I made my first fishing trip in my pinou this week.
In case youíre like me and canít remember what you had for lunch yesterdayÖor sometimes by 4 p.m. the same dayÖa "pinou" is the 15-foot long and 35-inch wide boat I built as a hybrid between a pirogue and a canoe. I built it from no plans, right outta my head and had a short experience launching it behind my house in Bayou Teche a couple weeks ago.
Transporting a 15-foot long vessel without a trailer is a challenge. I didnít want to spend a lot of money, mainly because I ainít got any. I also didnít want to burden my truck with a canoe rack until Iím sure I like this whole paddlecraft thing. So I did some investigating and found a thing called a truck bed extender. It fits into the trailer hitch receiver already on my truck, extends an iron bar about three feet, then comes straight up with a T-shaped set of iron bars which can be adjusted for height. I used this to support the pinou, tied down securely and with an orange warning flag.
The choice of where to go was difficult. I am not a paddler, yet. I had one harrowing experience with a traditional pirogue and gave it up for 25 years. So I wanted a place with no boat traffic to make a wake and tip me over. I settled on a secluded pond away from traffic and the public eye.
The pinou hauled very well with the truck bed extender, hardly wobbling or anything. I packed in a personal flotation device, or as we used to call Ďem, life vest, ice chest with a bag of ice and two Diet Cokes, my tackle bag and one fly rod, two paddles and a net. Not thinking wisely I unloaded it from the truck with all this inside and dragged it to the water the same way before kicking myself in the behind. Reminder to me: Put all the stuff in after you get it to the water, itís a lot easier!
It looked awful pretty there in the water, just the forward third of it on the bank, all hunter green with a black waterline and varnished wood inside. I actually had to sit and admire it for a minute, pardon my swelled head, and I thought about my dad in that minute. I remember being about 12, 13 maybe, and my parents got me a stereo system for Christmas, one of those all-in-one jobs that used to be so abundant with the turntable on top and the smoked plastic lid. I had no convenient place to put it so I begged Dad for an additional twenty-five bucks to get a little pressboard stereo rack from the department store.
"Say, Iíve got some pretty nice plywood in the shop," he said. "We could build you something from that."
My adolescent mind conceived this as the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Why on earth would anyone spend a day or two in the shop making something like a stereo rack when they had plenty of them right down the road at the department store. He ended up giving me the money Ė it was never about the money, of course Ė but the lesson appeared to have gone unlearned.
Shaking off that memory, tasting its bitterness of shame, I got into the pinou and pushed away from the bank. I was surprised again at the ease with which it paddled and while I still need a lot of practice learning paddling, it took virtually no effort to get the boat going at a good clip until I found a likely spot to fish. Casting my eight-foot fly rod was not hard at all from a sitting position and while I didnít exactly mop up on Ďem, I caught two nice bream and lost two flies to two monsters of the deep that I never got a glimpse of but nearly gave me heart attacks when they struck.
My biggest problem is drift, and Iím unsure what to do about it. A one-mile-per-hour wind, just the merest exhalation of a babe, and peeeyawwww! That flat-bottomed girl is heading down the bayou tout suite. I like to fish quick at first until I locate some fish then slow down and fish every inch of a likely spot, but the breeze from aft kept me going when I didnít want to. Iím working with my paddling buddies on the ĎNet on how to correct this.
Just to be sure I could, I stood in it to stretch my back a few times, and even fished from a standing position for a little while and yes, the boat is a little tippy, but at no time did I fear it was going over, just sloshed from side to side a bit. I walked from my aft seat to the ice chest secured to the front seat with bungee cords to get a Diet Coke and back to my seat again without incident.
I cast a boa yarn leech my friend Rick Zieger in Iowa sent me and got several strikes. One of the two fish that nearly gave me heart failure was on Rickís white boa yarn leech, the other on a red and black Jitterbee of my own tying. I imagine if I had been able to spend more time paying attention to my line and less paddling I would have done better. I may consider a small electric trolling motor eventually, but the sweetness of paddling along a quiet pond was really wonderful.
Not wanting to be on the road after dark on my initial maiden test fishing trip, I loaded the pinou back up with ample time to get home before dusk. But I took a little time, as has become a tradition with me, to spend a moment in quiet. Though I quit my two-pack-a-day cigarette habit a year ago, I do still enjoy a smoke on the water now and then, and keep a pack of short cigars in my pack. I lit one of these and stood near the pond, watching the sun throw lances of dragon fire over the cypress and willow trees to the west. Golden hour, and everything was amber or auburn or brilliant green and red and black. A long shadow stretched from my feet, narrow and skewed, with a fedora and a cigar and for a moment when I glanced at it I thought it might have been my dadís shadow as I had seen it so many times at the end of so many days, but of course, it was my own. Odd how they seem to look so much alike now.
Fish were rising to scuds or small insects I couldnít even see but I didnít reach for my rod. I stood there, smoke drifting around my head and thought of my father again. I wonderedÖno, scratch that. I was thankful that I did learn his lesson, after all, and I am sure he knows it.
Now and then, as the sun moved closer to the horizon, it would center in the space between tree limbs and cast a spot of radiance like heavenís gates opening to earth. Iíd watch them glow and then fade slowly as the day continued to shorten. Microcosms of life, I thought. Emergence, swelling to glowing brilliance, fading, then gone. That little pressboard stereo rack didnít last a year before it sagged and delaminated and went to the trash, but the wooden bateau my father built two years before I was born still carries me safely to the lake and back when I ask it to. My little pirogue-canoe hybrid shows promise of being just as faithful.
There are lessons in all of it. Iíve said many times that the most important of them I learned growing up between the gunwales of a small wooden boat. Not so much has changed. Not so much, after all.