Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

May 29th, 2005

Building the Pinou, Part 2
By Roger Stouff

Though I don't plan on going exclusively canoe, if I indeed find that I can fish out-of-the-way, previously inaccessible waters around these parts in the absence of the big ugly bass boat crowd, not have to pay $2.80 a gallon to put gasoline in my own big ugly bass boat, well, that's all the better. I still got my little boat that my dad built, and I'll finish my 16-foot skiff for when I got a fishing partner with me. Heck, I might just go native. Wait, I mean go...uhm...well, native, yeah, that's it!

The culprit in all this is satellite imagery readily available via the Internet. There are places on public property to fish that are only visible by satellite and only accessible by a small, easily carried vessel like a pinou. Canoe. Whatever.

I guess a lot of it boils down to the fact that a guy who wrote a book called Native Waters: A Few Moments In A Small Wooden Boat just has to accept the lot given to him and spend his days in wooden boats, not plastic ones. I don't mind. I feel most tranquil and at peace in a wooden boat with a bamboo fly rod floating along black-water canals like generations of ancestors before me. For me, anyway, that's about as close to heaven as you can get.

I finally got it going without breaking anything. It turned out bigger than I intended. I wanted something in the 13-foot range, but I made the silly mistake of measuring out that at the bottom, forgetting that when I put the stems on each end, the forward and aft rake would be significant enough to make it just a hair under 15 feet long. It is about 35 inches across the bottom, and both these measurements are within the realm of the manufactured fishing or hunting canoes I have studied on the market today.

I think I'm actually going to be classy and paint the name on the bow: The Pinou. Problem is, with a double-ended vessel, pointed on both ends, which is the bow? I guess it's pretty arbitrary, but such arbitrary things make me nervous. What if I'm wrong, and shame my ancestors and myself by paddling my pinou around backwards for the rest of my life? The cypress trees would shrink away in embarrassment, the finches chirp hysterically at my folly. I really need to make sure I get it right.

The notion of a canoe or a pirogue is kinda romantic, too. I was inquiring with a duck hunter the other day whether anyone still hunts out of a pirogue or canoe, and he said yes, but it's becoming a lost art. Sounds right up my alley, doesn't it? Wooden boats, bamboo fly rods and lost arts. What more can a relic like myself ask for?

I'm only 41 years old and already an eccentric old curmudgeon. Can you imagine how I'll be in 20 years?

I finally launched it May 14, not quite done but as far as I wished to go without knowing if I would be happy with it. I was. Oh, I have to get used to it, I'm not very experienced with such vessels. But I didn't tip it over and I got in and out without having a coronary, so that's a good sign. I like the way it paddles, and I think that will improve with some ballast. I was so uncertain I would like I didn't build the forward seat until later.

It's heavy, yes, but not unwieldly. I can manage it without too much sweating or swearing. Next I have to get or build a rack for the truck. For now, I'm happy though.

Yes, I like the notion of paddling through the swamp or down a small bayou, away from all the big ugly bass boats, just me and the gators and the belly-busting-with-laughter finches watching me paddle my pinou backwards. When I was a teenager great bright flocks of them use to be on Lake Fausse Pointe. Once, my fishing pal and I were in my little bateau down Peach Coulee, and dozens of those little yellow finches with the black masks circled the boat for a couple of minutes or more, a spectacular maelstrom. Then, as if saying goodbye, they shot off over the trees and to this day, I've not seen a single one again. There's many such things. There used to be, now and then, a whacking, pounding sound in the cypress and tupelo stands, usually when I am alone but, now and then, with the brother of my soul in the boat. As if something enormous were coming through the trees, crashing through the saplings, trampling irises and reeds and deadfalls underfoot and then, just before it seemed we'd see it emerge, just as we just knew it was going to leap out of the woods, it would fall silent. Neka sama my father's people called it. An ancient spirit, a nefarious soul that sometimes came out of the fire to snatch young children from the hearth.

Ah, but there I go, rambling again. A relic and an eccentric, eh? I guess part of what appeals to me about a pinou is that I suspect the last surviving vestiges of my father's people's legacy shrinks away from roaring outboards and noxious two-cycle smoke. Yellow finches and Neka sama. Peach Coulee and dancing lights in the still of the night. What a teeming, magical place the swamps and lakes and bayous must have been when there were only pirogues and dugouts, bateaus and small skiffs. Before the putt-putt even of the old one-lungers, the wonder and awe must have been...humbling.

I know I'll never be able to recapture that completely. But maybe, from behind the shadow of an old cypress tree, perhaps from under the shallows of a clear, green-black cove, there's still a hint of it out there. That's what I really go for. Fish are nice, fish are great, catching is always preferable to being skunked. But a glimpse of a world gone by, untouched by combustion fuels and rainbow-tinted slicks of petroleum, untainted by noise and churning props...that's the true rewards of an outdoor life, at least for me. ~ Roger

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