We all want what we can’t —- or don’t — have. It’s human nature. I thought fly fishing would quench my thirst for more. It didn’t.
One fly rod always leads to another. I started with one. I was up to a dozen at one point before I finally culled a few. Flies? I have boxes, stacks of boxes. A dozen spoon flies isn’t enough, I guess. Apparel? I still have a 30-year old vest hanging on my living room wall — a few feet above TWO sling packs — one from Orvis and another from Patagonia.
About the only thing I didn’t have to complement all of my fly-fishing stuff was a boat. I have a Native Ultimate kayak and a BOTE paddle board. When those two avenues of paddle power didn’t fit my needs, I waded.
More than twenty-five years of fly fishing without a boat, I must admit, is odd. Part of that stems from pure pragmatism. I’ve lived in places I could wade or paddle. Part of the delay, I have to say, can be attributed to pure fear originating from my days as a student at the Orvis Guide School. I was in my early 30s back then, but had never been in a drift boat, much less rowed one and barely knew the difference between the bow and stern. Predictably, I smacked every rock in the Big Hole River during our on-the-water training. Once we returned to dry land, I swore that if I ever got in a boat again, someone else better be in charge.
Fast forward 20 years or so, and I’m in St. Augustine, Fla. Great place to fish, but it helps to have a boat. Mud flats are not for wading. A kayak is fine, but paddle power makes it tough to cover ground when the reds are schooling in the winter or bunched up during the summer flood tides.
Thanks to my father, who decided to down size, I finally have a boat — a 13-foot River Hawk that he dropped off at my beach bungalow one summer afternoon. This little canoe can fish two and runs on a 5HP Tohatsu or a 2HP Honda. At first, I was elated about the concept of going faster and farther.
Then the learning curve set in. Boats are a hell of a lot of work and I have no mechanical skill. None.
One Step at a Time
With new owners, the path to progress is steep. First, I had to get a hitch on my Jeep. That took several trips to the mechanic and the dealership. Memo to all Jeep owners: If you get a non-Jeep hitch installed, you need to get the electronics calibrated — at the Jeep dealership. Then there was the adapter for the hitch, to ensure a proper hookup with the trailer’s wiring. Needless to say, neither of these two nuggets of info were in either owner’s manual.
Electrical problems continued to beckon. I had to get the tail lights fixed. Neither worked. Fortunately, a fairly handy friend helped me with this. Still, this project took several weeks of trial and error, mostly error. We tried to work with the original wiring, even replaced the bulbs and the running lights. Bit by bit, weekend by weekend, we eliminated options and simply decided to re-run the wires with a direct connection as possible. At that point, I was all for simplicity.
So, the boat was ready to go. But there was one problem. I didn’t know how to trailer the damn thing. My first couple attempts at backing up were absolutely brutal. It was a like a kid learning how to parallel park when he can barely turn the ignition key.
It took a half dozen or so lessons, but eventually I got better. The pivotal moment came when I took a solo trip to the local police station to practice backing up and parking. I thought I had it all figured out because I had been earlier in the fall and the place was vacant. I went in early November, and the parking lot was packed during the week and on the weekend due to early-election voting.
I turned down a side street in search of open space, but that option yielded an abrupt dead end when I realized there was no place to turn around. With a car, turning around is no biggie. With a trailer, even a small one, it’s a big, big deal. You better plan it out. Stop at a gas station? You better stop at a place with enough room. But I digress…. I was forced to back down a long stretch of pavement and back the trailer into a nearby yard to right myself and get back home. I did it twice, on separate trips.
But I was not done with obstacles. I live on the beach, which means I have a great view of the ocean, but a lousy dirt driveway. It’s not just any dirt driveway. It’s a soft, sandy dirt driveway.
After backing down the long straightaway near the police station, I was feeling confident when I returned home. That optimism was short lived, however, when I tried to back up and got stuck — twice. This was not the first time. It was an ongoing problem all summer and fall. Backing up my driveway without four-wheel drive is an invitation to call your local Triple AAA service.
I figured I had the problem licked with two loads of gravel and rock. Not so. The rock buys time and a bit of firmness, but not much, particularly after a rainstorm. I can power the Jeep up the narrow curves that lead to my cottage, but going slow ensures bogging down. But go too fast and you can’t position the trailer where you want. The solution: Take one shot at backing up and re-position the trailer by hand. Simple.
Time on the Water
Once I got a feel for trailering, a surge of pride washed over me. I was ready to hit the water. I figured I had conquered the world by learning to back up in a straight line. Little did I know land presents one set of problems, but a day on the water can yield a slew of other obstacles.
Like engine trouble. Leaving nothing to chance, I cranked the engine on dry land about once a week or so to make sure everything was on in order. Once on the water, however, the little Tohatsu would crank, run for a moment, just enough to tease you, and sputter into submission. I barely got past the ramp before heading home in defeat after months of planning and preparation went for naught.
I called one of my buddies that night. He diagnosed the issue immediately: “Gas in the carb,” he said between sips of cold beer. “You gotta let it run out when you flush the motor or it gunks up the engine.”
Fifty bucks later, I got the carb cleaned up and learned the value of using ethanol gas. Meanwhile, I switched to my 2HP Honda. It has an internal gas tank and weighs half as much as the 5HP Tohatsu. A lighter boat is easier to pole, and fewer moving parts lead to fewer mechanical problems.
A Measure of Redemption
Although I damn near tossed the boat and trailer off the Vilano Bridge after motor issues ruined the last trip, I rallied and somehow found enough resolve to make plans for another outing.
I set expectations low with a short, quick trip to a swath of water known as Salt Run, which is just a roll cast away from my house. Worst case scenario: I could walk home if things got rocky.
As I pulled into the ramp, I felt surprisingly calm. Part of me wondered if there was anything that could go wrong. However, I knew there wasn’t much else that could go wrong and even if it did, I could handle it. Somehow.
Turns out the trip went well. The only setback was minor. My trolling motor quit, but after dabbing the connection with anti-corrosion spray (a must for any boat owner), I was back in business. Thing is, I really didn’t even need the trolling motor. My boat is so light poling is a breeze, particularly with the little Honda.
All in all, it was a good trip. After I got home, I cracked open a beer and took inventory. Six months ago, I didn’t even know what a transom is. Or how a winch works.
Now I can fix a boat, run it, pole and fish from it. It was a lot of work, but worth it.