I’m not gonna lie. I was really not feeling like going to the 3rd Annual Belly Buster Ride. I mean, I wanted to go, but man, I was just wiped out. Having just made made the 11-hour drive home from the 2021 Mudbug PWC Rally less than 4-days earlier, I kinda wanted a break.
Thankfully, the “Chattanooga Fish Pro” himself Michael Brandt wouldn’t let me back out. “C’mon man, it’ll be fun,” he promised. I knew he was right but I was dragging my feet. “Drive down to the shop,” he suggested. “We’ll load your ski onto my trailer and I’ll drive the rest of the way. You can sleep. I don’t care.”
Now feeling guilty, Mike had me on the ropes. So I packed up the 2021 Sea-Doo RXP-X 300 again and headed south to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Besides being an avid fisherman aboard his 2021 Sea-Doo Fish Pro, Michael is also a talented metal fabricator and owner of Garage Bound, LLC. Whether it’s basic metal repair, custom welding or fabricating one-off off-road chassis for 1940’s Cadillacs (no, I’m not kidding), Michael pretty much does it all.
With a house butting up to a quiet shady finger of the Tennessee River, Michael started documenting his fishing adventures from his Sea-Doo to Instagram. Soon his “Chattanooga Fish Pro” account was chocked full of shots of bass and catfish, and getting the attention of American PWC fishermen. Although his boxer, Tiggy is perpetually at his side (even on the Fish Pro), he would be sitting out this adventure.
Using his forklift and a custom skid that Michael fabricated, we hoisted The Watercraft Journal’s 2021 Sea-Doo RXP-X 300 onto his trailer, fueled up his massive rig and began the roll into Georgia towards Lavonia.
Put on by the Carolina Watercraft Club (with a lot of participation with Pro Watercross), the Belly Buster Ride is an annual charitable event that draws in recreation riders from several states around to enjoy the beauty of Lake Hartwell as well as take in some exciting PWC racing action.
Sharing the weekend with the official Lake Hartwell stop of the Pro Watercross National Tour; the Belly Buster Ride temps enthusiasts with a gorgeous location, an awesome half-day ride, and an incredible 600-pounds of BBQ pork ribs severed for dinner.
If that wasn’t enough to lure you, the Belly Buster crew hosts a huge raffle giving away thousands of dollars in prizes including a one-of-a-kind custom built Sea-Doo XP. Of course, all of this is to fuel an amazing charitable effort that during this weekend, raised over $5,400 for the Frank Trottier Foundation.
Arriving at the Tugaloo State Park, we pulled into the race venue to check in. The pits were packed with massive race trailers, rigs and team tents; Farthing Racing, Snyder Built, and Broward Motorsports just to name a few.
Michael, anxious to get a little water under his hull, insisted we circle back around to the access ramp and launch our skis. Only slightly familiar with Lake Hartwell, I agreed that we should probably burn a little fuel just to get our bearings and opted for a northwestern route up the winding lake.
Lake Hartwell sits right on the dividing line between Georgia and South Carolina; in fact, this stop on the Pro Watercross Tour is likely the only race to have spectators watching in-person from two states simultaneously.
Our route took us from Gumlog, where the race course was set, above where the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers meet, up towards the Traveler’s Rest historical stagecoach inn and plantation home built back in 1815 hidden in the nape of the Appalachians. The surrounding hills encroached as the lake narrowed to a river. We passed by thin islands sprouting walls of high grass until we reached Tugaloo Bend less than a mile below Yonah Dam.
The Tugaloo had thinned into a wide stream, and we could see trout swim in the crystal clear water below us. The current was strong and pushed us south as the creek bubbled over large rocks above. “We’ve reached the end of the line, Michael,” I yelled and he agreed. Massive oaks and leafy holly trees lined the river, blanketing us in cool shade as we journey back the route we came.
I stopped at the crumbling pylons of a long dismantled trestle running alongside Prather Bridge, once connecting Stephens County, GA and Oconee County, SC. It was mid-afternoon when we spotted the brightly colored buoys of the Pro Watercross racetrack. Michael’s naturally aspirated 170-horsepower Fish Pro was far more miserly on fuel than my supercharged RXP-X, so we opted to splash a few gallons of fuel into the purple Sea-Doo’s tank.
We eyed some other watercraft milling about and asked what was going on. “We’re thinking about making a quick fun run up to the waterfall, you guys wanna join?” one of the Carolina Watercraft Club members invited. “Sure,” I accepted knowing Michael would be more than happy to go out again.
Humorously, our route took us almost exactly the way we had just come, only that prior to veering left to follow the river upstream, we peeled right into a grass-lined dead-end. Rather than turning around, our guides took us up Longnose Creek, beneath the River Road Bridge all the way up to Longnose Falls.
Once the site of an old grist mill, all that remains today is the collapsed tin roof and a grindstone. Pipe can still be seen at the top of the falls where water was diverted to operate the mill. Although I couldn’t find it, the stone chimney from the old home is said to be still standing nearby.
What we didn’t know was that Longnose Creek Falls sits on private property, that is until the owners met us at the top of the falls to shoo us away. After a little swimming, we loaded up our small group of skis and re-entered the Tugaloo. The sun was beginning to dip under the western mountains and the orange sky cast long shadows over the water and we needed to head back into town.
The next day meant preparing for the main group ride; so we refueled both Sea-Doos, as well as the giant Fish Pro cooler with ice and waters. The meeting spot was a grassy cove, and riders filled the shoreline. Expecting Saturday’s ride to venture south, I was surprised to hear, Hey! We’re going to go up to the waterfall! So off we went, a third time up the lake.
This time, our group was significantly larger – well over 35 skis, including a handful of brand-new RXP-X 300s identical to ours. Knowing the route blindfolded by now, I cut wide far outside of the wash made by the group and raced along the opposite side of the channel markers. Fuel really wouldn’t be an issue as the 18.5-gallon tank was topped off that morning and the route was pretty brief (I estimated 42 miles).
A few other supercharged Sea-Doos tried to give chase, but I wanted to get ahead of the pack to grab a few shots. Capturing the passing herd, I leapt from the broken remains of the Highway 123 bridge (now a fishing pier) and followed behind. Sure enough, we wove through the brush and tall grass up Longnose Creek toward the falls – still as impressive as the day before.
Most mingled in the shade, content to chat and socialize. Few waded out into the brisk pond at the base of the falls, fewer hiked up to the top. Having already seen the view from the top of the falls, thought I’d see the view from behind the falls and scrambled up the mossy rocks and peered from behind the backside of water.
Contented and ready to return, we all rode back to the Gumlog Launch to take in some professional jet ski racing. The Pro Watercross Tour provides venues for these athletes from Wisconsin to Florida throughout the season, and it’s incredible to see what these racers can do out on the water. (And make sure to head over to The Watercraft Journal to read our full race recap.)
With that, the Carolina Watercraft Club served up plates of BBQ pork ribs as well as raffled off some amazing prizes to those participated in the ride or who donated to the charity. Michael came home with some goodies, including an official Sea-Doo towel, which was immediately stored in his Fish Pro for future use.
With Father’s Day being that Sunday, we made off early the next morning back to Chattanooga. After swapping the RXP-X back over to my trailer, I bid goodbye to Michael and headed back home – grateful that I didn’t back out. The Belly Buster Ride isn’t just a great day on the water with awesome people, but a genuinely special event that donates its proceeds to a worthwhile charity. If you can’t go but want to help, please visit the Carolina Watercraft Club on Facebook to learn how to participate.
Additional images and footage by Michael Brandt of Chattanooga Fish Pro