I'll just get my eyes fixed on the way."
     There was no time for operations, though, as the crayfish were waiting. We grew excited as we drove, and Brandon began telling tall tales.
     "Once!" he began, "I caught a crayfish THIS big!" He indicated size by putting his hands five inches apart. "With pinchers ..." He hesitated, seemingly disappointed over the realization that even a crayfish-catching lie isn't all that impressive. He indicated only an inch and a half with his fingers. "... THIS big!"
     It was enough to make the Spaniard, Sergei, swallow. "Crayfish scare me," he said. "I especially don't like the pinchers on the small ones, because there's no place to grab without being pinched. I did catch one crayfish." Sergei's experience had come last year at one of Brandon's picnics, where he caught little more than a ham-and-cheese sandwich. He was deservedly proud of the one crayfish he'd grabbed, though.
     We arrived at Townsend Park as the sun had just gone down. We pulled the flashlights out of the trunk and crossed the grassy park.
     "Competition of the Week!" Sergei yelled.
     I stripped down to my bathing suit, and we walked into the cold, dark river until it was up to our knees. We shined our flashlights near some large rocks, hoping to see herds of crayfish beneath. But, the mucky water was impossible to see through from above.
     No problem for me, I thought, and I dunked my head underwater for a better look. (I'd chosen not to wear my contacts.) I only got my scalp wet before quickly pulling it out, due to the cold. Whoo, that water was chilly! I tried going under again, but as soon as water entered my ears and swam to my brain, I forgot all about the crayfish and could only have thoughts of icebergs and penguins and other cold stuff. My snorkelling strategy had to be abandoned.
     We were going to have to search blindly, by feel. Brandon, Sergei, and I combed the river, stopping to rake our hands beneath the rocks and logs we came to. The river conditions put us in a lot of risk. Each time a twig or pebble hit our hands, Brandon and I just about freaked out, expecting two unseen pinchers to clomp down on our hands.
     Ten minutes passed, and no one even encountered a crayfish. My brother had earlier said: "If anyone catches a sucker fish, it counts as three points." Of course, we now realized he must've been on a drug-induced "Pin, Pinch, and Pull" invincibility boost, because the maneuverable sucker fish are about 5000 times as tough to catch as the crayfish, and we couldn't even catch those.
     We weren't giving up, though. Using my defrosted brain, I developed a strategy. It may not have had a fancy, alliterative name like my brother's, but I could win with it:

1. Find a rock.
2. Point your feet off to the sides and elevate them in the front.
3. Flush the crayfish out from under their rock.
4. If and when a stupid crayfish tries hiding under your feet, GRAB 'EM!
5. Rub it in to your brother.

I carried out the first three steps of the "Find, Point, Flush, GRAB, and Rub" and waited. I felt a medium-sized stupid crayfish back his way beneath my foot. I reached down and touched him, but he shot himself away from my foot and into the current. I could feel his wavy, propelling swim motions and attempted a blind grab. Amazingly, my hand clamped down just as he tried swimming through it to certain safety.
     My crayfish-clenching hand shot above my head. "Woooooohoooooo!" It was probably one of the ten most surprised moments of my life. "Yai-ee-ii-ee-ii-ee-ayyy! Waa-oo-waaa-oo-waa-oo-waah-ooh!"
     I held the crayfish's torso and posed for a prize photo. This crayfish was a beaut. Two healthy, antennae-like feelers came off its triangular head. It had stubby whiskers for eyebrows, and its curled tail was plated and dark brown. It maneuvered its sleek pinchers in an effort to pinch me. It was about two inches long. I admired my catch for a bit, then put him back in the river.
     We continued the hunt. Sergei spotted a crayfish later, but he couldn't catch it, which wasn't very surprising. MODERN ODDYSEUS' GUIDE TO ALWAYS WINNING # 2 - Don't be afraid of something only two inches long.
     We called it a night soon after. Final score: 1 to 0 to 0.
     Woohoo! I'm still undefeated!!!
     I'd got my vengeance on Brandon, and in the most-crushing manner. He'd never lost a crayfish hunt before.
     A few days later, we sat around my family's house, and an argument erupted. Brandon insulted Sergei, but Sergei knew a response that would hit Brandon where it hurt most.
     "Hey, Brandon," he said, calmly," you catch any crayfish lately?"
     "Why, I can't believe you said that!"
     They started wrestling. I just laughed and thought back to the beautiful two-incher ... that didn't get away.

- Modern Oddyseus (2-0)

Add'l Stats: Catch rate.
Me: (1-1) 100% *
Sergei: (0-1) 0%
Brandon: (0-0) --

* - old Grandpa Breen would be proud

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