Becker County Sportsman
Often, I'm visiting relatives who live near Fleming Field in South St. Paul. This is a hotbed of activity for small private airplanes, with arrivals and departures constantly, which are interesting to see.
One recent spring morning, I'd jogged down to Fleming Field and looked over the displays they have in the pilot's lounge. Currently on display is a large aquarium with many of Minnesota's most common game fish.
After punching quarters into the coke machine, I was enjoying a refreshment when I observed a new Cessna 310 twin prop, which had some different markings from the usual N and some numbers, which designate North American registry. This plane had "SA 735" on the side of the fuselage. Two young women exited and came into the lounge.
The two women had come up from Brazil and stopped at St. Louis, before they completed their flight to South St. Paul. They were having their plane outfitted with a pair of floats, which are manufactured in one of the hangars at the field. Well, this account is getting lengthy, but we were soon talking planes and Minnesota fishing.
I pointed out some of the common types swimming in the aquarium, when one of the girls declared of the similarity of our crappie to the piranha of Brazil.
"Your crappie is a smacking image of our native piranha, which you've perhaps heard about!" Indeed I had heard about this voracious fish. Curiosity led me on to ask about the habits of this little critter, and if all of the gory and grisly tales about it are true and accurate. "Indeed they are," she said. We refreshed on cokes and chips and got down to the mysteries of this carnivore of the Amazon. Here I was able to talk to someone who had seen this fish firsthand and knew something about them. I asked questions.
The popular conception about the piranha is that he moves in schools and attacks with a vengeance, ripping out huge chunks of flesh from whatever the quarry is, devouring a burro or a cow in a matter of minutes.
The South American visitors confirmed that these stories are indeed accurate, but the small fish is more likely to encounter a sea gull than a warm blooded mammal swimming in their waters. Native boys casting for fish have been nipped in the ankles, especially if they've had a puncture or wound which may have emitted blood in to the water. A cut or a slight bruise may trigger an attack on the unfortunate party.
The visitors had seen a TV crew put a dead cow into the water, only to have it nearly devoured during the time that they were getting their photo equipment set up for the filming. Additional bait had to be secured for the photo op to continue.
Apparently, no one has any idea why piranha sometimes attack, and at other times do not. They are found in deeper, more turbid waters, where the current is swift. There are about eight prominent varieties of piranhas, the most aggressive ones similar in size and shape to our white crappies.
Piranha have a set of razor sharp teeth on the lower jaw. Three cutting edges come into play. The jaws are flexible and powerful. When clamped down, the teeth can tear flesh in a hurry. The sensation of a bite is not immediate. It is said to be more like a razor cut with the pain delayed, followed by a lot of bleeding. Piranha respond to panic situations. They seem to be able to sense when an animal is in distress and is vulnerable.
My Brazilian visitors said that when a fisherman hooks a fish, it is nearly impossible to get it boated. The piranha attack what you've hooked and its likely that you'll bring up a skeleton and the fish's head only.
Obviously a struggling animal would trigger the stimuli through well-defined underwater vibrations. How this would differ from a man taking a quiet casual swim, but if a man were thrashing about, it might trigger an attack by a school of piranha. The attacks come quickly and the victim is seldom able to get a firm foothold on the river bottom and attempt an escape.
The visiting women had been missionaries living along the Amazon, and they related several personal instances when they'd seen attacks by piranhas and were acquainted with several people who had the unfortunate encounters.
A young boy and his dog entered a stream, to do some fishing. Both were unaccounted for and a search was begun. A piranha attack was suspected, and proved to be true as a skeleton was found, partially eaten. The dog lived a little longer as it was able to swim, while the boy was not. The dog had been bitten but he was able to reach shore.
A track laying crew working along a river tributary was hot and exhausted in the equatorial sun, and despite warnings from natives, one of the younger persons decided to brave it and enter the water to cool off. They could only gaze in horror when they were able to retrieve a limbless body in just a matter of a few minutes. Most of the time, however, the native people know when the times are right to swim and enter the water safely, when they can wash clothes, swim, fish or wade in the shallows.
The basic native watercraft is the dug out canoe, which is very unstable. Upsets are frequent and drowning relatively common, and piranha are there.
Piranha can be dangerous, or relatively harmless. Finding out which can be a tricky proposition. It is the unsuspecting person who falls out of a dug out canoe who can be a hapless victim. The fish with the impressive dental work is always a threat in the Amazon's waters.
Cormorant Sportsmen take kids fishing
The Cormorant Lakes Sportsmen's Club will be taking about 30 area youth, 12 to 15 years old, on a fishing trip to Mille Lacs Lake next Saturday June 21. The bus will leave Orten's service station in Audubon at 5 a.m. and will return about 5 p.m. the same day. All poles, bait and the necessary tackle will be provided. So, kids, dress for the weather, and get signed up this week by calling Gus Zaeske at (2l8) 439-6210 or Gregg Johnson at (2l8) 439-6286. The cost is $15 per person.