Some folks are born with a silver spoon in their mouth; I like to think I was born with a paddle in my hands. For as long as I can remember, I was in and around the water. For me, that meant fishing boats and, even more, canoes. I grew up in an era when children were given much more independence much sooner. You might have been given permission to ride your bike down to the Five & Dime for candy at 8 years old; I was loading up the canoe with fishing gear with the promise to be home when the sun went down.
We had a really nice red cedar strip canoe at the family cottage on the lake. It was sleek and quiet and tracked well. But what really jazzed me was the paddle! Stacked in the corner of the boathouse were different sizes and brands of paddles in varying conditions. Most were worn or cracked and out of commission, but they had stories that only the scars could tell. I’d grab a newer one, and off I’d go.
This was a far cry from those horrible summer camp aluminum boats and plastic paddles. I am sure we spooked generations of fish at Camp Wikki-Watchi banging the sides of those tin cans. If the boat wasn’t bad enough, those paddles with black plastic blades and handles felt like Spam to my wooden pieces of art that fit my hand like a glove. The conventional wisdom is to use a longer paddle in the front seat to be able to reach out and down. A shorter paddle is recommended in the back because that seat is closer to the stern.
However, I always used the longest paddle I could find. When I was solo, I could kneel or even stand in the middle of the boat, where the longer paddle was perfect. I used to do a little guiding, and the longer paddle allowed me to push off rocks or use it as a push pole. There was a time when I was pretty sure I wanted to be buried with that paddle.
Fishing out of a canoe is a time-honored tradition. Like many old-fashioned traditions (fruitcake at Christmas and no other time), sometimes things need an upgrade. Sitting for hours without a backrest is not fun. I used to lash those “canoe chairs” or stadium seats to the bench seat, but that was clunky and always felt like a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
Enter the kayak. I was a canoe snob for 40 years. Kayaks were for whitewater or touring only. You sat too low in the water to fish. I am claustrophobic, so getting all tucked up in some of those rigs only to barrel roll my head into a rock is not my cup of tea. The modern fishing kayak has a stable hull that will allow you to stand, and even better, a rigid framed seat provides great back support. The paddles are very different. A canoe is paddled on one side of the boat at a time and then the paddling side is switched, even with someone up front on the opposite side. The kayak paddle has a blade on either side that allows you to paddle on both sides at the same time, similar to bicycle pedals.
I abandon the nostalgia on my kayak. These paddles are high-tech instruments. Lightweight fiberglass and carbon make great shafts. Most snap in two pieces for easier transport. Some even have a lure retriever slot in the blade to get that fly out of the tree. I’ll be honest and tell you that these days I spend more time in my fishing kayak than a canoe. In either case, boats come and go, but the paddle makes the man … and the memory.