Hays Daily News

I always wanted to be a fishin' boat captain.

Unlike Forrest Gump, who made a promise in the movie to work on a shrimp boat with his friend, being the captain of a boat has always been a dream of mine.

Of course, in the Midwest, there are more boat drivers than captains. The boats are much smaller and the word "captain" just seems like an overstatement.

I remember my Uncle Bill purchased a book for me when I was in high school -- a complete guide to boating, although I can't recall its actual title.

I read it cover to cover several times until I lost it in one of my many moves a few years ago.

Recently, I sold my beloved Ranger bass boat, and purchased a pontoon boat as its replacement. That prompted me to dig through some old boxes in a frantic search for this book, but I never found it. Too bad too, as it might have saved me a few embarrassing moments.

My maiden voyage aboard my newish pontoon, opened my eyes a bit about being the captain of a vessel. A pontoon boat behaves more like a vessel that requires a captain than my old Ranger, or any previous fishing boat I have ever driven.

Indeed, it takes some getting used to.

I tried to recall tips from that old book I read years ago. As the wind kicked up some hearty waves on my favorite lake, I recalled some of the messages from the book about reading waves, and understanding the forces of wind upon a vessel. All navigation requires much more thinking, pre-planning and prediction when captaining a large vessel.

While there are similarities, we are only talking about a pontoon boat here. I am not equating the journeys to be anything like Sig Hansen maneuvering the Northwestern through an Arctic storm in the Bering Sea.

However, sometimes it seems that way on a windy Kansas day.

I have a propensity to dream when I'm on the water. On my pontoon, a mere 20 feet in length, I often dream of being a captain -- first on the Northwestern, then on the Time Bandit, then back to my vessel, pulling crayfish pots on Cedar Bluff.

It could happen. Just let me dream a bit.

Then reality set in as I recalled some of the lines from the Forrest Gump movie ... that is probably more like it as I laughed at myself.

Recently, while dreaming big and enjoying a fishing trip at Cedar Bluff, I resorted back to a slice of reality -- a slice of reality that was filled with a multitude of Gump-like moments.

I dropped anchor over an old brush pile on the lake, one I had helped build nearly 15 years ago. It was a brush pile with memories. I had been aboard the fisheries biologist's pontoon back then, volunteering my time to help with a fish habitat project there. I recall that errant slip on the wet deck like it was yesterday -- a true Gump moment where my body flailed about uncontrollably. The incident happened years before the movie was even made.

As I anchored over the old pile of Christmas trees, which now rests in 27 feet of water, I recalled this embarrassing moment, unaware that I was about to have another.

Nearly alone on the water, with only a sailboat cruising the open water a half-mile away, I leaned over to tie the anchor to the two-footed claw attached to the corner of the boat as my cellular phone slipped out of my shirt pocket and nearly fell into the lake.

I juggled it in mid-air several times before grasping it firmly and tucking it away -- the action, a trained response going back to my days as a football player. I rolled over the railing after making the cellular catch off balance and landed on the smallish corner on the front deck of my pontoon. As my arm and shoulder dipped into the water, I held my cell phone up high like a football. Looking over I saw that my feet were firmly planted on the green carpet in the corner of the deck. "Touchdown," I yelled. I looked around as if waiting for the signal from a referee, but in actuality, I looked around to see if anybody was watching.

It was a true Gump moment that I am thankful nobody had actually seen.

I got up, aching from the fall over the railing, and finally managed to secure the anchor.

So far, things were going pretty well -- I thought as I laughed uncontrollably at myself.

After a few minutes, I was relaxed enough to drop a line.

Fishing with my ultra-light spinning rod and 6 pound test, I dropped my line into the water after tying on a small Kastmaster spoon.

I set the hook, on what I thought was a bite, and drug up an old, rusty fishing lure that must have been down there for 15 years. Gump-like, right?

After removing the old, rusty lure, I dropped my spoon down again and got a thump. I set the hook and reeled in a little crappie. Pleased with myself, and hoping for something bigger, I dropped my line down again. I jiggled the spoon around the brush I could feel with my ultra-light tackle, and got another thump. I lightly set the hook with the classic three-finger and thumb snap, and whatever was on the other end of my line nearly took the rod out of my hand. The fight was on. After 20 minutes of wrangling and running around the boat like a ninny, I got my first glimpse at the monster. I grabbed the net and scooped it up. To my surprise, and certainly to the fish's, I hauled in the giant as my pole slipped over the edge of the deck and into the water. Gump moment number ???. Heck I lost count now. I laid the fish on the deck and drug my pole up from the deep by the line. The hook that was still embedded in the fish's mouth saved my ultra-light rig. I am sure it was the quick thinking I had learned from watching "Deadliest Catch" that has improved my fishing skills, yachtsmanship, captaining skills, and ability to deal with adversity.

The catch was a 16 pound, 3 ounce flathead catfish, which nearly stuffed the hold on my boat -- A 10-gallon Coleman cooler.

Enlightened by my Gumpness, and visions of greatness, I called it a day, hoping to get off the water before something else happened.

Yep, fishing is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you're going to get.

Fortunately for me, I have the memories of a day, stuffed with every kind of filling one could imagine, and I feel like I have earned the right to be decorated as a captain.

After loading my boat at the ramp, I glanced back at my fishing vessel. I recall that the model name printed on the side of my pontoon seemed to jump out like a sore thumb -- "The Forester" it is called.

That's right! And, I am its captain, Captain Steven, Steven Gump.