Thursday, October 4, 2012


When I was a pre-teen and a young teen, my neighborhood friends and I had access to a closed down cattle ranch that was hundreds of acres, with a multi-acre pond plus an artificial creek that wrapped around in two arms for about a quarter mile each until meeting up in a large lagoon type area.

Each of the two arms of these fake creeks departed from opposite ends of the big pond, or lake as we called it. The lake itself was big, and was probably 4 or 5 acres.

This property was at the back of our subdivision, where the roads ended. As we explored the area on our motorcross bikes, the elderly owner and his wife stopped us, talked to us, decided they liked us, and told us we could hang there and ride our bikes and fish and even shoot if we were careful. They didn't live on that property, and at that time there were no nearby residences or businesses and they had retired from ranching. They lived nearby and were an old German farm and ranch family whose family had tended that land for several generations. They were nice folks and were happy that someone appreciated the land and wanted to hang out there and would respect it.

Although a lot of the property was old pasture, most of the land that had the lake and creek was heavily forested except for some well established trails. There was plenty of wood to throw into various parts of the lake and fake creeks to create fish habitat and structure as well as for bon fires and for building stuff.

He told us we could build whatever we wanted to, and cut trails and sink trees into the deep parts of the lagoon and lake to create fish habitat. He told us it had been stocked for many years with perch and bluegills, largemouth bass and several types of catfish. He said he'd killed off all the gators but there were a bunch of beavers on one side of the fake creek.

When I say fake creek, it was like a creek except it was part of the pond but didn't flow on to a river like a real creek would. Nonetheless, it did flow around, as there were springs in the lake that generated the water. The creek was about 20 feet wide and ranged from about 8' to 12' deep. There was good fishing all over the place on this ranch, but I had my two favorite spots.

One was on the backside of a hill made from the dirt removed to build the creek some 50 years before, now with large trees all over the mounds of dirt that had become small hills, and there was a deep hole with lots of structure right in front of this spot. The other favorite spot was in or near the lagoon where the water was deep and where there was a spring and where we had sunk fallen trees and christmas trees tied to scrap concrete pieces and rebar from the new home construction in the area.

So it was an ideal getaway as a kid. We built lean-to's and a tee-pee and a tree house over near the big lake. We had several lean-to's near the lagoon for shelter from sun and rain, although the lagoon was generally well shaded. Off to the backside of the lagoon was sort of an overflow pond about the size of a football field that took in the overflow from the spring fed lake. It was real deep and only held catfish, either by design or by operation of the food chain. Big nasty yellow catfish. We'd catch them and let them go, they were good for a fight but no much else.

One of the things we built out there was a raft, actually, two rafts. Our first effort pretty much sunk immediately. Back then, it was me and my friends Big Al, Mog, Andy and a few others. Most of the time the core guys were me and Big Al, as we were the big fishermen of the group. This started in the sixth grade and went on for four years or so until we started driving.

So it was probably me that said we ought to build a raft. Our large neighborhood was just getting started, and hundreds of houses were being built. All kinds of scrap materials, wood and carpet and buckets and just everything you could imagine, was there and the builders were glad to have us take their trash away. Back in those days, they burned it all after they finished building the home.

We also used to collect, again with their permission, soft drink bottles from the construction sites. We could easily cash in several wagon loads and get $10 or $15 bucks. Big money in those days. I used money I raised by gathering bottles to get some outdoors stuff like a Puma White Hunter knife, Garcia Ambassador reels, a japanese Bamboo fly rod, several pellet and bb guns, a guitar or two and lots of non-outdoors stuff like music albums.

The huge construction boom in the area went on for years and we made a lot of cash for fishing gear with collecting bottles.

Our first raft was made by using rope and cut down trees. Freshly cut down trees, selected for uniformity of size and were about 10" thick tapering to 9" thick. We had watched too many movies about people making rafts from trees and what we didn't figure into the construction was that green trees heavily laden with sap do not float at all.

At all.

It sank like a rock as soon as we pushed it in the water. Big Al was standing on it as we pushed it in and had no choice but to go down as the Captain with his ship because it was so instantaneous.

So our second effort was more noteworthy. We used five gallon buckets from construction sites, with their lids and used caulk to seal the buckets. We had a few leaks but not many. This raft for some reason listed about 6" to the forward corner, but since it was just for the private water that was no big deal. We tried to account for it by weighting the opposite corner and that helped a great deal.

Big Al had a smoker/grill that weighed about 30 pounds that we put back there, and had a tarp over the back half of the ten foot long by 6 foot wide raft. We basically just poled it where we wanted to go, or drifted if the wind was blowing or the springs were flowing strong.

We used scrap 2 x 4's and plywood to make the frame and floor. It could've been lighter, and had we built another one it would have been a much better build. As it was, it was totally seaworthy for that small lake and was used quite a bit over the years.

This past summer, one of my friend's son built a raft from discarded drinking water bottles. He grouped them together in mesh bags and built a frame with pvc and some kind of plastic netting under the boat framing in the bags of sealed bottles. He attached a wooden and plastic top to the frame and had a dandy raft for the 2 acre lake on his folk's place.

I'd like to get a bit more fancy than that in a raft build. I'd like to use as much recycled materials as possible. One idea involves using sealed PVC pipes as the floatation, but I worry they would be too heavy even in a 6" or 8" size.

Another idea I've written about before involves cannibalizing an old Hobie Cat catamaran sail boat, getting rid of the mast and boom and building a compartment where the tarp is for the passengers and building a motor mount for a small outboard and electric motor. With some sort of cover over at least half the boat to fight the sun.

It'd be Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer for sure, floating down the river on their homemade raft, a fire going in a cast iron pot or today, a BBQ grill or smoker,   

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