River

Getting the Location

For reasons I won’t get into, I had to change veterinarians. One of my dogs had a medical problem that I felt needed another set of eyes and options to a weird problem that is a common situation. I felt the care was not handled properly. So I changed vets. It was awkward, and I had a lot of guilt doing it, but it needed to be done. My new vet kept me at ease and was willing to handle all the awkward steps to transition to his office to keep me out of the middle.

The fishing freak that I am, is consciously aware that I am letting people know of my new found love for the fishing hobby/new lifestyle. I am looking for fishing buddies pretty hard so I am just calmly dropping my new outdoor activity, even if a non-fishing outdoorsy person wants a place to paddle around and convene with nature. I will take it!

I talked to my new vet about fishing, and he told me about a place he went for smallmouth bass. I got super excited. River and the right water level didn’t seem to register as much as the “smallies” did. Everything after that was the peanuts teacher voice – Wah wah wah wah. This you must recognize this as the fishing freak engagement and all common sense flies right out of your head. All I was paying attention to were the phrases: “catching multiple fish”, “the name of the place”, and did it have a “boat access”.

Make Up Your MInd

The weekend came and the temperatures were in the 60’s. Fishing freak weather for me. I had several options on lakes to go to, but I flip-flopped around in my mind as to settle on a decision. I had been to two local lakes with ZERO luck, so I did some aerial Google Map scouting on the new smallmouth bass location. I found it and saved it with my other fishing locations on my phone.

2 pm on Sunday, I wanted to travel to the next town over to the west and go to a large lake that I had been to before when I didn’t have the fish finder. I was curious what might be under the waters since I didn’t see anything on my small local lakes. But, I changed my mind and decided another large lake closer to home. I was ready to head out from the storage unit with Nellie hooked up on the trailer, but at the last minute, I decided to go to the new smallmouth bass location instead.

I switched the address and headed to the next town to the east. I noticed the road conditions were smoother than in my native county. The 50-minute ride was a good one on the back roads to get there. I have not as of “yet” attempted to drive on major highways with Nellie in tow. I reminded myself as I got closer to the location that I was going to be on a river, something I had not done before. I convinced myself if the water levels were too low or too high, I would turn this into a joyride/check it out for another time trip with Nellie. My outdoor angler angels whispered in my ear as I got closer, which was repeated in my conscious mind: “Do NOT under any circumstances, get your boat sideways to a rock. Keep the nose of that kayak pointed upstream into the current AT ALL TIMES!! And for God sakes, use that anchor tied to the very front of your boat.”

I drove a bit more after the location marker on the Google map said I had arrived at the location and pulled into the small parking area. Several people were sitting down on the boat ramp to the water. “Oh boy, I am going to have to make them move,” said my insecure introvert in a new place.

The Old  Young Man and the Sea River

I parked next to a yellow Hummer and noticed a small pickup truck on the other side of the lot. A mother and 3 teenaged girls popped up off the ground when I opened the car door. I got out to check the water level of the river. My new vet told me about this location that the water level was best when the tops of the rocks were just visible above the water surface.

Walking toward the ramp, the mother said to one of the teenagers, “you don’t have to move just yet, they have to get the boat ready” as if she was an “in the know” angler herself. As I walked up and stood next to them, the mother asked me about the river and how far it went downstream before another take out. I laughed a hearty laugh inside myself and smiled at the mother and said, “I am from Spartanburg, and this is the first time I have been here.”

She calmly described her reason for the question by explaining, “Well we have a guy from Cuba with us. I bought an inflatable raft with oars. One of the oars broke and he went floating down the river. But he is a smart guy, he will eventually get out and walk back.” As she was telling me the story, my fishing freak radar was on and I was scanning the water level and seeing lots of rock tops just above the flowing water. “Perfect conditions”, my fishing freak screamed inside. I was about 100 yards from a large dam with a 20-foot wide spilling of water coming over the edge of it. I took a photo to send to my paddling friend as evidence of this new location that she probably would enjoy come summer with warmer weather.

The mother continued to say that it has been a while since she lost sight of him and she hoped that the guy was ok. About that time, one of the teenagers spoke up and said: “There he is!”. The 20-something fellow had the inflatable one person dingy half inflated over his shoulder and one plastic oar in the other hand. His high top sneakers were making squishy sounds and leaving wet footprints with each step. He was wearing jeans with a dark watermark just below his knees. He seemed downtrodden but yet not acting like his life was in danger. It seemed as if the thin flimsy watercraft didn’t satisfy his need for adventure on a bone-chilling river in late January. He had a smile on his face with a tinge of embarrassment. Knowing he was back safely, I started unpacking Nellie and thanking the good Lord above I didn’t have to go out after him and do a reconnaissance rescue mission to get him. I sent the photo to my friend in a text while I suited up Nellie and myself.

