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Dick Ellis Blog:
10/9/2019
Fall brings with it something for everyone in the field from the angler to the hunter.  Just a few recent sessions of shooting the bull tell me that autumn is for the youngest of outdoorsman just learning the games to those of us more seasoned with our eyes focused dead ahead on for example, the whitetail rut. James Wallace captured this great buck on trail camera during summer scouting. James Wallace, my nephew-in-law (is there such a ...
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Predicaments: Boat Landing Blues

For inexpensive and interesting entertainment, you could spend some time at a busy boat landing. Enjoy this list of boat landing related predicaments. It’s unfortunate that I have played a major role in so many of them.

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Forgetting drain plugs in a boat is almost common - a talent at which I excel.  I once went 26 miles across the Bay of Green Bay and, after we coasted to our first fishing spot, the water started bubbling up in the bottom of the boat.  That was an indication I had once again forgotten the drain plug.

While in the boat, I could not reach far enough to get at the drain plug. I had to jump in the cold waters of Green Bay to find and reach the drain plug. All I found was the drain plughole.

After flapping around for 26 miles, the little cord that held the drain plug had worn away and broken off. This left us without a drain plug and a boat that was quickly turning into a 17-foot live well. It took some jerryrigging with a stick and several wraps of electrical tape to fashion a makeshift drain plug.

More than once the rope holding my boat unhooked just as I was unloading my boat in the river. Off went the boat downstream and unattached. Usually friends were near with another boat to rescue mine.

Late one fall, I decided to fish for smallmouth bass on the Wolf River in Shiocton. I backed my boat into the river and, once again, that darn rope came off my boat. I watched in wonder and disbelief as my boat slowly drifted down the river. This time there was no one else around to help rescue my boat.

I started to run along the bank to catch up to my renegade boat. As I ran, I noticed that the summer cabins along the way were vacant.  I started to consider the possibility that I was not going to get my boat back and I really liked that boat.

Next I thought about commandeering a boat from one of the cabins. But stealing a boat (even temporally) in Shiocton is akin to horse thievery. It might be safer to jump in and swim to my boat.

predicaments

Did you ever take off most of your clothes and jump into a river to retrieve a boat in late fall? The flaw in a plan like that is, when you jump in cold water it is very difficult to breathe. In fact when I jumped in, I was overwhelmed at how you must gasp for every breath of air.

Even though it was not very far, I had used up all of my energy just swimming to the boat and now I was weak. I struggled for what seemed like an hour before I could get my tired body over the gunwall and into the boat. I collapsed in the boat, rested for a while, went back upstream for my clothes, and went home. About a week later I read in the newspaper about someone who had a similar experience. That episode did not have a happy ending.  

There is a boat launch procedure to use when fishing with a partner and a different procedure when fishing by yourself. When fishing alone, I attach one end of a rope to a loop on the front of my boat and the other end to the ratchet strap on the trailer winch. I slowly back the trailer into the water until the boat floats off the trailer. Then I gently drive forward which tightens the rope and pulls until the boat glides up on the shoreline. Next I unhook the rope from the ratchet strap and leave the boat on the shore or, if there is a dock, tie the boat off on the dock. Finally, I park, jump in the boat, and go fishing. This works great except for that one time.

I was going fishing by myself and backed my trailer into the river. Just after I floated my boat off the trailer a fisherman floated up to the landing to take his boat out. I waved at him, then drove forward and eased the bow of the boat up on the shore.

There was no dock, so I just let the boat rest on the shore. It was time to strike up a conversation with that fisherman. I have an irresistible urge to check on the luck of other fishermen. He had been very successful and was happy to share information. We had a lengthy discussion about fishing techniques. He invited me over to his boat to check out the lures he had used to catch his limit of walleyes. I was happy to have been distracted with hot, current fishing information and was now very excited to get fishing. I jumped into my truck to drive out of the landing and park. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about one very important step to properly launch my boat.

As I drove out, my truck came to an abrupt stop. I had not untied my boat from the trailer and, therefore, I pulled my boat out of the water and onto the dry apron of the launch ramp. With help from my new fishing friend, we checked for damage on my dry docked boat.

My motor had been tilted up and the transducer bracket just popped up on a hinge so fortunately there was no damage. After a struggle we pushed my boat back in the water. I have gotten to know that fisherman because of that experience and since then we have helped each other several times. Being prone to mishaps actually does have benefits.

