Howard Delo

Our riverboat was high centered on a rock on the far side of the channel from the shore. Our only hope was to get a line attached to something solid across the channel and use an endless come-along to pull the boat off the rocks.

Gnarly stripped down to his skivvies, took the 5/8-inch nylon line in his teeth, and jumped over the side into the 38-degree, 12 knot current river, swimming frantically for shore. He made it with no time to spare and, while shaking almost uncontrollably, managed to get the line secured.

Using the come-along, I got the boat off the rocks and into deeper water. We returned to the launch, having to pull the boat over several silt bars and back to the ramp. We loaded the boat on the trailer and headed for home.

So much for the fiction, now for the real story!

Gnarly Dan and I drove to Susitna Landing to try for some silvers. I towed my 20-foot Thunder Jet riverboat behind the truck. I didn’t know the pool in the boat launch was as badly silted in as it was. After launching the boat, we got stuck a half-dozen times on the silt just trying to get out into the river. We finally succeeded in getting into the river channel headed upstream when we wanted to run downstream to our fishing spot. The river water levels were quite low, compounding the problem.

I ran the boat maybe 50 yards upriver and turned in the channel. While trying to angle back into the deeper channel water after the turn, we hit a shallow spot with submerged rocks and got hung up. I couldn’t move the boat under its own power, even with the river current pushing against the boat hull.

Luckily for us, Andy Couch arrived to take a charter out on the Kashwitna for silvers. He came over to see if he could help, and picked up Gnarly Dan, complete with heavy nylon line and come-along, and ran him over to shore. Dan went and brought my truck over to the shoreline to use as a dead weight for winching the boat.

After everything was in place, it became obvious the easiest way to move the boat was to slowly back the truck away from the shoreline, pulling on the line attached to the boat. The boat easily dragged off the rocks and swung into the mouth of the launch area.

After moving the truck over by the launch ramp and resetting the line, a slow pull with the truck got the boat over all the silt bars and up to the boat ramp. While trying to power the boat off the rocks, the intake had clogged up and the boat had no power to move itself, so we had to pull it.

We loaded the boat on its trailer and got ready to leave. I stopped at the office to inquire why the launch had not been dredged. I talked with Steve, the concessionaire, and he explained the problems he had trying to find a contractor who fit all the dredging permit requirements to do the work. He had not had any luck finding someone to do the job.

I plan to speak with Fish and Game about this situation, not to complain about the concessionaire, but to find out what Fish and Game was doing to help remedy the situation. Smaller and lighter open skiffs with outboards can mange because of their lighter weight and shallower draft, but heavier boats like my Thunder Jet need a well dredged launch area to operate properly.

Needless to say, I won’t bring my boat back to Su Landing until the launch area has been properly dredged for boat use.

Now, to be perfectly clear, I don’t have a problem with how Steve and Jennifer, the concessionaires, operate the facility. I think they have done a good job and I’ll be sorry to see them leave come October. The state may have to give some thought to how they structure the concession contract if they want to attract and keep a good operator. Helping with the annual necessary dredging would be a step in the right direction!

This month marks the beginning of my nineteenth year writing this column. I enjoy writing it and hope to continue as long as the Frontiersman will have me.

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