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Another father and son fishing tale

July 17, 2021

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, July 13, 2021

We bought a canoe, again. It’s been a few years since we sold our first one, after it sat upside down in the backyard, witness to the changing seasons, a refuge for spiders and chipmunks. It was a green 15-foot fiberglass two-seater.

Our Adam was barely out of diapers and Zoe a kindergartner when we first paddled as a family. The kids would reach their hands over-board, dragging their fingers through the cool waters of New England lakes and the salty Long Island Sound, sunscreen smeared on arms and cheeks, a stash of snacks and water bottles nearby.

But as the kids aged, they grew restless with sitting on the floor of the canoe, preferring instead to paddle themselves in small kayaks. So, we were heartened when a dad with two young children hauled away our first canoe, a surprise birthday gift for his wife, knowing of the happy adventures that awaited their family.

When Adam got hooked on fishing a couple of years ago, however, he and I started dreaming of buying an old canoe that we could customize into the ultimate fishing vessel. So, on a recent Saturday morning we drove to a road side lot with a yard full of merchandize, including a half-dozen used canoes. A 15-foot aluminum Grumman, identical to the one in which I earned my canoeing merit badge at Boy Scout camp, caught my eye. When we learned the asking price was $900 we shrugged our shoulders and headed home.

Earlier that same morning, Adam, now a rising seventh grader, who knows a good deal when he sees one, found a used canoe on Craigslist for $300. When he called and confirmed it was still available, he learned it came with paddles, seat cushions, life jackets, seat backs, anchor and trolling motor — and the owners were looking to sell a collection of fishing gear and tackle, too. We loaded the car with tie-down ropes, headed to the ATM and set the GPS for our destination.

On the drive I carefully set expectations for Adam, noting that if the canoe was too heavy for me to lift onto the roof of the car by myself it would be an unrealistic purchase. After we arrived and decided to purchase a couple of the fishing poles and some miscellaneous tackle, the sellers, a kindly retired couple who had fished together for decades, asked us, “What about the canoe?”

The boat hung from the garage ceiling, aged but exceptionally well-maintained. I shared my concern about moving it myself and the grandmotherly figure said, “Well, didn’t I tell you about the rack that comes with it?” I slid the base of the rack into our trailer hitch, the arm reaching upward, topped off with a swiveling T-bar. I was able to lift the stern of the canoe and set it upside down across the bar. Moving to the other end, I lifted up the bow and spun it around to the front of the vehicle as the stern pivoted on the T-bar. With the canoe resting on four foam blocks on the roof, we tied it down and drove away.

The next morning after enjoying Father’s Day breakfast, our family loaded the car and headed to a state park in Vermont, where we had paddled together many years ago. After enjoying a picnic lunch and hike, Lori stayed ashore with our dog Luna, big sister Zoe, a rising 9th grader, enjoyed her new standup paddle board and Adam and I headed across the lake in the canoe.

In the still waters of a cove, we lifted our paddles as the canoe drifted toward shore. We dropped anchor just before reaching a bed of lily pads, near a submerged tree whose weathered branches sprouted above water line. Without words Adam rigged his line, then confidently cast again and again, searching for a hungry Bass and aging before my eyes.

Eventually he turned to me, suggesting we try a new spot. I agreed and in a flash Adam stood up, turned around and leaned over to grab the anchor line. Before I could say a word, the canoe tipped and we both went head first overboard. We quickly found the bottom, then stood in the shallows, laughing uncontrollably. I said, “Hey buddy, I forgot to tell you that it’s never a good idea to stand up in a canoe,” which led us into another round of hysterics.

Fortunately, the canoe had stayed upright, our gear safe and dry. I steadied it as Adam climbed aboard and then slid myself in as he leaned hard to the other side. We continued to humor ourselves as we paddled away, well aware that the journey had just begun.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

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