DRAYTON, N.D. – For the past decade or more, the whereabouts of a vehicle and boat trailer that ended up at the bottom of the Red River after a mishap at the Hastings Landing boat ramp has been a mystery.
A boat was found a few days later washed up on the North Dakota side of the river several miles downstream, but the vehicle and trailer on which it supposedly was riding never have been found.
Some people, the local story goes, thought the incident was a hoax.
The mystery soon could be solved, thanks to a fisherman whose high-tech fishing electronics last week revealed imagery of an overturned vehicle and a boat trailer at the bottom of the river just a few yards from the boat ramp.
Whether it’s the same vehicle and boat trailer remains to be seen, but there’s no question of what’s lying at the bottom of the river. Brandon Oby of St. Thomas, N.D., saw the images for himself last Thursday afternoon, Sept. 3, while fishing with buddy Chris Dolan, a Grafton, N.D., native now living in the Twin Cities.
Dolan’s boat is equipped with a Humminbird Helix 10, a whiz-bang piece of fishing electronics with side-imaging technology that paints a three-dimensional picture of whatever it “sees” within a wide swath of the bottom.
If it is the same rig, the story will have come full circle for Oby, who retrieved the boat from the flooding river 10 years ago with buddy Mike Johnson of Drayton.
“If the license plate shows up or the VIN (vehicle identification number) or whatever, we’ll know for sure,” said Oby, owner of Rosie’s Place bar in Grafton, N.D., who jokingly refers to himself as a “local fishing legend.” “I’d bet 5 to 1 on it” being the same rig.
As Oby recalls the incident, “a guy” contacted him about 10 years ago, saying his son had had a mishap at the boat ramp in Drayton.
Until the vehicle at the bottom of the river is identified, Oby said he wouldn’t name names.
“I think the kid was out testing a boat on the water and he was on the ramp and the vehicle went into gear and ran him over,” Oby said. “I remember he had ‘road rash’ on him, and by the time he came to or figured out what was what, nothing was there – no boat, no trailer, no vehicle.”
The Red was beginning to flood when the incident occurred, Oby said, and the boat eventually drifted over the Drayton Dam some 5 miles downstream before washing up into the trees on the North Dakota side of the river.
“When that guy got ahold of me and needed help, the Red was on the rise, and you couldn’t even see the dam,” said Oby, who used a 16-foot boat with a 20-horse outboard to retrieve the boat with Johnson’s help.
The river by that time was so high it had flooded the boat ramp below the Drayton Dam, Oby said, so they had to launch his boat from higher ground.
“The river was pretty mean,” Oby said. “You could see the boat in the trees just before the first bend (in the river) below the dam.
“Some people fishing down there I think said the boat tipped when it went over the dam, but it was upright and there wasn’t any water when we went and got it,” Oby said. “There was still an empty gas tank in the boat.”
With Johnson’s help, they were able to drag the boat to shore for its owner.
“I wouldn’t do it now for $1,000 under those conditions,” Oby said. “It was dicey, at best.”
After seeing the vehicle and trailer last week on the depth finder screen, Oby contacted Drayton Mayor Chip Olson, who in turn contacted the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
“I questioned what it was going to look like, but there's no doubt, it’s a pickup upside down,” Olson said. “You can see the tires and there's no doubt what it is. You can even see the detail of the trailer laying there.”
Pete Miley, district game warden for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department based in Cavalier, N.D., said the Pembina County Sheriff’s Department is taking the lead on extracting the vehicle and trailer from the bottom of the river.
That could happen as soon as this weekend, Miley said Thursday.
Considering the number of boats that have gone over the spot in the past decade, including the recent “Catfish Capital Challenge” catfish tournament that featured 50 boats, Miley says he’s skeptical it’s the same rig that supposedly went down 10 years ago.
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that just yet,” Miley said. “With the catfish tournament being held right there and no one saying a word about it, I’m not so sure it’s old. I wouldn’t say either way or what the condition of the vehicle is until it gets extracted. We’ll see.”
Oby agrees someone should have seen it before last week, but at the same time, electronics with side-imaging technology have only been affordable for average anglers the past few years.
Boats also gave the area a wide berth for several years because of a deadhead sticking out of the water during normal river levels, Oby said.
“I don’t know what the deal is,” he said. “Someone should have seen it, but when you’re there, you’re just coming into shore. You’re not fishing, you’re not paying attention to your electronics. That’s why it hasn’t been found, I’d say.
“Unless it’s something else maybe – who knows?” Oby said. “I’m sure it has to be that same one because I haven’t heard anything.”