They wished me luck and all 5 of them piled up into the Hummer with the possible sub $50 flimsy dingy and left.

Danger Will Robinson!!

The ritual of getting Nellie ready for the moving water this time was met with a bit of trepidation, but the fishing freak was cheering me on subconsciously to give it a try. I had already seen the boat ramp, but unfortunately, things happen with moving water that doesn’t happen with a regular lake. I backed Nellie down the ramp and lined her up, straightening up only twice. A “good” day. I opened the car door and checked my distance of my back wheels to the water line and also watching the rear backup camera video on the console.

I gingerly pressed and released the brake, inching closer while eyeing the rearview camera video. BANG!! I made an audible inward gasp and screamed deafeningly in my mind which possibly could have escaped out of my mouth in utter horror and shock. “Oh SHIT!!!” My eyes darted to the rearview mirror where I caught the last vibrations of bounce in the trailer where it was visibly tilted. Half of it seemingly had fallen off the side and or the back edge of the concrete ramp. With my mouth gaping open, trying to breathe in spiritual clarity about this dire situation for a couple seconds, I was guided to the only obvious thing to do: pray really hard, put it in drive, and hope that the engine of this “mommy van Buick” could pull the trailer back up. I did just that. The engine revved up and the car and trailer came forward up onto the ramp without any scraping or crunching noises. All the tense muscles in my body relaxed with an enormous sigh of relief. Out loud I said, “Thank You, God!!”

The Cuban guy in the deflated dingy should have been an omen at this point, but the freak was large and in charge even with the recovery of this crisis of epic proportions in my 7 months of experience of pulling a trailer.

Plan B

I pulled Nellie forward enough to be able to manually unload her onto the concrete at the water’s edge. It was at this time that my phone buzzed to alert me to a notification. I picked up my phone assuming that it was my friend responding to my photo that I sent her. But it was not. It was a message I had never seen before: “Message was unable to be sent. Retry or Cancel.” “What the Hell?!”, I said to myself in frustrated confusion. I hit the Retry button and continued to manually unload Nellie. It was easy to shove her off the back with the wench synched to her bow to lower her gently down onto concrete. The wheel in the keel comes in handy for the not scraping the back of the boat in this process.

My phone buzzed again in my pocket and again I thought it was my friend. I was greeted with the same message as before, the text could not be sent. Upon further inspection, I finally noticed the signal bars were replaced with the words: No Service. “Holy smokes! There is no cell service here. What!? Well if run into any more problems I can’t call for help”, I said to myself. A microsecond of fear crossed my mind but the fishing freak took over again and diverted the fear back into the focus of getting Nellie into the water. I put the phone back in my pocket and continued. I pulled the car forward into a parking space, put on my waders, and began loading her into the water downstream of the ramp into a calm eddy to load in.

Hooked Up

I walked into the water to test the depth which was almost to my knees. The river wisdom of the earlier message rolled through my head again about keeping the kayak pointed directly upstream. I started paddling and I felt as if I was paddling in quicksand. The moving water made it a challenge to gain momentum while being pushed back at the same time. I put more effort into each paddle stroke which was the opposite of a calm lake. Every now and then I was scraping into a rock with the paddle blade which would knock my straight upstream direction. I had to quickly steer Nellie on the opposite side with a backstroke to get her directly on target again.

I ran aground on a rock just under the water directly in the center of the bottom of the boat which kept me straight upstream. At this point, I decided to pull out a rod and throw a lure. I cast a couple times. I saw the line move into the current swiftly upstream. I thought I had one. I felt a tug on the line so I set the hook. The rod tip bent over and I started reeling in. Unfortunately, I was hung on a rock. DANG IT!!

I pushed myself off the rock and began paddling a couple yards upstream again to get leverage from above the stuck lure and attempt to dislodge it. It is a process that has worked for me lately while jigging the bottom and getting stuck on something at the lakes.

I tried again at yanking the line to release it, but it was not coming loose. Serious frustration and clarity about the whole situation were starting to take over the fishing freak. I decided to jump ship and wade into the water to set my anchor. I cautiously put one foot in to test the depth which came half way up my shin. With both feet in, I grabbed the anchor and secured it to the formed handle in the front and tossed the anchor several feet upstream. In this process, the fishing line and the anchor line had gotten twisted and wrapped around each other, making it impossible to reel the line in and get rod leverage to pull the lure out from the rock. I tried anyway, but the frustration was winning a serious clarity battle and the towel was mounting to be thrown.

