Apr 19, 2012

Fixing The Pearl

“For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.”
- J. Steinbeck, The Pearl

In the summer of 2011 I read The Pearl and bought a used Wenonah Minnesota II, a lightweight and super-fast kevlar boat with a pearl-white gelcoat finish that was covered with battle scars, which meant I got a really good deal. It worked fine but it was beat-up, and I felt immediately bonded to this canoe. I gave it a good cleaning with the power washer and threw a coat of bondo on the hull, and then Erik and I paddled it 300+ miles into Canada and back. I returned to Wisconsin in November and stuck the boat next to the shed and in the spring I assessed the damages.

There was a few bad cracks where the actual kevlar was exposed, the bondo had been badly gouged on the Big Adventure and what remained had yellowed significantly. Bottom line: The Pearl was in bad shape, probably the worst of its life (1997- ). Luckily I (1981- ) had some experience working on kevlar boats and also, lots of free time. I carefully chipped away the bondo layer and then smoothed out the gelcoat with an orbital sander.

Then I bought two quarts of wax-finished white gelcoat, putting a double coating on the most vulnerable parts of the hull. Gelcoat requires a hardening agent and you have to work fast before it starts curdling ... And also if it's sunny it might start smoking. So you kinda have to slop it on. Initially it looks a little patchy. The final step is resanding with fine grit and then bathing the entire boat with mineral spirits to clean up the dust.

I'm pretty satisfied with the work. It felt good smoothing out those scars, giving a beat-up canoe another chapter in life. Now about that interior...


Apr 9, 2012

Lure thrown in tree

Rushing water pushes against my stomach as my feet sink into impossible muck, and I grip with my toes and lean carefully back towards the shoreline, balancing right on the edge, trying to hug the inside corner while remaining upright - and most importantly - perfectly quiet. Reading the banks and the water, always inching forward. At once, I am an animal and invisible.

At least that's the idea.

This is not A River Runs Through It. This isn't the idealized postcard of troutfishing, it's more of a struggle. I don't even own a fly rod. For the most part, Wisconsin's trout streams are narrow and choked with overhanging branches of all sorts. Just reaching them is a challenge sometimes. People do fly fish but I don't understand how, aside from the country club waters in the driftless. I prefer a more direct approach.

As I balance on the steep and squishy bank I see a clear window into a good hiding spot - maybe a foot squared, 25 feet up on the right. I flip the bail on the reel and avoid limbs above and behind me before bombing my Rapala towards the target. And it's not close. Snapping back on the rod tip I narrowly avoid a Lure Thrown In Tree (LTIT), splashing the middle of the deep run and shattering my invisibility. Shit, I mutter to myself.

Waist-deep in the stream everything is a balancing act.

We score LTITs just like we score Fish Caught and Fish Missed. It's a good way to measure your success and efficiency. And it's fun to give your buddy a hard time when he wraps a lure in the top deck of a tree. Hey, take it easy! You're spooking the fish! But an LTIT isn't so bad. It shows you are pushing yourself. You can catch fish with safe casts, but the difference between an expensive lure in a branch and lure that gets crushed by a hippo brown trout is usually a matter of inches one way or the other. And I hate losing lures, but I keep aiming for impossible windows around every corner.

After the first few pools I tune into the wind and my hands calm down. I take one more imperceptible step and the next cast reveals itself. I visualize the path, a side-armed snap, the lure flying six inches above the water, skidding perfectly under the branches and landing an inch from shore. I let go and time slows. My breath jumps and my guts feel an electric jolt, eyes narrow to a perfect focus. Splash. Before I complete one turn of the handle the fish attacks...

And then I attack. The trees clear out and there are two animals in the rushing water, taking risks and seeking rewards.