"Lumpoe, beeg lumpoe with eggs. She bite me." Then he demonstrated by snapping his fingers together like a set of jaws on his arm. "Very dangerous when she have de babies. She no run away then, she attack."
As he bent down to reach for a long pole in the bottom of the canoe, my flashlight illuminated a large bite mark on his back. It ringed his shoulder blade and looked as though a shark with tiny teeth had grabbed him. Boudji's brown skin was punctured by a hundred tiny holes that oozed red.
Franz hurried over to get a pole for himself and followed his father back toward the fallen boat shed. With a vengeance they beat the surface, churning the peaceful river into foam, jabbing and stabbing into the debris to frighten the monster toadfish from its nest. Once again we saw Boudji reach down and grope in the mud; this time he did so warily. "She run out now," he called out. "Watch de net."
But the giant lumpoe was a long way from being caught. Griffis and I sat in the dugout, shining our flashlights around the circle of bobbing corkline, while Boudji and Franz walked randomly through the water, hoping to drive the toadfish into the net. We knew the odds were great that the fish would sit on the bottom waiting for the net to lift when we began hauling it in. Then it would swim under the leadline to freedom.
"Look!" Griffis shouted as he pointed to a spot several hundred feet away, where five of the floats had been pulled under. There was an explosive splash, and the corks bobbed upward. Then they were abruptly pulled down again and came to rest just below the surface. No way could we tell by looking whether the fish had been snared or had bitten a hole through the net and escaped into the protective mud of the river.
Boudji hurriedly got back aboard, hastily grabbed an end of the net and started pulling it into the canoe. "Do you think we caught it?" I asked as I joined Boudji in his labor, all the while trying to ignore my sore hand. "There are some sunk corks up ahead."
"Don't know," Boudji grunted. "Maybe yes, maybe she got out. We see."
Despite our effort, the net came in with maddening slowness. Almost a third of it was aboard, and still there was no sign of a giant toadfish. A comical-looking 10-inch placostoma catfish with piggy eyes and armor-gray leopard skin came up uttering a long series of protesting grunts. Then another trumpet cat writhed in the net; without hesitation, Boudji snapped off its thorny pectoral fins with a pair of pliers and tossed them overboard. As he strained to recover the net, he flinched now and then with pain from the lumpoe bite.
Our tension mounted as the section of net with the sunken corks drew nearer. When it was only six feet away, the webbing began vibrating violently. Was it caused by the big lumpoe or some other unexpected monster of the morass? Suddenly menacing grunts began reverberating from down below.
Boudji and Franz slid overboard, dived down and bunched the leadline and webbing around the creature. And then, with one mighty heave, we hauled the toadfish into the dugout. It landed with a dull flop, and for a moment the moonlight gleamed on its slimy, scaleless skin. Then a prolonged bellow of pure rage shook the night. First came one long roar, then another, and for the first time in my life I stood rooted with fear, unable to move. The lumpoe opened its cavernous jaws, waiting for anything that might pass between them and bellowing all the while like an enraged jungle cat. No fish should make a noise like that!