The Black Duck Incident
In observance of my 1000th post, it seems appropriate to tell another chapter of “As The Impeller Turns”.
Usual apologies go out to those who can’t stand the long tales. Then again, I am probably on their ignore list by now anyway. For the other three of you, here goes…
This one has been in my mind’s eye for a while now. I specifically wanted to write this tale because I see many posts from new sledders in general, and want to let my lesson perhaps serve as a bit of education for them and others...
It happened one December morning several years ago. Much like the conditions of today, it had been dry for a spell and the Sandy had been pretty low. Then there had been some rain, and the river had come up. The freezing level lowered, and as experienced Sandyites know, that means the river drops and quickly becomes fishable. In short, conditions ripe for slaying some chrome “slime rockets” (I like that term too, fishbait!).
Well, not Donny, not Formerly, certainly not little red sled, nor reeldick could get away on short notice on a Wednesday morning. But Dick I could. YES!! Although Dick I still had his “Fast Bob” (aka Rapid Robert) driftboat at the time, I convinced him that we should take my sled because there were hot reports of fish in the lower Sandy. “Chasing Rainbows” yet again.
By the way, it has occurred to me the ironicy (Hogmaster likes to make up words) of calling a trip like this a chasing rainbows trip. “Chasing Rainbows” actually was a term that a friend and I came up with as young bucks falling for “hot tips” from other hunters when chasing the same and didn’t even have anything to do with fishing. It has no specific meaning to the metalheads we were targeting other than we were again following someones can’t miss information.
But there I go again digressing. Sorry. Back to the story.
We met early, right at first light, to put in at Lewis and Clark State Park. When we did, it was a pleasant surprise to see no other trailers in the lot. Few fishermen to have to compete with we thought. Hmmmm… Must be because it was a workday, thought us. Cool.
The morning was particularly gray and dreary. There was no wind, but it was just above freezing dampness penetrating our very souls as we organized our gear at the ramp after launching. We chatted about where we wanted to fish, and decided we would go right up to the Stark Street bridge motor deadline and work our way back since we had the river to ourselves.
I started the 100 horse jet on the Red Sled and soon we were flying at warp speed on step upriver. That is when I realized the first of my tactical errors. You see, I am slightly nearsighted with one of those astigmiethingies, so I usually wear glasses when I drive or want to see long distances. (At the risk of another digression it scares me to death that I purposely took and passed my driver’s test without wearing glasses. There must be some real blind folks steering vehicles out there!) Anyway, the tactical error was associated with the dim light near fog conditions that were accompanied by a slight but continual drizzle. As we flew up the river, that drizzle caused a spotted raindrop effect on the glasses and visual acuity was definitely hampered. I should have stopped and taken them off.
The second tactical mistake came about as we got about a mile upriver and I realized just how long it had been since I had been on this stretch of the Sandy. I usually fished other rivers and had not been there for a few years. As such I was starting to fly blind in a second form. The form of learning as one reads the water at 35 knots while driving with spotted glasses in near fog drizzle on a cold morning. I should have slowed at each turn and studied the river carefully before moving on. Fishing excitement and impatience was about to bite us square in the derriere.
The third, and as it turned out most critical tactical mistake, was what happened next. As we rounded a turn we came into a long straight stretch of water. As an experienced boatsman, I knew that meant there was likely to be shallow water across the flat. At speed on step already in the undeterminable depth meant to slow could mean a tail bury. Where was the channel? Hmmmmm…. There were but a few seconds to decide.
Then I saw what was surely the answer. Through the dim light, fog, drizzle and spotted glasses I saw a group of about a dozen black ducks right in the middle of the river. They didn’t really look like coots, more in shape like black pintails, but at that moment I wasn’t into audoboning and instead quickly rationalized they must be in deep water since they were sitting in the river. Right in the middle of the river as it were.
So tiller firmly in hand I put the ducks at 12 O’clock and kept the throttle near full Rs.
Who can guess what all this is leading to?
Well, sure enough just as we are coming up on the first of the ducks there was a very sudden and very disconcerting realization that those black ducks were not moving. In fact, those black ducks were black all right, but they were not ducks. “Oh, [word universally understood but not appropriate for repeating here]!!!!!!!!!!!” The realization took about .04 seconds.
