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,
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
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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