It all started off innocently enough, just like all of the fishing trips my brother Andy and I went on. We were headed for the Potomac River near Hagerstown in the summer of 1980. The first step was making sure we applied duct tape over a few holes that had leaked on the last fishing trip. After using most of a new roll we were confident that we could keep the boat floating, but only if we could keep the motor running. I should mention that the boat motor was older than we were, much older. In fact it was my fathers and he had taken my mother out on their first date using this very same motor, and unfortunately in the same boat. I must also remind anyone using duct tape for holes on their aluminum Jon boat to be sure to clean the area around the leak, make sure to get all the old tape, especially last years tape, scraped and removed so the new duct tape can stick and make a good seal. It also helps to patch the holes while the boat isnít in the water but sometimes you miss a big leak and have to resort to patching while under way, and while not as attractive as properly applied duct tape it can certainly keep you from having to go on an unplanned swim. A boat that looks like a mummy keeps non-serious fisherman from wanting to go fishing with you.
We stopped by Rockyís Stop and Go on the way to the river. The convenience store, what a great place to get a fishing trip stared. We stocked up on a case of our favorite beverage since it was hot, filled the cooler with ice and even got our nightcrawlers from the beer cooler in the back of the store. The clerk was never fond of our visits for some reason. Her lack of enthusiasm for our visit may be due to our habit of checking the nightcrawlers out in the store before buying them. Who wants to get to the river and find out that all the crawlers are dead and turned to goo in their little plastic carton? We almost always remembered to clean off any dirt that dropped onto the counter when we checked our crawlers. We almost forgot to pick up our two other favorite baits at the time, a couple boxes of Quaker Oats and five pounds of chicken livers. We stocked up the boat with drinks and food and bait and checked again to make sure the cinder block river anchors were tied down well and waved farewell to our favorite clerk.
The rear anchor only came loose one time on the way to the river and luckily the driver tailgating us had quick reflexes and didnít run over the anchor line or bash our anchor, we never carried extra anchors or line as they took up too much room we could use for our case of drinks. Luckily the boat landing wasnít too crowded and we only had to wait for 15 minutes for someone to get their boat launched. It was funny watching them unhook the front rope and walk to the back of the boat while it was still on the trailer and have the boat tip straight up since they also were not in the water and it was their first time going out on the river. We helped them get their boat in the river and on their way, making a note of which way they went so we wouldnít have to stop fishing to help them again. You can understand, with this much distraction on the landing, how we could accidentally forget to put in the boat plug. We didnít discover it was missing until we were half way up the river, and since we also forgot extra tape we were thinking we wished we had real life preservers. A plug was improvised from several rags bunged in with a big screwdriver that we always kept in the boat to stop the boat motor. It worked surprisingly well and we made a mental note to keep extra rags in the boat at all times for safety sake.
We had a little engine trouble too that day. Well, actually Andy had some little surprises while driving up the river. He had tuned it up the night before, but since the motor was older than we were he had to improvise some parts and splice the spark plug wires. It should be noted that duct tape is not the same as electrical tape and should not be substituted for electrical tape when you cant find your little black roll of electric tape. Since we always stored extra motor parts in the cover of the motor it wasnít in place to prevent river water from spraying into the motor. The lack of electrical tape and the addition of water on the spark plug wires caused an interesting phenomena. Every couple of hundred yard I noticed the motor would sputter and miss a few times, at the same time Andy jump up and start to cuss at the motor. It got so bad that I was worried we wouldnít make it to our favorite fishing hole, Andy not seeming to want to drive all the way upriver and me not feeling the need to pause in our journey long enough to exchange seats and get shocked over and over since we had a long trip to the best spot on the river. We finally reached our favorite fishing area and remembered that we had used the screwdriver to help plug the drain hole with. Andy quickly reached down and grabbed a pair of pliers and bridged the spark plug to the motor casing to cut off the engine, unfortunately he forgot to grab the plastic grip covered pliers and got one last big shock from the motor, but at least we were now in the best place to fish on the whole river.
We tossed our river anchors out and soon enough they found a foothold on the rocky bottom and we settled in sideways to the main current above an old Indian fish weir. We baited up with liver and crawlers and popped a few beverages open. The cats were more than happy to steal our baits but every now and again one would get greedy and get hooked, giving us a great fight in the fast water. The smallmouth bass, sunnies and white suckers were fighting each other over the crawlers. They were biting so fast you had to reel in your rod just to take a drink undisturbed. Its lots of fun to have the bass jump and in the fast waters even the suckers gave a fun fight. After drinking a few beverages I heard the call of nature, and being the only ones in this part of the river and with the fish biting so well we decided to do our business over the side. After performing the delicate procedure without falling out of the boat or getting my shoes wet I turned around to reclaim my seat. It was then that one of the anchors shifted, possibly from Andy and his neck breaking strikes on a catfish, and I found myself falling backwards over the side of the boat, but, my feet were still in the boat and I managed to grab the gunnel with my hands to keep from falling completely out. I found myself in an interesting position, the fast current was flowing over my face and body pushing me downwards. What a predicament. I thought well I will just let go, do a somersault in the water under the boat and come up on the other side. If I didnít make it I doubted Andy would be keen on restarting the engine and retrieving me before being washed over the weir. I finally managed with a mighty pull to get back above the water and even into the boat where Andy asked me to stop rocking it so much as I had spilled his drink.
The bass and catfish finally got wise to us and stopped biting. We pulled up our river anchors and set out for an even better fishing hole guaranteed to hold huge carp. This time we were targeting a deep pool below the weir. We pulled in perpendicular to the current, cut the motor off with insulated pliers and dropped the anchors from each end of the boat. I sat down and opened another beverage waiting for the anchors to grab hold of the bottom. Andy remained standing facing upriver in the boat with an open can in his hand. I warned him that standing up in the middle of the boat while the river was pushing us downriver and the anchors hadnít grabbed yet might not be a good idea. But of course, you canít take advice from someone who falls half out of a boat himself while just trying to zip up. While laughing over my warning the anchors simultaneously locked rock solid and the boat instantly stopped. I watched in amazement as Andy kept going, still standing straight up, still holding his open can and still laughing at his overly cautious brother. About eight feet from the boat he realized he was no longer a part of Andy did the best Nestea plunge I have ever seen. He landed backwards, right side up, spread eagled and with his can held high. As the current swept him down river he took care to keep his can up high even through the rough and rocky ride through some rapids. I decided to keep fishing and see if Andy would make his way over to the bank or end up on an island or strained through the next weir. With the fish probably laughing as much as me, I watched Andy paddle to the bank, run up above where we were anchored and jump back in the water and finally climb back in the boat. He hadnít lost a drop from his can nor did he get any water in it, the perfect plunge.
After the pool calmed down and Andy stopped complaining about the lack of rescue effort we began to catch carp and cats from the deep pool. The fishing was very good and we had a blast. Then we noticed the screwdriver had come out but not before our feet were already wet. We gunned the engine to life and headed as fast as we could for the landing. We noticed a crowd had gathered at the landing and were pointing at our boat, we guessed they had never before seen such skill driving a boat that only had 3 inches of its side showing. As the nose of the boat nudged the landing it tilted and all of the water rushed back and sank the back of the boat. The crowd cheered, either because we had made it safely back to land or because of our entertainment value we never stopped to ask. We had run out of beverages and didnít want to waste time talking to a bunch of yahoos that would slow our retreat from the river.