R IKI PIKE HAS BEEN DRIVING bass boats longer than he’s been driving pick-up trucks.
The 32-year-old angler from Silsbee claims he has bucked some big waves on some of Texas’s largest reservoirs over the years. Getting into a bind had never been an issue until a fateful Saturday morning last April on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in eastern Texas.
“It’s the first time I ever felt like I was in trouble,” said Pike.
To hear Pike tell it, losing power to the big motor in tall waves in big winds is akin to witnessing the front wheel come off of a dirt bike sailing 20 feet above ground. Somehow you just know the outcome is not going to be good.
“It makes no difference how good of a boat driver you are,” Pike said. “If you lose power to the big motor you are at the mercy of the wind.”
Pike was competing in a team tournament on April 14 out of Cassels Boykin County Park with Kyle Mackey, also of Silsbee. Mackey is a former NFL quarterback who was Pike’s high school football coach in the early 2000s. Both are big guys. Pike is 6-3, 289 pounds. Mackey stands 6-5 and weighs 300 pounds.
A cold front packing stiff northwest winds had been forecast to pass through the region about mid-morning, so Pike played it smart and fished within a few miles of the ramp. The angler said there was barely a ripple on the water at daylight when he launched his Nitro Z8 and headed south of the State Highway 147 bridge towards Mudd Creek, a protected pocket on the lake’s west shore.
About 9:45 a.m., the pleasant conditions began to deteriorate. That’s when Pike decided to move closer to the boat ramp.
“When we got to Calhoun Point we could see things had gotten really rough, so I decided to run the wave troughs toward Julie Creek and work my way up the west bank towards the bridge.” he said. “There were solid five- to six-footers out there, and it was blowing steady at 25 m.p.h. It was pretty rough, but I’ve been in worse conditions on Rayburn before.”
Pike said he was tacking along at slow speed without any issues until his 225-horsepower engine backfired and lost power. This left him and his partner at the mercy of a relentless wind as their 20-foot boat bobbed around like a dingy amid a sea of whitecaps. Pike said he attempted to restart the motor, but it was a no-go.
“It sputtered once and then it just locked up,” he said. “I managed to get onto the trolling motor, but several waves had crashed over the side by the time I got the boat turned. Water was hip deep, and the bilge pump just couldn’t keep up. I knew we were in trouble and told Kyle to call 911.”
Pike said the flooded boat was adrift for several hundred yards before washing ashore at the base of a bluff bank near the tip of Calhoun Point. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens used ropes and life rings to rescue both men about two hours later.
Even though the anglers lost their gear and Pike’s boat was declared a total loss, both men feel fortunate to be able to tell about it.
“It could have been a whole lot worse,” Pike said. “If we hadn’t caught the tip of Calhoun Point where we drifted ashore, the wind would have blown us onto the main lake, and we would have had some really serious issues. This whole deal just goes to show you it doesn’t matter how good of a boat driver are. It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been Kevin VanDam out there, the result would have been the same. We were perfectly fine until we lost the big motor. At that point we were at the mercy of the wind.”
Some good lessons can be learned from the aforementioned tale. The most obvious is that bad things can happen when you mix big wind and big water—often when you least expect it.
Mechanical failures can happen to anyone. Some are just more untimely than others. In tournament fishing, it’s just part of the gig.
Probably the best way for boaters to avoid trouble is to err on the side of caution and stay on the bank when foul weather is a possibility, particularly if you have an uneasy feeling about it. Otherwise, you should always be prepared for the worst, make sure all your equipment is snug, keep your cool and never panic when things get dicey.
It could mean the difference between a rough day and really bad one.
Email Matt Williams at [email protected]