We pass its
mouth, a simple delta with an island in the middle. I sink to the calves in
mud, but the surprise is not that. It is the pain.
"Ho, ho, ho,
This is ice
water. The spring must be right here. We fish toward the mouth with dry flies,
carefully. Nothing. We fish up as far as we can from the bar. Nothing. We go
back and get the boat and enter the tributary, bowman casting ahead. It widens
into a basin with another island. Then a narrow channel, alders on the right,
grass on the left. Another basin, strangely round, black and still. Nothing,
not even rises. Out on the river little fish had been cartwheeling everywhere,
most of them shiners, I suspected. Here, a stillness.
No, a fair fish
splashed, up a still-narrower channel. Behind that, a swirl. I liked the sound
of that swirl. I had on some kind of Ausable River special, new. I let it
descend on that place, almost among the alder branches that grew from under the
surface. It was sucked in with another shoveling of water.
The fish did not
reveal its strength at first. It seemed to think that this fly could not be
serious, and simply tossed about in deprecation. But then it gave up mere hope.
It was hooked, and it just knew it and became very mad. It wore itself out
completely, so that when I took it in my hand it was as safely handled as a
two-pound bag of gold. In the gathering dark we looked and looked at it.
The boat isn't a
replica of anything, though the methods and features are like Rushton's. The
profile approximates a lovely centerboard sailing canoe called Stella Maris
shown in Atwood Manley's Rushton and His Times in American Canoeing. It is 14
feet long by 30 inches wide and 10 inches deep amidships, 15 inches at the
ends. As Harry Rushton might say, if you chew gum you need two sticks, one in
either cheek. Though we have it loaded pretty heavily it is very fast through
the water and very quiet. Beginner's luck, Everett says.
Later in the
summer we took the boat to the annual regatta of the American Canoe Association
in the Thousand Islands. For the fun of it we entered the boat in a paddling
race against 16-footers, mostly fiber-glass Sawyers that are knifelike, long
rhombuses designed to fit barely within the formula for canoes (30 inches
width, 4 inches above the keel amidships), mostly paddled by enthusiasts of
punishment who use the wide-bladed racing paddles and cadence their strokes and
switch sides at a yell from the stern paddler. We lined up in the middle of a
field of eight.
At the gun we
sprang forward as quickly as the rest. Then some madman paddled too long on one
side, and suddenly all eight boats were converging. Those crude coal shovels
dug at our hand-carved black cherry paddles, people yelled, "Look out for
the cedar, look out for the cedar!" and proceeded to bump into it. We quit
paddling, shook our heads.
There was a
strong wind, high choppy waves combined with the wakes of inconsiderate
powerboaters. Down at the first mark the two leaders were broadside to us,
struggling to turn. One boat had already capsized. The others were heading out
wide to start their turns early. It occurred to us that we were still in the
race. We made right for the buoy, nipped it, turned easily because of our
shorter keel and curved stems and came out of the turn in third, which we held
down the long leg and back to the finish, even though we shipped water over the
bow all the way.