Monday, February 8, 2016

Got the Wintertime Blues? Maybe These Will Help

If one thing rings true about most fishing trips, it's that you never know what's going to happen from one time to the next. The short stories that follow are a testament to that fact.

I've purposely deleted all names. However, I assure you that none of these tales are mine. Accordingly, be equally assured that I cannot vouch for the authenticity of any statements made herein. I leave it to each of you to decide for yourself what you want to believe and/or dismiss as just a figment of someone's imagination.

At the very least, though, these tales/stories/whatever should serve as a distraction from the winter blues that may be affecting a few of you. I hope you enjoy.

One night when I was 15, my dad and I were night fishing at a local lake when a pickup showed up and started circling the lake. It made 20 or 30 trips around the 3-mile perimeter. My dad was a cop, so this kind of behavior immediately peaked his interest. There were no cellphones back then, so we just waited and watched. Suddenly, we saw the driver stop, pull a rolled-up carpet from the back of the truck, and toss it into the lake.

My dad didn't even reel up our lines; he and I just high-tailed it over there. The truck took off but not before Dad got the license-tag number. We dragged the carpet out of the lake, thinking a body surely would be inside it. However, Dad started laughing, then said, "Son, we hit the mother lode." Inside the carpet were nine rifles and shotguns.

We packed up all of them and headed into town to call the sheriff's office. Turned out the weapons weren't stolen as we suspected. Instead, a mad, jealous wife had decided to exact a little revenge on her two-timing hubby.

We never went night fishing again after that episode.

A friend and I were scouting out a golf course for some night fishing. As we approached the water's edge this particular night, we saw a weird shape in the water about 20 feet away from where we were standing. We "assumed" (and I urge you to remember what usually happens to people who make this mistake) it was just a goose or something. We decided to get a little closer, and then, for grins and giggles, asked, "What's up?" Imagine our fright when a voice answered.

Of all things, a dude was snorkeling for golf balls at 2 o'clock in the morning.

While night fishing from a canoe, with no moonlight, I heard a loud splash and saw something large in the water about 30 feet or so in front of me. It scared the crap out of me, so I started back-paddling as fast as I could go. Curiosity overcame me, though, and I just had to stop paddling long enough to switch on a light. The large object turned out to be a horse that had gotten out of its stable up the road.

I was fishing below a bridge when I heard a car screeching its tires moments before leaving the roadway and going airborne into the river just below me. I ran downstream and got there just as the occupants were getting out of the upside-down vehicle. I spent the next couple of hours helping a local ranger recover their belongings from the river. Would you believe, though, that the ranger then asked to see my creel and my license?

It was mid-morning on a Thursday, and I had this whole section of a river all to myself... or so I thought. I was engrossed in what I was doing until something caught my eye to the left. I looked up in time to see a half-dozen Indians in full authentic dress. These guys were quietly stalking through the woods with weapons in hand and wearing full war paint. Suddenly I felt like I had traveled back a few hundred years in history.

Just as I'm thinking to myself, "This can't be good," I hear someone back in the woods yell, "Cut!" The warriors stopped in their tracks, and I was asked to leave the area. It seems I quietly had become involved in a documentary that was being filmed about the Cherokee Indians.

Though the fishing was good, I was outnumbered, so I left.

I used to fish an old estate lake, which was rumored to be haunted. That all ended one very dark night, though, when I saw a shining white light coming through the trees toward me and what sounded like the thundering of horses hooves on the old road that led down to a long-demolished country house. I nearly had a heart attack.

As I would learn, the noise was coming--not from horses hooves--but from a caterpillar tracking through the trees to make an early start on some construction work the next morning.

One autumn night about 15 years ago, a friend and I were fishing a lake in London, England, under a bright, full moon. We had decided to pack it in when, in the midst of the misty night, I started spooking my friend with talk about the American Werewolf in London and how these conditions were similar to the opening scene.

As we loaded ourselves up and started walking in silence (due to the old-school rod bags around our necks), there was this sudden THUMP just in front of us and a crashing noise in the bushes. Then, from the marsh behind us, came this crashing sound and heavy snorting noises, which prompted me to shout, "Werewolf!"

