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HELL'S ANGLERS

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Back at camp we heard even sadder tales. A young appraiser from Safford was particularly irate--his group had been dropped right by a road, and they had to squabble over fishing holes with Boy Scouts all day. "Geez," he lamented, "I don't have that much money, and I thought this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I hope I get some checks in the mail come Monday."

I could really sympathize with him-- I've spent a lot of time with Boy Scouts, and they are animals when they're out of uniform.

A big guy in camo fatigues went one better. His group included the man who was his commanding officer in the military, and they'd been visited by bears. He pantomimed fording the river Rambo-style, knife between his teeth, ready to obey the CO's order: "Hey, do something! He's eating our lunch!" (The next day, they were both wearing guns.)

After dinner, there were new rules. The drop zones had all been changed, and the pilot who dropped you off was the one who would pick you up. Some of the guys who had straggled in after dark cheered that one. Also, the pilots could refuse to pick you up if you were drunk. A few people laughed.

We were assigned a new zone, and the appraiser from Safford who'd spent the day clubbing Scouts was assigned that site, too. We looked it up on the map and decided it should be a great spot--miles from any road. Anticipation built.

After a dinner of ribs done to a turn, we were to have entertainment. I staggered down the lumpy path to the canopy, careful to avoid my loose shoelaces. I was unable to tie my shoes because every time I tried to bend over my legs cramped up. This fact, added to the multitude of bruises on my shins and the increasing number of mosquito bites on my arms, made my Don King hairdo scarcely noticeable.

As I stumbled toward the porta- potties, four Apache men loomed out of the dusk ahead. "Welcome to Apache International Airport!" one said, grinning.

These guys turned out to be the entertainment. They did a traditional Apache dance usually performed when a girl comes of age, and it was quite a sight to see them dancing around a huge bonfire, followed by dozens of tipsy, uproarious anglers.

When the dancing was done, the Apaches slipped off into the night, but an argument broke out as stories of huge smallmouth began to circulate. One man claimed he had one that, according to his partner, "would go 21 inches." This was loudly disputed and bets began to fly. A small group broke off and headed toward the motor home where the questionable fish rested, and soon returned to the measuring board, where, amid jeers and catcalls, it was revealed that the fish was a mere sixteen and three quarters. "You dickhead!" the braggart cried as he forked over the dough. "Why'd you tell me that was 21 inches?" His buddy was laughing more than anyone. Soon word spread of a big-fish pot, which you could enter for the trifling sum of $5, winner take all. We declined and limped off to our tent.

The next day, we were the third flight out and the pilot warned us repeatedly about bears as he circled a gorgeous pool. He dropped us off, and after we removed the sand from our eyes we sprinted to the pool and took a look.

This place was the slimy moss pit from hell. Top to bottom and shore to shore, it was solid green yuck. We tried everything (all but John, who had evidently eaten something not to his liking and spent the day calling Ralph and seeing a man about a dog). Every lure came back a huge, heavy, dripping mass of moss.

Some other guys got dropped there later, but it wasn't the group with the Safford man. These guys looked tough. One walked past carrying nothing but a Baggie full of waterdogs and half a quart of vodka. That was the last I saw of him. After six-and-a-half fruitless hours of casting, my sunburned neck was sloughing off my body in chunks, and I was beginning to be just a bit disheartened. There were too many miles of rapids at either end of the moss pit--we'd never have been able to bring a net full of fish back to the drop zone alive--so we were stuck there.

Walt and Maggie fell into the same hole about eight times each, and I had managed to catch two fish, when this guy walked up with a fly rod. Fly fishermen are like guys with BMWs. This dude casts out there one time and lands a really nice smallmouth. I hated his guts right away. I think Maggie and Walt did, too. It got real quiet and he finally went away.

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Margie Anderson