There were plenty of fish to chase; the fall run of salmon was busting out all over the surface, and I knew that the water had striped bass and lots of catfish as well. I was bouncing a worm outfit slowly along the bottom. The fish were so thick I could feel them bouncing my line as they headed upstream on their spawning run.
Finally, I felt the line slow and a vibration running down my rod that felt a lot like the swimming motion that signaled something had picked up my offering. Wack! I set my hook and felt something angry with a lot of bulk ripping off my line and heading for the far shore. I gave a whoop and charged upstream to keep up with the monster below. Pretty soon a bunch of chemistry students who were headed for class played a little hooky and watched the show.
I was finally gaining a little line when I heard a roar from downstream. In an instant, the full fury of a flying jet boat came into view. I waved to them to slow, and my cheering section of chem jocks joined in the effort. The obviously drunken crew gave no quarter, flipping us off as they drove over and shattered my line. As a farewell gift, they threw an empty beer bottle at us as they rounded the next bend.
Almost any longtime fisherman has similar sad stories of rotten behavior by the boating crowd. Fortunately, the times have changed and we now have better informed and more sober boat operators. The days when anyone, in any condition, could lawfully handle hundreds of horsepower on the water without training or regulation are largely over.
Almost every state now has boating laws that make driving while intoxicated a crime, just like drunken driving in a car. In addition, most states, including Oregon, are phasing in requirements that boat operators have a license given only at the successful conclusion of a class, either live or online. This is a great idea for a lot of reasons.
As any boater can tell you, operating a vessel, especially on river or ocean waters, is a real challenge. If you have really bad troubles, you don’t just pull over to the side or get out, you get sucked into the current or sink! Winds can cause all kinds of problems, as do waves, floating debris and sneaky current. You need the skills that you learn in boating safety classes, whether offered by a college, the U.S. Power Squadron, the Coast Guard or some other organization. Over the years I’ve taken a number of classes through Clatsop Community College in Oregon and just recently took an online refresher at www.boatoregon.com. You can’t be too safe around the waters of the Northwest.
This time of year I’m busy fixing my boat, putting on bottom paint and varnish and making general repairs, but it’s also a great time to take care of the most important element of boating safety—the captain. Sign up for a boating safety class. You’ll feel better about your time on the water, and provide a safer environment for your fishing and boating buddies.
Bob Ellsberg’s column, Fishin’, appears monthly in RV Life and rvlife.com.