June 26, 2013
Bighorn River Boating Accident: A Reminder to Be Vigilant on the Water
By Ben Romans
The barely visible boat as Brad and Joe Caton tow it to a gravel bar. Photo from Billings Gazette.
It's summer and it's easy to get lost in the fun of fishing, but here's a reminder to always be vigilant on the water, and to always carry a knife. A snagged anchor line and a swift current recently proved to be a dangerous combination for three anglers in a drift boat on Montana’s Bighorn River this week.
Herm Elenbaas launched his boat with friends Jim and Ruth Houseman to float and fish one of Elenbaas’ favorite stretches of river on June 23.
The fishing proved to be slower than usual, so the group elected to drop anchor and concentrate efforts on a particular run. Unfortunately, the water flow was running higher than normal, the anchor dislodged, and the boat moved into the swift current. Hoping to reach calmer waters, Elenbass tried to lift the anchor. That's when trouble washed over the gunwale.
“When Herm pulled on the anchor rope, we got water over the back,” Jim said. “Once she got one gulp, she took on water fast. It was just like the Titanic” With the anchor lodged under a rock or submerged tree, and no knife to cut the anchor rope and water rushing over the side, things went from bad to worse in a hurry.
“We watched the stuff pop up out of the boat and float down the river,” Jim said. “If the water would have been warmer, I would have swam after it.” Fortunately, some nearby landowners saw the incident and came to the aid of the swimming anglers. Not long after, a father and son in a jet boat motored upstream, cut the anchor of the sunken drift boat, and towed the rig topside. Elenbaas and Jim emptied the water, and even finished their planned float. Ruth elected to remain on dry land.
Though all three anglers, luckily, walked away without injury, their situation serves as another reminder of a river’s power as we head into the heart of summer.