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Light Craft on the Chesapeake

Paddlers approach fish and wildlife closely and unobtrusively

Lifting the slender red hull with one hand, I put the single-person kayak in the back of my pickup truck, securing it with a bungee cord and tucking in the double-bladed oar. Within an hour, I was floating over the placid waters of my favorite lake, casting my fly rod to any number of bluegills, pickerel, bass and perch.
    Later that week, I would launch the same craft along a major Chesapeake tributary to pursue white perch and schoolie rockfish with a light spin outfit.
    One of the best things about living in Maryland is our public recreational areas. I’m not talking about places such as Quiet Waters Park, Truxton or even Sandy Point State Park, though they are all great areas to enjoy the outdoors. The public space I’m talking about is the Bay itself and its almost countless tributaries, as well as Maryland’s many freshwater lakes and streams.
    Under federal law, people have access to all navigable waters subject to the ebb and flow of tide, and to all inland (non-tidal) waters capable of being boated. That means that if you’re floating in a watercraft almost anywhere in Maryland, you are in public space.
    That amounts to thousands of square miles of public recreational water including the 2,500 square miles of the Chesapeake, the 3,190 miles of shoreline (up to the high water mark), 40 rivers and innumerable lakes, streams and creeks.
    But you can’t enjoy this vast playground unless you have a boat, which may be easier than you think.
    The kayak boom has accelerated access to Maryland’s waters. This small craft was created by Inuit hunters of the far north some 4,000 years ago. It is a very stable craft due to its low center of gravity, light and easy to propel. In its modern incarnation, it is inexpensive and virtually maintenance-free.
    There are versions available for big water (sea kayaks), special designs for fishing, others for whitewater or saltwater surfing models. There are models designed for up to four people, though solo and two-person kayaks are the norm. All are seaworthy, so you can expect to be safe and secure on any day pleasant enough to make you want to be out on the water.
    Many versions weigh about 40 pounds and can be transported on the top of virtually any vehicle. I’ve even seen them towed on special trailers built to be pulled by a bicycle.
    The general touring or recreational versions will do for most applications. Coupled with a comfortable life jacket and a light two-bladed paddle, it is a marine package almost anyone can afford and enjoy.
    This very unobtrusive craft allows the paddler to approach closely to fish and wildlife, a particular advantage to an angler, wildlife photographer or nature lover.
    Canoes also afford wide access to our calmer waters. Canoes were developed some 10,000 years ago in Scandinavia and are generally considered the first form of watercraft. Of yore, they were crafted from a single log or by covering a light framework with tree bark.
    Commonly used by Native Americans and later by European immigrants, the canoe proved to be the primary source of transportation on the lakes, rivers and streams of North America until the late 1800s. Their light weight allowed them to be easily portaged between navigable waters, and they were built in sizes that could accommodate as many as eight passen­gers and their gear.
    Today’s canoes are constructed of molded synthetic materials that are both light and robust, requiring little maintenance. Many are as inexpensive as kayaks though not quite as stable because you sit higher in the hull. On the other hand, the canoe provides more room and storage. Many models can accommodate up to three or four people.
    No matter which of these light craft you choose, it will give you immediate access to one of the largest aquatic recreational areas in America, and all that access is free.