Friday, May 27, 2011

Pontoon Boating

“That’s my eighth one in less than two hours,” I remarked to my fishing companion, Bob Skrbac, as I lifted a fat, fighting smallmouth bass to the deck of my 20-foot pontoon boat.  We were fishing a backwater off the Colorado River impoundment, Lake Moovalya, on the California-Arizona border.  Over my right shoulder I could see the beautiful Moovalya Indian Casino across the lake near Parker, Arizona. The smallies were liking the white plastic worm I was presenting rigged for drop shotting.

I had started fishing for bass on the Colorado and other nearby waters several years before when I had joined the Parker Bassmaster Club.  I had retired several years prior to that and only after starting to spend my winters in a mobile home park in Earp, California did I find that bass fishing was fun.  Born and raised in Oregon and Washington, I knew only trout, steelhead and salmon.

I joined the club as a non-boating member and attended the club’s monthly tournaments, learning from the locals what a crank bait was , or a spinner bait or one of the other special enticements bass fishermen use.  I had to pay fees the same as any other club members for the tournaments and it cost me quite a bit to learn the how-tos before I was able start racking up points like the big boys.

It was fun and it wasn’t long until I purchased my own used but serviceable 18-foot bass boat.  Life was good until I suddenly developed a fragile leg which made it hazardous and difficult to climb into or out of a conventional bass boat.  I was having to amble around with either a crutch or cane.  Even getting into the boat from a dock was a bit hard on my ego to have to sit on the dock and swing my legs into the boat.
Climbing into it while it was still on a trailer was out of the question.  It was with a heavy heart that I had to sell that beloved bass fishing machine.

Bank fishing was not a viable solution to my need to fish and fishing docks, which were nice up on Lake Havasu, but were not the answer either.

My wife, Grace, knew I was hurting and saw an ad for a used pontoon boat at a marina on Lake Havasu and suggested we go take a look at it.  I was not very interested.  After all, I was not a party kind of guy.  But, we looked, and with more urging from Grace, we bought it.  She wanted the large brass ship’s bell that was hanging from the overhead!

The mobile home park, Bermuda Palms Park, is on the Indian reservation near Earp, California, and with its dock on the shores of Lake Moovalya, it was the perfect answer for me.  I could look and walk about one hundred feet from the front porch of my home to get out onto the dock where my boat now resided.  No launching or unlaunching.  All I had to do was throw off the lines after firing up the motor and I was back in the fishing game.

For a person who couldn’t climb into or out of a boat, it was the answer to my prayers.  The flat, level deck of the boat was flush to the elevation of the dock and I could even swing from the dock to the deck with a pair of crutches.  Two fishing seats on the front deck made it similar to fishing from the front deck of a bass boat.  To finish converting it, I installed an electric trolling motor to the front of the deck and that worked perfectly.

The boat was pretty rugged.  I could shove it with the outboard or electric motor deep back into the bulrushes to a honey hole.  It had aluminum twin hulls that could withstand quite a bit of abuse.  And, I didn’t have to worry about the paint job.

Even on the days I wasn’t planning on fishing, we did have picnics on board with neighbors or friends.  The swing-out barbecue was great for those hamburger sandwiches to go along with the potato salad , baked beans and yes, even a pie or cake a time or two.  When company came, which was often, we used the pontoon boat as a ferry to carry us over to the Indian casino for some gambling and lunches.  It had a 50 horsepower outboard which didn’t make it a speedster but did wing us along at a respectable speed.  Most of the time the visitors wanted to go slow anyhow, to see the scenery along the shoreline.

The boat had a hard top with curtains all around and clear plastic windows so that it was possible in rainy weather to travel around with the curtains all in place to keep everyone dry.  When weather was decent and a breeze was needed through the cabin the curtains could be rolled up all the way and secured with built in straps.

The day came, after another couple of years, when we had to give up our home at Bermuda Palms in Earp and move back full time to Salem, Oregon.  We were unable to bring the boat back to Oregon due to so much stuff to haul back so we sold it and got a decent price.

Nothing physically changed for me back on Oregon shores and I still missed a boat for fishing.
We don’t have the same ideal setup for keeping a boat close to where we live, but another answer was found.  While gazing down on the docks from Detroit Marina, we saw several pontoons snuggled away between finger docks down below.  An inquiry at the dock office revealed that one of the boats down below was for sale.  The clerk gave us a phone number to call and the owner lived in Salem.

The owner agreed to bring the boat down to Salem (he was planning on doing so anyway) and when Grace and I saw it, we knew we wanted it.  The owner didn’t try to hold us to an outrageous price even though used pontoon boats were scarce in the area, and we were soon owners.  A call to Kane’s Marina at Detroit reservoir bought us the rent of a finger dock at the marina that was near perfect.