A couple tugs on the line with no progress, so I bit the line to break it off, losing the Z-man mushroom head weighted hook dark green ned rig finesse TRD with Elaztech. Not a feel-good lure to lose but I said to myself in surrendering frustration, “I am done! Time to go home!” I had only been on the river for less than 15 minutes. I gingerly and carefully walked downstream 50 feet back to the boat ramp over the rough terrain of the rocks. Now the difficult task of getting Nellie back up onto the trailer without the trailer being in the water.

As I got to the ramp and pulled her up fully on the concrete and out of the water, two gentlemen were loading the last vehicle in the parking lot with a large white bucket and a couple of fishing rods. My parking spot was directly in line with the ramp, hoping to get the trailer successfully down in one try. The dark blue single cab truck left.

Lifting 85 pounds of plastic Nellie up was a challenge for my back that was not liking the weight. I tried propping her nose up, but the wonderful wheel in the keel was rolling her off. I got hold of the winch line and pulling off enough to reach the molded handle in the front. I started reeling in the line as her nose lifted off the ground. I had to help clear the edge of the trailer by lifting the nose manually and resting it there while keeping the line tight, as I walked my hands down to the wench handle to tighten the line more and more. I eventually got Nellie up and onto the trailer. If I didn’t have the wench, it would have been a very sad situation.

Lost In Space

I unpacked Nellie and put all my gear into the back of the car as normal and began my next challenge. No service on my cell phone. I had to figure out what was the problem. A. Was there really no cell tower in this area, which was hard to believe, B. Was I cut off of cell service for an unpaid bill or cut off by accident with an accounting problem, or C. Was my phone broken.

How was I going to get home? I followed the Google directions that were cached into memory. How far did I have to drive to get service again? I tried to remain calm and let common sense take over. “Just drive back down the road you came in on and watch the No Service turn back bars again.” About a half mile and one bar appeared but not strong enough to engage the Google Maps. I slowed down to a crawl on the back road and eagerly watched for more bars to appear and test the directions back home.

Finally, the signal strength allowed the directions to kick in and I was on my way back home. Frustrated and frazzled from the adventure gone wrong, something made me decide to get on the highway. I changed the directions and off I went to I-85 south back home. I found out quickly that the speed limit was 65. I surrendered and solidified myself into a calm 55mph. The speed limit sign had a posted 45 minimum but I could not bring danger into the mix for everyone else and take on a “screw you go around me attitude”. At 55mph, the tie down straps began to vibrate an eery bass sound. I lowered my speed to 50mph. I glanced at my map and noticed I had 17 miles on the highway before exiting off. I didn’t last 5 miles on the highway since everyone was going 70 passing me standing still. I kept an eye out for the traffic behind me. When a clump of cars was getting close, I sped up to 55. Once they passed me by, I lowered my speed back to 50.

Whoa, Nellie, I Have Had Enough!

With my nerves being jacked up again, I surrender to sanity and got off the highway. I am sure that my friend whom I was trying to text was probably worried about not hearing from me, so I pushed the talk button and asked the listening device to dial her number. As I got to the light at the end of the exit ramp, my eyes locked onto a safe place to stop and talk to her, a QuikTrip.

“Where have you been?”, she asked as her first word to me as she answered. “Oh, honey it has been a nightmare of a fishing trip. I am glad to be alive,” I said to her from the accumulated drama of events. I pulled into the QT parking lot and found a space to be out of the way of people fueling up. We chatted and I told her I had been on 85 and she said I was nuts and to get off immediately! I assured her it was a bad decision and I was parked safely to talk to her. She was also alarmed that I was on a river and her mothering instincts chastised me for the foolish decision. I reassured her that I didn’t spend but about 15 minutes before I got out and walked the kayak back to the ramp. At this point, I took great dramatic delight in explaining the “near-death experience” of the trailer falling off the ramp.

She was very glad I called and wanted me to head back home. She was going to an event downtown and wanted to meet for dinner. I had 30 minutes more before getting home. She said that our times would match up if I headed straight home, unloaded, and took a shower. We would meet in time for Pizza. I agreed to text her when I got home to coordinate our dinner arrangements. With all that stress and hard work, I was exhausted and starving.

Thankfully the rest of the trip home was uneventful. Nellie and the trailer came out of this adventure unscathed. I did check the transducer under the bottom of the kayak and it was free from any apparent rock scraping damage as well as the trailer. I made an agreement with my fishing freak and Nellie, that I would never under any circumstances attempt a river with rocks ever again. If I was to venture into this black hole in the universe with no cell phone service, I would have a person with me and I would be walking in the water with the right water level.

Featured Image by Jason Patrick Schuller on Unsplash