Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mystery of the Mississippi Part 1

I am blessed to be a short drive to the mighty Mississippi River.  Pool 4 of the Mississippi is my primary location to take my clients kayak fishing (see my business  It offers a vast variety of species, it is common to see several bald eagles, and other wildlife is abundant there as well.  The views can also be breathtaking with the bluffs of Wisconsin.  The river changes by the day and brings new challenges and mystery to the adventure.  You never know what kind of fish will end up on the end of your line, what the water/beaver dams/other wildlife will allow you to explore.  Disclaimer:  With this beauty and mystery comes a high level of danger.  Currents, barge traffic on the main channel, and a maze of backwaters.  These can all get you lost, injured, or worse.  If exploring them alone or for the first few times, be sure to be well informed by a guide or local.

This time of year it is quite cold in Wisconsin and the duck hunters swarm the backwaters I frequent on Pool 4.  So Chang of and I try our hand at the top of Pool 4 on the main channel in search for walleye (or anything willing to bite really).  The morning starts out with 20+ MPH winds, rain, and some icy precipitation.  Temperatures are rising from the mid/high 30s to the low 40s.  Terrible conditions for kayaking, or even boat fishing.  But with bitter cold and ice looming in our NW Wisconsin future, we forge ahead.

Our vehicles sway as the wind pushes our rooftop kayaks and vehicles while making the 45 minute drive to Everts Resort, our favorite launch location for winter kayak fishing.  A few empty boat trailers linger in the parking lot.  The place is usually busy, but the terrible weather seems to thwarting the usual crowds.  We get a few crazy looks, and some people stopping with questions (as we usually do when fishing this big of water).  A couple parking passes and scoops of minnows from the bait shop later, we are off.

One of the most deceiving things of the Mississippi river is the current.  From shore it is visible but not always easy to perceive.  With the recent rain, a shove from the shore told us immediately we were in for a long day as it immediately shoved us downstream.  Chang and I drop our pedals and start heading upstream (we always head upstream as not to trap ourselves downstream later in the day). 

As we pedal at our usual pace, the water is moving swiftly around us.  We hear the familiar lapping of water on the keel indicating forward motion.  The wind is gusting 10-20 MPH in our faces, but it feels good to be on the water.  Then reality hits as I catch a glimpse of the boat ramp in my peripheral vision.  Though pedaling at a normal pace, the fast current and strong headwinds are pushing us backwards!

We kick it up a notch while watching the shore.  We are finally making progress, though minimal.  But we eventually bypass the launch and adjacent dock.  Everts is located in a slight bend in the river, so we hold to shore, aiming for the elbow of the curve where the current is noticeably slower and sheltered by the shoreline trees.

Photo By: Chang Lor of 
We finally reach the elbow in the river near a channel marker.  The current is still swift, but I can at least prep a rod without losing too much ground.  I take this opportunity to quickly put a crawler on one of two Northland Tackle Crawler Hauler rigs I brought and dropped it to the depths below.  The current takes the rig away from my kayak while I gently pedal in place.  Once satisfied with the trolling distance, I close my bail and increase my pedal rate for gentle forward motion.

A short time later, my rod bends aggressively.  I give it a hookset to be sure and begin to reel, it is moving - fish on!  I end up pulling in a nice rock bass, a species I don't often catch.  We are hopeful this is a sign of a very active bite.

Unfortunately, it wasn't.  Fast forward a couple hours, we are about a mile upstream.  We are pedaling hard to keep a meager forward momentum.  If not for the thick woods at the shoreline, landing ashore and dragging the kayaks would likely be faster.  The river shows signs of the summer flooding as we progress upstream.  I am trolling two crawler haulers in rod holders off the back of my Feelfree Lure 13.5 while I pedal.  Every once-in-a-while the rig and bottom bouncer catches on smaller brush, which I assume washed downstream from the summer floods. 

Exhausted from heavy pedaling in the swift current and heavy head winds, Chang and I are nearly out of steam.  We round a slight bend and spot our target - the lock and dam delineating Pools 4 and 3 of the Mississippi River.  We have fished that area before and done well.  That is our goal.  We round some walleye boats fishing about 10 yards off shore and aim for a section of rip-rap lining the shore.  A perfect spot for bank fishing, lunch, and a break.  Then the drag starts screaming on one of the rods I'm trolling.

