"One thing in the world I hate: leeches. Filthy little devils." —

Humphrey Bogart, "The African Queen"

As parasitic annelids go, leeches are unlovable. Unlike their earthworm cousins, a bloodsucking leech will never be the protagonist in a cutesy children's book. Leeches are compared to lawyers and Donald Trump.

However, there's one creature that loves leeches: the fisherman. For walleye anglers, the leech earns its space in the plastic cooler — even displacing imported beer. Many seasoned line flingers swear by leeches. I also utter a few choice words for the live bait that bites back.

While I can cast without hooking myself or the carotid artery of others, my fishing savvy is tied to bad knots and plastic bobbers.

My tackle box consists of very artificial looking lures, bent snap swivels and jumbled hooks. I don't rock the boat — literally or conversation wise — so there's always a standing offer to sit out in a lake and fish.

Such was the case last week when I got a call to rendezvous at a boat launch in Michigan. The instructions were simple: bring beer and leeches. It sounded like a fun night out on the lake or a "then things went horribly wrong" bachelor party. I set out for one-stop beverage and bloodsucker shopping.

Whenever I set foot in a wooden floor general store two old thoughts come to mind: pop in glass bottles tastes better and No Pressure.

As a kid I would fish the Au Sable River aboard a family friend's houseboat aptly named No Pressure. Of course the running joke was the boat's name came from its lack of pontoon flotation. Every fishing trip we stopped at a wooden floor general store for snacks, pull-tab Blatz and bait.

However, I don't recall the cashier ringing up leeches.

Thirty-some years later, I'm in a wooden floor general store looking at a box filled with enough leeches to make Humphrey Bogart's skin crawl.

There are little leeches and horror-flick-size leeches. Skinny leeches and fat leeches. Black leeches and brown with black spots leeches. Lots of leeches.

One problem: I don't see a leech receptacle.

The guy at the counter must have seen me coming — and I don't mean from the bait refrigerator. After all, I sincerely ask if it's a bring your own leech container. He skipped the obvious "stick out your hands" and pointed to some foam coffee cups.

He couldn't resist setting the hook on an easy catch.

"You know how to tell the female leeches from the male, right?" he deadpanned. The answer, unfit for print, went over my leech-neophyte head.

His dirty joke didn't register until the next morning. "Oh," I said with a mouthful of toothpaste. It's no wonder lech and leech are similar words.

One wayward bass fell for a little devil, but the walleye showed no love for my leeches.

I can understand old Bogie. I'm not overly attached to leeches either; unless you count fingers.


Garrett Leiva is a columnist for The Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Mich.

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