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Keepin it Together

By: Douglas Detherow

I bought my first boat before my first truck. I worked the entire summer before my 16th birthday sweeping the floor of a welding shop for $4.50 an hour saving my money. That was all I could think of. It wasn’t going to be much of a vehicle, but it would be mine. That plan stayed well on course until we gave a guy that needed a ride home from work a lift. As we pulled into his driveway my eyes fixed on a bass boat in the neighbor’s yard with a for sale sign stuck to the trolling motor.

Now that was nice!! It was baby blue over dark blue metal flake with a big red mosquito starting the “S” in Skeeter running down the middle. We had never had anything more than a scamp while I was growing up and I had always dreamed of having a boat to fish out of during those days standing on the bank watching the boaters catch fish out just further than I could cast. I bet that thing would run 50 miles an hour I thought as we drove past, that motor had to be at least 100 horse power. I knew there was no way I could possibly afford the thing so I just took my usual deep breath I take when things seem out of reach and tried to forget about it. The next day the guy asked for another ride which excited me because I would get to slobber on that bass catching machine again while we parked in his driveway and he unloaded his tools.

This day was different, I was going to get out of the van and go look at it a bit closer. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I got to the boat. It was beautiful. Everything a man could ever want in a fishing boat. 15 ½ feet long with a 80 horse Merc, 36 pound thrust trolling motor, 2 seats and a live well. Wow! And the best part it was only $1500! The exact amount I had saved for my truck. I figured I would have a tow vehicle around whenever I needed one because everyone else had spent their money on trucks and I would be the only one with a boat. I bought it without even test driving it. A dumb move, but I wasn’t going to waste a second dallying around with details, I was headed to the water as fast as I could get there.

It has been twelve years since I bought the old Skeeter without even trying it out and it hasn’t failed me yet. Sure a few minor things have gone wrong here and there, but that is a 1981 rig and little things just happen. It has always gotten me back to the bank when I needed it to. I’ve since sold it to my dad and bought a big boy boat. A twenty one foot long, 225 horse powered, dual console, 107 pound thrust piece of machinery. A boat that would tackle any water I would choose to launch it into. I even test drove it. This boat is exactly what I needed to begin fishing amongst the big dawgs. Blake was with me when I went and got it. We took it to McGee Creek the very next morning to break it in. We had a great trip, but I think that was the last time I had it out on the water without something breaking. I swear that stinking boat has fallen in love with a little sexy Ranger up at the marina because that’s where it seems to want to spend all of it’s time. It wouldn’t be so bad, but the dad-gum thing always decides to go belly up when I need it most.

The first year I had her everything was fine until Blake and I decided to fish the Skeeter team trail event that was coming to Ft. Gibson. $5000 first prize, by far the most we’d ever fished for. We had four nice keepers in the boat that we had caught early in the morning on top waters. There was a good afternoon bite and we caught several more fish, but were past the middle of the day without a fifth keeper. At 1:30 we started our long run from down lake up to a rocky bank in the river that had really been producing for us. We had caught some nice fish there several times the week before throwing crank baits after 1:00. Surely we could get at least one keeper bite there. We were somewhere between Toppers and Whitehorn when the alarm began sounding. I had never heard the noise before and I wasn’t real sure what was happening. All I knew was that I was slowing down fast, and that alarm hurt my ears. There was a blinking light on the console but I wasn’t a cryptologist or a Morse code expert so I just kept her hammered till she came off plane all together. This was my first sour taste of the idle and ear drum piercing alarm limp back to the boat ramp.

We crawled the relatively short distance back to the Taylor’s Ferry and fished the last thirty minutes of the tournament there without a bite. Our 4 fish weighed in at around nine and a half pounds, good enough for 18th in a tournament that paid 17 spots. We really needed that 5th keeper and my new boat was to blame.

My next encounter with boat trouble would be later that very same year. We were fishing the Whitehorn Circuit and had managed to hold our own, setting seventh heading into the classic. We had been on some fish in the river during the week before the tournament but when we arrived at our stump bed, the first morning of the two day event, we were shocked to see that our friends at GRDA had decided to quit running water. We were young and foolish all of those many three years ago, and rather than high tailing it to our lake holes we stayed there all day and ground out 9 short fish. Our first professional BLANK!! We were in shock! That wasn’t supposed to happen that way! (Again a problem we’ve since learned to cope with!) But at least we had another day to try and overcome the 5 pound gap that separated us from the top three and a check. (Remember: This was the first year of LMBV)

We showed up the next morning with fire in our bellies ready to do what ever we had to do to overcome the unbearable shame of blanking in public. We had a descent strategy that involved covering tons of water and fishing fast trying to get as many bites as we could weeding through the small fish.

