If I have taught my children anything, it is this: Never buy a boat that you find by the side of the road.
To most people, including my children, this may seem like an obvious nugget of wisdom. For me, this was an important life lesson I had to learn the hard way.
As a walleye fisherman, I have always relied on the generosity of my father or the kindness of friends to provide the fishing boat. This had typically been a one-sided arrangement by any measure. I would buy a tank of gas and a bucket of minnows. Someone else would finance, maintain, store and haul a $20,000 boat.
Over the years, the desire to own a boat and balance out the ledger of my life as a fisherman became stronger and stronger. I spent a lot of time online searching for used fishing boats. I would stop by the local Lund dealer on weekends to see what they had in stock. Once, while traveling across I-90, I actually counted the number of boats hitched behind pick-ups on their way to Lake Oahe. I stopped counting at fifty.
And then I found it. Or should I say, it found me.
A 1991 Lund Tyee II was sitting on the side of Highway 42 just west of Sioux Falls. It had a “For Sale” sign taped to the trailer. Looking back, I swear shafts of sunlight were shining down on the 16-foot long watercraft to make it sparkle like a disco ball. It didn’t take much for me to imagine myself on the forward deck, working the trolling motor and flipping another four-pound walleye into the live well.
Two days later—and a quick test run around Wall Lake—I was the proud owner of a fishing boat.
The first few weekends were magnificent. The engine turned over with ease and purred like a sleeping kitten. The electronics hummed in synchronized rhythm. The bow cut through the water as if it was the sword Excalibur. I was the captain of my vessel and no one could deny my rightful place on the water.
And then the wheels fell off. Literally.
I had a trailer tire blow out coming back from Lake Sinai about 20 miles south of Brookings. I spent the better part of a hot summer afternoon on the shoulder of I-29 trying to raise my trailer high enough to put on a spare. Unfortunately, the tire wasn’t my biggest problem. A support beam had broken away from the main frame of the trailer and would have to be re-welded.
The next Saturday, I discovered that I had accidently left my fish finder on all week, which completely drained my deep cell battery. Of course, I didn’t realize this until I hauled my boat all the way to Lake Thompson.
For some unknown reason, I began to have trouble re-starting the engine after it had been running for a while. This was especially true when I was furthest away from shore. My last trip to Lake Vermillion ended with me being pulled back to the boat launch by a sympathetic fisherman.
I would spend hundreds of dollars on spark plugs, fuses, filters, gaskets, pumps and switches—and then drag the boat to a nearby lake (Note: there are no lakes nearby Sioux Falls) only to have the engine cough up a cloud of smoke and sit in silent resignation next to the dock. I would then have to re-trailer my boat and head back to Sioux Falls wondering if there was a more expensive or wholly frustrating way to spend a weekend.
On Lake Madison the boat began to take on more water than usual. Another trip to the dealer revealed that the transom was rotting away from the back of my boat and needed to be rebuilt. The total expense for this little project would be about as much as I paid for the boat in the first place.
I decided it was time to put a “For Sale” sign on my boat and say good-bye. As someone who believes in the merits of the golden rule, I felt obligated to point out every fault from bow to stern to prospective buyers. In the end, I was only able to recover about half of what I put into the whole endeavor, but at least my conscience remained clear.
They say the two best days in a fisherman’s life are when he buys his first boat and when he sells it. I understand this adage better than most people.
Despite the endless costs and frustration, there were a few memorable days when I was able to take my family out on the water and drop a fishing line. In those glorious moments, that boat was everything I hoped it would be.