You have seen the bumper stickers and t-shirts declaring, “The worst day fishing is better than the best day working.” Yesterday, my brother and I put that theory to the test.
It was a gorgeous day, barely into the 80’s, sun shining brilliantly from it’s perch in a clear, blue sky. There was a breeze blowing across Lake Ray Hubbard…a breeze, not a wind, and on a lake given to choppy waves under the slightest provocation, that is an important detail. We had our bottles of water, roasted peanuts, and some fine cigars. We were set.
The boat was in good form, too. Once we puttered away from the no-wake zone, Don opened her up and we were flying across the glassy surface of our fishing heaven about 40 miles per hour. It felt good. I felt alive.
Then, we came to another no-wake zone, crossing underneath Interstate 30. Don shut her down and we puttered politely past a couple of old men – who may have been brothers, as well – Crappie fishing in the shade provided by the busy Interstate overhead. We waved politely, got out into the open water and let the hammer down. Only this time, rather than the whir and hum of a healthy outboard, we heard it spit, sputter, and maybe cuss (or was that Don?), and then die. No problem. Just crank her back up.
Nope. She won’t fire. Turns over like she means to come alive, but just won’t fire. Ah well, the smell of gas is fairly pungent, and I suggest he flooded her like an idjit, so just let her rest. (I had pegged the wrong fisherman with that label, but that is beside the point.) Don decided, heck, we can put down the trolling motor and hug the west bank and see if there aren’t any Sand Bass a’bitin’.
He’s right. There aren’t. Well, one little fellow who would make better bait than dinner jumped on Don’s lure. We let him live and nary another bite.
Maybe 30 minutes passes, maybe 45. Don decides to give her another try. He cranks the cranky engine and she responds with total disinterest. Nothing. We realize this isn’t likely to change. Across the lake, about 3 or 30 miles, there is Chandler’s Landing…on the east bank, with her bevy of proud sailboats and fine cruisers, some of which look like miniature ocean liners. We guess we had better troll that direction and see if maybe there is a mechanic around. It is about 3pm.
It is a few minutes past five when we finally tie off to the dock and Don hops out to find our mechanic. He does find him…clocking out. But the mustachioed mechanic with the half-moon belly, lazy eyes and lazier drawl is kind. He is more than kind; he is awesome. He delays his dinner run to diagnose our problem.
Diagnosis: one cylinder (in four) completely and utterly shot. “Nope, you won’t be able to limp her back 6 or 8 miles to where you put in, boys.”
He is sorry to ruin a perfectly good Spring day with such annoying and expensive news, but what can we do? Shooting the messenger won’t heal a fried cylinder. Besides, he is a great guy who charged us not one thin dime to ruin our day.
Moreover, it was only just beginning to be ruined. First thing had to be done was hail someone to come pick up Don and transport him back to the truck and trailer whilst I attended the boat. An hour or so later, Don is back and we are untying. We intend to use the trolling motor to navigate around the rather large dock and back up to the ramp. Ah, but all that trolling across the great expanse of the lake had taken it’s toll. The battery on the trolling motor was done.
Nothing to do but haul out an oar. THE oar. The only one. And it is a fine oar if you are in a dadgum canoe and not a motorboat. We row, row, row the boat around the head of the dock. But when we start for shore, the breeze is more like a little wind and we are rowing, yes, but going pretty much nowhere. The waves want to carry us over to the boat slips and we decide, fine, go with the flow. We can use the noses of boats and pillars to grab and thrust ourselves toward shore, then I can jump out with the lead rope onto the bank and tug the boat on around to the trailer.
The plan works. It isn’t easy, but it works. I am ashore and pulling the boat with ease and success. It is the best headway we have made all day. I get her to the dock nearest the ramp and we tie her off. I stand there, pretty well gassed, watching Don back the trailer down. When he gets her situated, I turn to untie the boat…
But I was beaten to it. The boat had untied herself and was now 40 yards from shore and drifting out to sea. Cussing was invented for just such times and I realized where the term “cuss like a sailor” must have originated.
Don is standing beside me and we are watching the boat drift away.
“One of us is going to have to swim for her, Don.”
He agrees, but he isn’t taking off his dadgum shoes. I am. Off with the shoes. Here, hold my glasses, oh and my wallet and cell phone. How cold you reckon the water is?
So, here I am, roasted in the sun. Frazzled. Diving into the refreshingly cool water and swimming like Johnny Weismuller (and I don’t mean when he was a champion swimmer or playing Tarzan; I mean how he might swim today, being dead and all.) Actually, I am a pretty good swimmer. Pretty fast. For about 20 yards, maybe 30. But this is turning into a 100 yard dash.I know I have to swim faster than the boat drifts.
So, while the previously disinterested revelers around us watch and wag their heads, I am swimming in my cargo shorts, t shirt, and socks.
I do finally reach the boat. It is then that I realize all of my muscles are mush. Atrophied. Fried. Useless. I cannot haul myself out of the water and into the boat. I do finally get a leg hooked over the edge, and I am 3/4 of the way there when that sock I forgot to shed slides and slips and I splash right back into the water.
As I bobbed there beside the boat, wondering if this is how I would die, welcoming a watery grave because I am too tired to breathe anyway, I thought about that declaration…
The worst day fishing is better than the best day working.
Yeah. I can buy that.