Earlier this summer, I ditched an old fishing partner. I admit to having a little anxiety about the situation, but I get along very 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 wouldn’t be a good choice for their apartment in a big city. Before placing a classified ad, they asked the office if anyone was interested.
Since then, the 17-foot Gruman Eagle and I have been on trips to rivers, lakes, and ponds all over southern Missouri. With an extra-wide bow, it was a workhorse for hauling a mountain of camping and fishing gear. Its shiny aluminum sides are beautifully accented with a bright blue thin stripe and the Eagle logo.
I had planned to hang on to the canoe as it’s always 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 I purchased a Lifetime 10.5ft fishing kayak.
After a few tries on a State Department of Conservation lake, paddling up and down a few rivers, and a decent number of fish in the boat, I’m sold on my new craft.
The reduced storage space is something I’m still getting used to. I had to downsize the fish cooler I use for the keepers, and the onboard storage compartments can only hold what goes through the porthole. I’ll have to go back to the big boat for any overnight RV trips, but I may have aged anyway.
The other attractive aspect of kayaking also has to do with my age. When I bought the canoe, I could lift and transport it relatively easily. Loading and unloading is no longer a one-man operation, but the little plastic boat takes me back to more portable possibilities.
My impression of kayaks had always imagined eskimo rolls, a maneuver that overwhelms the paddler and highlights instability. I know I could never pull off the trick, and I would never consider trying it, but the truth is, my kayak and canoe are just as stable. I don’t have enough inherent balance to stand in either for a while, but it’s at least possible in both.
With two people on board – both supplying the power of the paddle – the canoe can sail beyond speed without a wake. Once mastered, directing it around obstacles is relatively simple. But with only one occupant and any amount of wind, keeping a canoe pointing the right way can be a real challenge.
The kayak, on the other hand, moves at least as fast with a single paddler and can turn even in the tightest turns. Adding an almost essential anchor trolley to the side of my new boat makes sitting still an effective way to fish in any particular spot.
Mine certainly isn’t the fanciest kayak on the water, but it has decent storage capacity, three built-in rod and reel holders, a backed seat, and handles to make portages much easier.
Another difference between the two is the ability to draw water. My kayak is designed to let small amounts of water in and out of the boat through openings called scupper holes. A bit of a lake or river may come on board every once in a while, but it’s designed to find its way just as easily.
The interior of the canoe has the ability to stay high and dry for an entire trip, but if water gets in it has nowhere to go except at the feet of the occupants until it is drained away.
It’s easy to reminisce about great canoe fishing trips, but the most memorable moments include many times when everything and everyone ended up getting wet.
My new little boat still has a long way to go before it catches up with the number of fish and the memories the old aluminum dinghy made, but I can’t wait to work to even the score.
John Winkelman has been writing about outdoor news and issues in Jefferson County for over 30 years and is the associate editor of Outdoor Guide magazine. If you have story ideas for Leader’s outside news page, email [email protected], and you’ll find more outside news and updates at johnjwink.com.