Fish of Hope Golden Buffalo Fish Inspires

BAXTER -- It’s something like an old Norse fairy tale -- a man, stricken and down on his luck, sets out in his boat and comes upon a giant golden fish, mysterious and ancient, that transforms his life for the better, as if by magic. However, this isn’t a fairy tale. That man is Jason Fugate of Baxter and that fish is a bigmouth buffalo fish -- weighing a hefty 32.8 pounds, 36 inches long and 26 inches in girth -- and what may be the only known member of its gray-brown mottled species that shines with a kingly brilliance, like molten gold. Based on expert analysis, this golden buffalo swam local waters for at least a century, eclipsing the lives of Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley, Mohammed Ali, Princess Diana and billions of human beings without an inkling of awareness. Only more sophisticated tests will be able to pin an accurate date on the fish’s age. In late April, on a lake he declined to identify, Jason hopped in his boat and set out to enjoy a favorite pastime -- bow fishing, a nighttime sport fusing thrills of the chase that, say, still hunting exemplifies with the tranquility and solitude of line fishing. “There’s you and the water and about 15, 20 feet of light. Nobody around you. Nobody to bother you,” Jason said. “It’s really calm and peaceful. You get to see a lot of nightlife you wouldn’t normally see during the time, isolated from distractions.” With the clock ticking toward 3 a.m., Jason scoured waters murky with stirred up silt, illuminated by the ghostly glow of his lamps. Nighttime fishing reveals an entirely different world beneath the water’s surface, he said, an environment at times opaque and devoid of light, populated by species that don’t venture out during the day and seldom appear before human eyes. And then, there, looming in the depths, Jason’s lights illuminated a glowing mass, he said. A beast, it moved with smooth and gradual confidence -- the first clue in his mind, Jason recalled, the fish had outlived so much of its surroundings that it was, in fact, something of a living artifact. “It had such a glow to it,” Jason said. “It had a distinctive orange shine. When I sent a pic of it to my friend, I realized that this fish was different.” While briefly, Jason thought he might have come across an overgrown goldfish or other carp, but the buffalo bigmouth’s distinctive shape and prominent bony plates quickly gave it away. Immersed in the hunt, Jason’s thoughts become primal and hyper focused -- “Big buff! Big buff!” shot through his mind, he said. While he floated up on the fish and started to draw his bowstring back, fatigue -- crushing fatigue, syphoning fatigue; more than an early-morning fishing trip might explain -- could be felt in every muscle and nerve of his body. Mysterious illness Going back to February 2018, the young father of three said he started experiencing bouts of fatigue -- not just an occasional hankering for an afternoon nap, but slumping into bed everyday after work and passing out for hours at a time. It got to a point where his wife, Kelli, said he was difficult to rouse and wouldn’t respond to anything less than intensive efforts. “He could not get up,” Kelli said. “It would take a solid five minutes to get him up. You could call him and call him, but he wouldn’t get up. He was always tired. He never had any energy and then his stomach started acting up and it was all downhill from there.” At the same time, eating became as difficult as remaining awake throughout the day. He’s been diagnosed with, in Jason’s words, “some kind of malabsorption syndrome” which is about as vague as it sounds. Essentially, beyond pinning it down to gastro-intestinal problems, it means that doctors are almost as perplexed at Jason and Kelli. So far, there’s been no medication settled upon, and no viable options for a cure. At first, Jason thought he had some kind of stomach virus. He couldn’t properly digest his meals. A typical dinner evolved into an agonizing ordeal. He was afflicted by debilitating cramps that could bring him to his knees and he began to throw up blood. Soon, he found himself in the emergency room. He’s visited seven or eight clinics. He’s had his gallbladder and appendix removed, but it only led to a temporary respite. He noted he can be dizzy or drowsy at driving as well, circumstances which have