A Fearsome Critter To Behold: The Giddy Fish & The Whirligig Fish
When it comes to ranking those with highly vivid imaginations, lumberjacks would probably not make it high on one's personal list. This could partly be to blame on the depiction these brawny tree cutters have gotten over time via pop culture. In film and literature, they are most often depicted as a constantly working, no-nonsense group of men who have one main goal, to clear the forest of as much lumber as possible. But truth be told, this group of burly woodsmen could hold ranks with the best of them when it came to creating extremely unique and one of a kind creatures that most often exist exclusively within one's mind or are at times shared between a group around a campfire.
Historical records prove that this group was able to create unique creatures that the most respected fiction authors and artists of today would be jealous of. From the air, to the land, and to the water, every natural element had a creature created to inhabit it. These ranged from the highly dangerous, to extremely ridiculous, and covered every other description in between. And while a good majority of the time these beasts were completely separate from one another and never mingled, every so often, some critters were created that were said to be related to one another in some strange way.
Whether it be they were the same species, or they possessed the same unique skill or ability, these critters were said to be related much like cousins, second cousins, or far off distant relatives. Perhaps the beasts were both birds and they each flew backward or upside down, there was a relation. Maybe both creatures lived exclusively in the snow and could change colors at will, that’s the relation. Giant beasts that both enjoyed knocking down trees and eating discarded clothing, relation. It didn’t have to be anything major that linked the critters together, it just had to be something the lumberjacks thought was noteworthy enough to bestow the relative description upon.
Two related critters that we will be touching on this time around are The Giddy Fish and The Whirligig Fish. Now while there is no official record on how these two fish are specifically related family-wise (cousins, distant relatives, etc.), there is a somewhat notable trait they both share. And while some might view this trait as a long stretch in linking these two creatures together, you need to remember that these were created by lumberjacks who did not share the same sense of humor that we have today. Just take a look at some of the other Fearsome Critters and see that these things just don’t make any sense, and to try and make sense of them all will cause nothing but headaches and frustration. So, it’s best to just accept them for what they are.
So without further ado, let us begin.
Critter number one, The Giddy Fish. Lumberjack lore states that these fish were typically very small, but could range anywhere between the size of a minnow to the size of a bluegill. Now, at first glance, one would never know that there was anything special about this fish. By all outward appearances, this was just a common run of the mill fish. But what it lacked in looks, it made up for in special abilities. You see, lore states that the Giddy Fish was extremely elastic and handled almost exclusively like rubber. It could stretch to great lengths and could also bounce when on land. Why the fish possessed these abilities nobody knows, but the stretching ability was thought to come in handy when trying to fit between tight spaces while trying to escape predators.
The Giddy Fish was said to be active during all seasons of the year, but no attention was really given to them until the winter months rolled around. This is due to the fact that it was almost impossible to catch the fish outside of winter, as one needed an ice fishing hole to most effectively capture it. You see, during the months when the lakes were not frozen, Giddy Fish were constantly jumping out of the water to briefly enjoy the air above, but after the lakes froze over, they were unable to do so unless they could find a crack in the ice. And since the fish were not that smart, they were unable to tell the difference between a natural crack, and a man-made fishing hole.
So, after the hole was cut, it was said that one must remain still for the Giddy Fish to come near as they were able to hear any sort of movement on the ice above. Once it believed it was safe and no predators were around, the fish would jump out of the hole to get a “taste” of the fresh air above. But unbeknownst to the fish, the clever fisherman was waiting nearby with a club in hand. As the Giddy Fish leaped from the water, the fisherman bashed it on the head, knocking it out and sending it back down towards the frozen surface below. But because the fish was essentially made of rubber, it did not hit the ice with a thud, instead, it would bounce up and down like a rubber ball on the ice creating a rhythmic pulse through the water below.
Other Giddy Fish in the area would hear this noise and recognize it as one of their own jumping around on the ice above. Since the fish were not super intelligent, they would mistake this as a sign of safety and would proceed to follow one another to the hole and launch themselves upwards through it. The fisherman would then just sit back and wait for the procession of Giddy Fish to come to an end before gathering them up and taking them back to camp. It was said that hundreds of fish could be gathered this way in just a short amount of time.
