River Vultures


Many years ago while I was in college in a small river town next to the Potomac River I decided to take some friends tubing one Saturday. The section of the river we were going to tube had shallows, rock breaks and ridges plus some deeper water. Parts of this stretch flowed gently and slowly along while the areas around some of the rock breaks literally churned. The day was a splendid day for tubing, plenty of sun, a slight breeze on the water and none of our tubes leaked air. We loaded up our coolers onto their own special tube, jumped in and headed down the river.

I immediately saw this was going to be a challenging float as my tube didnít have quite the floatation needed for a big guy like me. Nevertheless, though I floated low in the water like a partially submerged submarine I was afloat. My rod, a little crappie spinning set with 6 pound test and a pocketful of mister twister jigs completed my fishing outfit. My plan was to float along with the rest of the crowd and pick off smallmouths as they came up to check on what was floating above them.

It soon became evident that every time I slowed down to catch a fish I was lagging behind my friends (and the coolers!). I was approaching one of the best rock ridges on the river, the water flowed over it creating a deep swirling pool. My companions had chickened out and floated on the shallow side of the pool while I charged right into its vortex. The waters went round and round and it was a fun way to troll. On one of my passes around the swirling pool I glanced up into the trees on the shore and was startled.

There in the trees were hundreds and hundreds of big black vultures. Apparently it was time for the young to leave the nest and they had all gathered along the river awaiting the thermal updrafts of the afternoon. That would have been enough wildlife just seeing all those vultures gathered in one place but they were freaking me out. My tubing mates were now far downriver, mere specks bobbing down the river. I felt thousands of eyes staring at me. On my next pass around the pool I tentatively stared into the dark limbs of the trees and to confirm my deepest darkest dread every vulture had fastened its glare on my semi-submerged carcass doing its laps through the pool. I can honestly say I forgot about anymore fishing for that day but I did not jettison my rod, I figures I may need it to fight off the vultures.

Sensing the anticipation of my demise by the vultures, and aware that I was riding low in the tube, I began to paddle and splash to get out of the grip of the pool. This had two disturbing effects. First, I wasnít going to be able to paddle out of the swirling waters easily, and second, as the hair on the back of my neck stood up I looked up into the trees and each vultures head swiveled in a circle following my rotation in the water. I finally with Herculean effort gained my release from the grip of the vortex and began my sustained effort of continuous paddling to reach my fast floating friends. Glad I was to be out from under the stare of so many hungry vultures.

But, much to my horror, I was not free from my un-well-wishers. No, they all flew a couple of hundred yards down to the next rapids. They were apparently confident that I had tired fighting my way free of the first one and that I would meet my match in the swirling current of the second set of rapids. I abandoned all hope of catching any fish from the second rapids and probably set the record for shooting them in a simple inner tube. This rapid run through the rocks was not without its rewards, for my low hanging rump found many of the rocks not only hard but also sharp.

Now that I had disappointed the vultures and ripped right through the second set of rapids they began moving as a group down the river, keeping pace with what they considered a sure meal. They started to fight each other to see which one could get a perch on the highest branch, and the fastest access to me! Leaving a trail of bubbles trailing my path I quickly joined up with my partners. Seeing that I had rejoined the main herd the vultures gave up their vigil and unhappily flew back upriver to await the next low riding tuber. On my next float trip I got a big truck tire inner tube and was never again bothered by the stare of the vultures while tubing.

By Oatmeal Jack, Halloween, 2000, Potomac River, USA

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