The following summer, when the owners of Kane’s found out I was pretty handicapped, they picked a spot for us right off the end of the ramp to the docks.  We can put the boat in the water in early June and leave it there until right after Labor Day when the lake level is being dropped to winter levels to catch flood waters.

We found that fishing for trout in Detroit reservoir is as good as any we might hope for.  We have had kids, grandkids, relatives and friends out in that boat, many who do not fish, but they enjoy the ride. When we have people with us who have not been out on the lake before, we give them a cook’s tour up many of the backwaters and inlets where there are some great views.  Detroit lake also has floating portable toilets so no one has to start hurting before relief is found.  The deck of the portable floating toilet docks are about the same level.  And, picnics are real fun up in some of the secluded inlets.  This boat also has a top but it is a heavy canvas convertible top where the curtains can be rolled up all the way and the top can even be laid down over the stern to get the overhead all clear so a person can have more room to cast.  In rainy Oregon weather the curtains can be used while underway and will keep everyone aboard dry.  The boat should not be towed on the highway with the top and curtains up.

This present boat also now has an electric trolling motor on the front of the deck and it is held in place with an alligator mount same as those on the bass boats and just as handy.  It is not powerful enough to troll against the wind but is ideal to hold the boat in the right position off shore with the wind blowing so that wind trolling can be done or lures can be worked along the shoreline.

Our pontoon boat came with a live fish well which I have not used as yet but that is in our future plans for fishing such lakes as Foster reservoir where an abundant number of bass live or one of the coastal lakes which also contain warm water species.

I can heartily recommend the pontoon boat for those who have handicaps as I do.  But, such a boats is also great for the person with a family who worries about the safety of kids on the water.  Pontoons are extremely stable and make it great for even the little toddlers.  Put a life jacket on them before leaving shore and don’t let them get near the front of the boat.

Kids in a family enjoy pontoon boats for all the extra fun they can have.  Ours has a removable boarding ladder which is great for those who like to swim.  When not needed, it folds to a flat package that easily stores out of the way.  It has special brackets on the deck which make for a very stable ladder to get back aboard.

Skiing is possible if the outboard motor is large enough.  I have a 70 h.p.  motor on the back of mine which has enough umph to pick up a skier who is not too hefty and will pull that person on skiis at about 20-22 miles per hour.  There are many water toys on the market today that can pull multiple riders to provide much fun.  But, a motor need not be large to have fun with a pontoon boat.  Many can be seen tooling along with a 25 horsepower motor at a respectable speed.

For anyone who might be interested in pontoon boats, call one of the marinas at Detroit Reservoir and make a reservation to rent one of their pontoon s.  You’ll love them like I do.  But, a word of caution, the State of Oregon now requires that anyone operating a boat of ten horsepower or more must have an Oregon Boat Education License so better use the time right now to study for and take the exam.  The exceptions for this year are: you don’t need the license if you are more than 70 years old.  Even those 70 years old or more can benefit from the knowledge of safe boating that can be gained in study for the license.  Another exemption for those renting a boat of 10 horsepower for instate resident or out-of-state is a training session by authorized personnel at a marina and completion of a form signed by the marina personnel.  It must be carried on board by the person renting the boat.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Shark Bait

In 1945, on board my ship, battleship West Virginia, we were engaged in the bombardment of Leyte in the Phillipine islands.  Using our big 16 inch guns we were pulverizing the shoreline and inland for many miles to pave the way for Marines and soldiers to take the island.  During our maneuvering  the WeeVee ran aground and damaged a screw (propellor) to the point we had to disengage and head for a drydock in Espirito Santo, New Hebrides which was many hundreds of miles away.  The drydock was the only one large enough to hold and lift us out of the water so repairs could be made to the prop.
The drydock was located in a very pretty cove surrounded on three sides by stately coconut palm trees.  The water was deep blue and crystal clear with a shallow shoreline just right for swabbies to get out of the heat.  Only one problem.  One of the drydock crewmen had rigged up a strong line complete with a hook and a chunk of meat which he tossed over the side.  I didn't witness the action of catching but a huge shark, I suspect a Great White shark, had grabbed the bait and a winch was used to pull him up onto the dock.  We still wanted to go swimming so the skippers stationed a group of Marines, equipped with automatic weaponry, along the rail to shoot any sharks who might be inticed by the thrashing, joyfully loud sailors.
No more sharks were seen and we had a lot of fun hunting for little octupi and Cat eye shells.  Wading in knee deep water I could see the octopus, about the size of spreading across my hand.  They were dark in color and we never did get biten by any.  They tickled as they squirmed around on my hands.  We released them unharmed.
The Cat Eyes were really what I wanted.  About the size of a walnut, or slightly smaller, they were pale yellow on the underneath side blending up to dark brown along the sides.  The center did look just like a cat's eye and they were beautifully polished with black freckles around the rim of the "eye".  They were plentiful and didn't need any treatment except to dry them up if they had any little animals inside.  I gathered up a small sackful of them and was able to stuff them first in my locker and later in my seabag as I was honorably discharged in 1946.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Travelling Article