Critter number two, The Whirligig Fish. This critter is outright described as being related to the Giddy Fish from the very beginning. While no size of the fish is mentioned, it is safe to assume that it would be within the same size category as its relative. These fish though had no special rubber abilities or stretching skills, they were essentially just a common fish. What made them special though is that they could swim extremely fast and that they were followers. If they saw one of their kind doing something, they would also need to join in and do it as well.
Much like its relative, the Whirligig Fish was most easily captured in the winter months when the lake was frozen. This isn’t because it was impossible to catch them during the summer months though, quite the opposite really as these fish could be caught year round. They were said to mostly be taken during winter for the fact that you could catch significantly more of them during this time than any other.
So according to lumberjack lore, the best way to catch a Whirligig Fish is to find a good spot in the center of the frozen lake and cut a nice round fishing hole. It was stressed that the hole needed to be as close to a perfect circle as possible. If there were any extreme jogs or angles, the ability to catch the fish would not work. But as long as you were able to do this first step accurately, the following steps would be no problem at all.
The next step is to get a nice heaping helping of either ham or bacon grease and start smearing it all around the edges of the hole. The hole needed to be thick with grease to the point it was dripping into the water. The critter, described as having an excellent sense of smell, would smell the meat and would swim rapidly to the hole in hopes of getting a free meal. Once there, the fish would start swimming in circles around the hole. Trying to find the main source of the smell in which to take and devour, the fish would start to swimming around the hole faster and faster. Eventually, the critter would begin to spin so fast that it would rise up the fishing hole and pop right out onto the surface. This was due to a sort of tornado effect that they would create while circling the hole at such fast speeds.
Now, it was believed that other Whirligig Fish in the area could sense not only the smell of the grease but also the tornado that its fellow lake-mate had created. This was sort of the signal for the other fish to gather at this specific location to feast upon whatever was creating the delicious smell. So, Whirligig Fish from all over the lake would swim to the specific spot and would each take their turn spinning up the fishing hole in hopes that they would soon feast. But, just like their relative the Giddy Fish, the Whirligig Fish was not the smartest in the lake and were all unknowingly just getting in line for the doom.
The patient fisherman standing by would watch as hundreds of fish would tornado up the hole and onto the ice surrounding it. He would then casually walk around and pick the fish up, placing them into his bucket, and would take them back to camp for that night's dinner. It was said that if a fisherman wanted to, they could take thousands of Whirligig Fish this way as they would continue to tornado out of the hole until there were no more, or until the hole was covered.
And there you have it, the basic lore behind both The Giddy Fish and The Whirligig Fish. Classic Fearsome Critters that you can tell would be fun to discuss around a full dinner table, or a roaring fire late at night. But what you may be wondering now though is how were these creatures specifically related as one was like rubber and the other could create a little water tornado. There wasn’t anything outright similar about them.
Well, the answer to the question is actually pretty simple. From what we can tell, the fish were related because they were both easily caught by tricking multitudes of them out of the water during the winter months. They were essentially the lemmings rumor come to life and applied to fish. See, we told you that it didn’t have to be something major to make them related. You could even look at it as the fish were related because they were both dumb and let themselves get caught.
Overall, when it comes down to it, there isn’t an “official” thing that makes the Giddy Fish and the Whirligig Fish relatives, they just are. The lumberjacks at the time obviously thought it was a riot to say these fish were relatives and we’ve just been doing the same ever since. Basically, why question the creators and ruin the fun?
And honestly, if the mental image of a group of lumberjacks dying of laughter over the storytelling of two dumb fish jumping out of ice holes and into the hands of waiting fishermen with clubs and bacon grease doesn’t put a smile on your face, there may be a bigger problem at hand here besides trying to work out a Fearsome Critter family tree.
“In early lumberjack folklore, fearsome critters were mythical beasts that were said to inhabit the frontier wilderness of North America. The critters were a part of lumberjack downtime and were often used to welcome and haze newcomers to the camp. Lumberjacks who would go from camp to camp would bring their entertaining stories with them and they would slowly spread as tall tales across America.”
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: http://www.simplynorma.com/2014/02/03/ice-fishing-in-minnesota/