Youíll have to pardon me. Itís that time of year again. Spring, when a young manís thoughts invariably turn to but one thing: Fishing.
Since I donít have a young man available to me, youíll have to settle for moi.
I know, I know. Some of you are groaning and clutching your heads in misery already. Trust me, I feel a whole lot worse about it than you do. Bear with me, and youíll see.
First of all, I am not only stricken with the "winter has been too dadgum long and if I donít get out and catch copious numbers of fish soon Iím going to turn into a quivering bowl of guacamole-flavored Jello" syndrome, but I also have 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, understand?
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, thatís 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 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 it 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 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?"
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."
Thatís pretty much the last time I tried to use a pirogue, and even though I still have that old vessel of Dadís, and actually itís undergoing an overhaul under my carport right now, itís not the boat I want. I want a canoe.
See Iíve 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, isnít the only thing thatís 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. Weíve lost the genes for operating a pirogue with six-inch-high sides, but a canoe is wider and the sides 12 inches or more.
Itís 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. Iíll put foam stabilizers on the side just to help me maybe not tip it over and drown, not while trying to save myself but while trying to save my fly rods, whose lives are worth considerably more than my own on Ebay.
First I started looking for a canoe online, and though Iím not sure I wonít still do that, 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 youíre 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?
So then I decided I might build a canoe, and while I havenít made up my mind yet, Iím looking at plans. I may build, I may buy.
I may get aggravated and blow it all off and start shooting fish with a shotgun from the shore.
But one way or the other, thereís one thing for certain:
Whatever I do, itíll surely have all the makings of a great adventure. Stay tuned.