Some 30 years ago, fishing to me meant climbing into the small but sturdy aluminum boat with a rod and a few crappie minnows or angle worms.
Dad would pull the cord a few times on the green and white 22 hp 1959 Mercury Mark 28A with the "Famous Super Hurricane Engine." As we headed to our favorite fishing spots, we'd yell, "Look! There's the loon!" to each other over the loud buzz of the outboard.
It was my job to climb over the built-in, hard, aluminum bench seats -- the kind that became burning hot in the summer sun -- to let the anchor down. I used every muscle in my then-skinny little body to pull the weedy anchor up. I can still hear the sound of the anchor clanging against the boat as I pulled the rope through the guides on the boat's bow after Dad started up the Merc again.
That big green Mercury monster was also the first outboard motor I ever drove. It again took all my might to pull that ripcord to get the motor started. My arms were a little stronger having spent hours rowing the boat across the bay before I was trusted to drive it.
I think I was the last of the kids to learn to ski behind that boat and motor. When the grandchildren were ready to learn there was a new pontoon boat and a used ski boat that I always thought of as the big gray elephant.
Somewhere along the way, Dad replaced the Mercury with another, newer motor. The dinosaur was showing its years, and it was getting difficult to get parts. The beloved outboard was passed along to a more engine-repair inclined family member, and nearly forgotten.
When Tom and I moved to Longville two years ago, the old Merc found its way onto our newly acquired second-hand boat. The boat was smaller and tippier than that old 14-foot fishing boat my Dad still uses. And the Mercury had certainly seen better days. The Super Hurricane engine no longer works in reverse. It takes many more pulls on the cord to get the motor buzzing. But the driver needs to be careful, because that 22 hp outboard only starts in forward gear!
We were thrilled, then, when the opportunity arose to get a used 16-foot 1990 Alumacraft with carpeted floor and bench seats along the sides. There is lots of storage and a live well (that fills up with the flip of a switch!) under those benches. A captain's chair and another seat spin around on posts, so the passengers can see and fish in every direction. A turn of the key reliably starts the 40 hp 1985 Evinrude, and off we go to try our first fishing spot.
The anchor is only attached by a rope -- no fancy guides to hold it tight off the front of the bow. But the captain's console has a radio with cassette deck, and the Lowrance fish locator is proudly mounted on top. We see weeds and fish go by on the screen, though we're still trying to figure out why sometimes it says the depth is 371 feet or more. When in doubt, read the instructions.
The trolling motor helped out once we found a place we wanted to fish. However, I'm told we really need one with a foot pedal. Oops! The mounting mechanism broke again. We'll try to J-B Weld it, but it may be a lost cause.
We optimistically fill the live well, only to empty it again on shore. A few worms were nibbled, but nothing ever hooked, and there were no strikes on the lure Tom was casting. Our 8-year-old friend, Craig, did catch a 4-inch bass from shore as we were ready to drive away, but that was the extent of our success.
At home again I look at the old Mercury hanging unused in the garage and remember hours practicing my cast, learning to bait my own hook with wiggly minnows and slimy worms. I'll never forget the sound of bright sunnies, silvery crappies and tiny perch flopping on the bottom of the boat while I learned the knack of taking them off the hook without getting stuck by sharp fins.
No fish locator, no trolling motor and no live well. We just had Dad's old aluminum boat, the Big Green Monster, an anchor and a live net. Our "new" boat and motor are wonderful, but that old Mercury still holds all my memories.
(Diane McCormack is a correspondent for The Brainerd Dispatch, a freelance writer living in north central Minnesota. Send comments or feedback to email@example.com.)
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