By Mike Carey
The miles fly by as my wife JoAnn, and our dogs Diesel and Rudy watch the Montana landscape pass by. Free of the crushing traffic of the Puget Sound, we travel ever closer to my son and daughter in law’s home in Great Falls. Behind us a precious cargo is in tow. But this journey really began twenty two years earlier. I can remember like it was just yesterday…
“Go faster, that was fun!” my son Matthew exclaimed. We were fishing on Ohop Lake taking out our brand new 15 foot Klamath jet boat. The shouts of delight were on account of my putting the boat into a 360 degree on a dime spin. Matthew thought it was cool. I was terrified! It was my first time running a prop-less boat and I guess the salesman (and I) had forgotten to mention that boats without props tend to make turns “differently” than boats with a prop. In time I learned and grew to love running my jet boat, perfecting the technique of “Tokyo Drifts” around tight river bends. But for now I just sat and let my racing heart slow down a beat or two before proceeding on our way.
We purchased our Klamath jet boat in 1995. Matthew was four years old. Our family was growing and life was good. JoAnn, my wife, didn’t blink an eye when I started hinting that we should get a boat the kids could fish with me in. It needed to be a river boat as I was getting into steelhead fishing in a very serious way. But I also wanted a boat I could use on lakes and that would be easy for one person to load and unload. The Klamath seemed to be the perfect choice.
Shiny and new, I had no idea of the adventures it would take me on. I don’t even recall thinking in those terms. But as each minute brought me closer to Great Falls I began to silently reflect on the wonderful adventures “Tin Can” and I had. (I never did name my boat, but “Tin Can” certainly would be a term of endearment for the boat).
Not long after the Ohop Episode, we traveled to Tillamook, Oregon for fall Chinook fishing at the Ghost Hole. Matt, James, and I got up at O-Dark Hundred and got in line to launch with another 3-4 dozen of our closest friends. After getting the boat in the water and parking the trailer we set off in the direction of 30-40 pound king salmon. Still semi-dark, I motored slowly toward my favorite spot. Only, not slow enough as I felt a bump and scrap along the bottom of the boat. The boat came to a stop. Now, hindsight is always 50-50 and I guess what I should have done was just kick us in reverse and back out. Heck, maybe I did and my memory is faulty. All I know is that the tide was going out to sea and as daylight broke all around us was the salmon fleet – in the channel, catching fish. And there was Matt and James, happy as could be exploring the sand bar that would be our home for the next three hours. No fish for me! I tried to act nonchalant as anglers trolled past us. “Of course I wanted to ground my boat and let my son out and play on the sand bar. Why would I be trolling for shiny king salmon? Oh, those salmon rods? Nothing to see here, move along…” Eventually we did get the boat floated and went on to have a fun father/sons day on the water.
So many happy memories, so many fun adventures in Tin Can. And some not so much fun…
I recall fishing on the Cowlitz River with my friend Brad for the previously mentioned Steelhead Bug. We anchored below the Blue Creek Hole. The boat’s stern was weaving behind us so I decided to drop a rear anchor to stabilize us. I know those of you that river fish are probably saying “what a moron”. For those that don’t know why complete strangers would say that, take this next adventure as a teaching moment. There we were casting and side drifting, having a good time when for some reason the bow anchor comes undone and we swing 180 degrees stern first into the current. For boat newbies, when on a river, bow into the current equals good. But stern into the current – with an anchor in place – is bad, very very bad. Before we knew it water started flooding into the stern of the boat. I frantically raced to the back of the boat to untie the rear anchor. Which at that moment the rope decided to again come undone and wrap around my hand.
So picture this. Water is pouring in. Boat is sinking. And I’m held fast by the stern anchor line wrapping ever tighter around my hand and jammed against a cleat. My friend Brad is at the bow, yelling “what should I do?” If he tries to comes toward me the water floods into the boat even faster. It’s at this moment that I realize I’m about to drown, getting sucked under with Tin Can. My life would have flashed by my eyes except I gave a skin tearing yank of my hand and suddenly I’m free! The stern rope is now free of the boat and we pivot another 180 degrees and the bow is again facing into the current. Tin Can settles five feet parallel to the shoreline, full of water to the gunnels. At this point in the story I would like to thank Klamath for putting in adequate flotation. Miraculously we are still afloat. We bailed the boat out, fired up the big motor, and re-anchored. Back to fishing, I actually caught a steelhead that day, ripped up hand and all.
Most of my memories are happy though. And the adventures I’ve had with Tin Cup! Fishing up and down the State of Washington, lakes, rivers, saltwater. I’ve been blessed to go so many wonderful places. Hoodsport for chums, Neah Bay for bottomfish, the Satsop river for silvers, Baker Lake for sockeye; too many lakes and places to remember.
Midway in my boat ownership I did some modifications and went through a bass fishing phase. A bow mounted electric trolling motor made Tin Can a good bass platform. For several years I had the pleasure of fishing with a Pacific Northwest writer and bass legend, Bob Johansen. Bob taught me the ways of bass, at least the “Bob’s Ways of Bass”. Bob wasn’t hard core in the sense of having a dozen rods and multiple tackle boxes (that was my affliction). No, Bob understood more than anyone I have ever fished with the simple pleasures of being on the water, taking in the scenery and peaceful solitude, and catching a fish now and again. Memories like fishing with Bob are why we are passionate about our sport, at least for me, anyway.
Ah, there’s the exit into Great Falls. We drive a little further and we are in Matt and Veronica’s neighborhood. And there is their home. There’s Matt, not the four year old screaming with delight as our new boat spun in circles. It’s Matt, the 26 year old, married teacher. He’s watching with a new grin on his face as I back Tin Cup into his driveway. Tin Cup, which is now Matt’s boat. Some boats have too many memories to sell to a stranger. Some boats carry memories etched into every ding, scratch, and scrap. And these memories deserve to be passed down from father to son. And so Tin Cup has now come to its new home and new owners. Matt and Veronica will make their own memories and special adventures. And when I come to visit I will be able to say “Hello Old Friend, it’s good to see you again. What new adventures have you taken my son on this year?”