The number one question I get is what’s the best canoe to fish from. You’d think the answer would be complicated. There’s dozens of makes and models, just like motorboats, tents, and RVs. But the choice is easy for me. It’s a prospector – hands down.
My first canoe was found at the dump. It was a prospector design, made of fiberglass, had three keels, and had no company logo on it – just a roadrunner sticker pasted on the bow. I brought it home and patched it up. The research for my first two paddling guide books were done in that canoe. I called her Gertrude, named for Katherine Hepburn’s canoe in the classic ‘80s film, On Golden Pond.
I eventually improved my canoe collection and bought a second-hand boat – also a prospector, and made of fiberglass. I paddled it solo down the full length of the Missinaibi River. I was in my mid-twenties and knew little about running whitewater except what I had learned from watching Bill Mason’s National Film Board films over and over again. He too liked to paddle a prospector. Maybe that’s why I preferred that design. Or maybe it’s comparable to why I like cute brunets that look like Bailey Quarters from WKRP in Cincinnati and not the sophisticated Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson). Dating Bailey would be more realistic than some bouncy blonde. Sure, it would be nice to take Jennifer to a dinner party to show her off but she’d definitely wouldn’t be practical in the long run.
Put in simple terms, the Prospector is not perfect at anything, but it’s moderately good at everything. It’s the best all-around design. If I could only own one canoe, then it makes good sense to make it a Prospector. I’m also guessing that’s why actual prospectors chose to use it.
The shape is symmetrical, meaning both ends are the same shape. This allows you to paddle tandem but can easily be switched to paddle solo. You merely sit in the front seat, trim the boat by shifting ballast and then paddle stern first. Asymmetrical hulls don’t allow for that option.
The Prospector is good for a short day-trip but also for extended time exploring the wilderness. In fact, it has better control when loaded with gear. It’s deep, wide and has a substantial arch in the bottom, designed to carry heavy loads and deal with large waves on lakes and in rapids. The boat, however, has lots of rocker for maneuverability. When heeled over while soloing, both ends rise nicely out of the water.
I upgraded to Royalex for my third boat, also a Prospector. I used it to write A Paddler’s Guide to Rivers of Ontario and Quebec. By then I was a little more skilled at whitewater and was young enough not to be overly concerned with the extra weight of the canoe. By the time I reached my late forties, however, I moved on to a Kevlar boat – also a Prospector. It weighed in at 38 pounds. I was getting older, my body getting weaker, and the portages seemed to be getting longer.
The Prospector was originally developed by Chestnut Canoe Company of Fredericton, New Brunswick. They no longer exist, but a good assortment of companies are out there still making the design, some closer to the original than others. (Some are even bastardizing the name.) My favourite over the years has been the 16 foot Nova Craft (London, Ontario).
Shamefully, my loyalty swayed a couple of times. I purchased a Cronjie design and a Bob Special. They’re still sitting on the canoe racks in my backyard but don’t get wet as much as the other boats. Gertrude still sees plenty of water, however. Surprisingly, she still floats. I’ve patched her up a few more times, even painted her red. Must be the Bill Mason influence thing again. He preferred a red canoe, a red Prospector canoe. I wonder if he would have preferred Bailey over Jennifer.