To be honest, I was not only stricken with the "winter
has been too dadgum long and if I don't get out and catch
copious numbers of fish soon I'm going to turn into a
quivering bowl of guacamole-flavored Jello" syndrome,
but I also had a hankering for a canoe.
Yes, I said a canoe. First person that holds up their
hand palm first and says, "How, Chief Bayouwater" or
something equally cute gets slapped with a lawsuit,
Not a pirogue, mind you. A pirogue is something that we,
as Louisianians in general and Louisiana Indians in particular,
have somehow been bred out of. I mean, the pirogue gains its
origins from the dugout, which my ancestors made by felling a
good tree then hollowing it out to form a canoe using fire and
mud to control the burn. I kid you not, that's absolute truth.
The Cajuns came along and started making dugouts out of cypress
planks, then later plywood.
But somewhere along the line, we have evolved away from the
use of the pirogue. Our ancestors just a hundred or two years
ago could stand in a pirogue about the width of a two-by-four
and use a push pole for propulsion. These flying trapeze artists
obviously possessed some gene for this ability, which has not
been passed along to their descendants.
Back many years ago, my fishing buddy and I decided we wanted
to fish some of the ponds we couldn't get to with the boat and
trailer, so we loaded dad's homemade pirogue into the truck and
went and dropped it into an appealing pond.
I've told this story before, but it bears repeating, I think.
Entering a pirogue is the first step in a series of harrowing
experiences. The first person has to board and make their way
to the far seat, crawling in this vessel which, despite the fact
that you know it is 14 feet long and 28 inches across, has just
taken on all the characteristics of a rabid alligator in a river.
It rolls and bucks, threatening to plunge you into the pond,
until all you can do is drop on your face and pray for your
life, which amazingly, stabilizes the pirogue so you crawl
to the back seat as carefully as you can.
Then the second person has to enter, but now your weight in the
stern has further destabilized the pirogue and watching him get
to the front seat, turn around and sit down is rather like
watching someone in slow-motion. At last you're all settled
in, and you realize you left the tackle box on the bank, and
have to decide whether to go back for it or just fish with
whatever tackle is already on the rod.
We decided to use what we had. However, the beer had made its
way to the middle of the pirogue. It's important to note that
my friend remembered the beer, but forgot the tackle box. Go
figure. A man's gotta have his priorities. I do not drink beer
if I am boating, but I don't preach at those who do, if they
remain responsible. But whoever said, "Beer and boating don't
mix," undoubtedly had a nightmarish experience with a pirogue.
It wasn't so much the drinking of the beer that caused the
problems, it was the reaching back to the middle of the vessel
to open the ice chest, retrieve a beer, close the ice chest and
return to a semi-upright position without causing a major
The first cast was mine. I reared back and pitched my lure (I
wasn't a regular fly fisherman yet) as I normally would, which
sent the pirogue into spasms of rolling and lurching so much
that water spilled in over the side, ruining the ham sandwiches
and chips. My pal's cast was a little better, having learned
from my misfortune. So along we fished, and finally, my friend's
cork suddenly shot off across the surface of the water.
He looked at me. I looked at him.
"What should I do?" he asked.
"I dunno," I admitted.
"Should I jerk?"
"Don't you dare," I warned. Just talking about it was making
the pirogue start to roll.
"But we're here to fish," he protested.
"I know that, but if you jerk, what's gonna happen?"
He jerked anyway, and the pirogue rolled, water slopped in,
and my shoes were soaked.
"I thought you weren't going to jerk?" I yelled.
"It's okay," he said. "I missed him, anyway."
"Jerk," I said, but he thought I was still complaining about
his fishing-in-a-pirogue technique. "You ready to go home?"
"I got some fish in the freezer," I noted.
"Sounds good to me."
That's pretty much the last time I tried to use a pirogue,
and even though I still have that old vessel of Dad's, it's
not the boat I want. I wanted a canoe.
See I've gotten tired of spending all that money on gas for
boats, all the maintenance costs, all the rest of it. If I
had a good canoe I could put into some ponds or hidden canals
that few people if anybody get to, man, I just know I could
mop up on the fish. The grass, you see, isn't the only thing
that's always greener.
I think my southern Indian ancestors, who invented the dugout
that eventually became the pirogue, were hampered by the fact
that water here is usually still. Whereas my northern Indian
ancestor kin, who made birchbark and deer hide canoes that were
wide and beamy and more stable, had it going on in fast-moving
water. The modern pirogue is a manifestation of one, the modern
canoe a result of the other. We've lost the genes for operating
a pirogue with six-inch-high sides, but a canoe is wider and
the sides 12 inches or more.
It's kinda like thumbing my nose at the man, at big oil companies,
OPEC and Osama bin Laden all at once. All I gotta do is drive to
a place in the truck, which gets far better gas mileage than my
big ugly bassboat, and put my canoe over for a relaxing day of
fishing with the fly rod.
First I started looking for a canoe online, and the money involved
put me off. Canoe sticker shock is a dreadful thing. There is a
line where sticking it to the man is meaningless if you're going
to pay all that money to do it. Like setting up $50,000 worth of
solar cells to quit paying the power company, you see?
Since I could not decide whether I wanted to buy or build, I
decided I'd try to build. What the hey, I figured, I got two boats
under my belt and another started, I can do a canoe. I wanted to do
a cross-breed, though. A hybrid, so to speak, of the canoe and the
pirogue. I decided I would call this a pinou, pronounced "pee-noo"
since it is a little of both.
So I gave it a whirl one weekend, and remember, I'm designing this
as I go: Short and wide. Sorta like myself, right? No problemo,
although I suppose it can be argued that while I am short and
wide, I'm not very stable.
I broke the first pinou under construction Saturday and one on
Sunday, each when bending the bottom chines or, as we say in
Looziana, the "stringers." I've bent stringers for three boats
so far with no problems. Okay, I broke one side of the first one
I ever did, on my runabout, but that was it. A little marine
epoxy will cure many ills. The pirogue is built narrow, and I
think I was pushing my luck widening it more like a canoe. Either
that or I'm just a klutz.
Every boatshop must be fitted with an essential item: the Moaning
Chair. This is the place you sit and moan when you have done
something really stupid in your construction project. So after
I spent all day on the second peenou and broke the chine, I went
inside and got me a beer, went back outside and sat in my Moaning
Chair and moaned for a good half hour. Then I tore the whole thing
down and threw it away.
I was telling my finacee this, and bemoaning that I might have
to actually break down and get a set of plans to build a water
craft of this type, and she said, "Oh, well, God forbid that you
should tap into the collective wisdom of dozens of generations
of boatbuilders who make that sort of craft and have perfected
the art." Not a bad point, really, but it woulda been cooler to
say, "Yup. This here's me pinou. I designed and built it myself."
Now, instead, I have to say, "Yup, this is my canoe. I bought a
set of plans from some outfit in New York and built it myself."
It's just not quite as satisfying, somehow.
But I broke down and ordered a set of plans for a plywood canoe.
As it turns out, the plans were just not to my liking at all. So
much for collective wisdom and I stuck them in a corner with the
rest of the plans. I have lots of boat plans I acquired and never
built: "Elly," a Norwegian kosterbat some 150 years old, and "Marsh
Cat" a 15-foot sailing catboat and a Riva "Aquarama" runabout. If
I do build it, then I can only assume folks in New York know a lot
about pirogues - I mean, canoes. I think "Last of the Mohicans" had
canoes in it, and that was around New York, wasn't it? It'll be okay.
Do you have your copy yet? It's out! And available now! Get your
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