Part Eighty-seven

Randy Fratzke

Das Boat, or Fritz's Baptismal

By Randy Fratzke

Since we've had the big flood around here last spring the river has filled in quite a bit with sand along the section we live on. The problem was compounded during the two additional floods we had in July, making it nearly impossible to run my 16 foot "V" bottom fishing boat anywhere close to home. I do a lot of fishing from the boat, it's extra wide, very stable, has a nice flat floor, and a 50hp motor to get me to where I want to go in a hurry. Granted, it's no 'Bassmaster' fiberglass monster or anything, just a good solid aluminum boat that'll hold up to four people and still provide casting room. Anyway, I was really bemoaning the loss of the use of the boat towards the end of July since I'd seen the 'monster northern' take a duck or two along the other shore and knew it was reestablishing his feeding pattern. The other side of the river is now too far to cast to, and the holes, downed trees and snags make it way to dangerous for any sane person to wade into. So my only choice was to sit on the dock and watch, fitfully, frustrated, knowing he was just taunting me. I know, "The Captain Ahab Syndrome," that's what it's become over the last couple of years, chasing this 23lb plus Northern Pike that has mocked me by snapping any line rig I've presented.

My birthday landed on a Saturday this year. It's not something I normally celebrate, just a new number to remember to recite when asked. That weekend, the Iowa State Fair was running down in Des Moines and my wife had informed me that her boss was in town from San Diego and had asked if was ok with me to take her down to see it, especially since I traditionally spent my birthday fishing anyway. "Sure, no problem, have fun, see you tonight," etc., etc.

Trying not to spin too many cartwheels. Saturday morning came, my wife got ready to head for the fair and as she pulled out I noticed she was driving our pickup truck instead of the van. I also noticed she was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt and boots. A little odd I thought, but then I figured that maybe she wanted to give her boss the 'full flavor' of Iowa, so I let those facts drift out of my mind. I gathered my gear and headed towards the river with visions of small mouth, crappies, gillies and a whole day of fishing dancing in my head.

I had just finished stringing up my fly rod and tying on a small popper when I saw my wife pulling back into the drive. Ok, maybe she forgot something, her purse, coffee for the 3 hour trip, whatever. She yelled down to me that "something seemed to be wrong with the truck" and "could I please come up and take a look. I muttered "Drat" (or something like that was uttered). Ok, take a quick look and get her on her way. I trudged up the hill and rounded the corner by the garage. The whole time she was trying to explain this grinding sound that the truck was making and how she was now going to be late picking up her boss and then getting back on the road to the fair. Then I noticed the tail gate was down and something was sticking out the back of the truck. "What the heck???" I'm thinking. It was a small, flat bottomed, 'john boat.' And she was yelling "Happy Birthday!" and nearly dancing with joy. The she explained that she'd gotten it at a garage sale a few days earlier and had them hold it for her.

"Wow, just what we need for this river, and it even has oars!" She helped me drag it out of the truck and onto the driveway and I started evaluating my present. She kept assuring me that the guy said it "floated" but it sure was in rough condition. It was licensed as a "1963 flat bottom john boat."

"Nice general description," I thought as I surveyed the situation. It was multi-colored 'camouflage' with about 5 coats of paint, someone had put about a 1/2 an inch of black tar all over the bottom, which really made me wonder about the 'floatability' claim, and I noticed a sheet metal screw with a rubber gasket in one spot. It's 10 feet long and about 45 inches across, with 3 seats, and about 14 inches deep, made out of very light weight aluminum and the transom had been recently rebuilt. I notice that someone had drilled holes all around the gunwale and inquired about them. My wife said that the previous owner had used it as a duck blind and the holes were left over from the uprights that they hung the blind sections on. She's beaming with pride at her purchase, I have mixed emotions, excited because I know I can now cross the river, but also hoping she didn't pay too much for this mess. She must have picked up on my anxiety because she quickly chipped in the comment that she knows that I'll be able to "fix it up into a first rate fishing boat." Also adding that she thought our little 4hp gas trolling motor will fit on it and we'd be able to fish anywhere we wanted to! I asked her to help carry it down to the river so she could get going to pick up her boss and get to the fair. Then she informed me that that was all just a ruse to give her time to go and get the boat and that she was going to spend the whole day fishing with me, in our new boat! "Okay, I can handle all of this, just stay positive," I thought to myself.

We hauled the boat down to the river, then I headed back up for the motor and the 6 gallon tank, Rachelle got the life preservers out of the big boat and we walked back down to the boat. We slid the boat into the water, I tied the bow onto a cleat while Rachelle tied on the stern. I picked up the motor and carefully stepped off the dock and into the boat.

I stepped over the first seat heading for the stern when I noticed the stern was drifting away from the dock. OK, now I'm standing in the middle of a small, lightweight, flat bottom boat, cradling a 4hp-gas motor in my arms and the boat is only tethered at the bow. To top it all off, I'm not exactly a lightweight guy myself and my Multiple Sclerosis has left me with a little balance problem anyway.

I carefully lift my foot to step towards the back seat so I can set down to mount the motor at about the same time a small wave hits the side of the boat. I notice water running over the back corner and quickly turn to head back for the dock. Too late, water is now gushing over the side. I'm trying to stabilize myself and hold onto the motor and stay dry as the boat is turning over on its side. I now know how it feels to be the looser of a log rolling contest! The boat went under, I went down tossing the motor towards the dock. The motor hit the dock edge, teetered, started to roll towards the water when my wife grabbed it. Somehow, just before I went under I grabbed my wallet and threw it onto the dock (how fast the mind works during a critical situation!) I reached over and grabbed the dock, my wife backed off, knowing the barrage of expletives that was about to be launched. I pulled my self up and put my elbows on the floor of dock, still hanging in the water, and started laughing. That's all I could do, hang on and laugh.

Thinking about everything I'd done wrong, not making sure both ends were secure, standing up in a small boat, not keeping my weight centered and low, all the very things I'd gone over with my wife a few minutes before. The old adage "Do as I say, not as I do" came back to bite me in my wet hind end!

We pulled the boat out of the water and drained the water out. I put on some dry clothes. We got the motor mounted, the gas tank attached and the motor started without incident this time. Both of us donned life preservers, carefully got into the boat, leaving the fishing equipment on the dock 'just in case,' and went for a great ride.

We came back to the dock, loaded the fishing gear into the boat and fished for several hours. Catching, netting, releasing fish, one person balancing the boat with the oars while the other one fought a fish, taking turns fishing, scouting, rowing, balancing, learning to work together to stay dry. Most of all laughing about my latest baptismal into my favorite fishing water, the panicked look on my face as I realized what was happening and the fact there wasn't anything I could do to stop it!

I now enjoy the boat a great deal, usually preferring to row rather than putting on the motor. I've completely stripped and refinished it, just as my wife predicted I would and filled all of the holes. Using the small boat has also really helped expand my casting techniques since I don't dare stand up to cast for fear of tipping over. So I've had to learn to cast while sitting down, practicing low casts, roll casts, easy single hauls, work on my mending techniques and I've started to learn left hand casting.

All in all the new boat has really become a great fishing tool, and, most of all, now I can continue the hunt for 'the big fish!' ~ Randy Fratzke

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