Sweep out your boat!

Sometimes the most memorable trips are in your own backyard. The Saint John River is a mile wide where it flows through Fredericton, and on this sunny September day it was calm as a millpond. My buddy Rick had the grand idea to fish for bass, and so we hauled my 16-foot Ogilvie wood and canvas canoe out from under its tarp where it had rested peacefully for most of the summer.

Soon, we were gliding downriver towards the Princess Margaret Bridge, where Rick assured me the bass were lying in shoals under the protecting piers. Rick didn't take long to prove his point, for soon his rod was bent in a big arc as fish after fish went for his hook.

Saint John River
A susnset paddle on the Saint John

I was tying on my lure and getting ready to cast to the eager fish below when my attention was caught by a large hairy-legged spider scuttling up Rick's back in the bow seat. I grabbed my paddle and flicked it off.

No sooner had it plopped into the water when I reached up and plucked another silver-dollar-sized arachnid off my own neck. Glancing down on the floor of the canoe, I saw swarms of spiders, creepers and all types of squirming nasties wriggling in the boat.

Saint John River
First snow, Saint John River

This was too much for me. I began squashing them with my paddle and wiping them off my pants and sleeves in a feverish panic. Rick, ever the complete fisherman, calmly ignored the bugs on his clothing and casually flicked off those that climbed on to his skin. Much to his chagrin, I soon set course for the near shore, which never seemed so far away as it did this day.


All set for a summer's day paddle at the mouth of the Nashwaak.

Once on shore, I purged my body of the eight-legged bugs and quickly fashioned a broom from a willow branch. Rick held the canoe on its gunwale, and I swept each of the ribs and poked the branch up under the seats and end caps until I was sure I'd gotten every one. Normally, I am compassionate towards other life forms with whom I share my world, but these teeming, squeaming spiders with the multi-colored backs were far too much for me to stomach on this day.

We managed to land a couple more bass that afternoon, but my heart was no longer in it. Even after my thorough sweep of our craft, I was forced to watch in utter revulsion as several survivors crept up my buddy's back and headed for his hair. I can only hope I got all those I felt and saw wriggling up my torso. Ever since this day, Rick has his own native Canadian name for me, "Flails with Paddle".

If ever there should emerge a Moses of the canoeing world, he will go up on the Mount and inscribe on his law-giving tablet the immortal wisdom: "Sweep your canoe out before you get on the river."

Bob Zinck paddles the Kedgwick River.


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