When a writer sends out a article in a newpaper or other publication it is seldom known what the impact will be or how far it will go. As an example I once wrote a column for a daily newspaper about a young lady and her boyfriend who had gone fishing in a coastal stream in Oregon. She related that she had walked out on a log suspended over a pool to try to reach a place in the stream where a trout might be lurking. As she stood near the end of the log, the bark slipped plunging her into the water with a considerable splash. The eruption on the pool's surface startled a trout so much it leaped up onto the bank. The boyfriend jumped on the trout and wrestled that slippery critter to subdue it, making no effort to rescue her from her unwanted bath. She slogged up out of that pool very angry at the guy whose priorities were such that he chose the trout over her.
Shortly after that article appeared in the newspaper, Associated Press picked up the story and printed it. Later, the Stars and Stripes publication picked up and printed it. That wasn't the end. A national outdoor magazine picked it up from Stars and Stripes and printed it in a column entitled, "The Gist Of It". I knew nothing about the article's travels until the magazine sent me a check for ten dollars, explaining what had happened.

Good Comeback

Back in the early 40s,  new bride Grace and I and another young couple attended a carnival in Forest Grove where there were the usual rides as well as side shows and we did them all. One was a show where for 50 cents we could watch a dancing stripper do her thing. The gals went with my buddy and I into the tent to watch the dance. After it was over the barker announced that for another 50 cents we could go into another tent to watch her take off even more. The gals went with us into that tent, also.

The stripper took off even more but not all the way and when she was finished, petite Grace asked me, not too quietly, "What's she got that I haven't got?" Without hesitation the stripper quipped right back, "Nothing, honey, just a lot more of it!"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The War Years

It's easy for a sailor to become the victim of his own folly while seeking fun on the beach. Like a friend of mine on board the West Virginia who we called Pappy because he was so old. He was in his late 30's or early 40's when he went ashore one day seeking some companionship with one of the opposite sex. He found a willing one and rented a hotel for the night.
During the early morning he woke up to find her gone as well as his trousers and his billfold. Without any money for cab fare he walked all the way back to the ship with only a short raincoat for privacy. When he walked back up the gangplank, undignified, he was showing very white, hairy legs from his kneecaps to his ankle. The Officer on Deck had a hard time keeping from laughing but all Pappy's buddies gave him a bad time for quite awhile for that episode.
Or there were the two Irish shipmates who were from Chicago. They were a real Mutt and Jeff. The one was quite small and very mouthy. The other was a big, burly guy who often had to fight his mouthy friend's battles for him. One night in San Francisco the two were in a bar and the little guy had found a friendly girl to sit by him at the bar. He bought a drink for himself and her and when she finished hers, he said, "O.k., you've drank enough of my booze, now let's go to bed." She backhanded him right off the bar stool and a real brawl ensued. The big guy had to fight for his buddy again. I wonder if they are still friends to this day--or even alive! 

The Early Days

I was a lucky kid. I was able to train my folks to always take me with them when I went fishing. Dad started me out fishing for crappies at Sauvies Island north of Portland when I was ten years old and from there we graduated up to fishing for trout.
Our early endeavors were with worms or salmon eggs but in 1936 the so-called fly casting champ came to Portland and my dad paid for casting lessons from him. Week after week dad would get his lesson at Laurelwood Park, come home and have mom and I get out our fly rods so he could teach us his lessons for that day.
Our favorite haunts were the Deschutes river in the Maupin area or the Clackamas river up above the town of Estacada. My parents had a bakery in southeast Portland where I worked for them before and after school and all night on Friday nights. One of my tasks on Friday nights was to fry the donuts and maple bars and during that period I would start talking about the joys of fishing and it would often get my dad so excited that near the end of the morning he would call mom to tell her to pack up the gear and make a lunch as we were going to go fishing.
On one trip to the Deschutes river I came across my high school history teacher who was fly fishing the same area. When he opened his creel to show me, he had one of the prettiest catches of redside rainbow trout I had ever seen. He was using a blue upright artificial fly fished wet and was really knocking 'em. History classes were never the same after that. I was a devious kid and soon learned that during class I could get him talking about fishing and history went out the window. My fellow students loved it. My grades were pretty good, also.
On another trip to the Deschutes I found that artificial flies are not always the best for trophies. I was working a particular riffle when a guy went by on the trail with a casting rod and a big wobbler type lure tied to his leader. I made some remark about no bass in that river. Later that morning he came by on his way back to his car with a fish as long as his arm. It was a steelhead trout and it was my first experience of seeing the effectiveness of a Flatfish lure. Although I still love fly fishing I have taken my share of some nice trout, steelhead and salmon on that weird shaped lure.
In future blogs I'll write about more of my experiences in the sport fishing world as those experiences were a big part of my life and that of my family.