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Saturday, November 24, 2012

First Boat Launch

Last winter Dad gave me his old fiberglass john boat and told me I could fix it up. It was an old boat with a "small" leak and he had not used it in a long while, but it had a nice trolling motor and a good but old 26HP motor on it.

I took it to a local boat repair place and once they looked it over the estimate was about $1,200 to fix it up. Dad said I could probably buy another boat for that so I put the repairs on hold. Then my buddy Ronnie and step son Kodey decided they could get it running a lot cheaper than that.

They are both handy so they started to work and for just a few hundred dollars we had a good boat,  new battery, no leaks and a duck blind option to boot! My son Will moved over to Branson with me so we were ready to try her out. The rain and busy schedule put our fishing plans on hold for a few weeks, but finally a nice sunny week end during deer season provided us a chance to try her out.

I thought you might want to see him again
It was sunny but windy and the wind was out of the east. I recalled Dad always saying, "When the wind is from the east the fish bite the least," and I remember our Boundary Waters trip when where I caught my BIG 5 pound smally when the wind was blowing out of the west. But we just wanted to get this boat in the water and try her out.

I was a bit nervous because I had never been the one to back up a boat and get the engine running and go fishing. I always went with Dad and he took care of all the boat backing and engine starting so this would be my first time to "be in charge," which turned out to be scary.

This is veiw of the lake from K-Dock
We decided to go over to K-Dock on Bull Shoals Lake and see what we could catch. They have a small conservation department dock and boat launch we knew we could use. I was in shorts because it was warm but the day was coming to a close and the wind was making it chilly. When we reached the boat launch there was a boat pulling out and I waited until they were done because I didn’t want anyone seeing me back the trailer into the water in case I had problems.

This is where we launched from
Amazingly, I backed it down the ramp like a champ and stopped at the edge of the water to load up. We loaded our snacks, tackle and poles into the boat, then we took off the stabilizing bar that holds the propeller up when you’re traveling and Will got in the boat. I slowly backed the boat into the water but it wouldn’t come off the trailer. I got out and Will was franticly paddling to try and break free but couldn’t. I told him I would try to back down faster, so I pulled the suburban up the ramp and hit reverse and slammed on the brakes at the edge of the water.

Still the boat would not break free. I did it again but this time I went further down the ramp and had the water all the way up to the muffler on my 2 wheel drive suburban. By this time my worst fears were realized as two other boats were waiting to get off the lake and we had a small audience watching us trying to launch our old john boat. I gave it one more big reverse but still the boat was on the trailer. About this time one of the fishermen standing on the dock waiting to get his boat out of the water yelled forcefully and sarcastically, "You left the strap on, and you won’t get the boat off like that! You need to take that off!"

Looking down Will and I noticed that he was right and we felt really stupid. I pulled the boat up and tried to loosen the strap, but it in my embarrassment and haste could not get it off. The same guy was yelling it’s all jammed up now and you will probably have to cut it. He walked over and looked at it and we all pulled and tugged to no avail. Believe it or not we didn't have a knife anywhere. He said if we would get out of the way he had a knife in his boat we could use. I humbly pulled my rig out of the way and he pulled his big nice Ranger boat out and we used his knife to cut our strap and then we waited for the other boat to take out as well.

I just wanted them all to leave and then with no pressure we would launch our boat. While the other boat was loading up he told us to be careful because it was getting dark and it was windy. Once he saw we didn’t have a depth finder he added that the lake was down and those shallow spots were dangerous.  He warned us to be careful. I could see him laughing at us rookies as he walked away.

Once they all left I carefully backed the boat into the water and with no strap it easily slid right off the trailer. As I looked back at Will in the boat I remembered Dad telling me to make sure I put the plug in the boat before I launched it. With all the excitement because of the audience and light strap I couldn’t remember if I had put it in or not. I called back to Will and asked him. He asked where the plug went and said he couldn’t tell. But he did say there was a lot of water in the boat.

Just then I remembered I probably hadn't put the plug in. I told Will I would back the trailer back down and to paddle back on the trailer as fast as he could. He did and I pulled the boat out of the water and we let it drain out and then put the plug in. Whew-problem solved!

Will boat after cutting strap and putting plug in.
We then launched the boat and I got in and we were ready to crank it up. I flipped the choke and turned the key on our new electric start switch and it turned over but wouldn't fire up. By this time the wind was blowing us across the lake and we couldn't get the motor running. I wasn't worried because Ronnie had told me that tolling motor could pull the boat anywhere.

I quickly gave up on the big engine and dropped the trolling motor in the water and fired it up. It took me awhile to learn how to steer but Ronnie was right, that motor pulled us wherever we wanted to go. We decided that we would not worry about the engine and just use the trolling motor. I headed towards a big bluff across the lake that looked like it would block the hard east wind. We passed through a shallow section and never hit the bottom and then cozied up along the bluff.

The win was not as bad along the bluff but we didn’t get any bites. I was following the shoreline and getting further away from the dock when I looked at my watch and decided we better head back because I didn't want to try and load the boat up in the dark. Since the trolling motor was slow that was a good decision. By the time we made it back to the dock it was getting dark but the new lights sure looked nice on the boat.

We had very little trouble getting it out of the water, but while I was putting the strap back on I realized we shouldn’t have cut it. Instead of pulling the latch to loosen the strap all we needed to do was press the latch in. So much for the smart guy in the Ranger boat! We pulled out just as the last rays of sunlight were disappearing over the horizon and headed for home.

I stopped to get gas for the suburban and while it was filling up I looked over the motor under the lights and realized the fuel line was not hooked up. I guess that explained why the engine never fired up. On the drive home Will and I laughed about our mistakes and talked about the east wind, the guy cutting our strap, no bites and our plans to do it right next time.

Unfortunately, our second trip presented some engine problems and was not very successful, but I will tell that story another time.


Rod Jetton