Tony runs six outpost fishing camps close to the main base and six more 200 miles straight north, around Summerbase. Us pilots take turns spending a week or two up there, serving the camps and lodges without their own planes. We hate it. We stay in this crummy trailer. It's small, dirty, smelly and we have to put up with Paul and his drinking buddy girlfriend. He, Paul, is about 65 and an alcoholic. He's fairly relaxed and a nice enough person, however, when he's really filled up, useless. The trips we fly are usually short and since we get paid by the mile the money is lousy. To make things worse, the tiny village close by has only one bar.
One day I flew to this small minnow lake. I liked to go there. For some reason it was a major hangout for moose. At one time I saw 9 of them. Bulls, cows and calves. Sometimes I'd takeoff straight toward them. They hear and then spot me and start running. Zooming over them at about 100 feet they stare at the plane, probably wondering what the heck kind of bird this was, then stop and get back to whatever they were doing.
The minnow helper awaits me with the minnows; all in one holding trap. Paul had somehow misplaced all the good red containers and I had only the clear plastic five gallon water bubbles. We fill the containers a third with water, then with the help of a funnel another third with the baitfish. Then we get the oxygen tank rolled onto the little temporary dock and through a vent blow enough air in there to expand the walls to a maximum. If we didn't do that the fish would be dead by the time I'm back at base. I flew that trip once a week and I liked it because I was on my own and didn't have to hassle with the tourists. On prior missions I always had the sturdy red ones though.
We got twelve of the expanded bubbles tied down in the plane. Each one had about 80 dozen minnows. At a buck a dozen, it was a worthwhile business. Rod, the helper, didn't want to let me go. He wouldn't see a soul for another week.
I said: "Okeydokey, Rod. I should get going. More trips to fly at base."
"Yup, Mike. Four more weeks and I'm out of here. The first two were nice. You know, the moose come almost right up to my tent sometimes. And I can hear the wolves a lot. I shot at one the other day, missed the bastard. I'll get him yet."
"Unless he gets you first." I tease him.
"Oh, he won't. I know how they think. Next full moon. Say, are there any women in town?" His eyes glaze over.
"I really don't know. I haven't been in town for a while. Work from sunrise to sundown, eat and go to sleep. I haven't had a day off in 43 days. It sucks."
"Yeah, but at least you get to see people."
"True, but they can get on your nerves, anyway I got to go." Now he turned real sad. A weaker soul might have cried. He desperately searched for something to say or delay my departure." You're sure you got them minnows tied down good eh?"
"Yup."
"The plane been running good? No oil leaks?"
" No, everything's fine."
He couldn't think of more, so he puts on a brave face and says: "Well, get the hell out of here then. I'll push you out."
We turn the plane around and he holds on to it until I get her going. I taxi to the east end of the lake. It was really only a big pond. I had to utilize all the room I had to make it over the tall spruce trees at the edge of it. I plow through the water and help her on the step. Speed rises quick. I can feel she wants to fly. I start pulling the column back to get the nose up and then a tremendous BANG scares the living shit out of me.
I'm sure this is it. The engine exploded, soon flames would engulf me. I'd burn to death. Or the fuel in the tanks exploded, ending my existence in a fireball. Or half burned I'd get out and drown. Joe would only find my bloated body floating face down in the pond. I throttle back, settle in the water, get ready to evacuate and swim to shore. The engine idles smoothly, so that wasn't it. Maybe I ran over a rock. Even though I'd checked before, they do have an irritating habit of suddenly growing in previously deep water.
I look out the window. No, both floats were still level in the wet. Then I hear a strange, flapping noise. Turning around in my seat I see the disaster. One of the bubbles had exploded. Poor little fish were flopping and gasping for air all over the back of the cabin. In a way I feel relieved. I'm sure the fish didn't feel that. I grab a few handful and throw them in the lake. Those were the lucky ones. Then I taxi back to the end of the lake and take off. This time without any surprises.
That evening I had to clean the plane myself. The dock boy wouldn't do it. He said it was my own fault and that's that. Paul had passed out, so I couldn't get him to tell the dock boy. I thought I did a pretty good job. I couldn't see anymore fish.
Three days later the plane started to smell real bad, not just gasoline smell and stuff. No, this definitely had the odor of dead, rotting fish. I tried to ignore the wretched smell for another day, hoping it would go away by itself. It didn't. It took me six hours to take all the floor panels off. Then one by one, piece by decaying piece, picked the buggers out. Of course, what happened was they had wiggled through inspection holes and crevices between the outer and inner skin and then died. I washed the whole inside with lots of water and sprayed everything with deodorant. I kept spraying for three more days.

Note from the Editor. Another story by Mike Kemper. Many bush pilots could relate to the frustration and fun of building float plane time flying minnows in a 'Cub. If you wanna fly 'da Beaver, you gotta fly 'da minnows.


Beaver image by Rich Hulina.

Dave's Bush Pilot tip! When flying minnows you can save weight for more minnows by not carrying a complete survival kit. Just an axe and some matches. If you do go down you can eat the minnows! The attitude indicator will take you back to Aviation Friends.

John S Goulet Editor

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Last modified on July 15th, 1997.
(c) Virtual Horizons, 1996.