My heart rate increases, my adrenal glands are cautiously optimistic and release just enough adrenaline to make me forget about my exhaustion from fighting the current.  I grab my rod out of the rod holder, tighten the drag and set the hook.  A solid hookset.  The mystery fish at the end of the line is moving!  I continue to fight what is surely a massive fish.  It continues to intermittently take drag.  I don't want to force it and snap the line.  I look over my shoulder to see where Chang is and he is pedaling behind me, heading for shore.  He has taken notice to my epic battle.

My little burst of adrenaline has worn off and I opt to head to shore to remove the current from the battle.  However, I notice Chang's efforts to pedal towards shore become more labored.  And my "fish" fights anytime he pedals.  Crap.

Long story short, we do an awkward pedal/paddle effort towards shore to get out of the current because it is carrying us directly towards a couple of walleye boats.  We eventually are successful and Chang is able to pull his Feelfree Overdrive out, cut my line, unwrap it, and recover my Crawler Hauler and bottom bouncer without issue. 

Only a few yards from our rip-rap destination, we pull the kayaks ashore.  We laugh the situation off, and I toss my remaining Crawler Hauler out from the bank as I prep my meal.  But this adventure isn't over yet.  The Mississippi never fails to surprise and amaze.  Stay tuned for part 2 of this crazy adventure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Re-Centering to My Happy Place

Like a jet ski buzzing my bow, the summer was a ride that went by like a blur.  It was rough at times, but rewarding.  Most importantly, I came out unscathed.  Before the snow was even off the ground my garage was filled with kayaks.  My business, Small Craft Outfitters, was in business for its second year.  We had exponentially more kayaks and guided kayak fishing trips this year.  I feel truly blessed to have had such a good year already!  We still aren't out of the red yet, but we will get there.  Someday.

I love bringing my passion of kayak fishing to others through my writing, forums, social media, selling kayaks, and guiding.  Between the business adventures, my family, volunteer EMT work, and day job the summer filled up to the brim.  As the season wound down, my wife reminded me to be cautious.  She doesn't want to see my passion become a job or a grind.  I had only gotten out on the water a couple times all season for pleasure.  Even then, it seemed I was piggy-backing some kind of business engagement on those trips.

Fate and/or Mother Nature must have concurred because the temperatures quickly dropped here in Northwest Wisconsin. The boat launches and beaches are barren and the warm summer air captured by the water can be seen succumbing to the crisp fall air as a thick fog in the mornings.

Fall, my favorite fishing season, brings business to a screeching halt.  An opportunity to re-center.  Reduce focus on the business and focus on more important aspects of my life.  My family, my community, and myself.  Fall allows me to slow down, spend more time with my family, open up my weekends to increase my volunteerism with our local Emergency Services, and spend some time on the water with my friends.  This is my Happy Place.

This year finding my happy place didn't come as easily.  Between my busy schedule and the odd weather, this year was a tough bite.  There were record temps and record flooding that impacted my favorite fisheries.  This made my job as a fishing guide much more challenging and, at times, downright frustrating.  Last weekend, I was still stuck in that rut as Chang Lor of Cxfishing and I tried to get on a fall bite.

Our favorite fall spot was saturated with duck boats, our backup spot was limited in launch locations due to maintenance on the reservoir's dam.  The water temps were dropping, but a few lingering warm days didn't drop it enough to start the fall bite.  With a poor bite and other obligations that day, my enthusiasm and time on the water ended quickly.  But I knew it was still there, my Happy Place.  I just had to change things up to find it.

Photo By:  Chang Lor of 
Fast forward a week.  Temperatures mostly stayed down, confirmed by the heat rising from the river in town every morning.  Chang and I opted to visit our main fall spot, and we were glad we did.  The bite was good.  Still a bit slow, but we were catching quality fish.  And they were still fighting hard.  I l landed several respectable largemouth bass and Chang caught some pigs, one a shade under 5 lb.  But as the afternoon crept up on us, the bite continued to slow.  We were both tired.  I lost what was likely my personal best bass due to lack of energy to set the hook.  We decided to throw in the towel.  This was a step in the right direction, but something was still missing for me.

