Meridian Star

Outdoors

May 23, 2014

Close call in a bass boat

MERIDIAN — As an outdoor journalist, it was my first time to cover a women’s bass tournament. The event was the women’s Bassin’ Gals World Championship at Athens Lake in East Texas. On the first practice day I was paired with Sue Crochet and it was her first time to have a journalist in her boat for a day of fishing.

    For this year-ending championship, Ranger boats and Mercury engines sponsored with truckloads of huge, matching  20 foot boats with engines as tall as the anglers and with enough power to send the boat airborne at the whim of the driver.   

    So it came to pass on that first morning, even though there was no need to hurry because it was only practice, Sue opened up that gorgeous new boat as we left the dock. I suppose she was so used to taking off full throttle with her diminutive Bass Cat,  that she got down heavy on the sleek Ranger’s throttle and we came out of the inlet onto the main body of the lake resembling the visual image of someone striking a match.

    The steering wheel seat had a windshield. But the passenger seat had none. So as Sue sped along just under the speed of sound with a combative scowl on her face, I was trying to stay in the craft by holding on for dear life. I couldn’t figure how to blow the air out of my lungs, stomach and jaws that had filled me with a volume equal to those blimp-like animals that float above every New York parade.

    Now Sue Crochet and her husband, Wade, have since become my close friends. But I have never asked her if she was trying that morning simply to practice for the next morning’s takeoff when the big money was on the line, or if the power of the big super rig just fooled her and she didn’t realize our speed. I really think it was the latter. I learned later that she was nervous about my being along and I think she was distracted and the Mercury was getting away from her.

    Anyway, on that Texas morning, with her heavy foot (hand), she had quite quickly acquired a passenger who surpassed her own nervousness and had moved into the category of terror. I remember thinking that if we should hit a submerged log, it would likely be Thursday before my body parts would land somewhere up around the Oklahoma border.

    Then things took a turn for the worse. Up ahead, bobbing on the surface, was a raft of those black ducks with the white bills that hang around all big bodies of water. Sue’s speed and trajectory was such that we were on a collision course with the flotilla of the big, ugly waterfowls. Sue should cut her speed and give the birds time to do their little running takeoffs and clear the way. Too, this would be my chance to exhale some of the air that our velocity had forced into my insides.

    But Sue never slowed! I think she froze up. In milliseconds we were into the flock and caught them just as several leaped into the air in an attempt to save themselves.

    Now visualize this. It really happened.

    I was holding with all my strength onto the Holy _____! bar to my left on the gunwale.

    Quicker than one could say a two-word profanity, one of the airborne ducks passed under my armpit, perfectly centered in the triangular opening formed by my right arm reaching out to the Please Save Me bar. The passage was violent to understate the happening.

    You see, the rooster-size duck was seemingly larger than the opening I provided. But I had on a jacket over a tight fitting life vest. It was the vest that saved me; a brand new one, provided by the sponsors of the event, that fit like a bullet proof vest on a portly deputy sheriff.

    When the duck smashed against my ribs and arm, the vest protected me. Now this all happened so fast that I am not sure Sue saw it. She might have blinked or, more likely had her eyes closed due to the frightful sight of all those birds in the air. We were so unacquainted that I didn’t say anything, even when she slowed and we began fishing. She too didn’t mention the near tragedy.        

    I still get weak when I wonder what if that six pound duck had hit me in the mouth. There would have been no pain as my neck snapped and sent me to the Great Beyond. But what a mess that bird and my face would have been following the splatter. And my obituary would have sounded ridiculous!

    The next day when I was fishing with another pro gal, I saw a duck hobbling around on the shore near where the incident occurred. It was in need of a couple of wing and leg splints and some aspirin, but I knew I had no chance of catching it. It had doubtless had its fill of the big blue Rangers and the guy in the passenger seat with his hair standing on end.

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