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The Last Windrow: A journey from row boat to early guide boat to canoe

Photo illustration, Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

"Quit trying to pass me and we'll get there faster!" my wife spoke over her sunburned right shoulder.

The closest thing to a fishing boat I came to in my teen years was a boat my Uncle Frank owned and had anchored in a sandpit near Hawarden, Iowa. It was a small, wooden row boat that leaked a bit, but not enough to sink it.

Uncle Frank had driven a steel post into the sand bottom of the sandpit and had chained the boat to the post with a padlock. He loaned my cousin, Bob, and me the key a couple of times and we were happy to have the use of the boat, although it didn't come with any oars.

We used a couple of 1x4 planks as oars and they got us across the water OK. We caught a few fish, but just being in a boat was a bit magical to a couple of sod-busters who grew up without much fishing water to be had.

Over the years we came of age in the fishing world and at the grand age of 24, some members of my family and I moved to northern Minnesota where a fishing boat sat in almost every yard. Most of the boats in those days were still made of wood. Fiberglass and aluminum boats were just coming on the scene. Wood boats required a new paint job almost every year and usually needed caulking to eliminate leaks.

It is no wonder that most of those early wooden boats now serve as flower planters at the end of a driveway.

I ended up acquiring a job at probably the best fishing shop in Minnesota at the time, Marv Koep's Nisswa Bait Shop. Fisher-people flocked to that little shop in the early 1970s. During opening day weekends we had to walk sideways down the aisles, they were so crowded. It was a young fisherman's dreamland. I didn't ever tell Marv this, but I probably would have worked for nothing.

Along with the bait and tackle store, this was the home of the famous Nisswa Guides League. I rubbed elbows with all of the now-famous fishermen who guided out of that shop. And, they all owned what became known as "guide boats."

These fiberglass, tri-hulled boats provided a stable fishing platform and a boat that could be easily controlled to follow the curves and points of a lake's bottom. Most were powered with 20-horsepower outboard motors. Somehow I managed to drag in enough money to afford one of those early guide boats.

The only negative of those early guide boats was the fact that they did not take rough water very well. It was not unusual to take a high wave over the bow of the boat, thus drenching anyone sitting in the front seat. The boats also didn't have much flotation in them, and if you ever filled the boat with water, only the tip of the nose of the boat would protrude above the water.

After a time, they were viewed as almost too dangerous for the rookie anglers and the switch to V-hull boats began.

Since those days I have fished out of many varieties of boats, and modern day vessels offer all the bells and whistles any human fisherman could imagine. As I watched the train of boats head north at last week's Minnesota fishing opener I saw about every gimmick and piece of equipment that one could imagine.

Many of those boats no doubt cost more than the vehicle pulling them toward the public access.

I've tended to slow down as I've aged and have actually experienced the canoe lifestyle at times. Instead of listening to the throb of the outboard motor I've instead had a canoe paddle in my hand.

My wife has always enjoyed canoeing, and with her gentle urging I've actually become quite taken with a watercraft that glides so easily and quietly across the lake with only the sound of the paddles entering the water and loons calling from a distant shoreline.

I admit my canoe experience didn't start out so harmoniously. My first foray in the canoe found me on the back seat using strong, long power strokes while my wife smoothly put her paddle in the water with nary a ripple.

After a quarter of a mile of out-of-control paddling and moving in semi-circles, my wife turned over her sunburned shoulder and spoke in soft tones: "Quit trying to pass me and we'll get there faster." I did and we did.

That canoe excursion was a long way from Uncle Frank's row boat and those 1x4 planks used as oars along with our power strokes. Sometimes less is more.

See you next time. Okay?