Friday, November 02, 2007

starlight boating adventures

My job consists of mostly predictable shifts, 8:00-4:30 unless we're running late. Occasionally we have special projects, like electrofishing for largemouth bass in late spring (the best way we know to quantify the population), or electrofishing for walleye young of year in fall (again, the best way we've found to evaluate spawning success). I mostly avoid these night shifts, partly because there are always willing others, and partly because, well, I'm a creature of routine. Bedtime is 10 PM at the latest.

Yesterday I was asked if I would be available to electrofish that evening; one guy's wife had bowling or some other lame excuse. :) It turns out I was available, and I didn't want to appear to be the only one at the office that did NOT go night electrofishing. But the thought entered my mind: When I was a neophyte fisheries specialist fifteen odd years ago, one of my first assignments at this place where I work (again, not still) was to electrofish that same lake at night. I think it was late September. All I remember was, we ended up paddling to shore in the dark due to some motor malfunction. It couldn't happen twice, on the same lake, now could it?

So we went to the lake, it was dark by seven, we scared a flock of a couple thousand ring billed gulls up off the water for a moment or two, and then we started pumping voltage into the water and stunning fish. The fish do recover from a momentary jolt, it just takes a minute. We were after walleye, particularly young of year although we would measure every size we caught. We found everything from 8 to 25 inch walleye, among other species.

After our last run, we could see the lights across the lake, about a mile, where we had the truck and trailer parked. It was about 9 PM, plenty early. We started to motor across, but suddenly our lights did not seem as bright. According to the designated driver, the voltage meter had been going lower all night, and now our batteries were critical. Uh-oh. Then the motor died. Double uh-oh. The motor was trimmed high, at about the surface, and we had no power to move it down, much less power start it.

Now, being an electofishing boat, this boat has a generator built in. But by some odd quirk of fate, it is wired so you cannot charge batteries or run lights off it! What genius! The motor apparently does not even have an alternator that charges the batteries. Double genius. We had a flashlight on board, but its D batteries were critical. Triple genius.

So there we were, about a mile from our destination (although I did not realize that at the time, thank God), without ANY power, completely in the dark. Apparently there is a way to start the motor manually, and one of my coworkers started working on that while one started paddling with an oar.

I eventually took over the oar as that coworker went back to look at the motor problem. I paddled with all my strength for about twenty minutes, maybe gaining about a hundred feet or so. It seemed like we were not getting any further away from the nearer shore. They finally got the motor started...sort of. After about a minute it sputtered and died. My two coworkers took over the oar and high-resistance dipnet (special Fisheries weapon) while I steered. Fifteen minutes later, we started the motor and ran it again for about two minutes before it died. Repeat process a few times. I should have been getting really worried, but somehow I kept a "we'll get through this, after all we did the same damn thing FIFTEEN YEARS AGO!" attitude. I am older and wiser now.

Finally we got to a point (literally) where the guys could walk the boat along shore (no sense having a third person messing things up.) It turned out they walked about two thirds of a mile, and we arrived at the access at a little after 11 PM. I arrived home a little after midnight, immediately settling into my computer chair and a glass of Shiraz. I got 5 1/2 hours of sleep, so I'm turning in early tonight.

I am never going to that lake again, especially at night. I must be jinxed. And, I hope I'm done with boat adventures for the year.

But the stars were nice. I did see one shooting star.


RuthieJ said...

Wow, Deb, sounds like quite the adventure (not!) I'm guessing there were a few "F" bombs dropped out on the lake???

Anonymous said...

Are the planets mis-aligned? Did the poles shift? Did the witches of Halloween put a curse on us? What the heck is going on? Almost everybody is having some kind of miserable thing happen to them? Some more serious than others, but troubles non-the-less. I just hope it's not catching. My husband and I got to see the Inca Dove in Two Harbors on Thursday. Now I'm feeling guilty about having a good thing happen. Hang in there. Don't forget to breath.

Floridacracker said...

I'm picturing you as Katherine Hepburn with two Bogeys!

Disclaimer: Just in case ... that's a harmless movie reference okay?

Have a great weekend!

barefoot gardener said...

I'm glad you posted the whole story, I was so curious. It must have been quite the night!

pablo said...


Deb said...

I was there, happily replying along, when all of a sudden Blogger hiccuped. Imagine that!

RuthieJ- Yes, F was the language of the night. :)

Cindy- I don't know, it seems very odd that I have to have troubles on this lake for the second time!

FC- This must be the first, and probably only, time I have ever been compared to Katharine Hepburn. So you understand that I am gloating..a little...:)

Barefoot Gardener- I didn't quite know how to tell the whole story when I hinted on the other blog. It tok a while to come out!

Pablo- That's what was on the label. A version of Syrah maybe??? Anyway, it cost 3 dollars a bottle So I'm not complaining.

Nature Knitter's Mom {Betty K] said...

I would have been so mad, I would have been glowing red, 2nd time is to much, I'll bet there won't be a 3rd time. #$*!&##@
Nature Knitters Mom [Betty K]

dharma bum said...

Good story Deb. I'm sure the fact that you were getting blog material out of the deal didn't really help things when you were stranded in the middle of a dark lake.

I have to ask though, why must the electrofishing be done at night? Is it because walleye are light-sensitive and come in shallower at night? And another question while I'm at it... where does one find 25" walleye this time of year? :)

Glad you survived and thanks for sharing.

Deb said...

Betty K- Anger is probably the only way I had the strength to keep paddling!

Dharma Bum- Funny, when we were out there in the dark, I kept thinking "this will make a great blog post!"

The electrofishing is mostly a light-sensitivity thing; in theory the fish don't sense the boat's presence as much in the dark. But, I don't know, you'd think with the lateral line they would sense the vibrations from the motor, not to mention the electrical field. And this lake was so turbid, we could only see down a foot or so. It may have worked just as well during the day. But then I wouldn't have this story! :)

One of my most memorable fishing outings was Thanksgiving weekend on Lake Erie at my in laws' place. Walleye were coming into the shallows at night, and we practically fished from their front yard. I caught a 25" walleye, and my stepson, who was maybe eight years old, caught a whopper- 29"! (Caught them on Rattle Raps, I think) I don't know if that goes for the lakes around here, but I was impressed with the number of big walleye we electrofished right along shore.

Catty Ax Lady said...

FortheloveofPete. In the words of The Pioneer Woman, that mkaes my hiney cringe just a little, given my innate fear of bodies of water.

I would have been a blubbering blob of goo. I'm proud of your attitude through the ordeal.