Wednesday, February 24, 2010
How much is a rockfish worth?
It was a seemingly normal summer day in 2007 when Stacy called me saying I should come with Ron and him rockfishing below Fort Loudon Damn. Earlier he had produced pictures of himself holding fish as long as a man and I had thought "how many fish steaks could I get out of that". There are not many fish safe to eat in Loudon lake due to mercury and pcb's, but the Rockfish or Striper (as some locals call them) can be consumed, at least for now. I jumped at the chance to battle these non-native giants with two of my best friends. Stacy, who could grow a beard in middle school, had not changed physically in a decade but was no longer the wild man that gave him the moniker "crazy Stacy" on the football team. Since returning from a short college football career he had graduated college and became a family man. His amazing instincts for harvesting game makes him one of my favorite people to hunt with. On the other hand Ron had grown to 6'3" tall and weighed at least 250lbs which happens to be 100lbs heavier than when he wrestled in high school. He is the hardest working man in the world, holding down two jobs for as long as I can remember and still spending more time in the woods hunting and trapping than the rest of us. I myself had gained weight like Ron but with out the growth in height. I went from being little Gabe at 5'7" to being "stocky" to anyone not wanting to insult the bowling ball I had become. I always expect adventure when I am with the boys since they seem to have little fear of anything and a curiosity of whats over the next ridge. But I had no Idea how close we would come to meeting our makers this day. We slid Stacy's 15' modified V aluminum boat into the river and started up stream toward the damn. Even though Stacy had used this boat in the boils below the damn before, I wondered if he had considered what difference adding me, a 200 pound man, to the back end would have. The first sign of trouble was during Stacy's explaination that we may not have that good of success because the moon was wrong. Then he mentioned the fact that my job was to put the two naked wires laying behind me against the battery terminals to start the bilge pump anytime the boat started filling up with water! The roar of the boils were evident before we could see them. the water being generated from turbines at the bottom of the damn looked like a whirlpool in a class 5 rapid. For the first 30 minutes we bounced around in the boils pumping water and trying to cast large plugs in to the concrete cut-ins on the face of the damn. Ron was standing at the front of the boat tempting fate every time the boat was jarred by the upheaval of water when Stacy had to gun it in full reverse to keep us out of the most dangerous area. First I felt water rush in over the back and up onto my legs. then I felt my heart jump as I reached for the afore mentioned naked wires to get the pump pumping. I was having trouble since water was over the battery and something kept hitting my elbow. When I realized that the something was the gas tank I almost panicked. Luckily Stacy stayed calm and set the engine full forward and shot us up into one of the cut-ins in the damn we had just been casting into. For reasons I am unaware of the water is as calm as a swimming pool in these little concrete coffins and this gave me time to regain my cool get the battery in the dry and proceed to pump the calf deep water out of the back of the boat. After some heavy duty pushing by Ron and some fancy boat work by Stacy we popped out of the cutout and raced across the boils to safety. Oddly enough this was the first time I noticed a family of Mexicans on the rocky shore fishing and I wondered what they thought about the crazy rednecks that just attempted to drown themselves for a few lousy rock fish.