Safe Boating Options, Know Your Limits

The water was literally boiling, currents were 7-10 miles per hour, and the fish were biting. That’s when “the other” boat arrived. It seemed a bit odd for a boat to come up and anchor that close but it does happen in a river situation from time to time. Within a matter of moments it was swinging and getting sucked up into the rocks causing the owner to cut and run. By cut and run I mean cut the anchor rope and get out. We found out later it was all due inexperience.

My friend Kent Hollands (A Red River fishing guide I’ve written about before) were fishing together one evening looking for a hot bite for clients the next day. For our last stop we drove up into the North Forks Dam to see how the fast water bite was. This particular spot is not for the faint of heart and definitely not for inexperienced boaters. When we go up there we literally drive right into the face of nasty water and stiff currents. This seems stupid but if you hit it right the fishing can be out of this world.

Within 30 seconds of our arrival were catching catfish. Fish were hitting in that boiling froth as fast as we could bait hooks and cast back out. About ten minutes into our stop an older Lund boat with two young gentlemen saw us catch a fish and drove right in next to us and threw the anchor. When the anchor caught they threw their lines out to start fishing. Within a few seconds the eddy caught the boat and started pulling them forward in the current toward the huge, sharp, jagged rocks that make up the riffle dam. Like I said before they were forced to cut and run.

It was near dark so Kent and I decided to leave our find until morning and call it a night. After we got the boat loaded our new young friends loaded and came up to ask us about catfishing on the Red. They of course didn’t know we are experienced guides and understand current lines and breaks.

We asked them what they were thinking driving up that close to a dam and they said it was because they saw us catch fish. We quickly told them never to go up there again. (Not that that would have been a problem. They were nearly scared stiff) They asked how we could sit there straight while they got sucked up into the rocks. We explained about dam current and what it creates. We also explained that we were sitting in the fast straight water with two anchors so we couldn’t get sucked forward in case we missed the spot.

We went on to tell them that what happens below dams is the water funnels to a central point forcing the water down the center channel. This causes a swirling that can kill in the middle. When all of the water’s energy is forced to the middle like that it creates and eddy and the water along the banks flows backwards. It was this that caught their boat forcing them back into the face of the dam.

As we visited more we found out that these young men had never driven a boat in the river before. They had no idea of the hazards that lurk beneath the surface of the water. I’m not saying that rivers are going to kill you for boating in them, but I am saying they commands some respect. You have to understand how the currents work and what the water looks like when there are hidden dangers under the surface like tree stumps and rocks.

There are dangers on any body of water that you enjoy boating on. Some bodies of water are more hazardous than others. No matter where you go boating you must respect the water you are in, know what you are getting into and what steps to take to be safe.

First and foremost is wear you life jacket. This is the simplest way to stay safe in case of a problem. Second is take a boaters safety course. North Dakota Game and Fish offers this course free of charge. It is a great reminder of the dos and don’t for safe boating. Lastly, just use your head. Think before you drive. Make sure you know how to read the water and just don’t do anything stupid when boating. This will ensure you have a safe and memorable trip.

Until next time get outside and make some memories

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