Stihl Afloat

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By Cap’n Larry Jarboe
The absolutely most unbelieveable fishing adventure in my memory began with a trip up Indian Creek to clear away a Loblolly pine tree that had fallen across the creek.
Indian Creek is a tributary of The Patuxent River. It is also the border between St. Mary’s and Charles Counties. This creek provides a lovely excursion trip that transitions from salt marsh habitat to hardwood forest. There is also some fine perch fishing where the creek narrows in the hardwood forest.
Some years ago, I took my 17′ Grumman canoe with an electric trolling motor up the creek to catch a bucket of white perch in the honey hole beside the clay bank. I had dipped a butter tub full of fresh grass shrimp from the nearby shore grass. Those little buggers are the best bait to hook a stringer of perch. Unfortunately, the spring rains had loosened the roots of an old red heart pine that had fallen across the creek blocking my course to the hot spot.
So, I fished the waters downstream. Caught far fewer fish than I should have. And, resolved to deal with the wooden barricade.
A week later, after consulting the tide tables, I grabbed two Stihl chainsaws from the mill and recruited my fishing buddy and left handed guitar picker, Ralph Long, to help clear that snag in the creek.

I eased the my 25′ KenCraft gingerly up the creek during the top end of the incoming tide. I carefully worked the boat around and put my plow anchor overboard far ahead of the fallen tree. Then, I fed out line as the tide pulled the boat to the tree. When the dive platform at the stern of the boat came a few inches from the tree, I hitched off the line.

I marked the log with a blue lumber crayon to cut enough space so that I could squeeze my canoe through but a larger boat couldn’t get through. Ralph and I went to work. Both Stihl saws cranked on the first pull. Being left handed, Ralph stood on the starboard side of the dive platform straddling the big gap the big hammerhead shark had consumed during the past short winter trip to Florida.

We wound up those razor sharp saws and bore down on each blue mark in front of us. In no time at all, a big block of pine dropped into the water and floated up the creek. The way was then clear for me and my canoe. Your skiff would get stuck.

We pulled up the plow anchor and eased out the creek. It was early summer, so, rock, perch, spot, and catfish (croaker were virtually non-existant back then) should be swarming up on Buzzard Island Bar on the Calvert County side of the Pax River channel.

At the top edge of the bar, I slipped the plow anchor overboard. I should note here that I am a precision anchoring fanatic. Good fishing spots are often only a few feet across. You’re either on the hole or off. That is the difference between fishing and catching.

I also made a point to keep a sharp point at the end of my plow anchor that was hollow ground with a little Makita grinder. This design anchor will quickly grab and set in sand, grass, mud, and oyster bottom. A couple feet above the stainless anchor chain on the anchor line there was a snap clip with a very special fish attracting purpose.

To this spring loaded clip, I attached a big mesh bag with a frozen block of ground up fish carcasses recycled from past fishing trips. As the chum thawed, bits of fish meat treats would spread across the bottom concentrating feeding fish directly under the boat.

So, with the anchor and chum bag overboard and about fifty feet of line payed out, Ralph and I awaited the onset of the moving ebb tide.

During slack tide, we did not expect to catch much more than bar dogs (a.k.a. toadfish). We broke out the Lance Toastchee crackers that had become our regular fishing survival food. While we were munching on those peanut butter crackers, the bow of the KenCraft moved quickly around. We started moving downriver.

Nothing in my past experience had prepared me for having the bottom of the river drag my boat downriver. The anchor line was taught and singing through the water as we were pulled at a steady six or seven knots toward the Bay.

The physical impossibility of moving bottom finally registered in my incomprehending mind. A greater realization occurred. Something, a very big something, was dragging us down the river.

“Ralph, we caught a big one!” I said and pointed to the anchor line.

I swung the boat back and forth to offer more resistance to feel out just what kind of creature or submarine we were hooked to. After about the fourth cycle, a huge manta ray flew out of the water on a very short leash. The plow anchor was imbedded in the beast’s upper gaping jaw. That monster must have tried to eat the chum bag. The momentum of its great body had snagged the 700 ought hook, otherwise known as a plow anchor, in its gaping mouth.