That evening, I was chatting with Chang.  I had family plans the next day but we decided to sneak out on my home lake for a couple of hours.  With the early signs of the fall bite, I was hopeful that trend would continue as the fish fatten up for the bitter cold and ice to come.  We made plans to meet at first light the next morning.  However, I had to figure out how to get out of the grind or rut of the tough summer bite and go back to what I know and love.  That is fall fishing out of a kayak.  Simple as that.

I looked out my window at my truck loaded with my Feelfree Lure 13.5.  It has everything.  Overdrive pedal drive, a tackle bag equipped with 5 rod holders and 7 - 3700 trays, a cooler, two more rod holders, an ultra-comfortable seat, amazing stability, plenty of deck space, my GoPro mount, a solar panel, the list goes on.  People who fish from a kayak know "The Routine".  Everyone has a routine for launching and loading.  Untying/unloading the kayak, getting the rods out and in their spots in the wide selection of rod holders, putting in the fish finder and/or pedal drive, putting the refreshments in the cooler, spare gear in the hatch, tackle in the storage spots, safety gear within reach, keys/wallet/phone in safe spots, PFD on your back, launch, fish, return, and repeat in reverse.  It can be quite the process that in my state of exhaustion sounded.....exhausting.  Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my bigger kayaks and would never downsize.  However, at that moment, I decided I needed to simplify, exponentially, and come up with a "throw and go" configuration for the next day.

Enter my newest boat, the 3 Waters GT 105 kayak.  Light, fast, surprisingly stable, a sit-in, and MSRP of a meager $399.  I had installed rod holders in it for such an occasion.  So I went outside, drained/sponged the rain water out, and threw in a few things.  My Bending Branches Angler Pro paddle (costs almost as much as the kayak - but worth every penny), a box of Northland Tackle spinner baits, my wading tackle bag with pliers and JBs Fish Sauce scents, my safety gear, and my PFD.  It all fit in the hatch and cockpit of the kayak.  Satisfied with my decision, I set my alarm and go to bed.

I wake up 45 minutes past my intended launch time.  I had shut off my alarm in my sleep.  Jumping out of bed, I grab the cold weather layers I had laid out the night before and head out the door.  Normally I will have pre-loaded all of my gear in my truck to save time in the morning.  No need, I grab the GT with all of my gear in it, slide it in the truck, and throw one strap around it.  This succinct ritual is repeated at the launch.  Remove one strap, slide it out, park, and go.  A smile hit my face.  No worrying about forgetting anything, no heavy gear, just the basics.  And it felt great.

It was a picturesque fall morning.  Some wish for 75 degrees and bright blue skies for kayaking.  I wish for a day like this.  Air temps in the 40s, water temps unknown but well under the point where topwater works (electronics stayed home), overcast skies, and sky warned us of upcoming rain by teasing us with a light drizzle.  I knew the fish would be biting and Chang and I would have the lake to ourselves.  Only we are crazy enough to fish this lake in these conditions in a reservoir down 3 feet for maintenance.  But it paid off.

I am used to the large, ultra-stable, ultra-comfortable Feelfree Lure lines.  That comfort and stability comes at a price, speed.  So taking off from the launch with the 3 Waters GT feels like a human propelled plastic rocket.  I was across the bay to meet up with Chang in a (relative) blink of an eye.  He reports success with decently sized panfish.  Due to medical issues last fall, I did not fish.  I was determined to get my fall bass bite fix.  I pull my spinnerbait rod from the custom installed rod holders like it were my Excalibur and start tossing a 1/2 oz Northland Tackle Reed Runner 2 in Firetiger, my year-round go to lure.

Photo By:  Chang Lor of 
A few casts later and a fresh application of JBs Fishsauce scent, I get a hit.  Based on yesterday's bite, the fall bite is just starting.  This means a feeding/fighting frenzy.  The bass are biting hard and fighting the same.  Once the fall bite is peaked and nearing the end, the bass will  be like limp noodles after being hooked.  Their instinct before ice is to conserve as much energy as possible before the long winter.  This fish is doing the same.  No beast, but a respectable fish.  Chang captures a photo of my first fish in the 3 Waters GT and my first fish in a sit-in kayak!

