The ancient mariner and the kid get shut out again


I was glad that one family's fishing expedition at Loch Raven Reservoir ended happily. Late this week, 31-year-old Robert Thomas Fischer, who had been reported missing by his dad, Thomas Newton Fischer, turned up.

The younger Fischer was not at the northern Baltimore County reservoir where his father had left him and where police had searched with dogs and a helicopter. Instead, much to his father's relief, the son showed a day later at a Towson motel, where he had walked, carrying his fishing poles and a white bucket.

I followed this story because my son and I had recently spent a day fishing at Loch Raven. For a time there, I thought we might end up reported missing, or at least drifting. The electric motor on our rented boat died.

It happened at the end of a long day on the water. We were headed back to boat rental center. We had not caught any fish. But we had snagged several submerged trees. And we had tried out every lure in the tackle box, usually for about three minutes each. We had worms and minnows for bait. But using them required sitting still, using the lures required movement. Some of us preferred movement.

Mostly I had spent the day attaching various lures of choice to my son's fishing line and going trolling. When done properly, trolling consists of catching fish by pulling a line behind a slowly moving boat. The key word here is "slowly."

My son and I were limited in our ability to troll because the electric engine in our rented boat appeared to have only one speed -- high. Instead of slowly dragging tantalizing pieces of bait through schools of hungry fish, we hurried through the water showing the fish only fleeting glimpses -- hors d'oeuvres, if you will -- of bait.

Once my son and I watched as another father-and-son team who were riding around in their own boat, trolled through a narrow cove and quickly caught two yellow perch. "They seem to know what they are doing," my son said, in a tone that implied we did not.

We had just circumnavigated an island north of where the Dulaney Valley Road bridge crosses the water, when we noticed the engine was losing oomph. Since electric engines make virtually no noise, the only way you can tell they are not working is when your boat stops moving. I knew it was a bad sign that instead of moving closer to the shore, we were moving farther away.

When I checked the engine, I saw that the propeller was turning very slowly. I ordered my mate to shut off the engine and man the oars. We rowed for five minutes. The boat moved, but not exactly in a straight line.

I ordered the mate to restore the engine to full power. The mate turned the switch but reported that instead of full power, the engine now had no power. Sure enough, when I checked the propeller, it had ceased moving.

We had been out on the water close to three hours. My skin was tingling with what felt like a serious sunburn. My throat was parched. All I wanted to do was get back home and grab a cold beer. Now the boat engine had died, and the tide, or the wind, was pushing us in the wrong direction.

I considered jumping ship. I figured I might get some nasty press when my son told his rescuers that I had suddenly bailed out. But I figured any dad who had been on one of these fishing outings would be sympathetic.

Instead of jumping ship, I fiddled with the clamps that connected a large battery to the boat's electric motor. All of a sudden, something went "Pop!" The engine kicked in. Apparently a battery clamp had worked itself loose, cutting power to the engine.

"Cool," the kid said, referring to the "Pop!" But he knew better than to ask me to do it again. The propeller was turning but we were not exactly traveling at break-neck speed. The battery was almost out of juice. My son and I amused ourselves by betting how long it would take us to get back to the boat dock from the Dulaney Valley Road bridge.

I bet it would take us 20 minutes to get back. He bet 30 minutes. It took us close to an hour. Other boats passed us as we made our way. I told the kid to pretend we were trolling.

So the next time anybody from a father-son outing is reported missing at Loch Raven, I have some advice for the searchers. Check the fishing boats. More than likely you'll find your missing party beyond the bridge, with a worn-out engine, and a tuckered-out dad.

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