That's all it took. Absolute hysteria ensued and survival instinct took over, as we started running in random directions. All of a sudden, I was jerked back by something around my neck, causing me to gag violently and fall on my back. I hollered for my friend, who was screaming and running blindly to get away.

After a few seconds, I got up, with heart in my mouth, about the same time as my friend finally found me. We stood in silence for a second or two before my friend turned on his headlamp. That light revealed that, while running around in blind panic, I had encountered a branch, which had caught the strap on my rod bag, jerking me backward and nearly strangling me. My friend, meanwhile, had mud all over him.

We later discovered that the noises which spooked both of us had been deer... so the joke was on me.

I was camping at a little state lake with my buddy and his girlfriend. My friend and I were on a rock pier night fishing because the game warden had stopped by earlier and told us they had shocked up a big bass from the very spot where we were camping. I was really pumped about that news and was flinging my big, black musky jitterbug with great enthusiasm.

After nearly a half-hour of listening to that hypnotic plop, plop, plop, though, I was about to nod off when, suddenly, I heard a splash that sounded like someone had thrown a brick in the water and felt a huge tug on the line. The fight was on!

The adrenaline dumped immediately, and I was standing in the water, with my rod buried, trying to keep her from jumping. There was a bright moon out, but I couldn't see anything because of all the trees along that part of the shoreline. The fish was stripping drag and severely straining my rod--to the point where it eventually broke.

I was busy trying to pull the fish towards me when I realized my line was heading up. No matter what I did, my line just kept going up, up, up. It was about the same time I realized my line was well above the water that I saw a huge owl flying across the sky--with what appeared to be my line following it.

By now, my buddy had found a spotlight and lit up the sky, which proved conclusively I indeed had hooked an owl in the foot after it tried to pick up my jitterbug. I still was holding onto my broken rod, trying to figure out what to do, when the owl crash-landed into some blackberry bushes along the shoreline. We were discussing a game plan when the owl suddenly jumped out of the bushes and took off, leaving my bait tangled in the bushes.

All of this happened in probably no more than 30 seconds or so, but it felt like a lifetime.

Many years ago, a buddy and I decided to go on a camping/fishing trip. We spent the first day fishing and, that evening, sat around a campfire, getting plastered. Finally, my buddy decided he was going to sleep in the johnboat, which we had pulled up to the bank. The last thing I remembered was watching him stumble off toward the boat.

I awoke the next morning, still by the fire. When I went to wake my buddy, I discovered the boat had drifted out into the lake. The anchor, however, was on the bank, so I simply pulled the boat in. My buddy, though, was nowhere to be found. I started calling his name but got no response. Then came the sinking realization he probably had gone to sleep in the boat and, sometime during the night, likely had fallen overboard.

In a panic, I ran and jumped into the truck to go and get help (this incident happened before the widespread use of cellphones). So, here I was, hauling down this gravel road in the middle of nowhere, sliding around curves, still feeling half-blitzed, when I hear this tapping on the back window of the truck. I glance back to see my buddy yelling, "Hey, where the hell are we going in such a rush?"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tragedy Strikes Twice in 3 Months

That's right, folks--in the span of only three months, two bass anglers have had their lives snuffed out at boat ramps.

The first victim was 53-year-old Gregg Hawkins, who was gunned down by an unidentified person Oct. 22, 2015, while walking to his boat trailer in a Tennessee parking lot. He just had come in from a quiet morning of fishing.

An avid outdoorsman and dedicated Christian, this husband and father of two was looking forward to his upcoming retirement from a nearby Nissan plant.

The most recent victim was 18-year-old Dylan Poche, who was murdered Jan. 30, 2016, at a Louisiana boat ramp. The nephew of pro bass fisherman Keith Poche, Dylan was stabbed about 11:30 at night.

A suspect is in custody for the death of this college angler from Northwestern State University. Dylan's younger brother caught and held the suspect until authorities arrived on the scene.

Unfortunately, senseless tragedies like these occur all too often--in all venues. It behooves all of us, regardless of time of day, to be alert to anything that appears amiss. Watch out for yourself, as well as friends, family and others in the vicinity.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Catching Up Overdue Boat-Shed Maintenance

Knowing for a while now that I needed to replace the surge suppressor in my boat shed at the marina, as well as the extension cord for my boat's onboard battery charger, I had decided to get those jobs done last Sunday. I also wanted to put up some new lights in the shed.

