Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Step Ladders Don't Float

     My first canoe was a step ladder. Not exactly what I was looking for but it turned out to be much more useful when hanging storm windows. There was a time when we had neither canoe nor ladder but did have acreage up north surrounded by dozens of lakes. Lacking the means of fishing those waters I'd resorted to trespass on undeveloped private lakeshore. An overactive conscience - I'm not blaming the ladies in black from my grade school days for that - had me spending more time looking over my shoulder than watching the bobber. No fun in that. Besides, fishing from shore meant itty-bitty sunfish and bullheads. I'd had enough of that growing up in the city. On the other hand, fishing toward shore was in a whole 'nuther league, maybe full of bass, pike and muskies. Real fish and real fishermen go hand in hand and real fishermen fish from boats. So when my wife said she'd  bought me a Christmas present made of aluminum that was too big to fit under the tree, what was I to think? Had I been the Baby Jesus I'd of had the Magi lay before me gifts of Grumman, Old Town and Wenonah. Six-foot step ladder? Bah humbug! To this day she thinks of my disappointment as a hoot. But I have to chuckle about it to myself when she's not looking.
     Back then I had no real knowledge of canoes save the lighter the boat, the lighter your wallet when you walk out of the store. And that it's considered important to keep the open side of the canoe facing up. I also suspected used was cheaper than new.
     My first real canoe, a fifteen-foot Alumacraft, found me. An in-law of a friend had a canoe for sale and my friend knew I wanted a canoe. Thank God for friends even if their in-laws turn out to be jerks who have no concept of the meaning of a handshake agreement. Had I been Paul Lazzaro from "Slaughter-house Five," he'd have been on my list (hope that's not a copyright infringement). That first canoe was called 'tippy' by all but me. It took my son and I onto many lakes and into the Boundary Waters three times.
     Tippy was sold to a friend of mine for the price I'd paid ten years earlier and replaced by a seventeen-foot Alumacraft lightweight. Still own the seventeen footer. In all ways its a fine, serviceable boat but noisy like being ten feet down wind from a four-deuce mortar. Choose your partners carefully when fishing from aluminum.
     Next came an Old Town Camper, another fine boat with one downside. Well, its not really a downside if you haven't got two weeks of food and gear aboard. When loaded to the gills the camper   had a serious inertia problem. e.g. An overloaded canoe moving to the right tends to keep moving to the right no matter how hard you try to change its mind with a twenty-two ounce paddle. However, when the canoe has a change of heart, its Katy-bar-the-door the other way. Lesson learned: Inappropriate choice of words and negative tone of voice both have an emotional effect on my son when shouting paddling suggestions in strong winds and heavy seas. Yes sir, we had some fun on Second Cranberry Lake.
     My fourth, and last, tandem canoe is a factory-second, kevlar Wenonah Spirit II. Deep, wide and quiet, it is fine under all reasonable conditions. It was purchased for a specific two week trip involving both big water and a seriously long portage. However, Mother Nature had other ideas and put fifty thousand acres of ice in our way.
     Many have sung the virtues and beauty of canoe travel and are not off the mark. What I've learned is simple. Paddling and portaging is a lot of work but if the ideas of unsurpassed fishing and having a lake all to yourself have appeal, then a canoe is a wonderful way to go. In my mind there's nothing like camping on an island, thirty or forty miles from the nearest road and howling at the top of your lungs to the loons knowing that they're the only ones who can hear you.        

1 comment: