As each spring arrives I start to get that urge to get behind the oars. I started floating rivers in rafts when I lived in Alaska. That was the start of an addiction for me. When I graduated from College my parents asked me what they could get me for a gift and my response was, a raft. Obviously, the raft I wanted was way out of the realm of possibilities but after negotiating with them we came to an agreement. At the time I was working at 3 River Fly and Tackle in Wasilla, Alaska and I was able to take advantage of pro forms. There I was on a cold Alaskan morning looking rafts up on Outcast website to find that the Fish Cat 13 was the raft for me.
At that time the raft was a lot cheaper than what it is now and being on the pro form I got it at an even a better price. So I called the parents back in PA to inform them on the raft and they agreed. Two months later it showed up after a long ride up on the barge. I put it together that night in the Uncles driveway to only realize that there was no way in hell that I was hauling it around on my Nissan Maxima. That was ok because my Uncle had a rig and a lot of my buddies had rigs. Since it was a two man raft that meant my buddies would drive and we use my raft. It worked out really well because everyone always wanted to float.
I will fast forward a few years to when I moved back East. The big raft was still up in Alaska and it was spring time so I was going a little crazy not having a raft. I ended up buying a Discovery 9IR by Outcast. Fast forward another year and I was living down in Silver Spring, MD with no floatable water besides the Potomac any where close to me. This is when discovery mode kicked in, no pun intended. I asked every fly shop from Pittsburgh to D.C where would it be worth checking out to trout fish and raft. I got a lot of feedback on waters but there was one that interested me the most because of the lack of access with out a raft. This water is now one of my favorites and I try to get down there any time possible. This piece of water is known as the North Branch of the Potomac.
Well ladies and gentleman this is where the story begins. I decided to drive from the apartment in Silver Spring, MD out to Bloomington, MD. The game plan was to float the North Branch but I had no idea where I was going to put in or take out but more importantly did not have a clue how I was going to shuttle my rig. I decided to drive up and talk to the guys at Savage River Fly Shop and when I got there I was not surprised to find that no one was there. I did see a note on the door with a phone number to call if anyone needed anything. I called the number and talked to a guy to ask if he or anyone does shuttles on the North Branch. His response was no and told me to call Keyser Cab. I did find out from him that I needed to put in at Barnum. Remember at the time I have only been to this area a few times and when he told me to call a cab company, I thought to myself where the hell around here is there a cab. Well surprisingly enough Keyser which is a town about 40 minutes away had a cab. I called and asked if I could get a shuttle from Bloomington to Barnum and they basically thought I was a prank caller and hung up. I called back and asked them again and they asked me if I was serious and I said yeah how much would it cost. They paused and then said it would be around 50 bucks, that’s when I hung up.
I come to find that I had a big problem, no shuttle! I decided to drive around Bloomington to see if I could pay someone to drive me up there. I had no luck in Bloomington so I drove down the road to Westernport and stopped into a gas station. I asked the cashier if she knew anyone that could drive me up to Barnum for 20 bucks and as she began to say no this young kid behind me said he would do it. I turned around to see this kid that looked like he was 12 and would be lucky to see over the steering wheel. I said to him lets go dude. I told him to following me up to the mouth where the Savage and the North Branch meet. We got up there and I asked him if this was where people park when they float and he told me yeah. I threw the boat bag which my raft was in, into the back of his rig and was on my way to Barnum. This kid had a Ford Ranger that looked like it had been to hell and back. I jump in to find that he had this dildo looking shifter knob and at that point I was tempted to jump right back out and get the hell out of there. I stayed in the rig and started to pray as we crossed over into West Virginia. The ride up to the North Branch could be a whole separate blog but fortunately I did not get raped or robed.