Hopeful this quick catch is a sign of things to come, I continue working the bank.  The efficient and light design of the GT kayak allows me to use the 1/2 oz dual-blade spinnerbait as a trolling motor.  I work the bank in a fan pattern.  About 10 yards from shore I cast forward then fan to the right, repeat.  This pulls me in a perfect pattern to key ambush spots.  This method produces another bass......errrr pike?  I am not sure because this fish is taking me for sleigh a ride in this little boat.  I'm usually able to tell a pike from a bass, but not in this case.

As I get pulled around, the kayak leans hard to my right.  Unlike other sit-in kayaks I have used, never did I feel like I would tip.  I could land a massive pike in this boat without concern.  Pushing the sit-in stereotype aside, I continue to reel and see a large flash of silver next to the boat.  Then it was gone in an instant.  I didn't have a good hook set on this 4+ lb bass.  Normally I'd get upset losing a respectable fish.  Instead I have a massive smile on my face and laugh it off and continue down the shore.

A short time later, I catch two respectable bass on back-to-back casts.  This is my moment, when I re-discovered my Happy Place.  I take a moment to enjoy the crisp gentle breeze, the fall colors on the surrounding trees, the local bald eagle and vultures gliding above the water on their morning hunts, and the silence.  Pure silence and calm as I float.  I felt a renewed appreciation for this fishery and this sport I love.  No pressure to catch fish, no pressure to help others catch fish, no additional rods and pounds of tackle to make me consider constantly switching rods.  Just my sit-in, safety gear, and spinnerbaits.  Life is good.

I continue working the stretch of bank in the same manner as before.  Though many dinks were caught, I lost count of the number of fish I caught.  All within an hour's time.  I couldn't have been happier (well, a state record fish may have made me happier - but no complaints).  I caught so many fish my spinner bait wire fell apart from repeated bends.

Due to limited time, I opt to toss the other rod I brought with a Rapala DT 6 as to not waste time tying on another lure.  I work the same shoreline in the same manner as I did before and manage to land several more fish.  I meet Chang who was slowly working the shoreline for panfish.  He reports continued success with pan fish as I continue working the shoreline to the spot where I missed the 4+ lb. bass.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get him to bite again.

I take another moment to breathe in the crisp fall air and enjoy the scenery and solitude of the morning.  I stash my rods in the rod holders, and paddle on towards Chang to exchange goodbyes while getting in some exercise via a rigorous paddle across the lake and back to the launch.

My load-up process is the reverse of my launch and takes a dismal 5 minutes.  I take a few extra minutes to reflect on the morning and how successful it was on so many levels.  The GT kayak did not disappoint.  For a sub-$400 boat it blew me away.  It will be stored for the colder weather, but made me appreciate the simplicity it brought me.  I decided to get a roof rack for my truck on which I can keep my wife's Feelfree Moken 12.5.  Also a fast boat, but the sit-in design makes it more cold-water friendly.  It will reside on the top of my truck unless I opt to do an all day float with my Feelfree Lure 13.5.

This fall, I will continue to find my Happy Place so the thick ice of the winter makes my heart grow even fonder for the sport I love over the bitter Wisconsin winter.  I learned this year the importance of re-centering your soul by re-discovering your happy place before it becomes your grind.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hypersketchy and Hypothermic

First of all, I'd like to apologize to my regular readers for the silence.  I was going to school to become an EMT while dealing with some family health issues over the fall/winter.  I am back, and it feels good to be writing again!  My first big outing of 2018 was exactly what I needed to resurrect my writing.  A day kayak fishing with my good friend Chang of!

It is March in Wisconsin.  Temperatures range from -10 to 45.  We can see 50+ degree swings in a day.  The robins and geese are returning from the south, bald eagles and ravens enjoying feasts of the roadkill previously frozen under feet of snow.  Wisconsinites are out in t-shirts and shorts, anxiously awaiting warm-weather activities.

