Fishing with Uncle Bernie

by Robert Jacobs - Fresno, California - USA

Or, How To Launch a Punt

Now, I know the title has fishing in it, but I assure you more boating than fishing happens in this tale. Like most times, the fishing was mostly a good excuse to get out to where the fish live, and fart around in a boat. Which is not to say we don’t know what’s what, but rather to prove we do, I guess. But, before I begin this sordid tale, which involves the maiden voyage of the punt we just built, maybe I should explain a bit about who Uncle Bernie is, and how we do the things we do.

See, now Uncle Bernie ain’t my Uncle, and he ain’t named Bernie, but the long and winding road of our friendship has left him labelled such, and it suits him, really. Everybody loves Uncle Bernie. Well, except a few guys, but they were for sure confused folks, what just didn’t understand Uncle Bernie. Kids and dogs are both good barometers of people, I think, and all my dogs and kids have loved Uncle Bernie. One of my kids gave him the Bernie.

Geez, WE were kids when we met. Our first mission was a great first date type fishing trip walking the river. A trip with a lot of easy opportunities to cut short if it didn’t work, in other words. We had a great time on the first trip, and quickly became fishing and boating buddies. Shoot, there’s a grungy old square pram sitting in my drive in case he wants to stop and grab it any time. He gave me a trolling motor for our canoe years and years ago. Then I found out it was because he hated having to paddle it all over while we fished.

Interesting story about that canoe and Uncle Bernie. Once, years and years ago, we were paddling around on the river (not sure if we had the motor, yet) looking for some nice fish off the beaten path. Away from the trash, in other words. So we paddled upstream quite some ways from our put in, past all the old bait buckets and hook wrappers, and came to a nice little island.

We pulled the canoe into the downstream side of the island, tied her off, and fished into the current off either side of the island. A conference ensued in ankle deep water adjacent the canoe after several fruitless minutes of casting. We stood in the cool water, snacking from the stores in the waist of the canoe, when suddenly, a large bug buzzed us. Now, I jerked, yelled out, and reacted a fair bit, because it was a large buzzy thing.

Uncle Bernie, however, leaped clear over the canoe, landing in waist deep (to him) water, still holding his coffee and hard boiled egg.

“What was that?” “I don’t know, but it was big.” “How’d I get over here?” “In the water? “Yeah.” “You jumped.” “No way did I just jump all the way over this canoe. What really happened?”

Fishing with Uncle Bernie is what happened.

So, when Uncle Bernie stopped by and saw the punt going together, he just KNEW it was the perfect boat to go fish these old quarry ponds off the river. Oh, the silver tongued blah blah blah that man can spew, about how the bite, and the solunar tables, and the exquisite craftsmanship, and how the paddles I got will work just fine, and how it ain’t too heavy to cartop on my little car. Gosh, a little fishing trip to the ponds would be a good way to launch a boat and assess her character. But, this punt is supposed to be the kids’ boat. Well, everything really belongs to my wife, so if I ask her permission, the kids can’t get mad we took their boat fishing, er, testing, can they?


Now, see, here it gets even weirder, for me, because we went to the ponds on Saturday morning. The only thing completely out of character about Uncle Bernie, see, is his insistence on having a square job, a real 9 to 5er. See, now, the weekend don’t mean all that much to me, and hasn’t for some time, so I am used to doing my fooling around in public during the ideal hours of midweek and midday. In private, that is…

Saturday morning they were lined up at the gate, waiting for the automatic robot arm to swing it open to the tick of the satellite regulated clock, or whatever it is. And we queued up, hugenormous trough of a barge strapped on a much used white sedan cum pickup and adventure rig. Mind you, these are real ponds, so no people have real luxurious boats, but there are some surprisingly large ones, considering the boat ramps are mostly just muddy pond banks.

Somehow, Uncle Bernie directed us to the one little hole with a concrete ramp like object located on a steeply rutted hill of sorts roughly adjacent to the water, so, of course we found ourselves in that ramp line. Now, we were off to the side, untying the boat and preparing to carry it down to the water, bypassing all that madness and hullaballoo. This is the part where I would have slipped away from all the todo and gone looking for some fishy looking deserted spots.

