I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Surely it could not be – not fire! Not fire coming out from under the shroud on my outboard motor!
And not now!
Even when you work for a fishing magazine, you still get all jacked up for a weekend fishing trip. My fishing buddy was my co-worker, Jim Edlund – Web Ed. Jim as I refer to him on Facebook.
Jim and I have talked often about fishing together and filming it for a web-TV project known around the office as “The Greg & Jim Show” -- although we are lobbying for “Fishin’ Musicians,” apologies to John Candy and SCTV, because we both play in bands. But despite having worked with each other for nine months, our schedules had aligned only once to fish together. So it was welcome news when we got hall passes from our families and bands on the same weekend for a rod-and-reel road trip.
Months earlier, Minnesota bass stick Josh Douglas -- co-winner of the Fishing Club-sponsored North American Bass Circuit’s Lake Minnetonka tournament -- had invited me to join him for some arm-rattling, late-fall, cold-water swimbait fishing. I was intrigued and made plans to shoot footage for FishingClub.com. The trip was set for last weekend, which was the Minnesota Deer Hunting Opener.
Jim’s hunting-opener plans had been scuttled, so I invited him on the swimbait shoot. We decided to take my modest tub as a camera boat -- Jim would film from there and I'd shoot footage in Josh’s boat. Josh would pre-fish the swimbait lake on Friday and we'd meet him at first light on Saturday morning at the ramp. Then, after we captured the swimbait footage, Jim and I would drive further north to hit some lakes near his boyhood home of Battle Lake, MN.
By 2:30 p.m. last Friday, our office was already a ghost town. All the Hunting Club personnel had long since departed for tree stands, as had half the Fishing Club staff. Jim and I too were feeling the call of the wild, but it was a smallmouth siren song that serenaded us to unlash ourselves from our cubicles and head to a small metro-area river.
"Why burn sunlight driving?" I asked Jim. "We could hit the Rum River until sundown, then drive in the dark."
"Makes perfect sense," He replied.
I can't be sure, but we might have left the office a little early …
The sun was still above the treeline when we launched my boat. I'd been eager to get on the Rum River fall smallmouth bite for almost a full year. I'd filmed there the previous November with Josh and bass blogger Rich Lindgren of Rich’s Bassin’ Blog, so I was all jacked up like a kid on Christmas morning, visions of 4-pound smallies dancing in my head. Watch this video, and you’ll understand why:
All that was running through my mind as flames shot out from under the shroud of my outboard.
Could our trip be over before it began? Would those huge smallies have to wait? Would we miss the much ballyhooed largemouth swimsuit bite? And it's all my fault? What an embarrassment!
Sure, my boat is nothing special – a 1985 Ebko runabout with a homemade marine-carpeted deck for casting to bass and situating a foot-operated trolling motor. That's not what embarrassed me. That boat is what I can afford right now, and I’m cool with that.
But flames? Seriously? What kind of angler doesn’t keep his outboard motor properly maintained?
And there’s the rub – my 85-horse Johnson had started like clockwork all summer, purred like a kitten even at low idle, and had never given me a moment of anxiety on the water. And I had bragged up her performance some when Jim first saw her, offering both an apology and an endorsement, much like Han Solo when he first introduced Luke Skywaker to the Millenium Falcon – “She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts.”
Apparently my tub, doesn’t have it where counts. Those flames were like slaps in the face of my pride in my ride.
I couldn’t imagine what was running through Jim’s head as the flames danced from the motor and I professed incredulity -- “I don’t understand! This doesn’t make sense! Seriously, I’ve never had a minute of trouble with her!”
I had a fire extinguisher onboard, knew exactly where it was, and calmly pulled it out and tossed it to Jim. Moments later, he tossed it back – didn’t work!
More smoke. More flames.
My brain raced -- motor is connected by a gas line to 6 gallons of fuel -- fuel is right at our feet – an enormous Molotov cocktail, moments from ignition.
