Cabin fever had hit me harder than usual. I was more excited about that early April fishing trip than a 12-year-old on the last day of school.
I had put on new line, greased the reels and cleaned out the tackle box. I had also heard of a couple of big late March bass that had already been caught.
I was ready for the big day.
I was picked up well before dawn by my buddy, Shelton Sago. He had the aluminum bass boat that he shared with his dad.
It was hooked on and looked like it was ready to go. But as I loaded my gear, I noticed he had no taillights.
I told Shelton about the lights and we did a quick check. No taillights, no brake lights, no signal lights. The back of the trailer was as dark as the inside of a cave at midnight.
We double-checked the plug. It looked fine. We traced the wires through the trailer. They looked OK, too. Now what?
Just as the sun peeked over the eastern horizon, we found the loose ground wire that had caused this 90-minute delay. When the lights finally came on, we took off.
“We don’t even need them now,” Shelt said in disgust, and we made our way quickly to the lake.
As the boat was backed gently into the lake, I breathed a sigh of relief. I held the rope as Shelton parked the truck.
As he arrived on the dock, I had just gotten my life vest on. He put on his and I shoved us away from the platform.
“Squeeze the bulb,” Shelton said.
I reached back and grabbed the pump bulb in the line between the gas tank and the motor. I filled the engine with petrol.
Shelton turned the key, but nothing happened.
“Now what”? I said, rather harshly.
He tried again.
“Click, click, click” was the rapid sound now being made beneath the plywood deck.
“Did you charge the battery?” I asked, anxiously.
“All night!” was the reply.
We lifted the deck to check the battery. Both terminals were relatively clean, but one was a bit loose.
“Tighten that negative post,” I instructed.
“OK,” Shelt said. “With what?”
My expression obviously changed as I asked, “Where are your tools?”
He didn’t have to answer. His look said it all.
I dug a pair of needle nose pliers out of my tackle box and began the process of tightening the battery connection.
With this tool, I never could get a good “bite” on the nut. Eventually it just felt sorry for me and tightened slightly.
“Try it now,” I said.
The engine turned over, but did not start. He tried again. No luck. After one more try, the engine flooded.
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We sat for 20 minutes waiting for the outboard to right itself. I made a few feeble casts, but we were far from fishing.
We did manage, however, to aggravate several other fishermen as we floated aimlessly around the launch area. Finally the motor started.
As I looked down to arrange my gear for the trip up the lake, I noticed that there was water standing in the floor of the boat.
“Shelt! Did you put the plug in?” I asked, over the idle of the engine.
“I thought you did!” was his response.
We had probably taken on about a hundred gallons of water while we were waiting.
“Put her in gear and run it out,” I suggested.
Every good boater knows that if your boat has water in it, and the plug is out, you can drain the boat by running it at medium speed.
Once the water is gone, replace the plug. That is easy, if there is a plug to use.
“Shelt, where’s the plug?”
Ten minutes later I found the plug and we were safe.
We finally reached the creek channel where I knew the big boys would be. I courteously stepped to the back of the boat.
Shelton went to the front and put his seat on the pedestal. He lowered the electric motor and stepped on the switch. Nothing happened.
He adjusted the dials and checked the connection. Nothing happened. He then checked the front battery. Loose cable.
I still had not complained about the morning’s events. I was the guest. I should be gracious. But for Pete’s sake it was almost nine o’clock and I had not made a serious cast yet.
We repeated the battery hook-up ritual of just an hour ago and finally got the thing running.
“What are the chances we could fish now?” I inquired quietly.
We fished all morning with very few results. Somewhere along the way our conversation turned from bass fishing to boat preparation.
Shelton blamed his dad, I blamed Shelton, but somehow it all ended up being MY fault.
According to boating experts, the problems of that horrid morning could have been avoided. They say that all too often, fishermen and boaters spend the off months working on their tackle and gear, only to neglect their boats.
Stories like the one you just read are not uncommon this time of year. Preventive maintenance is the key to keeping your boat running.
Having an experienced marine technician check your boat in the spring is a must. Even if you have taken precautions and winterized your boat, it should still be checked before you run it hard.
I suggest checking the motor, fuel system, electronics and the trailer before starting your fishing or boating season. It is much less expensive to prevent a breakdown than to repair one.
It also pays not to wait until the last minute to schedule your maintenance check.
Going a week or so without your bass boat in the spring can cause you to miss an ideal window of opportunity.
So play it safe and get you and your boat ready to play for this summer.
(Mike Roux is a member of the Mossy Oak pro hunting staff.)