Spark of Ingenuity



I overheard a high roller describe a fishing trip he took. He bragged about luxury accommodations, gourmet cuisine, high end boats and willing fish. I pitied him. Adventure … I mean real adventure, can only happen when we’re forced to improvise. He had never improvised in his life and had no idea what a great fishing trip was.

Like the time two buddies and I headed for a north country lake at the end of a logging road. We sneered at our wives’ warning of heavy rain and high wind in the weather forecast because we were driving two hundred miles away and everyone knows the fishing is great right before a cold front anyway. Our lake of dreams was twelve miles long, four miles across and teeming with chunky walleye.

At the lake, the six horse outboard started on the first pull – after cleaning the spark plugs and unclogging the fuel line. It was all going so easy. We motored down the lake to a tiny island; really just a rock sticking out of the water with three trees on it, and made camp. Seasoned outdoors men know instantly that this type of campsite is always mosquito free. We had the whole evening to fish and what fishing we had. The steady wind put a great walleye chop on the water. We trolled up wind and caught supper on deep running crank baits. Then we drifted down wind and jigged up breakfast.

Around midnight the trouble started with heavy rain slashing through the tent and high wind roaring around us. I remember laying there wondering if the wind was strong enough to blow away the aluminum boat which we had pulled up on the shore. What a fix we’d be in without a boat, on this tiny island.


We heard the boat bouncing on the rocks. Three of us tore out of the tent in our best underwear and bare feet. Can you imagine dragging a boat up a steep, rocky, slippery hill in the dark, with the  wind screaming, rain pelting and all the while, only a couple of stiches away from buck naked. Now that’s a fishing trip.

Morning found us wet, bruised, scraped, cold and hungry, but triumphantly not one of us had a mosquito bite. The rain was unrelenting and the wind churned the lake into four foot waves capable of swamping our small boat. We were marooned on a desolate chunk of rock. A cup of hot coffee and some pan fried walleye filets would have sent our spirits soaring. We had a propane stove but in our rush to secure the boat we had left the tent open and rain had soaked our only matches.

After a few hours of starving and shivering, desperation and innovation joined hands and we came up with a plan to get cooking. Realising that gas barbecues have a push button starter that make a spark by static electricity, we figured that a spark from the outboard motor spark plug should be able to do the same thing on our propane stove. To do this we brought the motor up from the boat, unscrewed the spark plug from the motor and re-attached it to the ignition wire. Someone had to hold the plug against the burner to ground it while another held the motor steady and the third person pulled the starter cord to generate the spark. The problem was that we all understood a little about electricity and knew the person holding the plug would get a shock for his effort. Every fishing trip should have one naive person along for little jobs like this, but we were out of luck.

My friends pointed out three times that it was me who didn’t put the matches back in the zip lock bag. They didn’t need to shame me into taking a hit for the team. I would have volunteered eventually. I grounded the plug against the burner. The propane valve was opened. It hissed a few seconds but I wanted to be sure there was enough gas to ignite on the first spark. One jolt with a cattle prod is plenty. After a few more seconds I nodded and the starter cord was yanked hard.

The propane ignited with a whoosh and a flash that knocked me back. My eyebrows were singed and my face glowed like a bad sun burn. My coat sleeve was on fire and as I beat it out, the compassion of my camp mates was touching. I remember them saying not to let the stove go out because they’d never get me to hold the spark plug again.

When I got home, a day later, my wife commented that my face seemed a little red and how lucky we were to have sunshine because it had rained continuously at home. There was no need to give her a long explanation that could only have resulted in her saying “I told you so.” But she was dead right about us being lucky though. That high roller will never taste a meal as satisfying and delectable as those sizzling walleye filets, cooked with innovation and seasoned with desperation out in the open on a rain lashed rock.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


%d bloggers like this:
Skip to toolbar