I had made a trip to Northern Tools last week and picked up what I needed--make that "most of" what I needed. I'm only too well aware things often involve unplanned contingencies, and last Sunday was no exception.

There were no problems whatever in hanging the new lights. In fact, they went up exactly as I had envisioned. I felt so good about 'em I even took a break when I had finished and walked down to the store to visit with "Yankee" and Tom for a while.

After viewing the accompanying photo, you might be wondering why I didn't just let the original overhead fluorescent lights take care of my requirements, so perhaps I should explain. A couple of problems were involved with those fluorescent lights. First, the rusty fixture has a starter and/or ballast problem. I know that to be true because I replaced the bulbs a week or so ago, and they both still flicker.

Further, with that fixture directly over my boat, bugs that got zapped constantly littered the cover, which was OK until they started landing in my face as I removed the cover. You see, I have been leaving the lights on 24-7 since I learned several months ago, that that's what it takes to keep the mice away. Have not had a single problem with those pests since I started leaving the lights on all the time.

Anyway, when I returned to the shed from jawin' with "Yankee" and Tom, it was time to remove the old surge suppressor (after all, the only time you want to hear snap, crackle and pop is when you're eating Rice Krispies) and install the new heavy-duty model (see photo at right) I had bought the other day. In no time, a gremlin had reared its ugly head.

As I went to unplug the old surge suppressor from the power lead coming into the building, it wouldn't budge. I quickly broke out a pair of pliers for more leverage, but even that move failed to get the job done. The situation quickly went downhill from there.

Before continuing, I went looking for Steve, so I could show him what I was up against. The problem, as we both could see, was that the prongs on the old surge suppressor had gotten so hot they had melted--actually, welded would be a better word--to the rubber from the power lead's female end around them. I don't think I ever would have been able to separate them. There also was a black ring around the rim of the surge-suppressor's plug, where the prongs had been attached.

One look is all it took to convince Steve that the only smart thing to do was to cut off the old female end on the power lead and install a new one. I set about doing that, while Steve resumed his work on smoothing out the marina's parking lot.

Thanks to Steve's providing a new female fitting and loaning me the additional tools needed, I was able to finish my work, rehook things, and check it all. There were a couple issues I had to leave undone so I could get home for dinner, but I went back yesterday and tidied up those loose ends.

To the best of my knowledge, that will conclude the only maintenance tasks I need to do on the boat shed. Too bad it isn't that easy to keep up with things around the house. There never appears to be an end to those tasks.

Before leaving the marina yesterday, I made a trip down to the ramp area, so I could check out the new solar light (see accompanying photo) Tom told me Steve had installed to help boaters launching in those oh-dark-30 hours. It reportedly comes on as you round the bend down by the ramp and lights up the area.

I personally haven't seen the installation work, so please don't use my name as an "authoritative source." I'll have to find out like all the rest of you.

P.S. I'm still trying to get to the bottom of problems I'm having with my laptop. Thankfully, my wife still is giving up some of the time she usually spends on her desktop, so I can do things like this and try to keep up with my email. One way or the other, I assure everyone that, at some point in the next few days, you'll be seeing an "all clear" signal from me. I will get up and running at full steam again, even if it means buying a new computer.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

To Set Everyone's Mind at Ease...

I'm very much alive and am OK, except for going through a major dose of computer withdrawal. My laptop's battery and AC adapter both died last Saturday, which has restricted my online activities to those moments when my wife isn't on her desktop.

As a result, I'm not doing much of anything, except to try and keep up with my email, and some of that even is limited, because I don't have access to many of the files stored on my laptop. Without that access, I'm generally out of luck in providing any attachments to emails.

I figured I'd better get some kind of explanation on the street, when Charlie emailed me earlier today, asking if I had run out of things to write about on my blog. If it helps, I'm supposed to receive a new battery for my laptop on Monday. I already have a new AC adapter. So, if nothing else fried last Saturday, it shouldn't take me long to start catching up on overdue business, once the new battery arrives at my door. If I find any other problems, I'll be taking the computer to some experts to sort it all out for me.