When this happens you'll find a majority of Wisconsinites doing things the rest of the country would deem "crazy".  We wear shorts, we grill (though we never actually stop doing that all winter), we take convertibles out (top down), motorcycles will be spotted on the road, we'll still ice fish though it is rapidly melting, and we'll hit any open water we can for some walleye.  Chang and I took it to another level.

The plans started early in the week when the weather was melting the snow and reports showed temperatures maintaining 40s during the day.  We'd launch at Everts Resort in Hager City Wisconsin.  We had tested out the FeelFree Overdrive pedal system there in January.  Just below the dam between the Mississippi River Pools 3 and 4, they have open water all year.

Saturday morning arrives, I am loaded and ready to go.  Chang is borrowing a Small Craft Outfitters kayak with a rudder because he is awaiting delivery of his pedal drive and rudder system for his.  He does, however, have a brand new Bending Branches Angler Pro in Raptor Green to propel him up the Mississippi.  Having just finished the Madison Fishing Expo in Madison, WI I moved mine from my show-friendly-shorter Lure 11.5 to my 13.5 for some extra space.

A 45 minute drive put us at Everts around 10 AM.  The parking lot was loaded, staff were there shuttling people out to the road for overflow parking with their UTV.  The driver pulls up as we are unloading the kayaks and says, "You guys are &*!$ crazy.".  He couldn't believe we are planning to go up by the dam with the big boats.  But we are used to pushing the limits and prepared for the challenge.  This said, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.  These conditions were VERY dangerous.  Without proper experience and equipment the outcome would have been fatal.

A short time later, our kayaks are rigged up and ready to go.  We are impressed with the relatively short rig time as the new equipment tends to throw off our rigging routine the first couple times in the year.  Leveraging (pun fully intended) the FeelFree wheel-in-the-keel of our Lures, we maneuver the kayaks near the top of the launch.  I manage to maneuver my truck and kayak trailer between others in the parking lot, negating the need for a shuttle.  After checking the drain plug for the third time on each kayak in these hypothermic conditions, we launch.

Chang is equipped with my Garmin Striker sonar and confirms the water temp at 36 degrees.  The wind is blowing HARD upstream at about 10-20 MPH.  My USGS scouting of the river flow at Red Wing, MN is confirmed.  There is nearly no current downstream.  Waves are about 1-3' with white caps making paddling dangerous.  My longer 13.5 is getting tossed around a bit because it is longer than the gaps in waves and gets twisted between them at times.  To add fuel to this watery fire, there are hundreds of boats chasing walleye.  They vary from jon boats to $80,000 fully setup brand-new walleye boats.  This boat traffic adds to the waves by clashing with them.  I feel like I'm riding a mechanical bull.  Except there is no pad below me, just 20 feet of certain hypothermia in the form of the Mississippi River.  Nonetheless we, continue on.

It is approximately a 1.5 mile paddle to the dam.  About halfway there, the wind is in our favor.  However, the random thrashing waves makes navigation difficult.  But eventually, we learn the kayaks blow sideways upstream well in the wind.  Not recommended in this heavy chop, but our experience and kayaks can handle it.

After some drifting, jigging, dragging without success we can see the dam and 150+ boats in the small area below the dam.  We continue to drift upstream and the boat traffic is crazy.  I've kayak fished Castle Rock Lake in Central Wisconsin, so I've experienced boat traffic and chop before.  But this was a whole new level.  Hundreds of boats in a small space, some of which are weaving between other boats at high rates of speed.  The wind is whipping up the Mississippi valley off the Wisconsin bluffs and increasing the chop.

After approximately a dozen boats went by buzzing us at high speeds, Chang said he was going to head closer to shore.  I concurred.  It was getting too crazy for comfort.  A local Sheriff boat was patrolling the area, but that wouldn't be helpful if a 5,000 pound boat going 40+ MPH t-boned us.  We got closer to shore and continued our float upstream thanks to the wind, and shortly thereafter came upon a slightly calmer section of water.  Then a kayaker's dream in a mess of boats.  Shallow water! 

Chang and I use the shallow area as solace from the chaos experienced over the last hour or so.  I use this as an opportunity to inhale a sandwich while working the holes in the area.  With the rocks and debris in the holes, snags became common.  But we'll take snags over the boat chaos.  We each missed a few bites.  The fish kept robbing my minnows.  This being my first real open water fishing trip this year, I left some tackle (stinger hooks included) at home.  Oh well, I enjoyed the float, the company, and getting my line wet.

