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story.lead_photo.caption When Keith Sutton’s friend Robby foul-hooked a friend’s fishing line, he reeled in not only his buddy’s rod and reel, but a catfish as well. That was the start of an infamous practical joke.

Want to learn more about practical joking? Let me suggest you hang around some Arkansas fishermen awhile. It’s almost certain you won’t have to wait long before witnessing shenanigans intended to embarrass, perplex or discomfort the victims.

Such pranks run the gamut from rubber snakes in tackle boxes to jerks on the fishing lines of sleeping anglers. Then there are more elaborate bits of monkey business long remembered as masterpieces of tomfoolery. Here are three that deserve a spot in the Practical Joking Hall of Fame.

The Arkansas Snook

My friend Mel worked at Ranger Boats in Flippin. His job had recently taken him to Florida, where he displayed a new boat model to some tournament pros. This had kept him busy, but he managed some fishing time, too, and landed a big snook. It was so big, in fact, Mel decided to have it mounted. To get the fish back to his Arkansas taxidermist in the best shape possible, he kept the snook alive in the boat’s livewell.

Before visiting the taxidermist, however, Mel had another stop to make. A bass tournament was underway on Lake Ouachita near Hot Springs, and once again, the PR man had to show the new boat. When he arrived,

however, the contest was already underway. Instead of waiting for the anglers to return, Mel decided he would launch the boat and fish.

Sometime while fishing, an idea struck him. Wouldn’t it be funny to show up at the tournament weigh-in with his big snook? He was pretty sure most of the anglers had no idea what a snook looked like and figured it would be funny to see everyone’s reaction when he walked to the stage holding the big saltwater fish. So he headed back and convinced the tournament director to participate in the ruse.

The next day, a photo of Mel holding the snook appeared on the front page of a local newspaper. The headline read, “Man catches strange fish during Ouachita bass tournament.” In the following paragraphs, Mel was quoted by the reporter as he described how he caught the unusual fish, which later was identified by a state fisheries biologist. Of course, the biologist couldn’t explain how a saltwater snook wound up in the freshwater of Lake Ouachita.

Mel never ’fessed up in public. To this day, if you spend a morning at one of the lakeside restaurants, you’ll often overhear conversations about the dude who weighed in the weirdest fish ever seen at an Arkansas bass tournament.

Rod for Sale

My friend Robby is a catfishing fanatic. A few years ago, while motoring to one of his favorite fishing holes, he passed a houseboat owned by his friend Dale. Dale loved catfishing, too, and he had anchored the houseboat in the same bay Robby intended to fish. No problem, though. Robby set up farther back in the bay and patiently waited for a catfish to hit. I’ll let Robby take the story from here.

“Late at night, I felt a fish jerk my line. I set the hook and started reeling, but what I brought in wasn’t what I expected,” Robby said. “It was someone else’s rod and reel, and a fish was still on it! I reeled in the line and landed the catfish.”

The only other fisherman around was Dale, so Robby quickly surmised it must be Dale’s fishing combo. As he thought about that, a devious plan emerged.

“It was Saturday morning now,” Robby said, “and I knew Dale and other anglers would soon be at the marina for breakfast and to show off their catch. I also knew I could easily travel the 4 miles in my aluminum fishing boat much faster than Dale could with his houseboat. So I went to the marina, cleaned the rod and reel and fashioned a ‘for-sale’ sign. I placed the sign beside the fishing outfit at the front counter, then ordered breakfast and waited.”

Several anglers asked how much he wanted for the rod and reel, but Robby ignored them. They were puzzled but figured something was up, so everyone waited to see what was going on.

“Finally, Dale came in the marina,” Robby said. “When he saw his gear with a for-sale sign on it, he snapped, ‘Who’s selling this rod?’ I told him I was, and he bellowed out, ‘That’s my rod!’”

Without missing a beat, Robby said, “I met a catfish last night that said it was HIS rod.”

Everybody in the restaurant burst out laughing — everybody, that is, except Dale.

‘He cut my line!’

And finally is this infamous prank, which I suggest you never duplicate.

My buddy Jim loves practical jokes. He’s gotten himself in a pickle now and then because someone thought his joking went too far, including one day on the Little Red River near Heber Springs, where Jim and I were trout fishing with our friend Glynn.

Glynn hails from Louisiana. At the time, he hadn’t caught many trout. But he was hoping to catch a wall-hanger, which the Little Red is well known for producing. By midmorning, however, we’d caught nothing but 9- to 12-inch stocker rainbows.

Then suddenly, wham! Glynn’s rod went down so hard it slapped the gunwale. He quickly set the hook, and it was obvious he’d hooked something sizable.

“Oh, my gosh!” he exclaimed. “This may be the trophy I’ve been hoping for. It’s bigger than anything I’ve hooked so far.”

Back and forth the trout raced; then finally it jumped. Everyone gasped. It was one heck of a nice fish. But the battle wasn’t over. The powerful trout took lots of line, and it was several minutes before Glynn brought his trophy near enough to net.

Jim jumped up to help, but he didn’t grab the net. Instead, without Glynn seeing it, he pulled a pocketknife from his jeans and flipped open the blade.

“Swing your rod close so I can grab the line,” he told Glynn. Poor Glynn did as instructed.

Jim reached out and grasped Glynn’s line, raised it so it was right in front of Glynn’s face, then cut it with the knife and let it fall. The big trout swam away.

All the color left Glynn’s face. Then, not understanding what had just happened, Glynn turned and looked at me, a mixture of horror and disbelief in his eyes.

“He cut my line!” he screamed. “He cut my line!” Then, aiming his tirade at Jim, he spouted a string of expletives that would make a sailor blush. Jim just grinned and chuckled.

I finally quit fishing with Jim and Glynn in the same boat. Ever since that day, when one of them hooks a good fish, knives are drawn, and a miniature version of a Musketeers’ sword fight ensues.

So far, there’s been no blood shed, but I can’t wait to see the look on Jim’s face when he finds the big rubber snake Glynn put in his tackle box.


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