It’s funny, but I seem to look back at all of my fishing years through the lens of the boats we were using at the time. Name the boat we were in and I can recall the trips, people and lakes we fished. The embedded smells, thoughts and feelings that correlate with what that boat meant to me seem to come back vividly.
The first boat I used was Dad’s 12-foot aluminum Valco, paired with a little 5-horsepower Mercury. I would throw it in the back of the old Chevy and take off for the river to fish for bass after I was done feeding the turkeys. The sight and smell of the gas can, as well as visions of my plastic worm box and two old rods spooled with 8-pound test line on a Mitchell 300, still stick deeply. It marked my first fishing independence.
Dragging the boat out of the truck and down to the water, putting the motor on the back and then hoping the little sewing machine engine would start – puffing out a cloud of oil – were exciting events for me. Having the ability to go where I wanted, and stealthily fishing a particularly fishy cove, were all part of those early adventures.
The next step happened to be when my dad got a 15-foot aluminum Valco with a nice little 25-horsepower Mercury. It was set up with a console in the middle, a steering wheel and controls. Since I was used to my little 5-horsepower engine, this beast made me feel like I was able to reach warp speeds. I bet I was able to get up to about 23 mph if I got in the right place to make it plane just right! My sphere of fishing possibilities was now near limitless in my mind. The rig was a clean little fishing machine that gave me speed and some new freedoms, as long as I didn’t run out of gas! (I did.)
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It was about the late ’70s when my grandfather offered to let me use his 18-foot Glaspar, mounted with a Mercury 115-horsepower engine. It was a heavy duty tank of a boat … virtually indestructible. Now we were talking transwarp speeds up to the high 30s, and that was with two anglers. Wow! It had an old whirling depth finder and a small electric motor but now I could sleep in it overnight wherever I fished. Endless possibilities loomed.
The issue with this setup, though, was that the carburetor floats seemed to stick at just the wrong time. I would be streaking along and suddenly the engine would just quit. Most of the time, I just used my little hammer to tap the carburetor, pumped up the gas bulb, turned it over a few times, and I was back in business. One time, though, I was up where I shouldn’t have been in the river at Millerton in a strong current. Just a few minutes before, I had boldly (stupidly!) run the boat right up a several-foot-high water flow right beside a 3-foot waterfall with big rocks below it – just like a jet boat.
Going up about 200 yards above the waterfall, I turned off the motor as we floated back down … fast! That’s when the engine wouldn’t restart, even as I frantically turned it over again and again. I was quickly getting pushed toward the raging waterfall, but just as we nearly reached the point of going over, the engine sputtered and started. I gunned it, and we were spit through the roaring narrow gap of fast-rushing water right by the falls. Yikes! It could have destroyed the boat (again, my grandfather’s) on the rocks and worse. It’s as bad as it sounds. Ever have your whole life pass before your eyes in an instant? Memorable boat!
It’s amazing how recalling something like one of your old boats can trigger such strong memories and feelings – all indelibly linked and no less powerful today. It’s all in there. Never give up!