In the frigid water, fish were conserving energy, not the topwater blowups or spinnerbait slams Chang and I are accustomed to.  Thus, when I glance up to see what Chang is up to I didn't think anything of his rod bending over without the typical flick of a fish on.  Until I seen the surface break.

Anyone that has fished with Chang and I know we like to hollar when we catch something, it is muscle memory adding to the excitement of the catch.  I try to hold back, but the other boats take notice to my excitement and start flocking around us like a group of ravens on fresh roadkill in May.

A few moments later, Chang lands a nice eater size walleye!  A quick use of the ruler on the shaft of our Bending Branches paddle has it just under 17".  The nearest boat looks and asks for details on how Chang caught it, a sign of a slow bite.  A short time later Chang manages to land another fish.  This time a Smallmouth Bass measuring 18".  It is a beautiful light brown in the post-winter water with the tiger stripes radiating from its head.  A beautiful fish, a female loaded with eggs.

We end up working our way through the parking lot of boats to the furthest point we can fish by the dam (DNR has a sign up about 50 yards from the dam that says we can't get closer until May).  I temporarily land the kayak for a bio break (urinating in a kayak with multiple layers in hypothermic conditions is exponentially more difficult than it is in the summer).  We then decide to make our way back into the strong headwind (though slightly better than the morning) back to the launch.  This is when I discover the beauty of the new pedal drive system from Feelfree.  I'm able to pedal into the current more efficiently than paddle.

A not-so-short time later we are entering the dock area of Everts Resort.  We have grown accustomed to hundreds of looks and photos from boaters thinking we were nuts.  A group of walleye fisherman in a beautiful walleye boat idle near us and ask how we did.  We tell them it was slow, but we caught a couple.  They asked, "Was it a little rough out there for ya today?".  I smile and say, "Oh yeah".  But we made it, we had fun, and will live to fish another day....  We'll be back, next time in safer conditions and more fish.  Even so, I wouldn't trade my kayak for the most expensive of fishing boats.  I've never been so at peace or caught bigger fish in my life.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A(nother) Plea - It CAN Happen to You!

It was a beautiful day for a river float.  Hot, sunny, slight breeze, and the Red Cedar River was finally back to normal/safe levels after a raining June.  Our friend and other Small Craft Outfitters Guide, Chang Lor of, planned a fishing float.  My wife opted to come along, looking to get a relaxing day sans children (they were beachin' with my parents for the weekend).

The night before we prepared the coolers, food (Chang and I eat a lot better when the wife comes and makes good food), water, etc.  The fleet of Feelfree Lures for Chang and I (and a Feelfree Moken for the wife) are on the trailer.  Rods are prepared with river tackle, and our Bending Branches paddles are at the ready in the back of the Jeep.  Kayak anglers and gear are impatiently waiting for the next day.

Morning arrives, we enthusiastically hook up the trailer, jump in the Jeep, and head towards the meet spot while sucking down some caffeine.  My wife stands back as Chang and I go through the familiar unload/rig ritual performed dozens of times this year.  When finished, she stays with the gear while we drop the Jeep and trailer at the takeout.  A short time later we are floating.

We take our time, stopping at sandbars for food and to cool off.  It is a beautiful day, so the fishing is slow.  But we all manage to land a fish or two.  I was proud because my wife caught her first walleye on a PowerTeam Lures 4.5" Grub soaked in JBs Fishsauce!  She even handled the fish by herself and gave it a safe release.

We get near the end of the float in this beautiful area of the river.  To the left is a steep sand bank 100'+ tall.  On the right bars of smooth river rock and sand.  We stop to enjoy the scenery, chat to some canoe anglers about our kayaks, then sit and chat.

I am not a religious person, but believe everything happens for a reason.  For some reason Chang, Stacy, and I just sat there chatting about random things.  I don't know why.  Maybe it was because we were (finally) on no time crunch.  Maybe it was the beautiful day or the beauty of this sandy s-curve area.  Maybe it was to be there for what happened next.

