A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a thumbnail sketch of how my soul brother Wayne Grzadieleski and I first “found” each other on the banks of the Red River in Drayton, North Dakota, somewhere around 1991. We got together once a year until 2013 and 2014, when the proverbial “circumstances beyond our control” kept both of us close to home. We were determined that nothing was going to keep us apart three years in a row, so since neither the weather nor the fishing here in Central Missouri was anything to brag about, I was unanimously elected to be the traveler.
Actually, I didn’t mind at all. Except for the thrice-cursed 60 miles of US 65 between Marshall and Chillicothe, the US 65 to US 36 to I 29 to Drayton route I take is all four-lane highway. More important, the Red River is one of the best places in the world to catch channel cats weighing more than 20 pounds, and Wayne has a super boat.
I left Sedalia about 7:00 p.m. Monday evening and discovered I had the highway virtually to myself. I don’t know if highway department studies will confirm this or not, but my experience indicates that the night after Labor Day must be one of the lowest traffic count periods of the entire year. Cruising down the highway listening to books on tape was not only getting me where I wanted to be, but it was also a lot of fun. In fact, despite two bouts of phooey in the form of severe thunderstorms and a longer-than-intended stop for a nap in South Dakota, I arrived at Wayne’s with a smile on my face a little after 1:00 p.m. Tuesday.
The weather was beautiful, and everything seemed perfect for an evening on the river. It was, too, until Wayne put his outboard motor into gear. The motor, which started and idled in neutral without a hiccup, bogged down whenever its prop had to push water.
Stubborn cusses that we both are, we sputtered upriver a mile or so and tossed in our lines. Ten minutes later, I had a 22-pounder flopping in the bottom of the boat, which was definitely fun. Another hour produced only one small catfish, so we put the boat back on its trailer and retreated back home. Phooey!
By a process of elimination, we determined that the engine’s carburetors were the most likely culprit. Unfortunately, when the folks at Yamaha built their 60 hp four-stroke motor, they somehow suspended the carburetors in thin air and built the motor around them. There was simply no way that someone without a repair manual and specialized tools was going to access them.
Most of Wednesday was spent driving to Grand Forks for some professional strength carburetor cleaner and then using some “creative” ways to get as much of it as possible where it allegedly would do the most good. Our efforts produced some noticeable improvement, but by mid afternoon we had reached a performance plateau that was still far from satisfactory.
Nevertheless, we launched the boat and spent a couple of hours fishing. Wayne caught an 18-pounder, and I landed a couple of 3-pounders.
Thursday we decided enough was enough. Our favorite fishing area was 22 miles from the ramp by water but a little less than nine miles by road. And there was a place we could leave the boat tied to the bank overnight. Wayne putted upriver in the boat, and I met him at our new base of operations in the truck.
When he arrived, Wayne reported that he had found one precise point on the throttle where the motor ran reasonably well. It wasn’t powerful enough to plane the boat on its own, but Wayne found he could move to the front of the boat, force the bow down and it would stay down. This little trick required turning loose of the steering wheel on a fairly narrow and very winding river, but how fun would life be without a few risks?
Having eliminated the recalcitrant motor’s phooey factor, we spent the rest of Thursday, Friday and part of Saturday catching fish, including a pleasing number of jumbo channel cats that tickled the 20-pound mark. Then, our fishing time over, I took my turn and brought the boat back down river to the ramp. Maybe it would take a fellow river rat to understand, but, to me, following the Red River’s countless twists and turns for 22 miles is (almost) more fun than catching big catfish.
This is an outdoor column, so I naturally used the space to describe outdoorsy stuff. But although I would highly recommend the Red River as a destination to anyone who enjoys fishing moving water in near solitude — we saw only one other boat in five days — the real reason I go north is so Wayne and I can recharge our mutual batteries. The details of how we do that won’t ever appear in print.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]