Y'all probably remember my mentioning in an earlier post that I had had to call some repairmen to work on my heating system. Well, that issue went south quickly, and I had no choice but to throw in the towel and call 'em back to install a whole new system. That happened this past Tuesday, and now everything is once again nice and toasty around the Testorff household.

The best part of all is that, for the next 10 years, I don't have to worry about any heating or air-conditioning difficulties. I purchased a maintenance plan at the same time I had the new system installed, which guarantees service techs will be at my beckon call--night or day, 7 days a week--if anything breaks down. Regardless of whatever should be wrong, they will take care of it--up to and including replacement of the whole system with another new one, if necessary--and it won't cost me  a dime. That's a good thing--seein' as how I don't have any more dimes left in my pocket. This is one of those moments when it really sucks being on a fixed income.

Thank God I learned how to live on a tight budget many years ago, 'cause, otherwise, I'd probably be running around a bit panicky right now. Maybe I also ought to go the route of some friends and acquaintances and try to get some disability on the basis of my hearing loss from an incident that happened during my Navy career, coupled with the diagnosis I received a few months ago for spinal stenosis.

In any event, I'm still kickin' and hopin' that it continues this way for a good while to come.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Dates Set for New Tourney Season at West Neck Marina

Please excuse the sudden withdrawal of my earlier post on this topic, but there were a number of errors in it, and I wasn't happy. Therefore, I went back to the drawing board and reassembled a product I think will be cleaner than my first attempt.

With that explanation aside, here is our new tournament schedule. If you're interested in participating and would like to have an electronic PDF copy of our rules & regs, just email me at I'll be more than happy to oblige.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Learning to Share the Waterways with Tugboats and Barges

One of my earliest recollections of oddball things that have happened during local fishing trips involved what I came to understand was caused by a tugboat pushing some barges out on the Intracoastal Waterway. I was well up a shallow creek at the time, when, all of a sudden, the water around me started swirling and disappearing, much like someone had flushed a commode, and the boat began moving the opposite direction I was trying to go with the trolling motor.

I didn't know what to make of the situation. For a few unnerving moments, I considered that I might have entered the twilight zone. Then, though, just as fast as the phenomenon had begun, it stopped, and everything returned to normal--again like a commode. It wasn't until I got back to the marina that evening and talked to Bill Brown, however, that I learned what had happened.

With that lesson learned, I wasn't so surprised at the squirrelly sensation I felt in my boat the first time I came up behind a tug pushing a barge on the Intracoastal Waterway. Even though I probably was a couple hundred or so yards back, the shimmying was very noticeable.

According to one tugboat worker, "The wheel wash, or strong underwater current, from a tug can cause severe turbulence for hundreds of yards behind the vessel. The safest thing to do is to stay well back or pass as wide as possible."

I also read about a fella who, while growing up around the Intracoastal Waterway, would wait for a tug to pass. Once the water started getting sucked out of an area, he and playmates would dash out on the newly exposed land to pick up crabs and whatever junk they could find. "We just had to get back to shore before the wall of water came rushing in and caught us," he said.

When dealing with tugboats and barges, you can't afford to overlook the dangers involved. For example, the No. 1 cause of serious collisions between recreational boats and tugs is the former crossing the latter's tow cables. It's important that recreational boaters realize those "big ugly boxes," otherwise known as barges, are connected to tugs via a thick steel cable that can run up to 3 inches in diameter. A cable that big can saw a boat in half in a matter of seconds.

And what about this case of a weekend bass tournament gone wrong? It seems an angler and his partner had anchored their boat in a favorite spot that was uncomfortably close to the channel, near a sharp bend in the river.

After only a few minutes of fishing, the front-seater spotted an empty barge poking its gigantic bow around the bend. At first, he thought the barge was heading over toward the beach, but a few seconds later, it began swinging directly at his anchored boat. The two men stared briefly at the towering wall of steel moving ominously toward them before frantically trying to start the outboard. It coughed a few times, sputtered and quit. Both men had no choice but to dive overboard before their boat was run down. They subsequently reached shore unscathed.

