As a boy, I have fond memories of canoeing polypropylene canoes down the Kenduskeag, Machias and Moose Rivers but these adventures pale in comparison, to the day I took my first ride in a Grand Lake canoe. I remember cringing, as I set a small tentative gravel covered foot on the heavily varnished wood ribbed hull, fearful to scratch what appeared more an artists sculpture then the floor of a boat. After considerable prodding, by my patient Uncle, I finally settled into the handcrafted caned bow seat and laid my tiny hands on the finely crafted gunnels. Speeding up West Grand toward Pocumcus Lake, powered along by a comparatively small 9 hp Johnson outboard, I was amazed by our ability to out distance larger watercraft boasting twice the output of the Johnson. As we effortlessly sliced through the chop, the cool September wind whipped through my hair and I silently promised that one day I would own one of these majestic watercraft.
Perfectly adapted, to its intended environment, the original design has undergone few perceptible changes since the canoe was first birthed sometime in the 1920’s. Still ribbed and planked with local cedar, trimmed with fine hardwoods and boasting a stern typically constructed from a single piece of strong dense mahogany, the craft appears more work of art then workhorse. Do not be fooled however by its intrinsic beauty, for the craft is powerful and capable in the water. While many others have borrowed from the original forms and managed to replicate the canoe, few have managed to duplicate. Novice craftsmen, who make sacrifices in the quality of materials or fail to build with loving devotion toward the craft, are simply building a big canoe and not a vessel worthy of the name Grand Laker.
Some argue it is the pilots of these venerable craft, whom are the most critical and important component of their design, for it is their experience knowing how to accurately predict the weather, avoid the rocky shoals and innate connection to the canoe that creates such an impressively capable watercraft. Captained by a registered Maine guide, the Grand Lake canoe or simply “Grand Laker”, in the native tongue, is a notably handsome means of conveyance, with strength and size striking a perfect balance with its grace and agility in navigating often challenging bodies of water.
In its most recent form, the twenty foot Grand Laker is capable of transporting three adults and gear comfortably and with its fine tracking in rough water and ability to draft less than 7 inches, it is perfect for everything from trolling for salmon to casting for small mouth bass. Its narrow profile and wooden hull make it maneuverable and light enough to get into boulder strewn fishing hot spots, unable to be navigated by heavy aluminum boats. Though quick and nimble, its wide berth still provides a stable platform for an angler to stand while casting or fly-fishing. Able to be outfitted in a variety of styles and configurations, it is not uncommon to see canoes rigged with fish finders, downriggers, rod holders and a number of other fishing implements. Lastly, no adventure in a Grand Laker would be complete, should it not contain packed neatly into its bow, all of the elements necessary to enjoy the infamous shore lunch.
The boat will effectively manage engine sizes from 8-10 hp. Thinking of the specific needs and scenarios when/where it will be typically operated, the 9 hp engine seems the most popular selection and is a great fit. Some canoes are even fitted with an additional electric trolling motor, increasing the crafts maneuverability in close quarters. Due to its weight (averaging an empty weight of around 160 pounds) and size, the 20 foot Grand Laker is typically transported using a small boat trailer. Though light weight in comparison to the large aluminum v-hulls it would be impractical to expect to be easily loaded into the back of a pick-up truck or onto a roof top carrier. Trailers also have the added the benefit of allowing the canoes to remain loaded with equipment, gas tanks and motors easing deployment another day or at a different fishing location.
With trailer and motor the current price tag of a Grand Laker is just under $10,000, with some used models available for half that price. Still, owning one of these fine craft may not be an option for every outdoorsman. Watercraft produced by Oldtown canoe, offer sportsmen a less expensive option but will never compare to the beauty of the handcrafted Grand Laker. Better to save your pennies and go with the classic!
Story by Registered Maine Guide Steve Vose