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.