"It's incredible," said Griffis, his voice filled with admiration and disbelief. At the same time he was backing up with me, giving the toadfish plenty of room. It was thrashing around the bottom of the canoe, flailing the sides with its triangular tail and uttering its bloodcurdling rumbles. I had to do something. I couldn't let our prize get battered or stuck by a discarded catfish spine. But when my gloved hands touched its body, another explosion rocked the night. The lumpoe whipped around, slammed its immense 18-inch-wide jaws shut with a loud snap and went into a frenzied fighting tantrum. Its maw crunched down on the seat supports in the bottom of the canoe and, thus anchored, the fish turned itself over and over.
"For heaven's sake, Jack," Griffis said, "let the damn thing wear itself out!"
Boudji motioned for me to give him room. "Here, I show you," he said. "This is the way you pick up lumpoe. First you make fish go to sleep, like this."
His bare fingers began gently stroking the top of the great round head, in front of the thorny spines, right above the upturned eyes. He slowly massaged the soft, slimy flesh until the toadfish calmed down.
"Get box ready," Boudji whispered. "I bring fish."
His palms slid under the bloated underbelly of the creature that had bitten him so badly and ever so gently he lifted it up. Suddenly the toadfish woke up and spun around. Boudji yelped, its mucusy body slid out of his hands and was headed overboard.
In a blink I saw that cavernous mouth spring open and knew there was no choice. I thrust my already wounded, heavy-gloved hand into its mouth. My bones felt as if they were getting crushed in a vise as I fell to my knees and thrust hand and fish into the box. Fortunately the teeth were much too small to penetrate the leather, but, Lord, did that toadfish stink! The sour stench was worse than the pain, redolent of garbage and mud flats, and the lumpoe was in no hurry to let go. I kept my other hand pressed on its back to keep it from twisting around. Finally it released the pressure slightly, and I slid my bruised fingers out of the glove, leaving it clamped in the monster's mouth.
We slammed the lid on the box, and the toadfish began thrashing, bawling and croaking again. For a while it seemed as if the box was going to be torn apart. I sat on the lid until the racket inside settled down to a series of unhappy grunts.
"Are you all right?" Griffis asked for the second time that night.
My fingers were all there, but I told him my hand was numb. A few minutes later he chuckled and said, "You know, I'm not sure whether to bring it to the aquarium or the Bronx Zoo! What a monster! I've never heard a fish roar before."