When buying a boat it’s very important to always take it out to the water and try it first — that’s just common sense.

Steve Langford, a fishing buddy of mine, was talking with me nearly a month ago when he pulled out a picture of a fine old bomber-style bass boat that he’d just purchased. He got a heck of a deal and just couldn’t turn it down.

He was leaving town the next day but said that he’d be back in two weeks and that we should take it out fishing when he returned.

Steve has a cabin on the White River, not far from the Beaver Lake Dam and just eight miles from Eureka Springs, Ark. He stores most of his fishing tackle there, so we decided that we’d fish from his new boat on the White River.

Steve returned right on schedule and called to remind me of the coming Saturday’s trip. We made plans to meet at his house.

As I climbed from my vehicle, Steve was standing near his truck with a life jacket in one hand and a paddle in the other and asked if I needed either. I’d brought my favorite PFD, so I didn’t need that but thought the paddle might be a good idea. He grinned as he tucked it into the storage box in the bed of the truck.

It wasn’t long before my gear was loaded into Steve’s truck and we were off, winding along the hill with his 15-foot 1985 fiberglass bomber bass boat following along behind.

The new highway makes it easy, and soon we were crossing into Arkansas and into the town of Bella Vista. Steve turned off the main highway and onto a smaller state road, bypassing metropolitan northwest Arkansas, on our way toward Pea Ridge and on to his cabin.

It was quite peaceful as we wound through woods, passing by the Pea Ridge National Military Park. We finally rejoined Highway 62 where we remained for a very few miles before cutting off onto one of the lake roads. It wasn’t long before we linked up with Beaver Lake and followed its curving shoreline all the way to the dam. Steve’s route was actually shorter and much more scenic than the normal one.

We stopped at Steve’s cabin to pick up his tackle and turn up the heat before driving the short distance to a river access on the White River. The flood gates had been open for days, and the water was running high. It wasn’t a great time for fishing but was a fine time for testing a boat.

With the plug securely in place and all straps removed, Steve backed the truck down the ramp with me at the helm, trusting me with his boat.

The 35-horsepower outboard started easily, and I backed the boat off the trailer and into the swift water of the White. Steve waved me on, and I took off as he pulled up the steep ramp on his way to the parking area on the hill.

The little boat handled the current easily as I took it on a run up the river for a distance and then back downstream, finally returning to the ramp just as Steve reached the water’s edge. The boat slid easily onto the nearby sandy shoreline.

Steve was ecstatic that his new boat had started and ran so well. It took me a moment to understand.

The symbolism became clear — he’d offered me a paddle and a life jacket as I pulled up in the yard that morning — I was to be the guinea pig. This was the first time he’d had the boat in the water.

I asked what he would have done if the engine hadn’t worked and I’d been swept downstream. “I wasn’t worried,” he said, “the guy who sold it to me swore that it ran great!”

We spent the rest of the day driving the little boat all over the river. At one point, near lunchtime, the wind picked up steadily providing an even more thorough test of the boat and its drivers.

We found a cove where the swirling water formed an eddy with enough tree cover to block the wind and stopped to have lunch.

The boat’s floor was spongy, its front seat tumbled sideways sometime during the trip, the driver’s seat was a vinyl topped cooler, the gel coat of the fiberglass was long gone, the fish finder was cracked and wouldn’t light up, but the engine ran perfectly. Even though Steve had violated the first rule of used boat buying, he ended up with one fine fishing boat.

Address correspondence to Silas Gray, at ifish@silasgray.com

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