While even to this day nobody knows exactly where canoeing started and who invented the vessel, most historians believe that canoes were developed by North American natives. You can find more info here about the rich history of canoes as well as useful tips if you are interested in getting a canoe on the water.
A short history of canoes
It is impossible to say who invented the canoes since nobody can even say exactly where canoeing started. All that we know is that canoes have been around for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a dugout canoe believed to be over 8,000 years old and it is entirely possible for older remains to exist still buried in the earth.
While nobody knows for sure what the origin of the word “canoe” is, there are two common theories. One is that the word is derived from the African word “kenu” which means “dugout”, while the other theory claims that the word is of an Arawak original word spelled “canoa” that was later Anglicized to “canoe”.
While nowadays canoeing is considered a sport and hobby, in antiquity these crafts were used mainly for transportation and fishing. It is believed that the first canoes were used by the indigenous people of the Caribbean to travel between islands.
As European explorers arrived in North America, they found these strange new crafts quite handy and they started using them. Settlers were amazed by the engineering skills that the Native Americans used to design their sophisticated canoes.
Native Americans did not make these crafts only from hollowed-out logs, but instead, they used multiple types of wood that were held together with glue made from trees. In most parts of the world, canoes were made from the trees found near the lakes, seas, and rivers they traveled on, so the method of the Native Americans was very advanced.
Nowadays, the manufacturing process is far more complex. Canoes are mostly made of synthetic materials – fiberglass, Royalex, aluminum, and even Kevlar. They are cheaper to produce and they offer a higher performance that a wood construction can’t achieve.
The design of the canoe has remained by and large the same but the use of synthetic materials has made it easier for manufacturers to use the centuries-old design and enhance it by giving it a more hydrodynamic shape.
The history of canoeing in the US
Native Americans used two canoe designs for water transportation; the birch-bark canoe was the primary craft in the northeast and upper Midwest while south of the Gulf of Mexico and west to the Pacific Ocean they used the dugout canoe.
The bark canoe was built right-side-up using a wooden skeleton that was surrounded by bark and lashed together with roots, planked and sealed with pitch. A dugout employed a far simpler design and it was just a log that was partially hollowed with tools and fire, sharpened at the ends and then expanded using hot water.
Both types of canoes ruled the waves for hundreds of years even after the European settlement, before steam powerboats and trains shoved them aside. After the Civil War, the canoe was quickly repurposed from a workboat to a means to escape from work.
With people having more leisure time at their hands and thanks to the professionalization of recreational fishing and hunting, canoes got to enjoy new duties. Magazines were now describing canoes as a means to chase fish and game or to get away from the noise and pollution of the industrial cities.
Because of the scarcity of right-sized birch trees, the manufacturing methods also needed to change and that led to the development of new canoes that were built upside-down over molds from strips of wood.
Thanks to their miles and miles of navigable streams, Upstate Main and New York became centers of innovation using these new methods for manufacturing canoes. Builders like J. Henry Rushton and authors like Nessmuk popularized the wood-strip crafts among anglers, adventures, and hunters.
As a consequence of the economic collapse of 1893, manufacturers had to find more economical ways to build canoes and that lead to cheaper building techniques that employed wood overlaid with canvas that was coated with a waterproof sauce. This new way of building canoes soon gained popularity and as prices fell, the people’s interest in purchasing canoes rose.
Wood canoes started to become a rare sight after the Second World War since compared with the postwar synthetics, boats made of wood and canvas became too expensive. To add to that, wood crafts required regular maintenance if the owner wanted to keep them working properly.
Wood-and-canvas canoes began to fade almost completely once aluminum boats flooded the postwar market. While purists did not agree with this new choice of materials, manufacturers enjoyed great success with the new aluminum models.
By mid-1970s aluminum started to suffer the same fate as wood and canvas, since new materials such as laminated plastics, fiberglass, and Kevlar beat them in price, performance, and practicality.
Newer space-age materials such as coated nylon or carbon fiber are now used to make canoes that weigh less than a roller suitcase, though they cannot compete with the price offered by fiberglass.
It is now estimated that around 90,000 to 110,000 canoes are sold annually in the US. The most popular models are those made of cheap plastic based on the extremely low price, lightweight construction, and ease of use they offer.
If there is one thing that is certain after taking a look at the long history of canoes in the US is that these fun crafts are certainly here to stay and customers are very excited to see what the next few years will bring.
Canoeing is for everyone
Young or old, canoeing is something that everyone can experience since it offers a new and exciting way to experience time on the water, fish, or even hunt. If you enjoy being outdoors and exploring, then canoeing is certainly for you and as long as you wear a buoyancy aid, you don’t even need to know how to swim.
The waterways that canoes are usually used on will take you far away from towns and busy roads. This hobby is also perfect for families since you can put in all the hard work while the children relax in the boat and enjoy some quality outdoor time together with their parents.
Depending on your skill level and intrepidity, there are many ways to approach the location to go paddling in. For beginners who have never used a boat of any sort the best place to learn how to use a canoe is on a lake or a slow-moving canal or river. As you progress you will be able to move on to faster rivers and sheltered ocean ways.
Tips for outfitting a canoe for fishing
Canoeing is not just about sailing on gnarly white water river descents, you can still use the boat for fishing since, after all, the craft was built thousands of years ago with fishing in mind.
When fishing on a canoe it is important to outfit the craft well since unlike larger boats, a canoe does not provide the same comfort or space. Many anglers find that the beauty of canoe fishing is that it forces you to minimize the gear you carry to only the essentials so that you can make do with what you have.
If you are in the market for a canoe for fishing, you should look for a model that is quiet in the water and that has good stability. You can also find canoes manufactured specifically for fishing with comfortable seating, dry storage, and built-in pole brackets.
Because canoes are more susceptible to wind and tipping, it can be very challenging to battle fish while you’re sitting in them. A two-person canoe can allow your partner to pull in the fish while you paddle, but if you are alone you can make things easier by outfitting the canoe with a motor or anchor.
While you master the techniques of paddling and balance, it is very likely that you tip the canoe over a few times and that is expected if you are new to canoeing. Even those with advanced skills need to be careful in windy conditions. This is why you need to make sure that you wear a personal flotation device every time you go out in your canoe.
Comfort is also very important especially when fishing. Catching a fish is all about patience and if you are uncomfortable your patience will run thin quickly. While it may be expensive to get comfortable seating for your canoe, any serious angler will tell you that this is a very important feature that should not be ignored.
All in all, if you want to go fishing or you just want to have fun on the water, a canoe is an affordable and easy-to-use craft.