Resume Normal Safe Operations

It was Presidents Day 2010. Being that my employer gave me the option of taking the day off, I took it. The plan was to get some quality time in with my daughter, but I forgot that the kids in the Tampa area had to report to school that day, giving me a chance to get some needed errands completed, and maybe even a quick fishing trip. After shaking off the dust with a few cups of coffee, I prepped the boat for a possible fishing trip. Next, the middle school was my destination. Mission accomplished, the young one was at school and I’m making good time for once. I was getting a rushed feeling, almost like when you’re stuck in traffic and late for work. Over and over in my head I am planning everything out perfect in order to get some gas through the Yamaha. I sat at the house for a few moments with another cup of coffee, contemplating what to do and in what order. Checking the wind websites the previous night, it was possible if I played it out just right, the boat would be in the water by early afternoon. There was a front approaching that was supposed to stir up the water a bit later in the evening, but a window of opportunity. The errands needed to be handled had to be done early in the day due to time constraints, so off I went to handle my business. Taking a little longer than I wanted, my responsibilities were complete so I hurried back to the South Shore.

 While driving home I did notice the wind picking up a bit, but it was out of the south-no worries; how bad could it be? I see fishing reports all the time with people going out in windy conditions. Well, the boat was prepped and all my gear was ready to go, my only task left was to hitch up the boat, grab a beer and some water, and make a sandwich. It turned out to be a good looking cold cut; I couldn’t wait to eat it.

 Off to the Simmons Park boat ramp. Roughly being two o’clock, I still had time to catch some of the solunar and hopefully could pull some quick drifts for a trout or two. Seeing an acquaintance of mine at the ramp pulling his boat out, I said to him, “how’s it lookin’ out there?”  The reply I got was simple. “It’s pretty messy out in the open, be careful dude”. He and his fishing partner left and it was only me at the ramp dropping in.

Entering the channel, the bay was not too angry. Making my way out to the open water, the weather quickly changed from the calmer, slightly covered channel. As I throttled up, the trout destination was in sight. I fooled around, organizing my stuff on the console like always when first heading out.

 Shortly thereafter, I quickly realized paying careful attention to captaining my vessel was top priority. The direction of the bow was very important, as well as speed fluctuations. The wind and chop was a lot worse than expected. I’ve been in worse though, this was a manageable situation.

Carefully I make it to my favorite spot for winter trout fishing. My poles were rigged and ready to go, so I shut the motor off to check my drift. When floating up and down at the mercy of the bay, I soon found out that the strong south wind, combined with an incoming tide had me drifting way too fast. I made due, and made sure staying stable on the boat while casting for those speckled beauties was a main concern.

First cast, fish on. A nice trout was brought boat side and now it was time to fan cast very quickly, looking for that school. I had the live well running, so I left the fish in the well for a picture while hooked to the jig and tossed out my other rig. Nothing doing. I was off the mark. When taking out my camera for a picture or two, I knew this would be difficult, as I was alone and in rough conditions. As I was prepping for a picture, I realized it was way too choppy to put self timer on and get a snapshot. I reached in the livewell for the fish and found out the fish had circled around the strainer. Kneeling at the back of the boat, bobbing up and down, I freed up the fish, got some quick shots and threw Mr. Speck back in the well, as he was dinner.

What was not realized until too late was that I had set my other rod down, and not in the holder, so I became tangled in the line. Normally this would be no big deal, but today it made for a messy situation, trying to stay balanced and untangle at the same time. Carefully the tangle was fixed, camera put away, and I motored out to resume my drift. One more drift, one more fish caught, so I threw the anchor immediately. I found some fish, and things had calmed down as far as the chaos on the boat, not the seas. I can handle the two to three foot seas, it’s just a little bumpy and a matter of staying in a balanced position. All was well, and I was only in six feet of water anyways, right?

The bite died, but three nice fish were in the well. Needing enough for a dinner fish fry with the family, pulling the anchor and trying a new drift was next. Only one more trout and I was heading home. First pull on the anchor, no movement. Next try, no movement, except for my feet coming out from under me. Ouch. One worse move and I would be in the drink without a vest. The boat was rocking back and forth and water started coming over the bow; not much, but that’s never a good sign. After numerous tries to no avail, I had to motor the anchor out. Cutting the anchor was not an option for me unless absolutely necessary. Not in six feet. What the heck was I hooked up to? This is a grass flat?

 I made sure the rope was tight to the front cleat, and at that moment, just briefly, I wondered how scared the young men that capsized in the gulf last year must have been. Motoring forward, the anchor would not budge. After a few more attempts it was free. Relieved, it was pulled up, but when I saw it there was a major bend in the anchor shaft. I never did find out what the cause was.

That was enough to send me back to the ramp. The bite stopped, the conditions were horrible and trout sandwiches were in my future. I got my two hours of fishing in and scratched the itch. The run back to the launch was not too bad, and I called it a day.

The main purpose of this piece was to reiterate how safety should always be a top priority. I made numerous mistakes. First, I shouldn’t have gone out in that weather. Second, being alone on the water at any time is a bad idea. Period. Third, the deck should have been cleared, especially in the conditions. All it takes is one bad move to trip over something, or slip and fall and your in the terrible chop of the bay. We as fisherman are so excited to get out on the water, sometimes common sense goes out the window; for me that day it sure did.

 To top it off, I never got to eat that great cold cut I made…unfortunately it was soaked.