Good or Bad for the Jews

"Good or Bad for the Jews"

Many years ago, and for many years, I would travel to Morocco to visit uncles, cousins, and my paternal grandmother. Some lived in Tangiers;...

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Popeil Pocket Fisherman and the Croc

One joyful assignment in my long career consisted of three rather pleasant years in Panama. Because of the long historical association between the United States and Panama, that country is one of the easiest in the world for Americans to visit. The Panamanians are used to Americans; most Panamanians seem to have relatives in the States; and those of a certain financial status make a habit of week-end shopping trips in Miami. In fact, on my own visits to Miami I was struck by how many Panamanian friends I encountered on the streets, in the bars, and the malls. I found Panama and Miami to have great similarities; the biggest difference being that more English is spoken in Panama.

One of the joys of living and working in Panama consisted of fishing Gatun Lake, one of the main sources of water for the fabulous Panama Canal--visiting the Canal should be on every American's "bucket list." On many weekends, a couple of friends or the kids and I would drive over to the lakeside and rent a boat with a guide and bait for an all-day fishing trip on Gatun. It would cost about $20 then and was the best $20 I ever spent. Although a lousy fisherman, even I would come back every time with several large bass which the guide would clean and filet. It was heaven.

The lake had a wide variety of wildlife in addition to fish. Besides any number of bird species, it had manatees and, my favorites, alligators and crocodiles, one of the few places on earth where both exist--another similarity with Florida. These were big monsters, very well fed on the abundant fish in the lake. It was a humbling experience to see these guys following your boat just waiting for a snack.

One fine Saturday a couple of buddies from the Embassy and I headed off for a day of fishing. We had fun, caught lots of fish, and after about four hours decided to call it a day. One of my friends, we will call him Fred, had brought along a Popeil Pocket Fisherman. He decided to try it out as we headed back. He cast out behind our slow moving boat and within seconds had a hit from a good size Gatun Peacock Bass. He began happily reeling in his catch when (insert Jaws theme here, please) a ripple in the water moved quickly towards the struggling fish. A splash. A brief glimpse of a large tetrapod head. Shouts from the guide of "Crocodile!" The fishing line seemed to go straight down and spool out quickly, and then stop. The guide shut the engine off. Fred sat there staring at his Popeil and at the water. One of us shouted out the always helpful, "Holy crap!"

My friend and fellow FSO did what any dedicated fisherman would do: Fred began cranking away on his Popeil. The guide likewise did what any dedicated guide would do: He began shouting, "No! No!" or maybe, "¡No! ¡No!"-- I don't remember which language he used.

I kept thinking this is analogous to the question raised when one sees a dog chasing a bus: What does he do if he catches it?

After a few seconds, my other friend verbalized my doubts, "Uh, Fred, what are you going to do if you reel that thing in? Put him in the boat?" Back came the indignant reply, "But that s.o.b. took my fish!"

Here, ladies and gentlemen, lies the moral of the story. Hours on a lake in the hot sun with only beer and salty chips for sustenance can impede the judgment process. While I consider myself an Old Testament sort of guy who believes in meting out swift justice to transgressors, I was willing, in this case, to cut the croc some slack, and let him go with a stern warning. Fred, however, wanted justice.

We, fortunately, did not have to resolve our different views of justice. The Pocket Fisherman, with all due respect to Mr. Popeil and Ronco, was not built for tangling with a Gatun croc. Snap! Half the gadget disappeared into the water along with several feet of line.

Somewhere in magnificent Lake Gatun, a croc trails half a Pocket Fisherman. I watch the nature shows in the hope that one day Jack Hanna or another intrepid host will find that croc. I stand ready to explain the whole thing.


  1. " to see these guys following your boat just waiting for a snack" I thought it was against the law to fish in D.C.

