Of course, spring being the time of year that all the cabin fever is finally coming to a head, all I can think about is that first fishing trip.
(Did you hear the sudden rustling of newsprint as pages were turned to find Dr. Gott???)
Last weekend, I argued with myself from Friday evening until Sunday morning regarding whether or not I would go out in the boat. There were three considerations holding me back:
1) Possibility of rain
2) Certainty of winds 20-25 miles per hour.
3) Three gallons of gas to fill the tank now costs me $9.69. I was telling this to my neighbor the other day with bitter disgust and he just laughed and reminded me he had a boat with an 80-gallon tank.
I went get the boat out of the shed, cleaned it up and got my gear ready, just in case I decided to go. I filled the tank, too. When I got my first boat, it was 1980 and I was 15 years old. My grandfather built it decades before, and though he was a great builder of structures (the Catholic church in Charenton, for instance, and Charenton Elementary School are some of his jobs) he was not near the boat builder my father was, and the little 12-foot bateau was not only boxy and stubby, it was twisted somewhere amidships. Under high power it would have been like trying to drive a car with the alignment out of whack, but fortunately I didnít have to worry about that, and neither did my father. The boat was powered by a 1957 Wizard outboard. I say "powered" only in the loosest sense of the word, because the old girl had such bad rings it probably was only putting out about five horsepower.
It also had a gas tank built-in. It wrapped around the flywheel at the top, and held just over half a gallon of gas. If I left from behind our house, I had to stop just past the Charenton Locks to fill it up and make it to Grande Avoille Cove. It took another fill-up to get to most spots on the south side of the lake, and yet another to reach Peach Coulee on the north shore. Same number of fill-ups to come home unless there was a good tailwind.
Of course, gas was far under a dollar back then. Today I still use my dadís wooden bateau with a 15 horsepower engine that gets very good fuel economy. I sold my bass boat with the big 175-horse engine on it because it was too expensive when gas suddenly hit $1.85. You can imagine how grounded Iíd be today.
Well, I had nearly made up my mind to go. The wind was slacking up, and the skies clearing. For some reason, though, as I passed by the boat to get more gear to load, I stopped and twisted the tiller on the trolling motor.
Not only was the battery dead, it was shorted out and useless. I donít know how that could have happened, I charged it regularly over the winter. But you will certainly not be surprised to find that it was just barely out of warranty. Isnít it always? And arenít I always flat broke when such things happen to me?
Frustrated, I went and hauled my wooden pirogue out from under the house and started cleaning it up. In the process of this, I found a soft spot inside of the bottom. I was furious. I knew the plywood wasnít the best exterior-grade out there, but I figured itíd last more than a year! I store it under the house and on blocks to keep it off the wet ground. So I had to patch that with some epoxy and was still, effectively grounded, so I set my sights on the next weekend to come.
Which, I hear, will be ushered in with a cool front thatíll surely put the fish down for a day or two.
Well, thatís OK, because Iím planning on spending Saturday in Lafayette for the annual get-together of the Acadiana Fly Rodders club. I go every year, practically, and hang out with other fishermen who actually know what a tippet is and understand that the floatie-thing on the leader is not a "bobber," "cork" or "float" it is a VOSI: Vertically Oriented Strike Indicator. Never mind that they look like one of those orange and white Styrofoam perch floats cut in half Ė no self-respecting fly fisherman would be caught dead using a perch float, it is a VOSI and please keep your opinions to yourself.
Personally, Iím thinking on getting off of fossil fuels in my fishing, other than the occasional trip in the little boat. A good canoe with a sturdy paddle will get me most everywhere I want to fish, and Iíd get some exercise, too. No gas, no oil to mix in the gas, no lower unit lubrication, worst thing Iíll have to worry about is gas for the truck to get to where I want to drop the canoe in the water.
Now, donít give me no lip about canoes and Indians, either, you hear? I have avoided canoes and pirogues most of my life. It took $110 oil to get me motivated into one. My ancestors would have been ashamed that I had such an aversion to such vessels, but hey, they didnít have electric trolling motors, either.
Pirogues are far more scary than canoes. Back many years ago, my fishing buddy and I decided we wanted to fish some of the ponds we couldnít get to with the boat and trailer, so we loaded Dadís homemade pirogue into the truck and went and dropped it into an appealing pond.
Iíve 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 back seat, crawling in this vessel which, despite the fact that you know is 14 feet long and 25 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 to the pirogueís bottom 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 youíre 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. Itís important to note that my friend remembered the beer, but forgot the tackle box. Go figure. A manís gotta have his priorities. I do not drink beer if I am boating, but I donít disdain those who do, if they remain sober. But whoever said, "Beer and boating donít mix," undoubtedly had a nightmarish experience with a pirogue.
It wasnít 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 maritime disaster.
The first cast was mine. I reared back and pitched my lure (I wasnít a 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 palís cast was a little better, having learned from my misfortune. So along we fished, and finally, my friendís 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?"
"Donít you dare," I warned. Just talking about it was making the pirogue start to roll.
"But weíre here to fish," he protested.
"I know that, but if you jerk, whatís gonna happen when this log starts spinning and rolling?"
He jerked anyway, and the pirogue rolled, water slopped in, and my shoes were soaked.
"I thought you werenít going to jerk?" I yelled.
"Itís 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."
Yeah, itís gonna be a canoe, one day. Pirogues are for gymnasts, trapeze artists and contortionists. None of which I remotely resemble, to be sure.