Last month, I shared with you mine and Patti’s very successful trout fishing trip in a spot we discovered and nicknamed the Sacred Spot. Well, I got to thinking it would be nice to get to that spot straight from Camp Dularge, but since I had never navigated there from the NE, or from the back side, I asked my friend D.R. to help me figure it out.
We studied the aerial map on his wall, and I showed him where I wanted to go, and he assured me he could help me chart that new route. So we agreed to go the next morning, which was predicted to be the coldest morning of the fall so far.
Folks, I hate being cold, but I love to fish more than I hate the cold. I just layer up the clothing and peel it off as the day goes along. By the time I made it up to D. R’s, he had already taken his morning walk and had shed his jacket while working on his boat.
“Think anybody will mind if I go fishing in my long-johns?” he asked me with that childish grin of his. I answered him that I didn’t think anyone would care. I thought he was just joking, but upon closer examination, he was indeed wearing dark green thermals. Each to his own, I guess.
We loaded BAB up and launched her at their private launch; and at the last minute, I asked D. R. if I could borrow his push pole since mine was broken. He had two of them, so we took both, while he reminded me we would be passing through some “skinny” water.
Ah yes, we were indeed going to do that. And what made matters worse, was that the north wind was still blowing, which meant the tide would be even lower than normal. The north wind blows the water right out of the bayou, revealing mud flats and submerged logs and trash that you might never see otherwise.
Off we went, headed to the east toward the huge navigation channel, stopping to wait for two big swing bridges to open. At the second bridge, we were in front of a big tug boat pulling a huge section of offshore drilling rig. That was a pretty amazing sight. Oh, you want to see a picture? Well, BW forgot her camera. Can you believe that?
Our journey then took us away from those well-traveled navigational routes into a maze of canals, cuts, and tiny bayous winding through the brackish marshes. This was new territory for me, even though I could see the radio tower behind my house easily. How strange to be so close to home but to feel like I was in another world.
The birds were abundant, and in one little bayou I saw five species of wading birds and two raptor species–nothing short of amazing. And then around a sharp turn, we startled a coyote standing on the bank! It looked like it was watching a big red fish in the clear, shallow water before it was so rudely interrupted.
With D. R. at the wheel, navigating the shallow waters was more his concern than mine. We ran through several places where we left behind a clear trail of mud. I tried hard just to trust him and enjoy the ride, marking waypoints on my GPS as we went. Much to my dismay, on the final leg of this trek to the back-door entrance to the S.S., my GPS sent me a rude message:
YOU HAVE REACHED THE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF WAYPOINTS.
“Pssshhh. You don’t need that thing! Just look around and remember what this looks like. You’ll be able to get back here again. Don’t worry about it” goaded the guest skipper of my boat.
Not so. Not true. I don’t trust my memory these days, and I’ve never had a photographic one. While I am very good at directions, all those twists and turns in the marsh are difficult to distinguish. D. R. had no choice but to stop BAB and let me delete some old waypoints (from 2005) that I no longer needed.
Before reaching the S.S., though, we stopped at an old hot spot which no longer seemed to hold the cold-weather trout, as reported recently by several charter guides who once counted on that spot for winter limits. We trolled around and managed to pick up three nice trout for the box.
When we left there, I took the wheel because we were in familiar territory and not far from our destination. Talk about skinny water. As BAB ran on top, he kept watch behind the boat, telling me how shallow we were and not to slow down. Once we arrived at the spot, it looked nothing like the way it looked the day Patti and I were there. It’s amazing how weather, wind conditions and water height totally change the character of a fishing hole.
D. R. dropped down the trolling motor (don’t you love how men just take over?) and off we went into the great shallow beyond in search of the speckled trout that were there by the hundreds only a week before.
T h e y w e r e n o t t h e r e.
But the redfish sure were. Wham, a fifteen-incher we call a “rat red” took my line only to be released–one inch too short to keep. Zip! Another red. This one a little bigger, hit the box quickly. Bam! This one even bigger than the first two.
And then, with the tide at its very lowest, we ran out of water. The trolling motor was hitting bottom. I was getting nervous.
“Let’s get out of here while we still have enough water to float, okay?” I said trying to hide my natural concern.
“Okay. No problem. I’ll just troll us to that deep hole back over there in the cut, and we’ll take off from there. Which way you want to go? Back the way we came or back the way you know?” asked D. R.
Since I had no desire to go back through all that skinny unfamiliar water but not sure what my familiar route would look like with such a lack of water, I had a hard decision to make. I decided on going the route I knew.
D.R. GOES OVERBOARD
At that point, I should have taken the wheel, because this was his first time here; and quite honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t take the wheel. But up and off we went, and about a hundred yards later, he missed a ninety degree turn to the right, as I yelled “you missed the turn”.
We were headed into a dead-end cove at about thirty miles per hour. He turned the wheel hard to the left, thinking BAB would perform like his shorter version of the same vessel, but she didn’t–BAB has a much wider turning radius than his boat.
Dark mud spewed out behind the boat, the mucky bottom sucking the hull down. Three quarters of the way through the U-turn, BAB went from full speed to a (
screeching) mushy halt.
