With deep apologies to those of you who have already seen this at least once, I have been requested to repost this "As The Impeller Turns" tale one more time.
Some of the newer members might enjoy it, and given our lower river levels it might be timely.
For whatever reason, readers seem to relate to this one. I can tell you that, in spite of some of my more "embellished" tales, this one is entirely accurate, right down to the naps.
Certainly some have been close to this situation, if not quite as far into it as we got.
Anyway, here goes...
The Black Duck Incident
The incident took place one cold, dark, damp, December, mid-week morning, several years ago. There had been a fairly significant rainfall, and the Sandy River had risen sharply, resulting in the churning chocolate color that makes fishing almost impossible. But the freezing level suddenly lowered, the rain stopped, and as experienced Sandy River fishermen know, that means the river drops, the green hue returns, and the stream quickly becomes fishable. Conditions were ripe for slaying some “chrome slime rockets,” which is a term my buddies use to identify the mint bright steelhead trout that return to the river from the sea to complete their life cycles.
Dick, a close fishing friend who's real name is Steve, and I 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 compete with meant more fish for us, we thought. Must be because it was a work day, we figured, though in retrospect it should have set off big alarms.
The morning was particularly gray and dreary. There was no wind, but there was just-above-freezing dampness penetrating our very souls as we organized our gear at the ramp after launching the boat. My boat is referred to as a “sled.” It is jet, rather than propeller, powered and has a non-covered aluminum hull with a flat bottom, all contributing to the ability to run it in white water rivers in as little as 4 inches of water.
We chatted about where we wanted to fish, and decided since we had the river to ourselves, we would run all the way up to the Stark Street deadline for using motors and work our way back, fishing all the prime spots.
I started the 100 horsepower jet motor and soon we were flying at full step upriver. That is when I realized the first of my tactical errors. You see, I am slightly nearsighted with one of those “astigmathingies,” so I usually wear glasses when I drive or want to see long distances. 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 River. 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.
That was the form of learning and adjusting to the river, as one reads the water at 35 knots, while driving with spotted glasses, in near-fog drizzle, on a dark, cold morning. I should have slowed at each turn and studied the river carefully before moving on. Fishing excitement and impatience were 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 and wide straight stretch of water. As an experienced boatsman, I knew that meant there was likely to be shallow water across the flat. At nearly full speed already in the undeterminable depth, to slow could mean a situation known to river runners as a “tail bury.” When that happens the jet motor can suck gravel and rocks up into it and severe damage can result. But I found myself wondering where the channel was that contained the deepest water across the shallows.
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, shaped more like black pintails, but at that precise moment I wasn’t into “audubotany.” Instead I 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, with the motor tiller firmly in hand, I put the ducks at twelve o’clock and the twist in my wrist kept the throttle near full RPMs.
Who can guess what all this is leading to?
Sure enough, just as we were coming up on the first of the ducks, there was a very sudden and extremely 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 does one describe the sound 2500 pounds of 18’ sled 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 mishmash of loud, unmuffled, 4500 RPM jet motor exhaust, extended, horrendous, aluminum on gravel scraping sounds and thumping and banging from various items in the boat like the trolling motor gas tank, extra rods, tackle boxes, coolers, Dick, the yelping dog, and who knows what else skidding across the floor of the sled. Inertia carried those things to the front of and even out of the boat, as it and I came to an ungracious stop.
It wasn’t a pretty symphony. It must have taken about two seconds. Well, maybe four by the time I realized we weren’t going to slide back to the river like the boats in a Bond flick, and finally 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. 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 Dick I, the dog, and I were not physically damaged. And the further good news was that no gear had been broken, although most everything had been rearranged to the front. 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 pursue a solution to our predicament.
We really were in a pickle then. 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 even clear Sandy River 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 boat beaching!
Remember, there was no one out that day. Either we were destined to pray for a rising river, (and considering the building high pressure system moving in, and since we only brought lunch, that might have been a hungry wait), or we needed a “Plan B.” 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 tail end of the island, so the shortest distance off was not to try to get the flat-bottomed metal river chariot back the way it came, but to move it a shorter distance sideways off the edge. So we tried.
Yeah, right. Try taking the wheels off your sister’s VW, then drop it in a gravel parking lot, and move it sideways about 20 feet someday for a full body workout experience. While Dick I might be referred to as a normal sized guy, I am a small dude, going about a buck and a half on a good day on the scales.
We could not get the sucker to move, except to twist on its pivot point as we pushed on the bow. It was then, with sad realization, we decided the sled had to be lightened up, at least if we expected to be home in time for spring. The good news with the bad was that we were totally out of the water, so we proceeded to yank off the trolling motor, remove the kicker gas tank, the two anchors, the guide (yeah right) chair, the tackle boxes full of lead and everything else out of the boat and pile it onto the gravel bar. The dog was already long out of the boat and taking a nap, though she kept one eye open and staring at us, fully expecting us to take a lunch break at any moment.
The gear removal helped, though the 32 gallons of gas in the tank 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, we started making arduously slow progress. On hard-packed gravel, this isn’t as easy as it might sound.
So we started a procedure. Dig a four inch trench, “One, two, three, push!” Repeat. It didn’t take long for both wings on the paddle to break off, leaving us to dig along with something resembling a large, wooden butter knife.
After about an hour and a half, some severe blisters and much sweat even though 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 relatively deep spot, about a foot, but the swift current edge made us fear losing the watercraft down in the shallows at the tail-out 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, surprised ourselves to find no gravel in the impeller nor water coming through the floor, then 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.
We later learned the reason we didn’t see any other boaters that day. The river had dropped well below what even the most serious Sandy River sledders would consider a safe level to boat in. Most of my buddies were totally shocked we made it that far. But then again, most of my friends are surprised when I actually make it home after any trip.