My wife gets this little eye twitch when you bring up the topic of coolers at our house. She swears that she wasn’t terrified of coolers until after she married me, but I have my doubts. Deep-seated fear like that doesn’t happen overnight.

Like any outdoorsman, I’ve had my share of coolers over the years that have met with various fates. I’ve had coolers fall out of the boat in rough seas, watched them fall out of the back of the truck going down the highway, and I’ve even lost a couple to forgetfulness.

Let me explain… The first cooler I lost to forgetfulness was when Nancy and I were first married. My best friend, Matt, had recently moved to Richmond and discovered that a small crowd gathered on the North bank of the James River at night to fish for catfish off an old abandoned concrete pier. Matt and I were both diehard fishermen and at the time, neither of us had a boat, so I drove from my house in Maryland to meet Matt and go for catfish at night.

We used a Carolina rig with chicken livers tied up in panty hose for bait. It was a messy business, but it turned out that the river was loaded with eatin’ sized blue cats, flatheads and channel cats. Being young and poor, the idea of catching dinner, or perhaps several dinners, was attractive, so I hoped to take a few home. When the drag on my reel started singing, I waited patiently, counted to 10, set the hook and felt a really nice pull. The excitement of a “big” fish drew a crowd from the guys on the pier and after a few minutes, I hauled in a catfish large enough that I had to bend it to close the lid of my cooler.

Driving home the next morning, I was pretty excited to show Nancy our upcoming dinner. I no sooner pulled in the driveway than I had the cooler and fish out to show off. Amazingly, the catfish, which had been on ice since it came out of the water, was still alive. That’s good, I thought, because I can take a shower and catch a short nap before I clean the catfish.

Of course, I’d forgotten that we were leaving to go on vacation the next day.

When we got back from vacation a week later and pulled into the driveway, the assault on our olfactory senses was blinding. It turns out that catfish may be tough, but a week in a cooler during the middle of summer reduces the fish to… well, words really can’t describe it.

My parents, who’d come over to pick up our mail and check on the house had left a message that we could come get the mail, but they weren’t even going to pull into the driveway until we’d “fixed the smell.” Our neighbors said that they’d almost called the cops because they thought someone had died in the house.

One sniff of the back porch was enough to draw several conclusions: 1) Opening the lid of the cooler was out of the question; 2) the cooler would never, ever recover; and 3) We couldn’t wait until the trash was picked-up to get rid of the mess. So I put plastic in the trunk of my car, tied an old, stinky shirt around my face and put the cooler in the trunk of my car and started driving.

I wasn’t sure where I was going with it, but after half an hour, I remembered that the auto mechanic who’d tried to rip me off a few weeks before had a dumpster beside his shop. I drove straight there and carefully tossed the entire cooler in the dumpster. Looking back, I guess that the mechanic was probably just a regular crook who preyed on the good folk of Montgomery County and didn’t deserve what he surely smelled on Monday morning, but that’s what you get when you mess with a forgetful fisherman.

3 Responses to “Remember The Cooler”

  1. In addition to checking to make sure your cooler is cleaned out at the end of the trip, I also highly recommend checking the following:

    - the bait well in the boat
    - the trays in your tackle boxes
    - in every little nook and cranny that a crab can hide in your boat

    All of these places have had bait left in them, only to be discovered via olfactory senses in a few days.

    One of the worst was when I had left a peeler crab (partially used for bait) in the bottom of my tackle box. A few days later, the pile of maggot-covered mush inside the tacklebox was so bad that I had to throw away the box, and most of the tackle. Ugh!

  2. I have dreaded reading this story, because I knew that I would be portrayed as an over nervous, cranky wife. However, this tale is not the only one in which Todd Pitts killed a perfectly good cooler, he went through 7 in the first year, so don’t feel sorry for him, feel sorry for me!

  3. Oh, Nancy! You poor thing – you’re neither overly nervous nor cranky. It’s a testament to mental and olfactory fortitude of epic proportions that you still allow coolers anywhere in your vicinity!

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