C.L. Sill

This column originally ran in July 2020, but is being printed again for Father’s Day 2021.

I’m fairly certain my boat is cursed. 

At the end of last summer I bought a 14-foot Carolina Skiff off a slightly creepy dude on Craigslist. They’re wide, flat bottom boats made of fiberglass that are generally associated with fishing saltwater shallows. They’re heavier than a dead preacher, but very stable and perfectly suited for fly-fishing. 

When I bought the boat, it was mostly held together with duct tape. I’ve spent the last year doing my best to fix it up and while I’ve made some progress, it’s been marred by a continuous cycle of disasters and mishaps. 

The boat’s maiden voyage was a day trip to Hayward in search of musky. One mile (not an exaggeration) into the trip, the lid on the boat’s middle bench flew off and smashed into a million pieces on the side of I-94. When we got to the lake, the battery for my newly purchased, never used trolling motor was dead and when I tried to start the outboard I pulled the choke clean out of the motor like a Three Stooges’ routine. 

Fall came quickly last year and that was the only trip we took before other priorities trumped fishing. I did manage to fix the trailer lights three different times (the right turn signal still doesn’t work), but other than that the boat sat forgotten all winter.

This spring I felt a renewed invigoration for the ship and figured the time had come to put the Hayward incident behind us. Last weekend Dan and I hauled the boat up to the Apple River Flowage to cast for bass and northerns. We made it to the boat launch without incident, but as we motored away from the dock and Dan gave it some gas, my brand new, still never used trolling motor slipped off its mount, pulled the battery cords loose and sank to the bottom. We turned around and went home. 

The first thing I did when we got back to the house was call my dad to ask him how he could have raised two sons who were such idiots. 

Dad cast a large shadow over us as kids and it remains mostly intact today. That phrase sounds kind of negative, but it’s not meant to be. He wasn’t one of those dads who would scream at you for missing a ground ball or losing a wrestling match (which I did on a regular basis). He was quiet, knowledgeable and supportive. Most importantly he was always, always there. Didn’t matter if we were playing cowboys and indians or struggling with our homework, he was never too busy for us. We were spoiled rotten, but with time instead of money.

     Dad’s shadow was cast not by intimidation or fear, but by expertise. He was, and still is, good at everything — including putting a boat in the water without some kind of stadium sized meltdown. And as these disasters kept piling up, it started to make me a little mad at him for not being a better teacher. 

“If you’re so damn good at this, why couldn’t you make me better 

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at it.”

When things go wrong we all try to find something or someone to blame and Dad briefly became a scapegoat for my inability to be self sufficient, at least in terms of boat ownership. 

But the more I thought about it the more I realized I just really missed him. I wished he didn’t live 350 miles away and the boat became a constant reminder of the distance between us. If he was here he’d come over to help work on it and fix in one afternoon what I’d been trying to figure out for two months, and probably still have time to clean my gutters and invent some new kind of solar-powered ceiling fan out of toothpicks and Elmer’s glue. I’d be pissed at how easy it all was for him and probably make some snide comment about it. But secretly I’d be glad he was still there to be my Dad.

After our initial idea of lighting the boat on fire and pushing it off the Highway 36 bridge was deemed inappropriate, Dan and I decided to buy another trolling motor and venture to the flowage again the next evening. 

We tiptoed up and down the channel until dark, ready to capsize or fall overboard or get struck by lightning at any moment. But finally, at long last, no tragedy befell us. Not only that, but just as the sun set, a 35” northern T-boned Dan’s intruder and together we landed his personal best pike on the fly. 

I couldn’t wait to get home and call Dad. We were there on that lake in a cursed boat because for 30 years I’ve been chasing his shadow instead of running from it — trying in every way I can to be like him. I knew he’d get a kick out of us finally getting some productive use out of the skiff, even though it’d also make him sad that he wasn’t there to do it with us.  

I was proud to have put together a successful trip and was excited by the thought of a summer filled with fishing new places. The curse had finally been lifted. As we loaded up to head home, I shut my tailgate on all three rods I’d brought and broke every one of them in half……

Not really — but I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had.

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