Put the kids to bed before you read this story -- unless you want to tell them monsters do exist.
And that they'll pull you right out of the boat if you're not careful.
Just ask Christian Polak, a software engineer passionately devoted to flathead catfish.
Big flathead catfish.
Really, really, really BIG, flathead catfish.
The sort that haunt the depths of Roosevelt Lake and prowl the big holes in the Colorado River.
The sort of monsters that can swallow ducks whole and snack on trophy bluegills.
The sort of ambush predators that lurk under ledges and logs sunk in dark and murky waters, thrilling the hearts of monster hunters in small boats.
Polak has been stalking the beasts for years. He even has a Web site devoted to the chase -- (www.azflathead.com), with tales of hooked behemoths detailed advice on baits and strategies, earnest pleas to set free the trophy fish and recipes for the tasty little guys. He even points out that fishing for the big ones is so demanding that anglers shouldn't sit around all night drinking beer by lantern light -- which some catfish devotees consider the whole point of the exercise.
Polak confessed that he's on a personal mission to dispel the myth that catfish and those that pursue them are low intelligence creatures that inhabit mysterious backwater bayous (cue the dueling banjos music from "Deliverance").
So Polak spent the day recently in the summer swelter at Roosevelt basting in the sun and catching about a dozen bluegill, specifically to use as live bait for those lurking monsters.
As darkness fell, he moved his pontoon boat to a likely spot, a portion of the lake with plenty of cover for the big hunters, maybe 15 feet deep. The flatheads have a keen sense of smell and can detect the vibrations made by their prey -- and perhaps even their electrical fields. As a result, the big fish have a big advantage when the water is dark. As a result, the trophy hunting fishermen say they like to go looking during periods of peak runoff -- when the water entering the lake is opaque with silt -- like in the spring or during the monsoon season. They also hook big ones in the fall, when the massive fish are putting on fat to carry them through the virtual hibernation of winter.
Along about midnight, something down there hit Polak's bluegill bait hard.
Polak fought to keep the line tight, afraid the huge fish would make a run for rocks or logs or other cover on the bottom and snap the 25-pound test line. The fish forced him to catwalk to the front of the boat, then turned and made a run under the boat. Polak leaned out over the front rail to keep the line from snapping, just as his two fishing buddies moved to the front of the boat to enjoy the fight.
The bow dipped.
And Polak tumbled head-first over the railing.
He went down and sputtered back to the surface. He'd lost a shoe, but not his grip on the seven-foot pole.
His anxious friend leaned over to rescue him -- but he simply handed them the pole.
"Keep the fish," he shouted.
But once he climbed back onto the boat -- he discovered the line had gone slack.
"It's gone," said his friend, handing him the pole.
Crushed, Polak began reeling in the slack line.
Only to discover the great fish was actually under the boat, still hooked.
The fight lasted another 10 minutes, before Polak brought the finally exhausted catfish to the boat.
The beast weighed in at 42 pounds.
Not a state record for inland waters -- that stands at just over 71 pounds for a 53-inch-long fish caught in San Carlos Lake in 2003. The state record for Colorado River waters stands at 74 pounds, caught at Laguna Dam. Elsewhere, in swampy country in the south, records stand at up to 120 pounds, making the flathead the third largest freshwater fish in North America behind sturgeons and alligator gars.
Polak carefully documented his catch, then returned it to the lake. But he's thinking about having a replica made, since he said it was the most beautiful catfish he'd ever seen in an account of his adventure provided to the Arizona Game and Fish Department's fishing report.
"Perfectly balanced, long white whiskers. A very nice olive green coloring -- not too mottled -- and a gorgeous white underside."
Polak has a nice 14-inch long, "monster bluegill" in his freezer. He wants to get the bluegill stuffed and posed just in front of the gaping jaws of a replica of his 42-pound catfish, with the bluegill "looking back in terror."
Cue the banjos.