Jul 10, 2015

The 12 Foot Jon Boat

I remember a Saturday in 2005 when my buddy Art asked if I wanted to go fishing.   Sadly, I told him that I couldn't fish that day because my wonderful, beautiful, amazingly intelligent wife had other plans for me.  Those plans included a list of to-do’s like cutting the grass.  She muttered something like, "If you don't cut it this weekend, it will look like the Chequamegon National Forest by Monday."

Art looked out across Lake Winnebago and replied, "Someday I hope I make enough money to cut my own grass."  I responded with something really intelligent like, “Huh?”  I always thought people tried to make enough money so they could pay someone else to cut their grass.

I asked him to explain.  Art said that he believed he should work hard all week when he's physically and mentally capable of doing so.  He said he didn’t have time to cut the grass since time is money and he could make more of it working than it would cost to pay someone else to cut the grass.  Then, when the weekend arrived and everyone else was cutting their grass, he could be on the lake, catching walleyes.  That boy just might have some sense. 

I recalled this story recently when my wife and I were talking about our very crazy, overscheduled lives.  At one point in the conversation I said, "I hope that one day I am so successful that I can drive around Wisconsin in an old truck with a 12-foot jon boat permanently affixed to the bed — fishing any time and anywhere the spirit moves me." Like I said to Art in 2005, Jeannie responded with her version of, "Huh?"

Let me explain.

I met my wife in December 1987 at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where we were both serving as Army lieutenants.  We were set up for a blind lunch date and, apparently, when I first pulled up, she exclaimed to the girl who set us up, "Oh, God — he's a redneck!"  Back then I thought I had it all.  I had a good job, I was single, and I had a truck with a 12-foot jon boat permanently affixed to the bed — that is, when it wasn't in one of the many bass ponds adorning Fort Stewart. 

After our romantic lunch at a sandwich shop in the post exchange, I asked her to a movie — which she reluctantly accepted.  I say “reluctantly” because the 24th Infantry Division had far more men than women.  Jeannie had been stationed there only a few weeks, and her phone never stopped ringing.  Up until that day, my primary goal in life was to catch a 10-pound largemouth bass. I left that lunch with a much larger goal — to catch her. Being the romantic that I was, I took her bass fishing for our second date and then deer hunting for our third.

Life was simple then.  I worked hard and fished even harder.  I fished before work, I fished after work, and at the risk of getting retroactively busted for being AWOL, I sometimes fished during work.   When I wasn’t fishing or hunting, I was employing every lure and trick in my “tackle box” to land her.  Although I came very close, I never did catch the 10-pound largemouth bass, but after a relatively short courtship, I was able to catch Jeannie.

We married and began to build our family.  As our family grew and our lives became more and more complicated, our boat grew right along with it.  Soon after we had our second daughter, I bought a 14-foot aluminum boat with a trailer and a 25 hp motor.  That was an exciting day for me because I could fish bigger lakes and could get to my hot spots quicker than I could in the 12-foot jon.  It was great — initially.  But as my family grew, so did my responsibilities at work.  To add insult, the Internet exploded, which meant I now had to keep up with email, and I was introduced to the amazing new device called a cell phone – now known in my family as the 24/7 tether.  So I fished far less and now had the added pleasure of maintaining a boat, motor and trailer.  I also learned that it is much easier to store a 12-foot jon than it is to store a trailered 14-foot V-hull with a motor that had to be winterized and a trailer that, it seemed, needed bearings packed or replaced every other time I took it out.   

When our third daughter, Mary, was born I scored a nice 16-foot V-hull with a bigger trailer and a bigger motor. As the girls grew, they became involved in various activities that included swim lessons, Brownies, gymnastics and a multitude of other things that cut further into our fishing time.  Let me be clear — it was not all bad.  It was actually mostly good because when I could carve out time to fish, I was able to take the girls along and share with them one of the things that brought me a lifetime of joy. 

In 2001, we moved to Oshkosh and lived a few short blocks from the walleye factory called Lake Winnebago.  Shortly before the move, I decided to sell the 16-footer, so I was boatless for a short period of time. 

From 2001 until 2003, the girls and I mostly fished from shore.  Although we often caught fish, I longed to get back on the water in a suitable boat.  The girls also wanted to learn to ski and tube, so I broke down and happily purchased an 18-foot Alumacraft with a 115 hp Johnson engine.

I have read that the two happiest days of a boat owner's life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells the boat. I agree.  I loved that boat and so did the girls as we created innumerable memories of fishing, skiing, tubing and boating to the many different restaurants accessible by water throughout the Winnebago chain. 

The 18-footer was also a pain in my backside.  Every spring I had to hire someone to put my boat in the water — and every fall I had to hire someone to take it out.  Sometimes I even managed to accomplish this before the lake froze.  Every winter I had to pay someone to winterize the motor, and I paid someone else to store it.  Once in Canada I even had the memorable experience of removing the lower unit after hitting a vertically floating log in 47 feet of water while going 40 mph.  It wasn’t all bad, though, because $6,000 later, I was right back out there!

I was really, really happy the day I sold that boat to my good friend Chris. 

Today my oldest daughter, Kate, is a college graduate and an Army nurse.  My middle daughter, Ali, is a junior in college, and my youngest daughter, Mary, is a junior in high school.  Our lives are still crazy-busy and we find little time to fish.

And I am once again almost boatless.  I say “almost” because my youngest brother, Dan, has a 12-foot jon boat he never uses but that he stores at our hunting land in Neshkoro.  A few weeks ago, I loaded that boat in the back of my 2003 Ford truck and drove around town just to see how it felt.  It felt good.

Art was right after all.  Today I work long and hard and simply cannot afford the time to cut my own grass — so I pay my neighbor to do it. Soon, I plan to make my brother, Dan, an offer on that 12-foot jon.  If he accepts, that boat will be permanently affixed to the bed of my old truck — that is, when I’m not out chasing that 10-pound largemouth or courting my sweetheart wherever and whenever the spirit moves me.