      I tried “unsuccessfully” to drive a boat on a trailer with a bow-mounted electric motor still in the water. Besides causing severe embarrassment, this will also deliver a harsh bend to the once straight shaft of an electric motor.

Another time, I hit reverse before I got close enough to the dock and dumped a good friend, Tom, in the drink.

One of the most consistent fishing techniques I have found over the years is the early spring splake and brown trout bite in Green Bay by Marinette. (A splake is a cross between a brook trout and a lake trout.)  Being anxious and fighting cabin fever after one long winter, I checked the Internet for the water temperature at Marinette. The temperature charts said it was 34 degrees and that was all the info I thought I needed to set up a fishing trip.

I made calls to my friends, Mike and Paul, and told them it was time to head up to Marinette for a spring fishing trip. It is a two-hour trip to Marinette from my hometown of New London and another hour from Mike’s house in Ripon. This meant Mike had to leave very early Saturday morning so we could be fishing during the early bite.

After towing my boat and my buddies all the way to Marinette, we were flabbergasted at the landing. We got out and looked at Lake Michigan and as far as we could see there was nothing but ice! The lake was still frozen over. There we sat with a boat and a frozen lake.  Oddly enough the boys were not mature enough to simply laugh off this predictament.  In fact they actually acted as though they were upset at me for trying to get them a great fishing experience out on Lake Michigan. Those guys are sure good actors.

That day we ended up fishing in the Menominee River, which was open and we did catch a few walleyes. However, that same day there was an incident involving a huge, well over 30-inch walleye. Too bad the landing net was not ready in time and that gigantic walleye escaped after pausing on the surface to taunt us for a long moment.  This lunker walleye added even more to the already bleak humor of the day.

A friend told me about his first attempt at power loading his boat on a trailer. He went a short way out into the lake and got a moving start, faster than recommended.  His light little flat bottom boat went temporarily onto his trailer.  And then, to his surprise, it kept right on going past his trailer and into the bed of his truck. It took a moment to recover from the surprise of his first drive a boat on a trailer attempt.  Several helpful fishermen picked up his boat and walked it back out of the bed of his truck and onto the trailer.

   I was once called to a boat landing and asked to bring my scuba gear. A fisherman was attempting to back his trailer into the water at the landing. Unfortunately, his vehicle and trailer got away from him. When I arrived at the landing, there was no vehicle or trailer in site. The owner sheepishly pointed to the river. My task was to attach the line from a tow truck to the bumper of his car that was now past the landing and 15 deep in the Wolf River. Imagine making this call to your wife, “I will be a little late tonight dear, my car went in the river and got a bit wet.

A guy in Fremont, Wisconsin tried to launch his boat for the very first time. He did not use the normal procedure of unhooking the boat from the trailer. He unhooked the trailer from the hitch of his car and backed his boat in the water with the trailer still attached. When he realized his boat was riding very low in the water and he could hardly move it, he knew something was wrong. He nursed it back to the landing. It took four people to pull that boat/trailer combo out of the water and back on the trailer hitch of his vehicle.

I have a friend, Hank, who likes to play practical jokes on his buddies while fishing. Well, his friends thought they would get back at Hank so they put axle grease all over the handle of Hank’s boat winch. My friend, Paul, chose a bad time to help and grabbed the greased handle intended for Hank.  Hank thought it was pretty funny - Paul not so much. Even though Hank vehemently denies it, Paul has doubts about who actually put the grease on the winch handle.

On one attempt to get my boat and trailer out of a landing, I inadvertently backed a trailer tire into a deep underwater hole. I could not pull my trailer out of the river. I then tried four-wheel drive, but it was still stuck. I gave it even more gas and when that trailer did move it jumped like it was shot out of a cannon. I figured something must have gone wrong when that trailer pulled sideways and not behind my truck.  The axle bolts on the trailer had actually pulled out through the frame of the trailer.

It was a slow drive back to my house because my truck was in one lane and the crooked boat/trailer took up the other lane. After several hours of hammering on the trailer frame and a little welding, we were back to using a single lane on the highways.

I have a friend nicknamed Red who liked to drive his boat right up on a partially floating dock. This partially floating dock happened because one of the floats under this dock had filled with water and that held the edge of the dock just under the water. This made the dock work like a ramp that he would use to drive his flat-bottom boat on. He mentioned how great this system was; “I don’t even have to tie up my boat, I just drive up on this make/shift ramp and my boat will wait for me on the dock until I am ready to fish again.