How do I describe the sound that 2500 pounds of 18’ sled, motors and gear traveling at 35 knots makes as it travels right off the water and runs up a gravel island for 72 feet???? All I can tell you was that it was a mismash of loud, unmuffled 4500 RPM jet motor exhaust, aluminum on gravel extended scraping sounds and noise from various parts in the boat like the kicker tank, extra rods, tackle boxes, coolers and who knows what else sliding across the floor.
It wasn’t a pretty symphony. It must have taken about a second as well, OK maybe two to shut the key off after we stopped, but it seemed to last forever.
Sure enough, the black ducks were merely rounded black rocks that were mixed with gravel across an island. Now, I wrote 72 feet because I am serious. We parked the sled fully four boat lengths up the gravel bar from where the gravel started and the river ended! Now what!
An assessment showed that neither Dick I or I were physically damaged. And the further good news was that no gear had been broken, although most everything had been rearranged. So after the usual release of screaming expletives, and the dressing down one gets from one’s fishing buddy when one makes the ultimate in bonehead moves, (this is often referred to as the “Hair in the soup when you invited me over for dinner” look) we decided to look for a solution to our predicament.
We really were in one now, however. Upon removing those spotted glasses it became apparent that by taking the path of the black ducks I had parked the sled right smack in the middle of the river. In fact the water disappeared on both sides of the island to below clear Sandy water visibility depths! What a Dork! I had chosen the ONLY line that could possibly result in a bottom scrape and had turned it into a full beaching!
Remember, there was no one out that day. Either we were destined to pray for a rising river, and considering we only brought lunch that might have been a hungry wait, or we had to somehow get the Dory floating again. If there was any good news, it was that I had managed to drive right up the V that constituted the end of the island so the shortest distance off was not to try to get the Red Sled back the way it came but rather to move it sideways off the edge. So we tried.
Yeah, right. Try dropping your sled in a gravel parking lot some day for the full body workout experience of moving it sideways for about 15 feet. While Dick I might be referred to as a normal sized guy (OK even with “Popeye arms” if you read my “REALLY cold” thread) some of you know that I am not what you would call a “big” guy. In fact BOE and I pretty much see eye to eye on things though I do not possess his Adonisie form. OOPS more digression. Sorry.
But we could not get the sucker to move except the bow. It was with sad realization that the sled had to be lightened up if we expected to be home in time for springer season. The good news with the bad was that we were totally out of the water, so we proceeded to take off the kicker, remove the kicker gas tank, the two anchors the guide (yeah right) chair the tackle boxes full of lead – everything out of the boat. That helped (though the full tank of gas didn’t), and when Dick I came up with the inspired thought to use the paddle as a shovel to dig a parallel trench to the sled (trust me this isn’t as easy as it might sound on packed gravel) we started making progress.
Dig a 6” trench, “One, two, three, PUSH!” Repeat. After about 1 ½ hours, some severe blisters and much sweat (we were down to tees by then), we finally got the sled in contact with the water again. There were some tense moments as we loaded gear back in trying to keep the boat in a fortunately relatively deep (about a foot) but swift current edge without losing it down to the shallows at the tailout of the island. There was also the nagging and morbid feeling the sled might just be now less than watertight.
Alas, we got the gear back in, started the motor (Yeah! no gravel in the impeller!), successfully got underway without a disaster in the shallows but by then Dick I was so put out with me he wanted nothing more to do with pursuit of fish. Back to the ramp we went, then home, where both of us took naps the rest of the day.
The amazing thing was that upon inspection there was virtually no damage to the sled.
So, for all you novice sledders, please be aware that this kind of thing CAN happen to anyone. I had many years of sledding experience but let a few mistakes in judgment get the better of me.
1) If you haven’t been there or don’t remember the path, don’t do it by looking for the black ducks while visually impaired!
2) If you ignore number 1 above, travel light!
3) If you ignore number 1 above, don’t go alone unless the forecast is for rain.
4) Check and know your river levels. I found out later there were no other sleds that morning because no one in their right mind would sled up there with the water that low. D'Oh!
Others have done it too, I am sure, but for the horsepower I bet I have a near record for dry land boating!
Who is in the fessing mood?
[ 12-10-2002, 10:50 PM: Message edited by: Hogmaster ]