Saturday evening I set out in my little aluminum boat without a fishing rod.  It was time to take a look at the boat’s new home, the Newboro waterfront.  We made our way over to the lock where the Land Trust Festival was in full swing. The sizable crowd seated on chairs for the classic rock concert seemed older and more orderly than the revelers of earlier years at the Chaffey’s Locks Corn Roast.  The spacious Newboro Lockstation seems well suited to hosting an event of this sort.

The green enamel security fence around the grounds was an impressive touch.  I guess there must be miles of the stuff left over from the G20 Summit in Toronto and Huntsville, so it might as well be put to use.

Two young men in a triangular craft laboured through the water below the lock.  They struggled to a gap between the cruisers on the 48-hour dock and were helped ashore before they sank.  Out came the unpainted plywood dinghy.  One of the instant boats had obviously survived the afternoon competition for another voyage.

I drifted over by trolling motor to inquire.  Neil McGuire and Thomas Jordan crew The Unsinkable Rideau Ferry.  Michael McGuire and my former S.F.D.C.I. student John Jordan rounded out the build team.  Their creation placed second in the afternoon competition, but as John’s sister Helen explained, the winners were experienced boat builders, so The Philosophers had an unfair advantage in their use of the three sheets of plywood, a few 2X4’s, some trim and a few tubes of caulk provided for the competition.  John added, “They also gave us a pound and a half of assorted nails.  No screws were allowed.”

The Unsinkable Rideau Ferry seemed to have a lot of support from the group of boaters on the 48-hour dock for the weekend.

Finger docks have produced many more spaces for cruisers below the lock at Newboro.  This is good for special events and day-to-day use because the steady breeze makes this a pleasant summer destination.

Quite a few runabouts had come in off the lake to drift in the bay and enjoy the music on the calm evening.  Over next to the resorts, though, the docks were still alive with fishing boats running in and out.

I made a mental note to get over to The Poplars for lunch.  As a transient guest you eat whatever they are serving that day, it’s always fun in the informal atmosphere of the fishing camp, and where else are you helped into a slip by dock attendants when you arrive for a meal?

On Water Street the new owner of the cottages on the point has done a very classy renovation of the small dwellings, definitely raising the tone of the Newboro waterfront with unified architecture, landscaping and docks.

Over at the foot of Bay Street her neighbours are delighted with the return home of longtime resident Mrs. Rose Pritchard after a long and difficult recovery from a fall.

Several times I have talked to a fellow from Ottawa who fishes the same area Tony and I do.  He mentioned building a house on Swallows Lane over the winter.  I finally worked my way down that way to have a look.  That’s a lot of house.  I think the guy builds better than he fishes.

I’d spent a half-hour earlier in the day on Tony’s new deck under a huge oak tree at the end of Bay Street.  It’s always a surprise how comfortable the air along this Newboro shoreline feels with the breeze pushing down the lake from Bedford Mills.

Of course weeds and debris pile in with the wind, but at least the boats are sheltered by the hill from a northerly gale.  Speaking of debris, Thursday evening something really gross drifted in.  I knew Tony and Anne had a family event planned for the next day, so the dead thing had to go, but I didn’t even want to look at it, let alone touch it.  So I started up the outboard and strained the mooring lines as I pushed the unidentifiable thing with a sizable mat of weeds out of our little harbour and around the stern of The Big Chill, Tony and Anne’s cruiser.

But then the weed patch responded to a gust again and headed in towards the launch ramp.  Oh well, it was out of my space and no longer my problem.

Turns out it then landed next to the boat of local volunteer firefighter Bob French.  Bob apparently thinks differently than most, because instead of passing the dead raccoon on down the line as many had no doubt already done over the previous week, he pulled the thing in, bagged it up (wow!), loaded it into his van, hauled it away and buried it.

I guess Bob looked at the carcass, thought of the trouble it would bring to the people down the shore, and took action.  That’s what firefighters do.  They think of everybody. You’re a better man than I am, Robert French.