Seeing a giant manta ray with a twenty five foot wingspread doing acrobatics off the bow of your boat is like having a stealth bomber buzz you at low altitude. Ralph and I knew what a manta ray looked like as the reknown local bass player and acupuncturist, Big George Henderson, had caught and released a very small one on a past Keys fishing trip with us. Those aerial maneuvers were awe inspiring. What we were witnessing was just plain terrifying!

After a couple minutes (it seemed like two hours) of trying to shake that plow anchor hook, the devil ray decided to run to the Bay.

Again, at a steady six or seven knots we headed past Senator Paul Bailey’s waterfront farm, Drift Inn, Sandgates Inn, Seabreeze, and down the Patuxent River. I steadily worked the wheel back and forth attempting to tire the massive creature.

Ralph took over the wheel as I went up to the bow to put a little distance between us and that monster manta ray. I pulled a big coil of line up on the deck and tried to slip the line past the anchor cleat. The intense pressure of three tons of stress had locked the line hard down on the cleat. Until the line might go slack, the hitched line would not be worked loose. I took over the wheel as we continued our ride down the Patuxent.

Cruising past Greenwell Manor, Hollywood Shores, and the old Jones Wharf public landing, I had time to think about the enormity of capturing such a big fish.

“Ralph, we’re going to be famous. No one in the history of Southern Maryland has ever caught such a big fish. They’re going to frame the picture at the Tackle Box.” I said.

“Yep, and you’re going to have one heck of a taxidermist bill.” Ralph replied.

Leave it to Ralph to spoil a good day.

So we cruised back and forth as the ray passed Drum Cliffs and Clarkes Landing. Off the end of Myrtle Point, the manta stopped and the line went slack.

Ralph and I looked over each side to see a massive black body arise directly beneath the boat. Each wing broke the water and circled together above us.

The great canopy of fish flesh inspired Ralph to call out, “We don’t got him. He’s got us!”

One roll of that ray and we were done for.

“The chainsaws, Ralph!” I blurted.

We each grabbed a chainsaw from under the wide gunnels. Again, both Stihl saws started on the first pull. With a swift motion, each of us sliced through the wing on our respective sides of the boat. Plop, both wing tips fell on the gunnels wth the tips crossed over the engine box.

Neither of us had time to consider the lifetime supply of deep sea scallops behind us as the wounded ray dove straight down into the hundred foot plus depths that sweep past Myrtle Point. The boat stern popped up in the air like a pencil bobber. Ralph and I found our faces jammed into the windshied looking down at the water as the two giant severed wing tips slid past us into the river.

The boat recovered easily from the quick tug. Then, the ray exerted a more steady pull. The stern of the KenCraft arose again vertically and the bow went under water. The cabin reached about two thirds under when the ray eased up.

The boat resumed her horizontal position.

“Ralph, one more pull and we’re going down.” I said. “If the cabin goes under, we’ll sink like a rock.”

I grabbed a Stihl chainsaw and jumped back up on the bow. With my left foot deep within the coil of anchor line on the bow and my right foot pushed against the anchor cleat, I had a slip proof stance when the slow insistant pull started.

As the bow started to go down, I pulled on the chainsaw starting cord. It did not fire. Quickly, I cranked again. No start on that pull. By the third pull, my feet were getting wet. I looked up the see Ralph’s eyes as big as saucers with his face pressed against the windshield.

I was standing with the boat almost vertical against my left side. The anchor line slid forward and wrapped around my left leg while the bulk of my weight was supported by my right foot on the anchor cleat. As the water reached under my knees, I realized that I had forgotten something.

I forgot to flip the kill switch on the chainsaw.

A fast flip of the toggle switch and three more super quick pulls to clear the flooded carburetor and the saw started. The river was now flowing above my knees. The saw bar barely reached the taut line underwater without drowning the engine. I cut the line just past the anchor cleat nicking the gel coat in the process.

The boat slammed down to the river’s surface knocking me to the top of the cabin. I untangled my left leg and got back into the cockpit.

The big one got away with my plow anchor, anchor chain, chum bag, and fifty feet of anchor line traling behind.

That was the last time Ralph went fishing with me.

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