We were dead in the water–about four inches of it. We each grabbed a push pole, jamming them down into the muck. The poles went down about three feet before hitting a hard bottom. We pushed with all our combined strength, but BAB was not budging.
We repeated the push-pole action at the mid-section and at the bow. Not an inch. We then moved every movable item from the stern to the bow, hoping to lighten the load back by the engine. If we could just get her to budge, we could make some headway. Again–nothing.
D. R. said with a big smile, “Welp, guess one of us is going overboard!”
My face was a Kodak moment. Not me, I thought. You must be crazy. I’m not getting in that cold water. I’m not the one who ran us aground.
Instead, I said, “Okay, well, I have a couple towels and a blanket if you need it when you get back in.”
“Oh, no, we might both have to get in” he replied.
“Well, we’ll just sit here and wait for high tide to float us out. I brought egg salad sandwiches,” I retorted.
At this point, I’m thinking, oh no, what is he going to do? All he is wearing is thermal underwear. If he had on pants, he could take them off and have something dry to put on afterward. Oh no. This could be bad. Is he going to get naked to go overboard?
“Hey, D? Are you taking off your long-johns?” I asked meekly, afraid to turn around and look.
With that, he pulled off his shoes, took off his socks, put his shoes back on and jumped in. He proceeded to give me orders like a man who has done this a time or two. He sunk up to his thighs in the mud before hitting hard bottom.
He held onto the side of the boat as he pulled one leg up and made a step, then pulled the other and made a step, pushing the boat with all his might. I, on the opposite side of the boat, was pushing with the push pole at the same time.
As soon as there was enough water for BAB to float again (about eight inches), he ordered me to put the trolling motor prop barely into the water and keep us pointed toward the canal where we should have turned. I obeyed as he tried like hell to hoist himself back into the boat, which was no easy task because the mud had a suction on his feet and lower legs. On his third try, he grabbed the railing of the console and was able to pull his feet out of the muck and get his upper body past center of gravity. Thank God, because I had no clue how I was going to get him back into the boat.
D. R. is not fat, by any means, but he is a big man and thankfully, quite fit for the young age of sixty something.
I trolled us into the canal while he rinsed the mud out of his shoes while telling me to look the other way while he “washed his long-johns”, which were caked with the black clay. With a five-gallon bucket, I rinsed all the mud to the back of the boat, while the bilge pumped the muddy water out.
Once we moved the storage seat, gas can, and tackle box back to their homes at the stern, it was time to crank up and head out. This time, I took the wheel. D. R. is a real man and a tough cookie, because he didn’t even use the towel I offered him, much less the blanket. I guess that would have been too sissy of him. Imagine, he was wearing wet underwear, and wet long-johns, including the shirt up to his waist. The only thing dry were his socks and his jacket. Thank God he had a jacket.
I cranked the engine and throttled up while we were in two feet of water, ready for BAB to jump up on top so we could sail through the muddy shallows ahead of us. But no, she spat and sputtered and failed miserably. The short version is, she was not getting enough fuel. Problem? The fuel filter under her hood had a crack in the plastic housing. She ran fine as long as the engine was in “run” position, but remember, we had just had the engine tilted all the way up while we were aground. The fuel line lost its prime, and when I pumped the primer bulb, fuel spurted out of that filter housing.
We managed to get the fuel line primed enough to get running and made note not to leave the engine tilted up for the rest of this adventure. I promptly send my mechanic a text asking him to pick up a new fuel filter to replace the cracked one.
With myself at the wheel and throttle full forward, we lurched into the great unknown of north winds and low tides as we ran over this next set of shallow bays. Because an very reliable source had given me all the waypoints into the area where Patti and I had gone, I knew that if I followed those waypoints exactly, not veering one foot to the left or right of them–visible on the GPS screen–then we should be fine.
D. R. paid me back as he shouted, “Don’t slow down! Keep going! It’s shallow as hell right here. You’re kicking up mud! Stay on top!” Maybe it’s because I had done the same to him, not accustomed to running so fearlessly in the shallows. I didn’t mind, because he was man enough to jump into that cold water and get us out of there without getting flustered or being short with me. Even though he missed that turn, he redeemed himself and earned some extra points getting us out of that jam.
Nonetheless, just remember: I might be blond. I might be a woman. I might be middle-aged. But one thing I am not is STUPID. Once Bab got on top, she was staying on top until I reached the big bayou that held at least three feet of water on low tide. He tried to ask me a couple questions while I was navigating full speed through those short curves, twists, and turns, but I was in the zone and my brain was on one track—the track back to deeper water.
It was one heck of a day, and one heck of a journey. All told, we ended up traveling about forty miles on the water. We went home the long way, making a big circle from starting point to ending point, back at Camp Dularge. We burned about sixteen gallons of gas, and I learned a new route and a very valuable lesson.
And while recounting this adventure for you, I have realized why D. R. was at the wheel and not me. It was destined for me to see what it’s like to run aground (something I have feared greatly for years) in order to learn the options of getting out of that situation (there is a way other than going overboard, which involves using your anchor). The second reason it happened, was so that I would discover that BAB needed a new fuel filter before my two charters this weekend.
Thank you for looking out for me, God.
Until the next adventure,
I remain your adventurous,