As we untied from the dock in Whitehorn that morning to head to the starting line, everything went black. My entire boat was dead and Blake had to jump out up on my bow to keep us from crashing into another boat that had lights and a running motor. They called our number but all we could do was yell and wave our arms from inside the marina as the field left us behind. I was dumbfounded as well as quite pissed off! We were seriously considering leaving but decided to wait until the sun came up to see if we could fix what ever it was that was wrong this time. We trolling motored outside of the rock jetties and began fishing. Well, really more ranting than fishing, but our hooks were in the water. We piddled around there for about a half hour and the sky began to lighten a bit. I was throwing a rattle trap I had been throwing the day before in the river. Head hung low and not really into it, when all of the sudden, whammo! A fish!! And it was even a bass. What seemed to be a really nice bass after blanking the day before, it probably weighed around 2 pounds?

A bright beginning but seemingly wasted because we were stuck there with no big motor. Not 5 minutes later Blake sets the hook…a monstrous fish of over 3 pounds. We again get excited then realize we are marooned. We had however caught our five pounds and decided to give the boat a good looking at before heading home. We fished for another 30 minutes without a bite then decided to go to the dock and pull the cowling off to look at the fuses. This is not an easy chore on a 225 hanging over the water. Well it wasn’t then, but I’ve since become quite proficient at jerking that thing off there. Sure enough a blown fuse on the motor. And I didn’t have any replacement fuses in the boat. Right now you all are probably wondering how Blake has fished with me for as long as he has. I often wonder myself.

Well, we had found the problem, but the solution still eluded us. As I was rummaging through my glove box desperately looking for a fuse that I knew wasn’t in there I stumbled upon an old pack of cigarettes. I had seen MacGyver on T.V. use all sorts of things to get out of jams worse than this, so I tore the foil wrapping from around the pack and stuffed it into the fuse block hoping for a miracle. It worked and we were off and running at around 10:30 with five plus pounds of bass in the boat.

We ran to the point that we had intended on fishing at daylight. It is on a popular bank, but this twenty yard stretch seems to get passed over more times than not. We call the spot Kentucky point as it seems to give up a lot of keeper spotted bass. I was throwing a 1/4 oz white spinnerbait with a silver willow leaf blade that I had bought especially for this event after seeing all the small shad while prefishing. I was casting the bait up against the rocky bank and letting it sink for about a seven count and slowly dragging it the length of the small underwater point into deeper water. It was only my third cast when I felt a faint “tick” and set the hook. The fish came barreling out of the water several times on its way to the boat. It actually came unbuttoned just as Blake scooped it in with the net. A lucky break, and a good solid 15 inch Kentucky was in the boat.

The very next cast, as my spinnerbait hit the water, there was a big swirl and I could see my line headed away from the bank and again I set the hook. This was a big fish I thought as it ripped past the boat into deeper water. This fish came in much less dramatically, and it wasn’t a monster like I had originally believed, but a really nice nearly three pound Kentucky. Boy can they pull!! We can’t believe what has just happened, we have gone from planning on leaving the tournament altogether because of a broken boat to having four fish that weigh around 10 pounds in only our first two holes.

About that time, a friend of ours who was out fun fishing saw us and came in close for a chat. Of course we told him that we hadn’t caught a thing. I was mid lie when I heard Blake whisper, “Net Please!” I turned to see a nice bass come out from under the dock we were floating past and into the floor of the boat as Blake swung him in. It wasn’t a big fish but it was our fifth keeper. (Extremely hard to come by on Gibson that year.) We had our limit in less than thirty minutes after leaving Whitehorn. Our bag weighed 11.85 good enough to move us into 3rd over all and we also had the two day big bass with a 3.24.

Even better, BASS had a tournament the next week, and there were a bunch of pros at the weigh in to see what the locals could catch because they were having a really hard time getting bit. The closest weight to our 11 pounds was three fish that only weighed 6. Needless to say, we got a lot of attention that day from guys we’d been looking up too most of our lives. It was a good day. This story has a happy ending, but the boat tried it’s hardest to prevent that from happening. We even had a flat tire on the trailer half way home!!

That was the last tournament we would fish that year out of my boat, and I would have all winter to get everything in order before the next seasons beginning. I got the motor tuned, a new prop, repaired the skeg, bought a new trolling motor, new tires, had the hubs packed and the lower unit serviced all before February. I was ready to go.

We had our first Cobra North event on Tenkiller I believe it was March, 3rd. We had made a few practice trips to look around as we weren’t at all familiar with the lake. We left for Cookson two days before the tournament in hopes of finding some more fish. Blake had bought a new boat and we decided to pull them both down so we could cover twice the water. The day before the tournament we split up and headed in opposite directions. The wind was howling out of the North bringing with it a severe cold front. The fishing was tough. Finally at around noon I stumbled onto a little pattern that started putting a few keepers in the boat. I was paralleling steep chunk rock banks, fishing into that 30 mile per hour north wind with a 1/8 ounce craw. It was difficult and I could only cast about fifteen feet in front of the boat, but I was catching fish. I ran around the lake the rest of the afternoon looking for similar banks and fishing them. I ended up catching nine keepers that day the best five weighing around 13 pounds. I ran into Blake about 4:30 and he said he had tried everything and couldn’t get a bite. I gave him one of the little lures I had been catching them on, and he fished it around the point out of site. I was headed the other direction when I heard “HEY!!” I turned to see Blake holding a solid keeper. We decided we had endured enough of that cold wind and loaded the boats with high expectations of the tournament to come and the new boat that would go to the winners.