Help me, y’all, but Uncle Bernie has to announce from on high about how I built this magnificent vessel, here about to be christened and commissioned, and as I’ve been doing it for such a LONG time and am such an expert of unimaginable proportions. Raving praise for an upside down rectangular box with slanty ends.

But, oh how they ate it up! Uncle Bernie is a born orator, a magnet for men, and he was preaching the gospel of Our Fine Vessel. Being as it was very early yet, there was very little talk about our fishing prowess, thankfully, just so much sturm und drang about Old Butterfingers, here. And, I mean it was a crowd. Some guys with those fishing kayaks what look like they were designed to penetrate space, a few guys in a canoe, some small aluminum skiffs, and this one bundle of cats what had a big boat with a big flybridge looking thing on it, for bowhunting from.

We were in prime BS territory, in other words, and Uncle Bernie is the mayor.

Still, the mission of the day for everyone was to catch some fish, so the scatter began, and we went on our slow way. I should point out I have no proper oars or paddles purpose built for the boat, still, although some oars are planned, and will be made. One day. On the day of our test float/fishing derby, we were using an old Greenland style double paddle, and something sort of similar, but with a long square blade, long round loom, and single bladed configuration. I made it specifically to paddle the pirogue while standing, and to pole a bit, if needed.

It is relevant to the story that you know we were propelling a 14 foot long, 3 foot wide box with about 13 total square inches of paddle at a time. Well, I did the maths in my head, so they may be a bit off. Let’s say it was similar to pushing a mattress down the street with pool cues.

Which is really no big deal, because me and Uncle Bernie ain’t rookies, and nor are we as dumb as the media makes us out to be. See, we launched in an old abandoned quarry pond, small enough to throw a baseball across (well, the narrow way, it’s a sort of noodly thing), and nowhere deeper than chin deep, even for little old Uncle Bernie. He ain’t short, y’all, it’s just I am an inhumanly tall monster. Heh.

So, we drifted away from the bank, vaguely controlling the velocity and direction of our vessel, but rapidly marvelling at its comfort. Boy, a big old 2 foot by 3 foot end deck makes a nice place to stand, and an even nicer place to sit. If you’re in the aft half of the boat. Anyone paddling in the front of the boat is obliged to kneel just abaft the deck, on the floorboards. That is, they do now, but on this fateful day, the floorboards had not yet been installed. Sure, the bottom was a little flexy before we left, but that was because there was no water to support it, right?


Oh, but I don’t want to skip ahead. We started out on a lap of this unknown (to us) pond, me paddling, primarily, from the rear, while Uncle Bernie fished out of the front. Yes, y’all, I really AM that guy. See,

I’m convinced our problems started right here with the commencement of fishing.

See, I urged Uncle Bernie to get up on the deck and fish. They have special, gritty deck paint, and little toerails all around (with drains in the corners!), man, they were made to stand on. Uncle Bernie wasn’t having any part of standing up, though, so sat, mostly, with his feet on the boat’s bottom. Sometimes he would stand up, quickly, in the bottom of the boat, too, but mostly he sat, and fished, and I paddled along.

Hours pass quickly near dawn, for some reason, then seem to slow to a crawl. So it was for us, on this day. We fished and fished. We paddled around, tied off to some stuff a few times, paddled some more, fished, drifted. At some point we noticed the cracked paint and water, but assumed the cracked paint was just from flexing, and the water was residual paddle drippings.

I feel I should explain here, the boat was built with kids, and there is no glass on the boat. The bottom is composed of three pieces that butt on framing at the knuckles. The reason the original plan (hahahahaha) called for floorboards set on the frames was to keep the stress of body weight from pulling on this joint.

Maybe you see what is about to happen? We were so stuffed with eggs, and wide-eyed with trophy lust we failed to notice the signs.

