I always look forward to the first trip of the year. It’s usually a new beginning, a fresh start to better things – like more and bigger fish. Yes, a 2017 kickoff outing has the potential to be epic, so I called buddy Andy Bedell and suggested we fish at San Luis the day after New Year’s to launch another great season. I can unequivocally say it was – memorable.
The trip began with me waking up early, excited to get going, when I noticed a message on my cell. Andy had gotten sick overnight and now couldn’t make it. Ouch! I quickly considered the alternatives. Yes, everything was ready, and I was sick of football games, so why not go?
I got to the lake at 7 a.m., launched, fired up my Merc 250HP and took off for the north end of the lake. I remember hitting 45 mph when I suddenly felt the engine lose power and I slid to a stop. I was out 500 yards from the basalt ramp, and the engine would only idle and click. Not good. Nothing obvious. I decided I better just go home, but on second thought ... I’ve found I’m very dangerous when I think too hard, especially when it occurred to me that I could use my little 9.9 HP kicker motor to fish the nearby spots. Maybe salvage something?
San Luis is big and at 4.8 mph, it’s a long, slow ride, even to the close spots. It took 30 minutes to reach my first area. Nice conditions had turned into a south wind and light rain – not the deal. The fish weren’t biting, so I went to another locale, then three more, each more than 30-minutes transits. It was a long ride back to the ramp, and the rain was building. “Where the heck had it come from, and what was I thinking?” I mused.
So, I’m heading home on Highway 152, about 2 miles east of Los Banos, when I felt a thump, pause, thump for about 20 seconds at 55 mph. I thought it might be the road, but when I felt a surge and then no thump, I pulled over. Inspecting the trailer, the dual left tires were OK, and there was nothing wrong on the rear right tire either. Hmmm. I looked a little further and I suddenly realized that my right front axle was hanging down, smoking and the entire tire was gone. All the bolts were sheered off the drum. The axle was still hanging a few inches above the road. Whoa!
Alone on the side of the road, I again considered my options. I’ve always carried a floor jack and a heavy chain just in case an axle breaks. I began wrapping the chain around the axle and frame, so the damaged axle could be lifted up and not hit the road. As I’m working, a voice rings out, “Hey Roger!” What? Bill Gilardi and son William Jr., friends from Los Banos, had seen me and stopped to help. They helped me strap the axle up and get going. My prayers must have worked; I got back to Fresno going 45 mph on one right trailer tire. Pays to have friends.
Bill Manuszak of Ed’s Marine, my go-to mechanic, said the right front trailer brake had locked and the tire vibrated until the bolts were sheered off. We’re replacing the old drum systems with new, safer disc brakes. I was lucky; it was gonna happen soon anyway.
On the Merc, it looks as if we’ll need a new powerhead, injectors and possibly a new compressor. Big dollars! Not good, but then Bill calls and says I actually just happen to have a whole two weeks left on my full warranty. Whoa, again! Can you say timing, anyone? You can’t make this stuff up.
Sometimes just when you’ve concluded what’s happened was bad and due to terrible luck, you realize that it was actually one of the best/worst things that could have ever happened. Guess it’s called a blessing. Oh yeah, I did catch one fish. Gonna be a great year. Never give up!
Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,