I arrived into Barnum and right away could hear the rapids and I thought to myself, I made it and my troubles are over. I paid the kid and thanked him even though he freaked me the hell out. When I thought my troubles were over, well I was wrong; this was where the trouble actually began. I began to take the frame and pontoons out of the boat bag to find that I forgot my F*#KIN pump. I thought no big deal I will just go knock on the door of some houses near bye. I looked for the closest shack that had a rig parked in front of it and knocked on the door. A lady came to the door with what looked like a serious hang over. I explained to her what my problem was and asked if she had anything that I could put air into pontoons. Her answer was, “my husband is not home” now that could be taken several different ways and I took it as I am getting the hell of her porch. I had no luck at the next trailer. I made my way up to the next house where I met a very nice old lady and she explained to me that Barnum’s population was 7 people. I thought to myself I am screwed. I talk to her or should I say she talked to me for 15 minutes about the most random things in the world but she was kind to offer me a whole pie she just made. I thankfully declined but I explained to her my problem and what I was looking for. She told me her husband that past away a year before might have something in the garage and she told me to go look. I made my way to the garage when she yelled “if you don’t find what you are looking for you can take the car to town” I said will see if there is something I could use first. I had to push the door open just to get in and when I did get in I could tell know one has been in hear for some quite time except for the raccoons. I looked around and finally found an old bicycle tire pump. I climb over the junk to get to it and when I did I tested it out only to find that the first time I pulled up on it the springs and all other kinds of shit shot out of it. I basically broke this 30 year old pump in matter of seconds. Could the day get any worse. I made my way back to her porch to tell her what happen and she offered the car to me again but she told me it has not started since Y2K. I once again thankfully declined and made my way back down to the woods where I had my raft hid in the woods.
I got back down to my raft and decided what my options are. I had two options come to mind. Option 1 get a ride back down to my rig and go fish somewhere else or Option 2 call Triple A. As I was about ready to flip a coin I see the Wisp van come rolling down with a raft on the trailer and thought to myself, they must have a pump. I started waving for them to stop and all I got back was a wave in return as they made there way down the road. I began to run after the van and once I got about a mile down one way I realized my raft is sitting in the middle of the field. I did not know this at the time but they were putting in at Blue Hole and I was at the parking lot where the cabins are located. I ran back to find that the raft was still there which the way my day was going I figured some hill-jacker would have stolen it. I decided to lay down and look up at the sky and pray that my luck would change. About 30 minutes later another Wisp van pools in and I was able to flag them down and once again I explained to him my situation and that I have already tried the people living in the shacks and he told me that the first van that had the raft already launched and that they would have the pump on the raft. The only advice he had for me was to see if anyone that was staying at the cabins had a way to pump the pontoons up. He told me if they did not I could catch a ride back down to my rig with him and his clients since they were only doing a half day wade trip.
I made my way down stream to find a few people staying in the cabins. They were fishing near by so I approached them to ask them if they had any type of pump and the one guy told me the only thing they have was an air mattress pump. I asked them if they mind if I could try to pump my pontoons up with it since I forgot my pump. They said no problem so I ran back to grab the pontoons and made my way back to the cabin. We had to modify some type of an adapter out of a plastic pop bottle and they began to take air. As they inflated I realized that the air mattress pump would not be able to top off the pontoons and they would still be somewhat deflated. What the hell I said I am going to put in and try to catch up to Wisp’s raft to use there pump.
I put the raft into the water and I sat down to find that almost half of my pontoon was submerged. I said thanks to the air mattress pump guy and gave him some flies for his help and thought this was going to be a embarrasing ride. I floated down about 2 miles until I finally caught up to the other raft. I beached the boat and walked up to the guide. It was PJ from Wisp. I introduced myself and explained to him my entire situation and all he could do was laugh which if I was in his waders I would have done the same. He let me use his pump and I was able to finally top off the pontoons with the right amount of air. It was just a coincident that his clients were a father and son from my home town and they were able to get a good chuckle out of my situation as well.
I was good to go now and I was ready to fish. I floated down and it was nice to float the North Branch with full pontoons. I got into a few fish on nymphs and streamers that day. To make the day worth it I hooked and landed a Cutty. It was nice to fish waters that the only access was by raft unless you wanted to do a lot of hiking. The float was a lot of fun because the fishing was good and the rapids were fun. I rafted all the way down to an area where I thought I could get my raft out through the woods. I parked my rig in the area that the kid told me too and I later found out that the kid had no idea where people parked for the take out because it was somewhere completely different. I stashed my raft in the woods again and started hiking to my rig to bring it back. Got to the truck and made my way back to the raft. Loaded the raft up and decided to find the nearest bar to drink the rest of the day down.
Even though my first trip down on the North Branch was an experience, everything worked out. Trips like this one are what good stories are made of and I hope you enjoyed this one. If you did not figure it out by now, one thing you always have to make sure you have before going rafting is your PUMP.