  2. And in other news... Hillary Clinton is making no attempt to reel in the croc on the end of her line...

  3. A buddy of mine from Seattle had a neat story. He and his best friend were going fishing with their double throw down super expensive rigs. His wife went too. She had the Pocket Fisherman. They fished in Pungent Sound and she caught fish all day right over the side of the boat. The super rigs didn't score once.

    Glad you survived the apocalypse.

    1. Yes, I guess I should come out of my bunker . . . you're sure it's safe?

    2. It is no safer than it was before the apocalypse. However, it doesn't appear to me that safety is a position you have ever sought or advocated.

      Is it possible to have an off-comment, email discussion?

    3. I have moved my lazyboy to the reclined and comfortable position. Back to mac and cheese. Saving the C-rats for later.

      Merry New Year.

  4. Diplomad, I live in Panama. Love it and a good friend does fishing tours out on the lake. Turned your blog onto a few good Conservatives at the Embassy. I am sure they can relate to your stories! It is still a good place to visit.

    By the way, the first post I read of yours was version 1's story on the US response to the tsunami of 2004. Please reprint that series if you can. Wonderful insights. Very well written.

    Keep up the great work.

  5. Diplomad, before I turn in for the night, I wish you and your whole family a happy new year.


    My best attempt at a glass of bubbly!

  6. Well Mr. Mad happy new year. Let's go get them in '13!

  7. I lived in Panama for three years while in the Air Force (95-98)and it costs the three of us about 20 dollars total for a guide and an old alumimun john boat as well. I tell you it is no fun watching one of those canal tugs tugs come straight at you pushing about a 2-3 wake in a john boat with 4 guys in it..anyway the pilot pulled back on the throttles in time but we all thought we were going for a swim

    1. We overlapped. I might have run into you at the PX or the movie theatre on Howard.

    2. Could have, I lived on Albrook for about half of the three years and then moved to Howard. I crossed the Thatcher Bridge every day and will never forget when the traffic police went home early (I assume) and both ends of traffic started to cross-anyway all the traffic met in the middle of that damn bridge... no accidents that time. I also remember that the students protesting at the University would conveniently stop protesting at around 3 or 4 o’clock…. Thanks, Jack

  8. I was on a TDY with some civilian engineers to visit two bidders in Florida, one in Melbourne, one in St Petersburg. We flew into Melbourne, had our meetings, next day rented a van and drove to St Pete.

    Halfway across Florida we stopped for lunch by some big river, don't remember name now. We had lots of time to make the trip, so we decide to take an airboat tour down the river to see alligators.

    Airboat, complete with huge bubba-type airboat driver with butt-crack and everything. He was good with the boat, and spotted a very large alligator some distance way. He pointed the boat, cut the engine at just the right moment while turning, and we just drifted right up next to the 'gator, literally inches away.

    He was a BIG boy, maybe 12 feet long and about three feet wide in the middle, it looked like. The airboat provided about a foot of freeboard and maybe a quarter-inch or less of aluminum between us and Big Green Death Machine, who just laid there quietly floating in the water, just the middle of his back, his eyes, and his snout above water.

    One of the engineers was a bit different, very smart and curious, but not necessarily on the same wavelength with human beings. He reached right over the side and with his bare hand TAPPED THE GATOR IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS BACK.

    Mr. Gator FREAKED (he was not alone) and very violently swept his nose and his tail from side to side, which carved out a huge gator-length trough about three feet wide and deep right in the river. It exposed the entire alligator all at once, feet, sides, end-to-end, and he looked even bigger than he had earlier. Before we could finish the first round of curses we were hurling at the engineer, he vanished below the water, thankfully, instead of coming over the side of the boat.

    Bubba said, "Gators don't like to be touched much." Yeah.

    I told the engineer that if it wouldn't have had such a hassle explaining how I lost an engineer on a TDY that I would toss him over the side so he could get a better look!

    Keep the stories coming, love reading them.


    1. Ha! Great story. Having now spent many years in places with those beasts, I leave them alone in the hope that they will reciprocate.