The tug's captain used the wind, which was blowing 25 to 30 knots that day, and the current to "flank" the barge through the tight bend in the river. It appeared to the two anglers that the wind had caught the barge's bow and swung it too far toward the middle of the river. The tug's captain, however, claimed he was right where he wanted to be, and the bass boat had left him no room to maneuver.

And while we're speaking of being run over, there's this close call involving a rowing scull crew that one day crossed the path of a tug, which Captain Bob Deck was maneuvering in high water to pass downstream through a railroad bridge. When he saw what was happening, the captain threw all three main engines into reverse, but "within seconds," he said, "the scull disappeared from view in front of my barge, 600 feet ahead.

"Fortunately for those eight men," he continued, "they realized their mistake just in time to accelerate to a speed they had never before achieved. Lonnie, the bridge tender, hailed me on the radio to say they had been so close to being run over that the coxswain could have touched the barge."

That account and others are revealed in "Stayin' Safe on the River: Big Boats and Right-of-Way," written by Deck and first published in the May-June 2014 issue of Big River Magazine (click on this link for the full story:

The author goes on in this article to describe water-skiers as making the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "In 40 years in the harbor, I cannot recall the number of times I have seen a boat pull a skier past my boat, then decide to circle my slower moving vessel," he explained. "Dozens of times, I have gasped in horror when a skier fell in front of my tow. So far, I have been lucky and was able to slow down or steer around enough to avoid running over any of them."

However, Deck has witnessed situations in which the people weren't as lucky. He cited one afternoon in 1996, when a pilot was pushing six loads in the narrow channel of the Minnesota River.

"I dropped my cup of coffee and watched in horror as a jet ski ran across the front barges and crashed into one of them," noted Deck. "The young man driving the jet ski was in the hospital for over a year and probably still isn't right." And in case you're wondering, the jet skier was sober.

Something people in recreational craft need to think about, according to Deck, is that, while a towboat pushing barges may seem slower than a speedboat or even a houseboat, the towboat cannot easily overcome its huge inertia. "A tow steering a bend or shaping up for a bridge span can throw the engines into reverse, attempting to avoid hitting an errant small boat," he said, "but doing so might cause the pilot to lose control and run aground or hit a bridge pier. No captain ever wants to be in the position of deciding whether to run over a small boat or to take out a bridge.

"Some boaters are obviously under the impression that all they need to know about the Nautical Rules of the Road is that unpowered vessels have the right of way over powered vessels," continued Deck. "While this is true, if they actually read all the rules, they would discover that a 'vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver' has the right of way over ALL other vessels--powered, sailed, paddled, or rowed--except those not under the control of an operator (a very rare situation, such as a runaway barge or a boat with a broken rudder)."

While our nation's inland and coastal waterways play host to thousands of recreational boats, they also carry barges, tugboats, towboats, and large ships loaded with tons of cargo 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Being aware of the constraints under which these commercial vessels operate can arm recreational boaters with the best protection against danger and could save your life.

I leave you with this final caution: Remember that five or more short blasts on the whistle is the "danger" signal. Always stay clear of any vessel sounding this signal.

Captain Bob Deck, with his son, Cullen.
The excerpts I included from Bob Deck's article, as posted in Big River Magazine, were used with the permission of both parties.

Author and journalist Mike Mosedale once wrote a "Welcome!" for a couple of Bob Deck's books (Deck on Deck and Between the Sticks). I'm including it here, so that you'll have a better understanding of this man's credentials. It reads as follows:

"For anyone who has ever fallen under the spell of the Mississippi, it's hard not to be a little jealous of Bob Deck. A deckhand as a teenager and a captain by the tender age of 22, Deck worked the big river during the 1970s and 1980s, a boom time for the Twin Cities barge business. Like Mark Twain and George Merrick before him--two former riverboat pilots who also felt compelled to chronicle their experiences on the Big Muddy long after they moved on to new careers--Deck paints a vivid and nostalgic portrait of a working life on the river. And for budding river rats, he also provides some practical tips on how best to guide six barges and 9,000 tons of grain through certain tricky stretches of water in St. Paul."