Miss Shapen Two

Miss Shapen, 12 feet long, constructed of quarter-inch plywood, and covered with two layers of fiberglass, gained her name by an error in her construction. Miss Shapen came into being in 1958 for the sole purpose of taking two new Alaskans to the Kenai Peninsula’s newly accessible Swanson River. Miss Shapen was conceived and constructed in one workweek of evenings late in the spring of ‘58. In the water, she was stable with her 24 inches of freeboard and high bow. The bow is what gave her her name. One of Miss Shapen’s gunnels was longer than the other, causing a wow in the bow. She always looked like she was turning to the right, even when turning left. However, the balance of her lines were fit and perfectly suited for her reason for being.

Frank Ackerman and I, the builders of Miss Shapen, took her to the Kenai each Friday evening and brought her back home Saturday night for most of the summer of her birth. The Swanson River, a newly discovered fishing stream, produced catches of rainbow trout, small in size, but huge in numbers. Frank and I were novice anglers and made the mistake of bragging about our Kenai catches until a couple of our friends began believing us.

Given another opportunity, I wouldn’t have told a soul about the Swanson River rainbow. For the first few weeks of summer, Frank and I had the river to ourselves—just us, the river, and the fishing. Then one Friday evening, as we pulled into our usual parking spot on the river’s edge, we saw another car with an empty canoe rack on top. We were, maybe not devastated, but surely disappointed to think that someone was on our river, catching our fish, and seeing our moose. And then we recognized the car as belonging to one of our friends.

The week before, Frank and I had accidentally found a small stream entering the Swanson. The Swanson, in many places, is more swamp than river. At one of these swampy spots, a side stream enters at such an angle that it melts into the river a few yards from where it emerges from a tangled growth of willow—which further hides the stream from a boater. The week before, we’d forced our way through the tangled wall of willows and discovered a picture-perfect trout stream complete with deep pools and riffles holding trillions of hungry rainbows. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven, and, to our regret, we were free in telling our friends about our discovery. Now they were in their canoe on our river, waiting for us to find them and show them our new, magazine-cover-like rainbow hole.

Seeing our friends’ car parked in our spot and knowing they were upriver in their canoe woke Frank and me up. As we went up the river, we resolved that we would never again say anything about the Swanson, the rainbow, or our newly discovered rainbow factory. And further, we’d die before we’d show it to anyone.

As we approached the entrance to our secret hole, we could see our friends in their canoe further up the river. We let them get out of sight around a bend, and we slipped Miss Shapen into the clear-water, slough-like little stream’s tall grass-lined delta. We pulled Miss Shapen as deep into the willows as we could, which perfectly hid our presence from anyone traveling the river and not knowing the little stream was there.

We fished, and we fished—we caught, and we released, and we heard the putt-putt of our friend’s outboard going up and down the river, oblivious of us secreted away beyond their searching eyes.

We never again told anyone of our Swanson River successes or the location of our private fish hatchery. We almost lied when our friends asked where we were as they motored up and down the river, not finding the fish or us. We let them go away, thinking our tales of the previous week’s trips were just fish stories. I don’t think they ever fished the Swanson again, and if you’ve heard about the Swanson River rainbow, I know you didn’t hear it from Frank or me.

And don’t go running down to the Kenai when the ice goes out. You don’t believe there is such a place, do you, or there ever was a boat named Miss Shapen?

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