By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
As the water’s surface flashed by eyes and closed over my head, I knew I should have given more thought to how I was going to load the boat.
Late summertime, when even the mosquitoes are exhausted from the heat, can be pretty slow going for fishermen in the Deep South, but in certain spots under particular conditions, the action can be exciting like no other place or time of year, sometimes in more ways than one.
During one such summer in the late 1980s, the Old Men had gotten a tip on a jug fishing technique and a particular place to try it out. That led us to the Tallahatchie River and an informal boat ramp just south of Minter City.
Standard boat-hauling procedure called for the deep cycle marine battery, which ran the trolling motor and depth finder, to be transported in the back of the truck rather than in the boat itself, but we forgot to transfer it before launching. We also didn’t put the gas can in, either, a free-standing 5-gallon cube the shape and weight of Paul Bunyan’s lunch box.
The levee facing the river was steep, the water out from the edge was shallow, and the ramp itself was simply a patch of bare dirt that coincided with the two, a combination that made us worry we’d get our 2-wheel-drive pickup stuck – or worse, launch the truck with the boat, never a good start to a day. Much to our surprise, though, the boat floated free, the truck pulled away without hesitation, and the craft was easily tugged back to the bank.
The truck was parked to one side and the Old Men set in to prepare the gear. Eager to be underway, I seized the battery in one hand and the fuel can in the other and eased back down the hill, balancing my load and myself as I went. By the time I’d reached the bank, the fuel can felt as though it had enough gas to send the Queen Mary around the world, and the battery in my other hand certainly weighed enough to start its engine. Both needed to go in the boat’s back end, which lay roughly eight feet offshore. The boat had our ice chests in its floor and their presence made walking inside so laden impossible. Through the tea-colored water of the Tallahatchie I could see the bottom only inches below and decided to carefully wade to the stern, which appeared to sit no more than knee deep. One step from the bank, however, proved the bottom to be made of silt so loose it might as well have been just a darker layer of water, and maybe it was.
Part of the Red Cross course lifeguards have to take involves demonstrating they can swim while fully clothed. It might be a good idea to add holding a full gas can and a marine battery to that, in case they ever find themselves working along the Tallahatchie.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.