Caught between a rod and a hard place - and a mink

This week's Cavanman's Diary

Nobody has ever seen a small rat. It’s always that size!

“Yon length, it was!” the rat-seer will point out, holding their hands apart in the style of a fisherman exaggerating their catch (more of which anon).

Have you ever heard anyone say, “yeah, I saw a rat, it was small and harmless enough”? No, me neither. It is always massive, black, dirty, rotten – and they’re just the adjectives. The nouns are unprintable in a family newspaper.

I thought about this on Wednesday night as I got over my latest ordeal.

Earlier that drizzly evening, with a couple of hours to kill, I decided to pursue my latest craze, pike fishing. For a change, I opted to venture round the lake to the boat road in Munterconnaught, armed with my rod, a couple of lures, a little plastic bag containing six perch to use for deadbait, and hope.

(The novice angler always has hope with him – it’s like spare traces, you’re going nowhere without it.)

By the time I got there, the rain, incessant all day, was easing off and soon stopped entirely. I assembled my chair, set up my rod, stuck in the headphones and hit play on a podcast. A relaxing 45 minutes or so followed; unfortunately, the fish were also enjoying some chill-out time but that was okay – actually catching them is sort of incidental to the whole process (good job, says you).

All was calm. The birds were whistling, the water lapping gently against the shore.

And then, it changed. The scene was disturbed by an invader, dark, greasy, a couple of feet long (and growing longer with each re-telling).

In the reeds beside the jetty (more of a concrete stand to be accurate), I heard the rustling. At first, I thought it was a bird but it seemed a little loud. And then, the head popped up.

A rat! I shuddered and jumped backwards.

Then, when it clambered up on the jetty and I saw its whole body, I knew instantly what it was: a mink. Did anybody ever see a small mink? Not me. This thing was the size of a dog, soaking wet, slimy, giving me the evil eye.

Now, I have an irrational fear of rats that borders on a phobia. It’s not just the usual aversion to four-legged crawly things that most of us have – I don’t like mice but I’ve no fear of them, for example – but the thought of a rat gives me the shivers.

Thankfully, I haven’t been in close proximity to a rat – to my knowledge - since the time I was walking to college in Aungier St and my phone rang in my bag. I placed the bag on a plinth outside a little church there, opposite The Swan, to retrieve the phone and when I looked up, my hand was about six inches away from a rat (gigantic, of course), his beady eyes staring through me. The thought of it makes my blood run cold to this day.

To be fair to most wild animals, be it a mouse, a fox or whatever, they will generally avoid contact with a human where possible. Mink are different in this regard and something of an outlier – they have no wariness of people, which is most unnerving. They will walk right up to anyone and will not be put off by stamping of feet, shouting or any other commotion - in my case – and I say this, as a 37-year-old man, with no pride - wailing for my mother.

They are not known for attacking humans unless cornered, in which case they are vicious. And being on a jetty, with water on two sides, I wasn't taking any chances on what sort of humour this lad was in or what he felt construed being backed against the ropes.

I watched, frozen, in horror as the mink started on my tackle bag, wriggling round, taking into a Mars bar (to quote the old Cavanman joke, I later had to throw half of it out) before emerging again and taking into the dead bait. And then, he took into me – or so I feared.

As he scurried towards me, the flight or fight instinct kicked in. It was the mink or me.I legged it.

As I made my escape, I grabbed the rod at my feet for protection, leaping on to the bank and running through the soaking grass to the car, a good 50 metres away from ground zero.

At this point, I breathlessly called my spiritual advisor in such matters.

“I'm fishing... there's a mink...” I stuttered frantically.

“And?” he replied, calmly.

“My gear is on the jetty, how will I get it?” I blurted, half-hoping he might come to the rescue.

“Just walk down and get it, he won't touch you,” he laughed.

There was no chance of that. I could see the corner of the fishing stand and every now and then my nemesis slithered into view, mouth full of my perch. I began to despair of ever getting my gear again; soon, I was making mental calculations as to its value, weighing it up against the cost of a new leg.

At that, it started to rain again. I left my rod leaning against the side and sat into the car pondering my next move. Was this really happening?

To my horror, after 10 minutes or so, I looked out the window and saw the mink, obviously having smelled the one dead bait still on my rod, coming up the path towards where I sat.

Soon, he was at the car and gnawing on the bait. Cornered, I had a brain wave and started the engine, slipping her into reverse, thinking it would scare the intruder off.

Crack! I had forgotten my rod and heard it fall to the ground, under the back wheel. Now, I was really screwed. With a wall to the front, I had nowhere to go unless I wanted to reverse across my €100 kit.

So I sat there, stuck between a rod and a hard place, for what felt like a lifetime. Light was fading. Away in the distance, across the water, life was continuing as normal. Children were doing their homework, shopkeepers were selling milk and bread, publicans drying glasses. And here I was, forest on one side, lake on the other, trapped in the car by a mink, heart going 90 and sweat running down my brow.

Eventually, just as I had given up hope, a jeep pulled up and two anglers jumped out. I rolled the window down a couple of inches and called for help. One approached, a foreign bloke with a friendly smile.

“Your rod is on the ground, my friend,” he pointed out, by way of greeting.

“There's a mink on the prowl!” I exclaimed.

“What is 'mink'?”

“Like a big weasel!” I half shouted.

“Ah yes,” he said, with a heavy accent. “This place is full of mink.”

I told him about my gear, stranded on the jetty. He said something indecipherable to his buddy and they both laughed.

“We camp here over night. There are huge mink,” he said, “they won't hurt you. Come with me and get your stuff.”

I told him I wasn't budging, which is when he uttered the immortal words.

“Come on, big guy,” he said, in a soothing voice. “You are safe now.”

I refused to move and he agreed to retrieve my bag, my spinning rod, crisps and half Mars bar. He placed them in the boot as I thanked him profusely, engine still running, jeans by now tucked into my socks, hair standing on my head.

And soon, I was on my way home in a cloud of dust, vowing never to darken the boat road, home of the most evil predator in the Irish countryside and enemy of cowardly journos, again.