It worked great except for one time. On that attempt, just as the front of his boat approached the “ramp,” a wave from a passing boat lifted the edge of his ramp/dock out of the water. As you might know, the front of a flat bottom boat is square. The wave that lifted a corner of his raft out of the water turned his boat “ramp” into a boat stop! Starting from the back of his boat, Red did several unintentional forward body rolls until he finally ended up out of the boat and sprawled out on the ramp. His boat remained in the water. The witnessing fishermen in the area all started clapping and gave Red thumbs up for his incredible boat-stopping trick.

Jim and I returned to the landing after a very successful day of salmon fishing on Lake Michigan. We loaded the boat on the trailer and eased up to the fish cleaning station. We were at the fish cleaning station partly to clean the fish but mostly to show off our cooler, which was full of salmon, to the other fisherman.  Rather than try and lift the heavy cooler of fish out of the boat, Jim decided to jump in the boat.

When he thought some of those fishermen at the cleaning station might be looking our way, he held up our two biggest salmon. His attempt to climb out of the boat holding those two huge fish did not turn out the way he had planned. As he swung his leg over the gunwall, his pant leg got hooked on a bolt. It was a heavy-duty bolt placed there to secure a rod holder. Jim’s pant leg stuck on the bolt. The weight of those fish threw him off balance and Jim’s body kept on going right over the side of the boat! I heard him holler and ran to see what happened. There was Jim, still holding both fish, hanging upside down by his pant leg.

The fishermen at the cleaning station were really impressed with Jim’s salmon dismount trick. One fisherman even scored him a respectable 9.

 A long time ago, I purchased a bright orange 14-foot boat. Unfortunately, that boat did not have a rod storage compartment. And again unfortunately, I have a very hazardous, do-it-yourself streak in me.  This meant I had no choice but to build and secure a homemade rod locker to the bottom of my brand-new boat. This boat had the tri-hull design, which meant there should be plenty of room for screws to hold hinges for the homemade rod box.

Even though the interior of my boat was orange and the carpet on the new rod box was black, I was very proud. Unlike many of my projects, this one actually worked. The door opened and closed and the rods fit into the individual rod tubes that I had strategically placed in my new rod locker. If a boat designer happened upon this rod locker, they would surely desire, and maybe even patent, my ingenious design.

A few days later, word got out that the walleyes were biting. I called two people, that I thought were friends to go fishing with me. Would they be astonished when they saw my fancy new homemade rod locker. Well it turned out that the boys were stunned but for a different reason.  If the walleyes were biting, we never did find out. We got to the landing and backed the boat and trailer into the river. The boat however, would not float off the trailer. This should not have been a problem. It was fairly common that a boat would not leave the trailer at a landing.

Standard practice for this situation was to check the usual culprits.  Was the winch strap unhooked? Yes. Did I remove the chain by the winch? Yes. Are the tie down straps on the back of the boat removed? Yes. The boat still would not budge from the trailer. Mmm. Did the screws from my clever new rod box go through the bottom of the boat and into the trailer bunks? Darn it - a big yes!

So, to summarize, I had just discovered that my new boat had several screws protruding through the hull and into my new trailer. Plus, the walleyes were biting but, because my boat was screwed to the trailer, we couldn’t even use the boat to try and catch them. You would think that “friends” would try and console you if you got yourself into a predicament like this. Not my friends, they demonstrated no concern for my feelings, in fact witnesses recalled several fishermen at the landing that day laughing profusely.   

Want to read more stories like this? Predicaments: Mostly True Hunting and Fishing Stories can be purchased at www.amazon.com , print and digital editions are available. Print copies can also be purchased at Johnny’s shop of Bait in New London WI.

Randy Williams lives in New London, WI. He has a degree in conservation, is a fishing guide, and a taxidermist. He has won over 40 fishing tournaments and spent 5 years as a co-host on an outdoor TV fishing and hunting show called No Excuses Outdoors. He has been an outdoor columnist for the Waupaca county Post and recently published a book called Predicaments:Mostly True Hunting and Fishing Stories. He now enjoys hunting and fishing full time after retiring from teaching. To watch videos of his adventures visit www.wilfish.com