Chris Hansen's been fishing the St. Croix River for most of his life.
Now in his early 50s and living in Lino Lakes, Hansen works for a marine and fishing outfitter, so time on the water is pretty much career research. A couple weeks back, that meant he was out on the St. Croix right on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, almost directly underneath the new bridge south of Stillwater that has been heralded as a "feat of engineering."
What he encountered there would convince some squeamish types to rally around fortifying the bridge, damming the river, and maybe firing a few warning shots into the water.
Hansen was fishing for smallmouth bass, when instead he hooked what turned out to be a pike. A big one, too, about as big as he ever catches to keep, maybe 28 inches in length. (Bigger pikes, he admires and throws back.) Hansen reeled it in and used a net to bring it aboard his boat.
That's about when Hansen noticed that the fish had company: a seven-inch long lamprey, looking every bit like a miniaturized monster movie. The bloodsucker had been attached to Hansen's pike, just behind its gills, but it detached upon the shock of being yanked from the water.
So now the damn thing was flopping around Hansen's boat. Much to the chagrin of its owner.
"I don't know why -- I shouldn't be scared of them -- and I'm not squeamish about things," he says. "But that's some horror up there on the front end of those."
For those who saw the above image and thought KILL IT KILL IT NOW!, or something to that effect, you will find a capable agent in Hansen. It was not easy to get a hold of his new traveling companion -- "they don't really have a backbone, so they're extremely wiggly, not to mention slimy" -- but the veteran fisherman eventually got his hand on the vampiric tube and dispatched it, with extreme prejudice.
"For some reason, I just can't let one of those things live," Hansen admits, adding that he quickly tossed its corpse back into the river, where he hopes it became an easy snack for a turtle or catfish.
Hansen inspected his pike, and found only minor damage inflicted by the freaky creature that had hooked onto it before Hansen did. (If the lamprey had really dug in, he might've cut that part of the meat away.) The pike was later put to Hansen's preferred usage, a set of egg wash-and-cracker-coated fried fillets.
Hansen's come across other weird stuff in local lakes and streams, like mudpuppies, big slippery salamanders that live in the water, and once accidentally caught an American eel, an "amazing fish" that traverses the whole of the Mississippi River. But viewed up close, at least those have a regular mouth, with teeth.
Not like the comic book-esque lamprey, which Hansen comes across maybe once a year.
"In saltwater there are some truly strange things," Hansen says, "but I don't know that you could come up with anything in freshwater that would be uglier than a lamprey."
If it's out there, we'd rather not know.
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