I write a fishing column for the Fisherman Magazine.
Originally published in The Fisherman Magazine, NE Edition: Issue #2, January 13, 2011
By John P. Lee
For an anchor I use a 10-pound dumbbell tied to a line with a rolling hitch. It’s plenty of lead—the canoe hasn’t dragged bottom yet, and likely never will, because if forecasters call for a good blow, I’ll gladly stay home.
I live in Rhode Island, three miles from Block Island Sound. There’s usually a breeze off the ocean. It’s often enough wind to cause me problems, especially when fishing soft plastics for largemouths. I like Senkos and 7-inch Power Worms. The canoe needs to be as still as possible to fish these baits. I like to line-watch, eyeing my mono for the slightest twitch or side run, anything that says pick-up. If the canoe veers then it’s hard to tell if I’ve been bit. In a wind, I end up getting fooled by the motion of the boat: I set the hook on pond water.
In a breeze, I tend to anchor my way down a shoreline. Anchoring and re-anchoring takes time and I seldom get set up exactly where I want to be: I’m too far out or too close. Then there are the constant wind shifts, the micro-shifts, which cause the canoe to swing unpredictably on the anchor rode. One moment my rod tip is in the shore branches, the next I’m well off the bank. It’s the opposite of what you see on the fishing shows, the opposite of control and precision.
Perhaps one day I’ll invest in a trolling motor. Then I’ll be able to back into the wind, keeping the canoe steady—a huge advantage. If the canoe can be controlled by stemming the breeze then my casting accuracy increases. I hook more fish. But before I buy a trolling motor, I’ll need to buy my own canoe. The one I’m using is a loaner.
For the record, I didn’t ask him. He asked me: “I see you got the catalogs out.”
He was right. The catalogs were out, strewn across the living room, the dining room table. I was interested in beam and low weight. When I fish, I stand. I’m not sure I’ll ever get use to casting while seated, even when the bite’s slow. Unfortunately, with a canoe, the less it weighs, the more it costs. I’d been priced out. Intuitively, my friend understood the predicament of the boat fisherman who no longer has a craft to cast from. We carry a bit of agitation in our step.
“You want a canoe, use mine. You can keep it at your house, and if I want to use it I’ll come by and get it.” And so the arrangement, going on three seasons, has been perfect.
It’s an old fiberglass canoe painted “birch bark.” Much of the birch pattern has worn away with the years, and along the keel there are spots that could use some resin and fiberglass matte. It wouldn’t be the safest boat on the Allagash River, but in the hundred-acre ponds I fish, the canoe has been fine.
But it’s a heavy boat. I feel every portage. And to be honest, I had to look up on Internet how to lift and carry a canoe by myself. The boat’s heavy enough that you can’t simply toss it around like a beach ball. The website I found showed a sizeable man from Saskatchewan who in a sequence of photographs did the lifting, the balancing and the carrying with obvious aptitude. Sure, he was big enough to carry a bull moose out of the underbrush on his back. I headed outside determined to imitate what this man had just shown me. The canoe went up onto my thigh awkwardly. Then the transfer of weight from my thigh to my shoulders went worse. All said, the whole procedure fell shy of pretty. To my neighbors, if indeed they were window gazing, I must have looked not only foolish but also possibly dangerous. I finally half-dragged, half-carried the canoe across the lawn to my truck, then heaved it somehow onto the cab, scraping paint off truck and vessel.
Despite growing pains—knowing the limitations of the current craft—the singular problem is that I’ve become attached to another man’s boat. I became used to its weight; and I began to understand the finer art of balance and response in canoe fishing. The fish too, big ones I fought and landed. Like any good relationship, I felt the history between this canoe and me.
It’s not even a great canoe, especially not a great fishing canoe. It’s something like the truck you see on the road, the old Ford or Chevy, scratches down the sides, grill dented, luster long gone. “Nice truck,” you think, as you drive past. The ‘nice’ is about character and character is never easy to explain. There’s a mountain of subjectivity around it.
Beater or not, my friend’s canoe is now handled by me. For now. ‘Til one day—soon maybe—he comes by my house. And I’ll know by his face—the creases at the edges of his mouth, the quick side-to-side of the eyes. “My son is back from camp and has taken an interest in canoeing,” he’ll say.
I’ll help my friend lift the canoe onto his truck, help him tie down the beckets; give him back his paddles, his life jackets. And I’ll probably say something lame, something like “I’m gonna miss your girl.” I’ll tap on the hull while he backs out of my driveway. Back inside my living room I’ll experience the first signs of loss, as if a little part of me had gone. Then I’ll go and start to dig out the old catalogs with newfound urgency.