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Fishin’ with a Russian

It was still dark as I passed through the iron gate. Normally, I would have stopped and relocked it behind me. Not today, though. I was expecting company. My long-time fishing buddy, Darryl, was coming from Savannah, and he was bringing a friend of his along. I didn’t often entertain strangers at our pond, but I trusted Darryl’s judgment in friends. Looking back, I am not sure why.

The first beams of sunlight were glimmering across the surface of the blackwater lake as I climbed from my truck. Milky trails of low-lying fog drifted across the surface of the water. The tall, sparsely limbed cypress trees appeared as malnourished giants standing knee-deep in the water’s edge. The slowly moving fog created the illusion that these cypress giants were slowly trudging through the swamp, searching for something lost. It was one of those rare and fleeting moments when life was as good as it gets. If Heaven ain’t a lot like “Hoopee,” I don’t want to know. Excuse the Bocephusism.

My peaceful, easy feeling was soon interrupted when my friend arrived along with his buddy. The two of them got out of the vehicle, and I went over to greet them. I walked over to Darryl’s friend, a stocky guy with long hair and a thick, black beard. I reached out my hand and said, “Hello, I am Mike.” To my surprise, Darryl’s friend did not reply. Instead, with a quizzical look on his face, he walked over to Darryl, and they exchanged some words. I couldn’t make out what they said. It sounded like jibberish to me.

Finally, this odd-looking fellow approached me. He pointed toward me and blurted, “Mike.” Then he pointed at himself and said, “Swardnik!” He spoke in a very thick accent and nodded dramatically as he spat out the words phonetically. Now, it was me who looked over to Darryl with a curious, if not quizzical, look.

“This is Swardnik; he is from Russia. He doesn’t speak a word of English,” Darryl explained. Nonplussed, I shook hands with Swardnik and nodded in response to his nod. Well, we didn’t have to talk to each other to fish. I wasn’t concerned with anything else. We unloaded the tackle and ice chests and headed down to the boat. It was time to fish.

We had two ice chests full of beer, about 12 rods, and three tackle boxes in a boat that barely floated with two people and a third of the gear we had today. With the boat fully loaded, the waterline was only maybe an inch below the boat’s gunwale as we proceeded to paddle across the 35-acre pond. We had to be very careful to counter each other’s every move to prevent the vessel from tipping into the water.

Swardnik and I were able to speak to one another thanks to my friend Darryl’s translation skills. I had known Darryl for a few years and never knew that he could speak Russian! I assumed he had learned it when he was in the Navy’s nuclear program. The things you learn about people when fishing together are amazing.

We two Americans and one “Ruskie” fished together for over five hours. The Russian would speak, and Darryl would translate it to me. I would reply, and Darryl would translate it back to Swardnik. As the beers went down, we both became more conversational. We kept Darryl very busy translating. He wasn’t annoyed; however, he seemed to be enjoying it. Darryl even laughed a time or two. Darryl’s Russian was quite excellent, too. I was very impressed.

Finally, the beer ran out. Darryl and I decided to make a beer run. Swardnik told Darryl that he’d stay with the boat and continue fishing. I thought it a little risky to leave a Russian alone on our farm but decided that there were probably no state secrets he could use against us hidden there among the Cypresses. A quick trip to the Food Chief in Adrian should be okay.

We decided I would drive because I had only had 16 or so beers. We left Swardnik with the boat, alongside the intake of the pond dam. It was a 15-foot drop to the spillway pond below. This was the only good spot to tie off the boat—at least it seemed so to us at the time.

The trip to town went smoothly, and we were soon passing through the gate that led us back to the pond. We had a couple of cases of beer and were set for the next couple of hours of fishing. We locked the gate behind us and headed down the “washboard road” that led to the pond where the Russian would be waiting.

I heard it way before we got there. A horrible wailing sound, a shrieking/screaming call of desperation filled the cab of the tiny truck. It was coming from the direction of the pond ahead. As we neared where we had left the boat, we saw that the boat was not there. The boat had been pulled through the spillway gates. It had plummeted 15 feet down into the spillway pond, which led to the Ohoopee River. I thought, “We fished all day with no problem, then the Americans leave for a few minutes, and the Russian screws it up!” The Russian dude had grabbed onto a limb and was holding on for dear life.

“Help! I am drowning! I can’t swim, help, help!” came the cries from the “Russian.”

“Drown you Russian-faking SOB!” I shouted. The dang Russian had a very familiar southern accent. Hook, line, and sinker, I had taken the bait and had been reeled in. I looked over to Darryl and shook my head in disgust and admiration. I’d been “punked.” Swardnik was none other than Duane, Darryl’s brother-in-law. They cooked up the scheme to deceive me on the trip down from Savannah.

I am not sure why, but I helped Darryl rescue Duane from the water that day. We became great friends. We still keep up with one another and often reminisce about when I fished with the Russian on the Ohoopee. Darryl has gone on ahead of us. May he rest in peace, for now. Wait till I get there. I got time to cook up a good ‘un. I’ll never trust another Russian.

- Mike B

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