Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Clearwater Rocks

Charlie Pottenger’s boat being towed up the North Fork by Rusty and Darell Bentz. Rusty driving and Darell watching.

Darell Bentz (on the boat) and Rusty Bentz after safely retrieving stranded Charlie Pottenger’s jet boat from the shore of the U.S. Fish Hatchery on the North Fork Clearwater River.

By Charlie Pottenger
  We had often watched other fishermen guide their boats past the junction of the main Clearwater into the North Fork just past the U.S. Fish Hatchery, envious of the success we observed. Our plan was to go through what we knew was a narrow channel and try our luck. Ten seconds after committing the boat to the chosen course it became obvious from the grinding of the bottom on the shallow rocks that those others watched river levels with more wisdom than I possessed.
  We were stuck, grounded on rocks in about 8 to 15 inches of water in a boat needing more than 18 inches! We finally realized we were in a fix!
  At that point we had two choices: first, we could have abandoned the boat and sought help. Second, we could work together to move the boat over these miserable rocks toward the “deeper” waters of the North Fork. Naturally, as boat owner and certified genius, I selected the worst choice, to move the boat to the North Fork. My guest fishermen, John Baldwin of Spokane and Marcie and Darold Stanton of Orofino all helped as we rocked and pushed “Old Ironsides” across some of the devilish boulders.
  Later, Bryce Sundquist, a wonderful vision, thankfully appeared over the jagged rip-rap rocks defining the boundary of the hatchery armed with a huge coil of strong rope and a ratcheting Power-Pull. At this point Darold waded ashore to assist Bryce and an unidentified Idaho Fish and Game Officer who also volunteered. With the rope we moved the boat ever closer to the North Fork.
  At this point Deputy Mike Gladhart of the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol and a second officer arrived on an inflatable jet sled and offered additional help and safety advice, prompting us all to don our life preservers as we were outside of the boat in swift water trying to lift and coax the leaden boat over the last rocks before the North Fork. They also opined that we should have sought help when a 20 or 30 foot upstream tow might have freed the boat and that now that we were in the North Fork we might have to spend massive dollars to get out!
  This was looking grave. Bryce thought I might make it up stream to the Ahsahka boat ramp, but when we tried the trolling motor fouled in the lush North Fork weeds and the jet also was immediately clogged with weeds. Soon thereafter the trolling motor propeller was broken on some of the many large, weedy rocks and we were stuck. We gave up, tied the disabled boat to the Hatchery rocks and went home to spend a miserable, sleepless night.
  The plan was to seek wisdom and make a plan to extract the boat. I called a friend with great boat and wild river experience, Darell Bentz, founder of Bentz Boats in Lewiston. Darell said the only day free in his immediate schedule was Sunday so I drove to pick him up. When I arrived he had recruited his brother, Rusty Bentz to bring his big Bentz boat and we three set out to assess the situation. Three hours were spent trying to understand the complex low-water riverscape in the area between Ahsahka on the North Fork to Pink House on the main Clearwater.
  We drove to the private homes of Mr. Bob Davaz and of Tim and Sharon Barnett. Information gained there led Darell and Rusty to decide to launch their boat at Ahsahka and back it down under the highway and the railroad bridges and down through the riffle where I had destroyed my propeller and plugged my jet. Their wisdom was based on the knowledge the Bentz boat requires only eight inches versus my boat’s 18 inches.
  Well, the happy truth is that even with the catastrophic decisions I had made on Saturday the great skill of the Bentz brothers had rescued my boat and a little of my self esteem. They were able to tow me back to Ahsahka Landing without touching bottom while I sat in my boat coasting gently touching dozens of the mossy blocks lurking close under the surface.
  The good news is that the boat will be inspected and repaired, if necessary. The best news is no one was hurt. The lesson I needed to experience and learn is that the operator of the boat must be positive there is no risk of grounding before going into unknown channels. Another fact...we caught no fish!
  I am encouraged my guests have all expressed a willingness to go again and I am not bribing them!

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