We decided to take my boat as we were more familiar with it, and I had spent all winter getting the kinks worked out. That next morning was dead still and 18 degrees. BRRRR! But we were dressed for the weather and came to play so Blake backed me into the water. As I started the boat and came off the trailer, I realized my steering wheel wouldn’t turn. I yanked and pulled as hard as I could finally getting it to break loose, only it turned all the way to the right and locked up again. When Blake walked down to the water I was out there doing circles both frontward and then backwards depending on which gear I thought might bring it out of what ever fit it was having. I grabbed the wheel again yanking it back and forth as hard as I could managing to break it loose. Kind of!! It would pop and crack and then lock up. Sometimes it sounded like there was a soda can in there getting crushed then straightened back out again. It was bad, but we didn’t have time to change boats before take off so we went ahead with what we had. SLOWLY! A little bit because the air above all that water was only 18 degrees and ice was forming on everything, but mostly because we had no steering!! It was going to be a long day. We were only able to fish two of the banks I had found because of our limited range. We caught two keepers right off the bat and had aspirations of another miracle day, but it never materialized. A few slot fish and that was it. We weighed our two bass and were glad to have them. Those points proved to be the difference between going to the State Tournament and not. My steering had gone out, and I had already spent all of my money getting the boat ready for the year so it just sat in the yard the remainder of 2002.

We used Blake’s boat for the remainder of the year and I decided to give the co-angler side of BFL a shot. We went on to finish in the top 20 qualifying for State in a more competitive league than we had ever fished, (Our original goal at the beginning of the season), and I never ended up throwing one of those pompous no-fish catching boaters overboard so I could fish some descent water during BFL. All and all it was a respectable year considering the tragic beginning.

Not until after BFL had begun this year did I ever get the money to fix my boat. But hey, I’m sitting 24th in the non-boater side. Good enough for regionals. I’m a lot more adjusted this year, and taking being forced to fish off the back deck of some random guy’s boat in stride….NOT!!!!!! It is a painful endeavor that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone unless they choose to be there, but it’s fishing, and I’ve met some really cool people. Not all bad I guess. Well, we’ll leave it at that!!

I took my boat in this year with plenty of money in my pocket and told them to give me the works!!
New Steering, replaced the impeller, serviced the lower unit, replaced my electronics, tuned up the motor, packed the hubs, fixed a switch on the live wells, and a new bilge system. I even put new tires on my truck. I was ready to go for sure this time. 2003 was going to be the year for me. No boat worries at all, I could just relax and worry about the fish and nothing else….Yeah Right. The first tournament after I got my boat back from the marina was Metro on Hudson. If you’ve read my Chase’N A Check column, you know how that turned out!! If not go read it after you read this. Yes we experienced some technical difficulties, but we caught a limit and got a check. Not near enough check to cover the technical difficulties, but that’s not why I fish. If money was my number one priority I would put a little more effort in at the office instead of writing free articles for all day.

Since Metro on Hudson, I’ve taken my boat in for repair, got it back in time for Metro on Eufaula, and taken it back for repair again. You’ll read all about that ordeal in an upcoming Chase’N A Check. During the Skeeter on Eufaula, Blake’s boat died on us in our first hole and we were stuck there all day. Poor ole Blake had to weather the tornado while I was getting a ride to weigh in. Another future article you’ll enjoy immensely I’m quite sure. In both of those tournaments we were on fish big time, broke down, and only managed three keepers each day, depressing especially when considering the fact that we had done our homework and found enough fish while practicing to be serious contenders for the $10,000 first place check. But despite the seemingly cruel obstacles we proudly weighed what we could muster and I’m sure those fish will come into play later in the year.

Keepin it together is the key to success. Right now for instance, neither of us has a boat that is ready for the water. We used mine, only idling, this weekend to prefish Grand. Blake took it back to the marina today. We met earlier and discussed our maps, and the likelihood of the water staying up until the 7th of June. We are making the best of our bad situations and using the time productively. Sure we could give up, load the boat and pout all the way home feeling sorry for ourselves when everything isn’t perfect but that ain’t our style. We are too stubborn to quit. By keeping our composure, staying focused, and riding out the low spots, we’ll have our high spots one day. Only we’ll appreciate how hard it is to get to the top of the mountain and be tough enough to stay there when we do!

-Tight Lines

Oh yeah, to all of you pompous no-fish catchin BFL boaters… JUST RIBBIN YA A BIT!! Thanks for the ride I’m having a good time!!