“I’ll pull the gas line,” Jim said calmly, executing the maneuver in concert with his announcement.
“I’ve got a bailing bucket,” I said, grabbing a 2-liter bottle with the top cut off. I had considered throwing it away numerous time, but had not yet – my Eagle Scout training echoing “Be Prepared” somewhere in my consciousness.
Two, 2-liter scoops of water and the flames disappeared. The smoke cleared.
Did I dare open the shroud? Would a sudden rush of oxygen flood a remaining flame with fuel, exploding in our faces? Hadn’t we just posted a blog about proper boat maintenance, complete with a photo of a flaming outboard? Would we die in the worst way possible – ironically?
Dateline: Minneapolis – Two Fishing Writers Ignore Own Advice, Die in Boat Fire
I unhooked the motor's front shroud latch, slowly inching it upward. So far, so good. No more flames.
I removed the hood. No obvious mechanical damage. All hoses and wiring seemed fine, but there was obviously a gas leak that needed repair. Jim pumped the bulb and gas poured from a bad section of hose off the carb.
I wondered what Jim was thinking -- would he want to pack it in, wave the white flag, pull the boat and head home? I was already formulating a pitch to forge ahead, using just the trolling motor. At full charge, my deep-cycle marine battery would afford us 6 hours of fishing or more.
“No retreat, no surrender fishing,” Jim said.
“We’ve got hall passes for the weekend—and I can smell the big bass," I replied. "Failure’s not an option.”
So it was settled. We'd forge ahead, damn the torpedos! We were all in.
My phone buzzed. A text. It was Josh Douglas. He'd been pre-fishing the swimbait lake all day, finding spots to film the following morning. I read the text aloud:
"Not a bite yet. Super windy. 40-mph gusts, rain in the forecast. Might need to reschedule."
The swimbait bite was off. My outboard was dead. Terrible weather was headed our way.
Jim finished sealing up the leaky hose with electrical tape. He filled the 2-liter bottle.
"Crank the motor," he said. "I'll watch the it and stand by with the water."
I turned the key. The motor purred to life.
No smoke. No flames.
I realized I'd been holding my breath. I exhaled, put the motor in gear.
"So far, so good," Jim said. "I'll keep the hood off and keep an eye on it as we idle to your first spot, but I think we're good to go. … No retreat, no surrender."
"Failure's not an option," I replied, grinning back. "We'll head upriver to that first bend. There's some nice current breaks up there and a dark mud bank that might be holding warmth the smallies could be relating to in this cold water."
"Tubes?" Jim asked.
"Yep, green-pumpkin." I said. "How's the motor?"
"Running fine," he replied. "We might be out of the woods."
"Speaking of woods, we’ll start by casting to that big lay down with the submerged branches,” I said.
I shut down the motor, grabbed a spinning rod and fired a green-pumpkin Berkley Powertube toward the submerged branches. Jim did the same.
Two casts later, I felt that familiar “sponginess” of smallie tube bite – the initial weight on the line when the fish has sucked in your tube and turns to swim off with it.
“Fish on!” I yelled, setting the hook.
I broke off.
“Shoot, I forgot to re-tie after fishing the Zebra mussels last week on Mille Lacs!” I exclaimed. “Those little suckers nick the heck out of your line.”
“But they’re here,” Jim said. “And they’re biting!”
“And the motor’s not on fire anymore,” I added, laughing and grabbing another spinning rod pre-rigged with a Powertube in a brown-gold sparkle pattern and firing another cast back at the tree.
“Failure’s not an option,” Jim reiterated, firing a cast in the same direction.
“We got a little more than 2 hours of light left,” I said. “They’re here. Let’s get ‘em.”
DID WE CATCH ‘EM? CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR PART III!
You can contact North American Fishing Club Social Media Editor “Web Guy Greg” Huff at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter at lazy_ike, or friend him on Facebook at Web Guy Greg. He’s also the editor behind most of the posts on the Fishing Club’s Facebook page and the tweets at @NAFishClub.