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Making a splash: If you're on the water long enough, you probably have a story about falling in

Posted: August 16, 2014 - 7:00pm  |  Updated: August 16, 2014 - 7:03pm
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Small boats holding several anglers can be a bit crowded at times on open water. But staying in the boat usually is no problem, at least most of the time.  Bob.McNally@jacksonville.com
Bob.McNally@jacksonville.com
Small boats holding several anglers can be a bit crowded at times on open water. But staying in the boat usually is no problem, at least most of the time.

Sure footing on boats is required of anglers, unless they want to sleep with the fishes, as “Godfather” movie mobster Luca Brasi would say. But spend enough time floating around on boats and sooner or later you’ll fall, likely getting wet, which at the least is sure to draw smiles and snickers from others who witness the unwanted half-gainer.

In a lifetime of bouncing around on large and small slick decks, I’ve had my share of stumbles — nothing particularly tragic, just my ego bruised a bit.

The first time I left a boat abruptly and unannounced was on a fishing trip for bonefish with friend Mike Fine, who at the time was with Berkley Tackle Co. It was a good-sized outing with writers, guides and other fishing industry folks, fishing out of Florida’s Middle Keys at Islamorada.

The sun was high and bright, visibility good, and it was my turn on the bow with a fly rod. We’d already caught a couple of fish, so the pressure was off, the angling infectious and fun, with plenty of laughs aboard.

As our captain poled us along, suddenly a pair of good bonefish showed ahead of the skiff. The guide turned the boat to intercept them so they’d cross 70 feet off the bow, as I got the fly in the air, measuring line to make a cast ahead of the fish.

First cast was perfect, several feet ahead of the unaware bones, the fly landing softly, settling just right. As they neared the streamer I stripped line seductively, but nothing, a complete refusal.

I stripped line fast, got the fly back in the air, and dropped a second cast just ahead of the crossing fish. Again, nothing. They ignored the fly the way cute, blond cheerleaders would snub chess-club geeks.

The fish weren’t spooked, but the angle from boat to bones was wider, and they were quickly leaving. Only time for one more shot with the fly. It was going to be a long cast, and I had to get it far to the right, well ahead of the moving fish to keep from dropping line or leader on them and spooking the always-wary flats rockets.

I stood, laid the fly rod horizontal and out to the right as far as possible, and leaned into the forward cast hard — and that was just enough body shift to have my right foot slide over the bow deck edge, and overboard I started tipping.

I knew I was going to get wet, and I was laughing before I hit water. Last thing I remember was pushing my fly rod into Fine’s arms, who was standing on my left at the bow — the idea being to keep my Fin-Nor reel from swimming with me and the fishes (as per Luca Brasi, again).

The water was only chest deep, but the plunge drenched me head to heel. The fish, of course, zipped away.

On the last night of the media outing, Fine gave out awards following a farewell dinner. Someone got a prize for biggest bonefish, another angler for most fish. I got the “Bobbing For Bonefish” award.

My most recent overboard mishap occurred not long ago in Biloxi, while fishing with my son Eric and wife Chris. We were after flounder, tossing jigs near rocks and rubble along the Gulf of Mexico casino waterfront.

Even today, years after the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, that coastal area still is a sunken jumble of broken concrete, submerged boats and buildings, pilings, rusting ribar and who knows what else. Navigating fishing water is safe, but near shore, boaters are wise to go slow, especially fishermen working sunken “stuff” for flounder and others.

We were in Eric’s 22-foot Skeeter bay skiff, he at the bow working the electric motor around docks and pilings, clusters of rubble and debris.

He’d pulled the boat into a tight, shallow spot with nearby bulkheads left and right, a barren sand-and-gravel bank a long cast to shore. He said it was a good flounder place, and I caught a fish where one should have been.

A few more casts yielded no more flatties, so Eric put the bow-mounted electric motor in reverse, backing the Skeeter quickly out to open water, because the close bulkheads prevented a 180-degree boat turn.

It was a good time to make a much-needed liquid discharge. So I moved to the stern, standing beside the outboard as he backed out the boat. With one hand on the smooth motor cowling, the other on me, I commenced to do what nature dictated.

And then it happened.

Because of my weight, the boat was a bit lower at the stern than it had been other times Eric backed out his Skeeter from that tight-confines flounder haven. Unknown to him — and certainly to me — there was old and immovable building rubble just below the waterline, and the Skeeter hull slammed into it at the stern. The heavy, moving boat came to an immediate stop.

I did not.

Without much to grab, I realized it was futile to fight inertia and the inevitable. So I simply stepped into space off the rear deck, slipping straight down feet first into dark Biloxi Bay. I never touched bottom, nor, thankfully, Katrina debris.

While still underwater, I was cognizant enough to look down and grab my expensive sunglasses hanging around my neck. That’s why when I kicked to the surface, my head was down, making it look to my wife and son like I was in distress or drowning.

Chris later said she was looking at me one moment, then we jarringly hit the obstruction, and I was gone.

No sound.

No splash.

No Bob.

Eric saw me go over, then surface, head down.

Before I could raise my head and gulp air, he was in the water trying to save his old man. That was unnecessary, but he didn’t know that. Chris sure didn’t, and she was in spouse panic.

After a confused couple of minutes, I was back in the boat, checking some scrapes from my impromptu plunge, though I was not much worse for the wet ordeal.

Later that night, at dinner, my family presented me with the “Floundering For Flounder” award, which, appropriately, was a plate of crab-stuffed fluke.

 

You can reach Bob McNally at

bob@mcnallyoutdoors.com.