After talking for a while, we seen a group of river tubers come around the corner and hang up on one of the branches on the opposite side of the river.  We had passed several tubers who were enjoying this nice day earlier.  We continued talking and noticed them stop in an odd spot in the swift current opposite us.  A hazardous piece of the river that claimed a new pole of Chang's (and nearly me) last year.  We assumed it was some people messing around.  A short time later, Stacy said, "I think those people need help.".

I look over and there is a couple down the sandbar about 20 yards running for their canoe, they are going to go help the tubers calling out in distress.  Knowing the canoe will be difficult to hold in the dangerous current, I jump in my wife's Feelfree Moken and grab my Bending Branches Angler Pro paddle.  The Moken is narrower than my Lure and much easier to paddle.  It was my best chance of getting to these people and staying there if required.

Paddling vigorously, but calmly, towards the tubers I call out to ask if they are OK.  I can't tell by the scene.  They cannot hear me over the sounds of the river surrounding them.  Paddling closer I can see they are indeed in need.

I get closer to assess the situation.  It is a family of 5.  Two children, girls, about 12 and 15 years of age.  The older of the two is in the water, her grandfather holding her up against the current.  She was being pulled hard by the current and had ran into a rock or stump when she came off her tube.  Her tube is now deflated, caught on a stump just under the water.  Their tubes are tied together so the entire group is being held in the strong current with no escape and no life jackets.

While I'm assessing the situation, Chang was paddling his Feelfree Lure upstream, a difficult task in this fast current.  I call out to him and Stacy, who is watching the situation unfold from the bank, calling out any problems she can see.  I tell her to grab the spare life jacket we keep in one of the Lures and toss it to me.  Chang is able to strong-arm his way upstream and toss the life jacket to me as the current sweeps him away.

Handing the life jacket to the girl in the water, I tell her to put it on.  She puts it on backwards, the only way she can right now.  But it will do.  I try to free the tube from the stump but the current is too strong.  I'm holding onto the grandfathers tube while trying to pull on the snagged one.  I'm taking water over the side of my kayak.  The force of 5 people pulling on it via the current is too strong to free it.  The girl with the life jacket had bumped into something hard under water during the incident and was starting to panic about hitting something else if we freed them.

In an attempt to calm her down, I told her it was my only option and they would be pushed downstream to the corner where Chang and the couple in the Canoe were waiting to catch someone if needed.  She was still panicking about hitting something, so I told her to pick up her legs.  The water was deep her and that would keep her safe.  I knew in my mind a bump, bruise, laceration, or break was better than drowning.  And the party was only going to be able to hold onto her in this strong current for so long.

In addition to extra PFDs, we always carry extra safety gear on our kayaks.  Chang, Stacy, and I are all CPR/FirstAid certified.  I am also training to be an EMT.  We each have a Stohlquist SqueezeLock knife on the rail of our kayaks (Chang found out the sheath for them snaps perfectly into the Feelfree track so it is handy).  We also carry CPR masks, first aid kits, a Stohlquist throw bag, and other survival gear.  Today I'm glad we do.

The nylon ropes connecting the snagged tube to the rest of the group are openly exposed.  I can safely cut them without risking injury to the family.  I pull the blade out of the sheath and cut the first rope.  There is a brief jolt.  Before any nerves can set in with the family, I cut the second rope and they float free down current.

Looking back, I see Chang and the couple in the canoe on the corner ready to catch them.  Since I'm already upstream, I pull the limp tube off the stump and throw it on the deck of the kayak before turning around to check on the family.

At the corner, they are hanging onto the front of Chang's Lure.  He is back paddling, but 5 people against the current is abating his progress.  The couple in the canoe had thrown a life jacket to the other young girl in the group just in case she were to fall out.  As I was trying to figure out how to get these people to shore, one of the girls is able to touch bottom and walk.  I slide over the rail of the kayak and walk to them, grabbing the tubers, allowing Chang to reduce his paddling efforts.  I suggest the family come to the sandbar so we can check them out and let them collect themselves (and honestly me too because my adrenaline was on fire in my veins).  They thanked us profusely and insisted they were fine.  But they were now short one tube.

