Earlier this summer, I abandoned an old fishing partner. I admit having a bit of angst over the situation, but I have been getting along really well with my new companion.
I had just started working at the Daily News-Democrat nearly 35 years ago when one of the staff photographers and her husband announced they were moving to Chicago. They had a canoe and all the accessories, and it would not be a good fit for their big-city apartment. Before they placed a classified ad, they asked around the office if anyone was interested.
Since then, the 17-foot Gruman Eagle and I have made trips to rivers, lakes and ponds all over southern Missouri. With an extra-wide bow, it has been a workhorse for carrying a mountain of camping and fishing gear. Its shiny aluminum sides are accented beautifully with a bright blue pinstripe and Eagle logo.
I planned to hang onto the canoe because it is still an outstanding two-person fishing boat, but for Father’s Day this year, I finally gave in to the lure of a Buchheit newspaper insert and bought a 10.5-foot Lifetime fishing kayak.
After a few test runs on a state Department of Conservation lake, upstream and downstream paddling on a couple of rivers, and a decent number of fish in the boat, I’m sold on my new watercraft.
The reduced storage space is something I’m still getting accustomed to. I have had to downsize the fish cooler I use for the keepers, and the storage compartments on board can only hold what fits through the porthole. I will have to go back to the big boat for any overnight camping float trips, but I may have aged out of that activity anyway.
The other appealing aspect of the kayak also has to do with my age. Back when I bought the canoe, I could lift and carry it with relative ease. Loading and unloading it is no longer a one-man operation, but the little plastic boat brings me back to more portable possibilities.
My impression of kayaks had always envisioned Eskimo rolls, a maneuver that submerges the paddler and highlights instability. I know that I could never pull off the trick, nor would I ever consider trying it, but the truth is that my kayak and canoe are equally stable. I don’t have enough inherent balance to stand up in either for any length of time, but it at least is possible in both.
With two people on board – both providing paddle power – the canoe can cruise beyond no-wake speed. Once mastered, steering it around obstacles is relatively simple. But with just one occupant, and any amount of wind, keeping a canoe going the right direction can be a real challenge.
The kayak, on the other hand, moves at least as swiftly with just one paddler and can turn through even the tightest corners. Adding an almost-essential anchor trolley to the side of my new boat makes sitting still in it an effective way to fish in any particular spot.
Mine is certainly not the fanciest kayak on the water, but it has decent storage capacity, three built-in rod and reel holders, a back-support seat and handles for making portages much simpler.
One other difference between the two is the capacity to take on water. My kayak is designed to let small amounts of water into and out of the boat through ports called scupper holes. A little bit of the lake or river can come aboard from time to time, but it is designed to find its way out just as easily.
The inside of the canoe has the capability of remaining high and dry for an entire trip, but if water does get in, it has no place to go except at the feet of the occupants until it gets dumped out.
Recalling great fishing trips in the canoe is easy, but the most memorable moments include quite a few times when everything and everyone ended up getting wet.
My new little boat has a long way to go before it catches up to the number of fish and the memories made by the old aluminum canoe, but I’m looking forward to working toward evening the score.
John Winkelman has been writing about outdoors news and issues in Jefferson County for more than 30 years and is the associate editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas for the Leader outdoor news page, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can find more outdoor news and updates at johnjwink.com.