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Rocky Hoffmann recalls friends, misadventuresTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
Hoffmann's best friend Diesel, drawn by Julie Geiser.
Photo by 
Rocky Hoffmann
Photo by Julie Geiser
Photo by Julie Geiser

In September 1986, Rocky Hoffmann initiated a television show with KNOP that came to be known as Nebraska Outdoors.

The show aired every Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. for nearly 23 years, until July 2009, when Hoffmann retired from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission as a wildlife photographer and regional editor for the renowned Nebraskaland magazine, a position he held for more than 36 years.

By then, Hoffmann was a household name in the KNOP broadcast area, noted for his easy-going good nature. As a writer and photographer his articles were masterful. With words, he painted pictures of nature’s majesty and he illustrated them with intriguing photographs. He informed and inspired readers, appealing to the curiosity of a novice outdoors lover as well as the experiences of a veteran.

In retirement, Hoffmann is writing more personally from his home near North Platte.

His first book was about his father, Gail P. Hoffmann, a heavy bomber pilot during World War II whose plane was shot down over Austria. His father ended up in a German prison camp.

His father wrote about his WWII experiences and in 2010, Rocky began editing his memoirs for publication.

The result was Let the Lone Goose Fly, published mostly for family and friends. It was successful. The first printing of 500 copies quickly sold out.

While working on that book, Hoffmann occasionally worked on a second about his exciting hunting and fishing expeditions. For two years, he toiled at a retiree’s pace.

The book is Stingrays, Vipers and Diesel, released in November.

Stingrays and Vipers refer to cars that race once a year on lonely highways in the Sandhills Shootout.

Diesel refers to his black lab dog.

Although Hoffmann is an experienced outdoorsman, he mostly describes his misadventures. Early in the book, he writexs about getting his pickup stuck along a sand hill road during a careless few moments, and then describes a much more serious mistake he made that same day that could have been fatal.

The misadventures kept him human and humble, appreciative of good fortune and good friends, including Diesel and other dogs.

Like Hoffmann, the book has an easygoing air combined with knowledge and enthusiasm for life. It is available at A to Z Books, Town and Country Western Wear and the Heartland Animal Center.

The book is illustrated by fine pencil drawings by Julie Geiser.

Hoffmann told the Bulletin he is thinking about a third book, that it’s rattling around somewhere in the back of his mind, a combination of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s not sure it will happen.

We’ll hope. It would be good.

Here's an interesting segment from his newest book.

Excerpt: Stingrays, Vipers and Diesel

By Rocky Hoffmann

Diane never accompanied me on my late season fishing trips to Manitoba… but Diesel provided valuable companionship…. we would take the boat out to fish for lake trout.

In the clear deep lakes of the Canadian Shield, lake trout spawn in September and October when water temperatures drop to a triggering point that brings them out of the deep….it’s a great time to fish…with water that cold, however, there are inherent dangers for anglers.

On one cold and blustery day, I became so uncomfortable that I pulled up the boat up to the downwind side of an island. I tied it off with a birch limb… the wind was fierce. As I began gathering larger kindling, I heard a loud snap. I turned in panic as I saw the boat drift away from the island in the big waves.

My immediate impulse was to plunge into the water and swim for the boat, but fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that I likely couldn’t swim fast enough to catch the boat, and if I did, I would be too cold to climb aboard. It was the most sinking experience of my life to helplessly watch my only real possibility of survival drift farther and farther away, getting smaller each minute in the vast expanse of the water.

I returned to the fire and sat there… trying to think. Diesel curled up by me feet, and I began to examine my dilemma and all possible solutions that I had control over. The key was that I had to make myself active in my own survival. I could not sit and wait to be rescued.

Could I swim to the mainland? It was highly unlikely that I could. The water temperature was a bone-chilling 43 degrees, and the island was well centered on the lake…. Could I make a raft? Possibly! There were enough large spruce trees on the island. All I had was my folding knife, with which I could conceivably, yet painstakingly, harvest a few trees. I could also shred bark and attempt to braid it into rope of sorts to lash the logs together.

Diesel and I were stranded alone in the wilderness, on the threshold of winter. We had a fire…The island was small and there was only a limited amount of firewood available. I had dry matches, at least for the time being. There was enough vegetation to sustain us for awhile.

Diesel was oblivious to our predicament and was already eating native grasses.

There had been no other boats on the lake for a week, except for that of a moose hunter who regularly motored up the connecting river far from the island….who passed each afternoon through the area and back again just after sunset.

….By the third day, I had gathered and cut enough wood with my knife to create a tremendous blaze, which I planned to have burning about the time the hunter returned in the twilight. I waited for him to pass on his way out to where he had been hunting, but no boat came…

There we sat for several more days, both of us vegetarians now, chewing up grasses, leaves and lichens…One morning I awoke feeling warmer than I had in past mornings. Something was different. There was a reprieve in the weather and a gentle south breeze had picked up, carrying more temperate air. I continued to work on the raft with fingers more nimble from the warming breeze.

The raft, regardless of my efforts, was precariously constructed, and I would turn to it only as the last resort. In the meantime, I would spend every minute trying to improve on its design and sturdiness.

The wind gradually picked up from the south, now blowing as hard from that direction as it had been from the north the past few days. Suddenly Diesel raised his head, and wrinkles appeared across his forehead. He was looking at something across the waves, but Diesel was always watching loons and gulls. I could not pick out what he was seeing, but after a few minutes, I realized something was there other than birds. I shinnied up one of the remaining birch trees for a better look.

It was our boat, bobbing up and down and heading generally in our direction.

The wind had reversed itself but not perfectly. I watched its movement closely as it slowly enlarged on the horizon, tossing and yawing yet slowly advancing in our general direction.

As it neared, I determined that it was going to miss the western-most point of our island by about 50 yards – a long swim. The water temperature was probably now in the high 30s and there would be little chance that I could survive such a shock.

I could see the long rope and the birch snag to which I had tied was dragging at its side like a dog at heel.

Then I thought -- “stick.”

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 1/2/2013
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