This is some scary stuff! I fish the river in my 14 footer with a 15 horse all the time so that hits kind of close to home. Hard to believe it happens that easy but it can. For all of the stream fisherman here please understand this river is well over a mile wide at some of the narrowest points and is over 20 feet deep. Match that to an eight not current with a **** load of undertow and you have a real death trap. This is not a natural looking river. Detroit on one side and Windsor on the other. Home to the great lakes and ocean going freighters...big water.
My family has a cottage on lake St. Clair in Belle River Ontario. I have fished it all of my life in my little 14 footer with a 15 horse outboard just as my father and his father before did. As you can imagine there have been many fearful events that have taken place. So many in fact that i could not begin to remember all of them let alone write about them. Ill share one of my favorites though as it illustrates some good points about big water.
I was about 16 years old when myself and good friend decided to try for some of the famous St. Clair small mouth bass. We used an electronic hoist on a swing arm to lift my 14 footer (affectionately dubbed "The Spirit of St. Clair) off the brake wall and into the water. The day was clear with not so much as a hint of cloud in the sky. Very important on a lake of this size.
It was mid summer and i had several locations in mind that should be holding fish. We decided on the "the belle river hump" which is a large point roughly 1 mile east of belle river marina and three miles off shore. This spot is legendary for not only its huge small mouth bass, but its huge numbers as well.
We were both tired as we had gotten out of bed early and hit the water at sun up. The fishing was slow and by noon i was sleeping on the back bench seat and my friend on the middle.
We were both awaken about the same time as it started to rain very heavily. As i opened my eyes i knew immediately that we were in deep deep trouble. The sky was black...seventh layer of hell black as it gets only over the great lakes when hell is about to break loose.
Within five minutes we were facing 8 foot white caps that were breaking over my outmatched 14 footer at will. At first i was not that scared. As previously mentioned i have been fishing on this lake for all my life and this was not the first time that i was caught with my pants down in a bad storm. With a full tank of gas, good motor, and a calm head people usually survive. I have found that by keeping the bow into the waves and bailing water like crazy you can punch through some horrific weather.
Note that i said i was not scared at first. I did not notice that in the course of my nap, the boat had drifted at least 15 miles north east from where we had happily been drift fishing. This was before the days of cheep GPS and i had to rely on landmarks such as light houses and towers. I know that my cottage is 5 miles west of Belle River marina, but i could not see the comforting and familiar red beacon. I could see the stony point marina lighthouse however faintly in the distance. I knew at that point i was probably closer to American shores. Then i got scared. I knew there was no possible way to get my boat back to Belle River with the fuel we had and the weather we were facing. My fishing partner who had never seen weather of this nature was beginning to panic. It took all i had to keep my boat afloat let alone deal with a grown man in a full panic.
It was at that point i made the call...strap on the PFDs and drop anchor. I had well over 150 foot of anchor line and i knew that it would position us so our bow was into the waves. From that point it was a matter of bailing water with our cooler and prayer.
The storm lasted for 3 hours, but when it ended the sun shot through the clouds is if the nothing had ever happened. I was cold and my fishing partner was i believe in shock. I pulled in the anchor line and god bless my little 15 horse Johnson as it came to life with the first pull as if to say we made it!
I opened up the throttle on the mean little two stroke and within an hour we were explaining to fear stricken parents what had happened.
That night after my parents had gone to bed, i grabbed two of canadas finest out the fridge and handed one to my friend. Stolen beer had never tasted so good before or since.
I made a map to show roughly my course. In black was my route out to the fishing spot. In red is my drift path and in green my trek home. Please understand the scope of this lake. It is truly gargantuan.