I recently took my wife to Lake Falcon for three days off. This was both a reconnaissance trip for future tournaments, and to catch a few quality bass that Lake Falcon is known for. However, the very first day of our mini bass fishing vacation was almost my last day bass fishing. I hope by sharing my story, it will keep a few of you from making the same mistakes I made. Mistakes I am confident almost cost me my life.
We arrived in Zapata at about noon. Just in time to check into the motel, unload the truck, and get out on the water and enjoy the overcast skies and 85 degree temperatures that are all too rare in South Texas in mid July. With the 5-10 mph winds and overcast skies, the fishing should be great! This was all I could think about as we made our way to Falcon Lake Tackle to pick up a few supplies, and talk to James and Tom to see what the prevailing patterns had been. Well James was off playing at Sugar Lake, MX, but Tom was there to point us in the right direction. Tom said hardwood trees in 3-5 feet of water just across from the entrance to the Voleno, which had been packed with fish for over a week. This information also came with a warning that the weather pattern had been producing thunderstorms in the afternoons and that some had been very strong. Not heeding this warning was mistake number one.
We arrived at the ramp and went through our normal prelaunch checklist and put the boat in the water. While my wife was parking the truck, I opened the rod locker and removed a jig rod and plastics rod for both of us, and since it was overcast, I also put a Vibrashock rod and spinnerbait rod on the deck. Notice I didn’t mention life jackets. I am horrible about not wearing a life jacket unless during a tournament, when rules dictate I must wear one. This is a very bad habit on my part, but not having a Mustang, or other inflatable, and still using conventional jackets makes a life jacket a very hot and uncomfortable choice in the summer. This is not a valid excuse; however, it is the reason that I leave them stored unless I’m fishing a tournament.
We arrive at the patch of hardwoods I had decided to fish, and begin catching bass. Most are in the three to four pound range, with an occasional five to seven pound bass showing up, making for a fun afternoon, but that was all about to change. About this time, I noticed dark clouds to the east; however, I did not hear any thunder or see any lightening. I wrote it off as just a small shower and not worth any further attention. This was mistake number two! In hindsight, I really should have given more credit to the shower and took the time to pull up the radar on the Iphone. We continued fishing and were really enjoying a fast catch rate when seemingly out of nowhere we were hit with a stiff 30-40 mph Southeasterly breeze. I thought, no problem, this is just a downdraft out of that shower, and we can keep fishing. Very shortly afterward, the winds increased to 50-60 mph, and the waves grew very rapidly to 2-3 foot nasty whitecaps and chop. This made the fact that we’re in thick timber a bad place to be for the boat.
This was where I made mistake Number 3! I should have immediately grabbed our life jackets, to be on the safe side, but I did not. I made the decision that we would troll out to the edge of the timber, put the bow into the wind, and just ride out the storm. When it passed we could go back to fishing. At this time, I put the trolling motor on high and picked my way through the hardwoods and ever-growing waves. As I got to the edge of the timber, I pulled the trolling motor up and started to secure the rope as the lower unit of the outboard contacted a stump. With the three to four foot waves that were crashing into the boat, this made the boat change directions violently and overboard I went.
Now, there are a number of thoughts that go through your head when you know you’re going overboard, especially when you know the water is full of sharp 60 year old hardwood stumps and limbs. First thought that went through my mind was “don’t step on the Kistler Z Bone rods”. That probably should have been the last thing on my mind at that point in time, but it was the thought of breaking those rods that made me do a cartwheel into a rolling lake full of sharp sticks, instead of simply falling over the side and keeping hold of the boat. As I entered the water, this is when the thought of impaling myself entered my mind. Phew! Made it through the initial entry without being impaled, and as I come to the top of the water I see the boat being blown away at a rapid rate!
I realize I am going to have to swim with everything I’ve got to catch my Legend boat, which is rapidly picking up speed in the high winds and waves. I made it back to the side of the boat just as the bow hits a stump and the stern swings away from me, yet brings the bow around at me. I grab the bow of the boat and see that my wife has also made it to the bow and tries to help me back in the boat, but the current generated by the large waves is trying to pull me under the boat. I realize there is no way that I can climb back in the boat until I make it to the stern. This was the point that I made Mistake Number 4. My wife asked if I wanted a Lifejacket and I said NO!
All I could think about was the boat being beaten around in the stumps, and I knew I could make it back in the boat. All I had to do was make my way to the stern. Now, my Legend is only 21ft long, but it seemed like a mile when I was being drug through an underwater forest of sharp mesquite trees. The trees were grabbing and ripping at my clothes. Several times I was stretched to the limit while trying to keep hold of the side of the boat as it was moving rapidly through the trees and getting jabbed, scraped, and beaten by the trees. This was the point that I realized I might not survive this. Several times my shirt was snagged and almost pulled me from the side of the boat. Luckily the shirt gave before my grip did, and I eventually made my way to the back of the boat. With a little timing, I was able to surf a wave right onto the back deck.
I immediately jumped to the helm and turned the bow to the waves and idled back out toward clear water. This was when I looked down and realized that the boat had taken on massive amounts of water. There was six inches of water around my feet. Check the bilge pump, yes it is pumping as fast as it can. Okay, we need to get out of these waves and recheck everything. I think this was about the time that I noticed how much pain and stinging I had going on from all the scrapes, gouges and scratches I had received in the water. I stepped on the hotfoot and realize there is no way I am going to get on plane until some more water is pumped out. So, I just try to keep the bow up and pointed into the wind so the bilge pump can remove the 100 plus gallons of water.
As the water finally clears the floorboard I manage to get the boat up and on plane, and we head to the ramp. At the ramp, while my wife went to get the truck, I idled back out to wait our turn on the ramp and realized how many stupid mistakes I had made. WOW! 24 years of owning a Bass Boat and the “it won’t happen to me’s” had finally caught up with me. I am convinced that the only reason I survived this is because the Lord helped me through it.
I hope that reading through all the mistakes that I made on this day will somehow stick in your memory, and when you are faced with the same situations you will not make the same mistakes I did, because It can happen to you!!