Another one of those shiny rockets, known as bass boats, skipped along the smooth as glass water of Raystown Lake. I lean back setting the hook on my fifth largemouth bass in less than two hours of fishing. If I had been fishing in a tournament, the stringer limit of largemouth would have placed well in the standings.
But the fishing was only a secondary reason for my trip to Raystown Lake. I had taken the canoe and paddled to a boat to shore campground for a few days of turkey hunting and fishing. The three mile trek by canoe with a mix of hunting, fishing, and lounging proved to be an inexpensive means to get outside for a few days and not break the family budget.
Canoes can provide a worthy platform for the fishermen, camper, or day-tripper looking to expand their time outside without spending a large amount of money. The cost of a canoe is only a fraction of what even the smallest, cheapest, Jon boat would run. A new basic entry level canoe will cost around $400.00. While a totally top of the line custom canoe may set you back a few thousand dollars, it is still cheaper than any standard boat and motor combination. I have owned Jon boats and small bay boats in the past, but today one look along the side of the house reveals two kayaks and two canoes. The smaller paddle boats are inexpensive to purchase, cost nothing to use, and provide some much needed exercise.
I was finishing my lakeside breakfast after a fruitless hike to the top of the mountain in search of gobbling turkeys, watching the countless bass boats and cruisers running up and down the lake. I began to wonder how many fishermen are not fishing because of boating expense issues. Maybe the boat is in need of repair. Maybe they can no longer afford to fill the fuel tank for a day on the water. Maybe they don’t have a boat and think that it takes a second mortgage to own a fishing boat. More than once I’ve heard the old saying that a boat is merely a hole in the water sucking your wallet dry. In these challenging economic times, repairs and fuel for the bass boat take a backseat to basic living expenses.
In comparison the purchase cost of a canoe can be less than the daily cost to run a motor boat on the lake for a day. The average cost of an entry level canoe is $300 to $500. As any experienced boater can tell you, an average day on the water will easily cost at least $200. Add in the annual maintenance cost of the boat and trailer and the cost breakdown per trip can easily surpass the total purchase price of a canoe.
The annual maintenance cost of a canoe is close to zero. Three years ago, I replaced the wooden seats in one of my canoes bought used in 1999 for $300. The oak boards set me back around $20.00. In the years that I have owned the fiberglass canoe the only other maintenance performed was applying a light patch coat to some of the deeper scratches on the bottom. The can of fiberglass patch cost less than $20.00. That’s $40.00 in maintenance cost for ten years of hard use.
While canoes may not have all of the creature comforts of the larger motor boats when out fishing, they do make a much better fishing platform than they are often credited. In the thirty plus years I have been paddling, I have caught stripers out on the Susquehanna River flats, redfish in Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, largemouth bass on countless lakes, trout in streams in West Virginia, and my favorite, smallmouth in the Potomac and Monocacy rivers. If I had been waiting until I could afford a “real” boat, I would still be waiting to fish many of these places.
To the canoe paddler certain waters are available that the larger boats can not reach. Such was the case several years ago. I was working close to Mattowoman Creek in Southern Maryland, a well known bass fishing destination. Before work, I would arrive early, slip the canoe off the top of the truck and fish. I accessed the creek from an old gravel road that dead ended into the water. With only one or two strong pushes of the paddle, I would begin to toss jigs or spinner baits to the edges of the lily pad beds. I was fishing a small channel that ran along the creek bank inside the lily pad beds and away from the main creek channel. With success I hooked and landed several largemouths; while the fishermen in the larger bass boats fished the outside of the pad beds, unable to reach the back waters I was fishing. That is just one example of the many times when I have been able to canoe into locations and fish, or even hunt, where the larger boats did not fit.
Canoes are much more stable than they are often thought. While the romantic couple tipping over a canoe on a placid lake may make a funny movie scene, the reality is much more unwavering. With a little practice and experience, anyone, from the youngest fisherman to the oldest old salt, can enjoy cheap time on the water in a canoe.
One of my favorite stories of a newbie in a canoe was that of my young nephew. We were fishing a small lake and I could tell from his death grip on the sides of the canoe he was scared it would tip over. As I finished explaining to him how stable the canoe really was and he should not be afraid of tipping over, I asked him to turn around. There I stood in the canoe gently paddling us out into the lake. Once he saw me standing, his grip loosened from the boat’s sides, he relaxed and enjoyed the lazy afternoon fishing the back waters of the small lake.
Canoes are a great inexpensive means to explore the local waters from the tidal creeks of the eastern shore to the lakes of western Maryland. Paddling a canoe is a worthy alternative to staying home because of being unable to afford the fuel costs of that motor boat. You may even find you enjoy the slower pace and quietness found when paddling.