We had been tied up to some downed trees for a while, worming and slow-rolling that sucker, very near some young men in a plastic canoe. The lads had beached their canoe on a mid pond shoal, and were wade fishing some little holes nearby. They were also puffing a pungent homemade cigarette, so they may still think they imagined what happened next.

Uncle Bernie, normally unflappable, announces, loudly, that we have suffered a Catastrophic Failure!

But wait. Back up a bit, so you can understand this a little better. Uncle Bernie owned this little aluminum skiff for years and we fished out of it all the time. We made improvements and did stuff to it, but mostly just fished the snot out of it. One of the first things I ever made Uncle Bernie was a wooden lift pump for his little skiff, because it got into the gallons per hour category, at one point. So, when a guy like Uncle Bernie yells Catastrophic Failure!, it is somewhat akin to the Boogie Man screaming in fright.

So, before we even got stuff sorted out, I had my pole thrown into the boat, and was turning about 9,843 J-strokes per minute, which, with my little pirogue paddle, made quite a nasty froth for a moment, but then shot us forward on a full plane! It was like an old Hanna Barberra cartoon. Uncle Bernie chipped in, and started steering us right across the middle of the pond, toward the car. Meanwhile, I have decided to paddle us over to a smoothish, rocky beach to land and assess the damage, then get it fixed. There were a few tense moments I thought we might just spin in a circle for a while. I have to say, honestly, as we discovered and I have subsequently confirmed, this big old dumb box will really move through the water, boy, especially with the concerted efforts of two strong paddlers. We got her pointed in the right direction, after a minimum of vociferous debate, and began skirting the shore, headed for the nice “beaching” area. Mind you, at no point were we in water more than knee deep, which was my doing, just in case we had to recover a scuttled boat.

Uncle Bernie kept reassuring me the water level was not rising at all, until I felt the water touch my feet.

We made it to the beaching spot without further ado or drama, and quickly got all our gear out, and pretended we beached there on purpose. Mind you, the screeching, flapping, and paddling may have clued some in to what was up, but there may still have been a few folks we fooled. I think I looked very nonchalant as I frantically overturned stones looking for the perfect caveman hammer. Dumping 387 gallons of water out of the overturned boat, and pounding the bottom back into place, and the screws back home with a large river rock probably spoiled our illusion of cool. Which, Uncle Bernie called Foul on me here, but I defend my choice. He insists the 1″x #8 screws into fir are too small for ΒΌ” ply. I maintain it was the loading of the stressed end of the panel that caused the pullout, not the weak or undersized fasteners. Anyway, the repair, and original construction that never leaked are holding up just fine…

Then again, I think our misadventure and then swift reaction may have increased our “street cred” by 1,000 fold. Those guys may all think I build boats with rocks, and that we fish by beating the poor animals into submission with our paddles.

They for sure all know, by sight, two guys what can develop and apply just shy of 82,000 horsepower to the water with two spindly little sticks, enough to actually propel the boat forward by the power of vaporized water droplets exploding. Enough to get a 14 foot long, 3 foot wide planter box on plane.

So, I fixed the boat with a rock, as I said, and we were ready to go. Kind of late, now, and the bite had turned, for sure, and we both had adult stuff to do, and I don’t like much being in public, anyway, so we decided to call it a day.

We paddled carefully at first. My caveman repair held great, actually, though, so we got a little crazy, started to paddle harder. We were really cruising along, about to pass through a small current caused by an inlet from the river, when the other end began to pull out.

We made it to the ramp just fine. Uncle Bernie promptly found a deep, deep hole and tried to break off his leg. I’m happy to say he failed, and suffered little enough damage, he was still able to help me put the thing on the thing. Whew.

The best news about this whole sordid tale? Uncle Bernie wants his own little pond boat, and I’m working on building him one. Then, we’re going to go launch it, and go fishing. I’m going to take the punt, and bring my camera!


  1. Oh, that’s Uncle Bernie, not me.
    I’m the serious, stolid one. I’m the cameraman. Hehe.

    Oh, and no beer. Just grown men what act like little kids…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.