Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Canoe

I discovered the joy of canoeing at a summer camp when I was thirteen years old, and for about thirteen more years the canoe remained my favorite watercraft.  As a fisherman, the canoe provided me with access to areas a more conventional craft couldn’t reach.  It was easier to transport, and it was just too much work for most fisherman wannabes.
 
In reality, I’ll give anyone fishing lessons, but sometimes I just want to give someone a lesson about fishing.  Anyone wanting to learn to fish has a place in my heart.  I remember when my Uncle Sam taught me how to fish.  Although I was already a decent fisherman, Sam was an expert, and I wanted to learn anything he could teach me.  I was an eager and willing student—well, maybe not so much at first, but the circumstances were a bit unique.  When Sam and I went fishing we would take one of the motored boats from the family compound and concentrate on fishing and the techniques involved.  And I would do the same for anyone desiring to learn to fish from me, but there was the occasional know-it-all.  That’s the one who went into the bow of my canoe.
 
Jerry was a wannabe and a know-it-all at the same time.  He lived about a quarter of a mile from me, and we had gone to the same schools from about the fifth grade until high school graduation.  He knew I liked to fish, and for years I heard about his exploits at this lake or that river.  His family took frequent vacations to places I could only read about in books, and he would talk endlessly about catching exotic fish in Mexico, Canada, and all over the United States.  There were times I went to the library to look up some of the fish he caught, and they were listed and illustrated, but they weren’t necessarily found where he found them.  I wondered about that, but I never said anything.
 
After graduating high school I purchased a used aluminum canoe from a summer camp when they were selling off the ones they deemed unfloatable.  I patched a couple of holes in it, and it served me well for many years.
 
Two or three years later I had a chance meeting with Jerry while picking up some fishing tackle at Buddie’s Hardware.  He was looking at the plastic floats trying to figure out the reason some were red on the bottom and white on the top and some were white on the bottom and red on the top.  I just let him keep working on that one.
 
We, rather, he began talking about his latest adventure with a trotline on Yellowstone Lake.  I knew that one didn’t happen, so I invited him to join me at my grandparent’s lake house in a couple of weeks, and we could spend the day fishing on Eagle Mountain Lake.  He thought that was a great idea.  He had a ‘new’ fishing pole he wanted to try out.
 
I noticed Robbin the sales clerk was keeping an ear toward our conversation, and she was trying hard not to smirk.  Now that girl knew fishing.  Her husband was a long time friend of mine, and he was a very good fisherman.  When he met Robbin, their first date was a group fishing trip to Grapevine Lake where she took the prize for the most fish.  Robbin looked over at me, and I gave her a wink.  When she came over to see if she could help us, I just let her handle Jerry, and I left the store.  About an hour later I came back.
 
“David, I don’t think he’s ever been fishing before.”  Robbin was almost laughing.
 
I told her of my years of suspicion, but that he confirmed it with the story of the trotline on Yellowstone Lake.  I then asked what she had sold him.  Oh boy.  Jerry had spent a small fortune.  Well, if he had any intention of ever fishing all those places he had spent years telling me about, he would be well equipped.
 
I picked up Jerry early on a Saturday morning and before the sun was creating shadows, we were in the canoe paddling across the lake.  Needless to say, I was doing the paddling, and Jerry was doing the complaining.  He was switching sides with that paddle on every stroke, and every stroke was just a water splash.  With a degree of regularity, we had to retrieve his paddle.  Finally we reached the far side of the lake where the cattails were growing and where I had caught many fish over the years.
 
Slowly I lowered the weight I used as an anchor and began to set up one of the two rods I brought along.  Jerry watched with great interest before doing something similar.  Similar but not the same.  I’m not an expert on knots, but I do know when something isn’t a knot.  I don’t know what he tied, but it wasn’t a knot; however, it really didn’t matter.  I skewered a worm on my hook, and so did Jerry.  I placed a float (white bottom, red top) about eight feet from the hook, and so did Jerry.  I tossed my line in the water, and so did Jerry—along with his rod and reel.
 
The only indication where the rod was located was the float on the surface of the water.  We retrieved his float, and he began to pull up the line as it unwound from the reel.  I estimated about two hundred fifty yards of line on the reel so Jerry was going to be busy for a while.  I had time.  Besides, I was fishing.
 
Sometime later Jerry asked me if I thought the line was tied onto the reel.  I assured him that if Robbin set it up for him, it was well tied.  He kept pulling up line.  As I pulled in my fourth fish, Jerry pulled up his rod and reel.  Now he had a choice.  He could try to rewind the line on the reel, or he could cut it off, stuff the tangle in a bag, grab another one of his four rods, and fish.  He chose to rewind.
 
It took Jerry about three quarters of an hour to realize that it was fruitless to rewind that line.  Finally he stripped off the three or four feet he had managed to get back onto the reel, cut it loose, and stuffed it into a bag.  Fifteen minutes later he had a line in the water, but I still couldn’t figure out his method of attaching the hook to the line.  A fish figured it out for me.  It wasn’t a knot.
 
Jerry needed help, but he was a self-professed expert at fishing, and there is no way he would ask.  And I didn’t offer.  I now had nine fish in the nine to fourteen inch range on my stringers (I separated bass, catfish, and crappie to different stringers—I don’t know why I did that except Sam taught me to do it), and Jerry was still trying to catch his first fish. 
 
About midday Jerry began to squirm.  He was feeling the confines of the canoe, and I admit a canoe is never very comfortable under the best of circumstances.  The need to stretch the legs is something only experience can overcome.  Jerry stood up.  Jerry fell overboard.  There are times I’m glad I require passengers to wear a life jacket, and then there was Jerry.  But he was wearing one.  I didn’t count him as my tenth fish, but I fished him out of the water and back into the canoe.  He crawled back to the bow and sat down.  At least he didn’t loose his rod this time.
 
To me midday means lunch.  I knew Jerry would not think far enough ahead to prepare a lunch, so I packed plenty.  Out of a bit of pity, I paddled to the nearest bank and let Jerry walk around on shore and stretch his legs while we were eating.
 
“Rough day, huh?”
 
“Yeah.  I never fished from a canoe before.”
 
Or from anywhere else I thought.  “It takes some getting used to.  I’ve been doing it a while.”
 
After an hour or so we climbed back into the canoe and paddled to another nearby spot where the crappie and bream tended to hang out.  I caught a few more fish, and somehow, someway, Jerry caught one.  It was a catfish a full two feet long.  A fish to be proud of.  The way he hooted and hollered, one would have thought he had never caught a fish before.
 
I paddled and Jerry splashed his way back across the lake to the old wooden dock near my grandparent’s house.  We set everything up on the dock and I steadied the canoe while Jerry climbed up on the dock, tripped, and fell back into the water on the other side.  Well, he had on the life jacket.
 
We carried the fish to the cleaning station where Jerry (to his credit) actually helped.  He threw up only once.  Then we packed the fish into my ice chest and carried it to the car.  We retrieved the canoe, cleaned it up, and loaded it on the racks on the top of my car.  Jerry slept all the way home.
 
I went out of town on business for a few weeks, and when I got home I was invited to have dinner with my friends Karl and Robbin.  Apparently Jerry had a great time on our outing.  Robbin said he had been into Buddie’s Hardware several times talking about the fish he caught.  When I mentioned falling out of the canoe, dropping his rod and reel overboard, and even falling off the dock, Robbin was quite surprised since there had been no mentioned of this.  However, he had purchased a canoe.

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