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The Bass Boat

September 8, 2009

When the first bass boats appeared on the Rideau we guys in the cedar strips and Wykes boats didn’t know what to think. They travelled around at ghastly speeds, but didn’t seem to create a hazard for other fishermen except for those who didn’t have their running lights installed. The big surprise was the way they threw very little wake at planning speeds, unlike the cruisers and large runabouts which were the bane of our existence.

The engines seemed excessive and the fuel cost for a day’s fishing didn’t make a lot of sense on small lakes like those around Chaffey’s Locks, but everybody admired the way the electric motors on the front allowed the boats to move around obstacles quietly and with great control.

For control is the whole game when fishing bass in shallow water. Pinpoint accuracy in casting comes only if the boat is in proper position and stays there until the cast is complete. A shadow will ruin an otherwise promising cast. Noise in the water causes the bass to stop biting for several minutes.

Oars are pretty good for moving a boat through weeds and around stumps and over- hanging trees, but the guys with the trolling motors were doing well, too.

Then a fellow from the States hired me to guide him on his 17’ bass boat for a few days in August. Ahah! Now I’d get a chance to see what these things could really do! I leaped at the chance and left my cedar strip tied to the dock. Perhaps I leaped a little too slowly, for on my first attempt to board my client’s boat the bow of the thing swung out from under me and I landed ass-first in the drink. Not a good way to start a day of fishing on a cool August morning.

We left Dorothy’s dock and locked down through onto Opinicon. All was well, though the lock guys ribbed me a bit about my early swim. Word travels fast in Chaffey’s. But then Ken cleared the channel and hit the throttle. 175 horsepower moves a small fiberglass boat fast enough to fold your eyelids back. I discovered that almost immediately. A few seconds later I was frozen. Man, can it get cold in August when you’re wet! Fortunately another few seconds and we had arrived at our destination, Deadlock Bay. The Deadlock is one of the trickiest places to control a boat I knew at the time, and I was determined to give the trolling motor a workout.

My favourite type of fishing at the time was to drag a dead frog over the large clumps of yellow weed which congeal on the surface in the Deadlock. Bass like to lurk underneath them and blast up through at baits dragged over the surface. These strikes are violent, exciting, and persistent: a good fish would keep a client amused for several minutes because the bass seldom connects on its first strike, and when it does get hold of the bait it often spits it out or rips it off the hook. In the dark under the weeds, the bass has no fear, and will strike again and again if the bait is presented properly.

This far-fetched approach to fishing makes for very entertaining sport for guests, and by the end of the day if I told them that a bass would bite at the foot of the oak tree six feet up on shore, most would take a cast or two just to be sure. The downside of fishing the slop, of course, is that the boat can easily become mired in the weeds. My guide boat weighed a few hundred pounds, and at times I couldn’t free it with the oars. I would have to blast out of the goop with the engine, the occasion of not a few bent propellers in the early years.

Fearlessly I glided my client’s bass boat into the weeds. Never having run a trolling motor before, I discovered this one had both 12V and 24V settings. Even on 12V it was pretty strong, and it had a lot of boat to move. If the plate on the side meant anything, the hull and engine weighed 2800 pounds. That’s a lot of boat.

Ken was an amateur tournament angler, so he didn’t need any instruction on casting. The first bass to strike up through the weeds rattled him a bit, though, and he missed the hook-set. “Put it right back in the same spot.”

“Really?”

“Yep. We often catch them on the fifth strike, third frog.”

Ken dropped another dead frog in exactly the same spot, no small achievement from thirty feet away. The bass inhaled it, and this time Ken was ready. “Get him up on top! Otherwise you can’t bring him in!” Ken valiantly yanked the bass up on top of the floating weeds, and then knew enough to skid it across the surface, not giving the fish a chance to nose back into the weeds. He brought a respectable two-pound bass to the boat.

For the rest of the morning we moved around the Deadlock casting at the patches of the yellow goo. Before long I had switched to 24 volts, but the motor resolutely chewed through the weeds.

We fished the week out. Ken caught more fish than he had in a lifetime of tournaments in Louisiana, and I developed a real respect for the bass boat. When it came time to build one, though, I used an old 16’ aluminum hull and a much smaller engine. The important part is the electric motor.