I suggested the girl most shooken up (the one stuck in the water) ride on the front of my Lure.  I explained the river was too dangerous to go without a craft.  Sharp rocks, holes, undercurrents awaited them on the brief float to the takeout.  She needed to be out of the water, especially shooken up and possibly injured.  The family agreed she should ride with me, I assured them my kayak had room and was plenty stable.

I had her get in the Moken as I pulled her along the shore back to my kayak where Stacy was waiting.  I got my tackle cleared off the deck area and had her sit on the front cooler on my Lure 13.5.  She tightened the life jacket and we pushed off.  Chang and Stacy were going to gather their things and follow behind.  I wanted to catch the rest of her family who were floating down river.  Unsure of their current state given adrenaline and fighting the current, I pulled my throw back from under the seat.  The girl and I rescued their cooler lid before reaching her family who were immediately concerned, asking where she got hit under water and if it still hurt.  Luckily it didn't and she was fine.

I tossed the family the throw bag and tied my end to the handle on my Lure.  The current by the takeout can be tricky, so I want to keep the family retrievable just in case.  Glad I did.

We did some chatting with the family on the short float to the takeout.  Talked about me training to be an EMT, owning a kayak fishing business, being a guide, etc.  The girl riding on my kayak is interested in going into medicine and asked a few questions.  The grandfather asked what I recommend for safety on the river.

I told them I always wear my life jacket.  And anyone that comes on trips with us is required to wear one.  Even the strongest swimmers are no match for Mother Nature.  I don't give people a hard time that don't choose to wear them, but if you are with us we require them (for safety AND insurance reasons).  We also have straight blades on us.  Which, I explained, is what I used to free them.  These are the minimum items I recommend on the river.  I told them even if they don't wear it, they should have life jackets with them in case this happens.  A river, no matter how shallow or visibly slow, can turn on you quickly.  They change constantly.  You never know what will happen.

As we near the launch, we have another situation.  The difficult current by the takeout takes them to the opposite side of a small island than I.  With some brute force, I was able to verify my kayak was securely tied to the throw bag line, get out, instruct the girl to stay on my kayak, and pull the other family members back around by my kayak.  One of the family members was able to get out and help.  The rocks here were shallow and jagged.  He suggested he walk back to the takeout, but I advised against it.

At this point Stacy and Chang had passed us and landed, ready to catch the family as we came around the corner.  They had sandals on and were able to safely walk on the jagged rocks.  The landing was mostly uneventful.  As Stacy called their ride back, we chatted.  They thanked us profusely, and we insisted we stay with them until they had a ride to make sure they were OK (and honestly it took a while for my adrenaline to wear off).

Their ride arrived shortly after.  They took some business cards, thanked us again, and went on their way.  These kind people send us a nice thank you card and a monetary donation.  Completely unnecessary, but very much appreciated.  We wanted the money to go towards further rescue efforts so it will be donated to our local EMS.

I didn't write this article for attention, thanks, etc.  It is in my nature to help people and react quickly, calmly.  I get that from my father.  I wrote this for those who say, "It won't happen to me." and "I'm a good swimmer.".  Please, at least have a flotation device within your reach if you don't wear it.  Get a nicer life jacket.  The inflatable ones and paddling-specific life vests are comfortable and easy to wear.

I personally want to thank my good friend Chang Lor and my wife Stacy.  They kept calm and in critical positions to make this rescue happen without further incident.  I want to thank Feelfree Kayaks for their ultra-stable platforms allowing me to paddle upstream then carry someone downstream to keep them safe.  Thank you to the folks at Bending Branches for making the best paddles on earth.  My Angler Pro paddle saved my life twice and now this family's.  Thank you also to Stohlquist Waterware for making great safety gear.  Chang, Stacy, and I wear their paddle specific life jackets.  They are effective and comfortable.  Our spare life jackets are also Stohlquist paddle specific.  Their SqueezeLock knife at the ready saved the day.  Ultra easy to grab, with a blunt tip for safety, and ultra sharp edges.  Without the knife, this rescue may not have happened.  And for their throw bag.  Small, easy to deploy, and strong.  It was critical in bringing the family back safely to dry land.

Don't let a beautiful day with your family turn into a tragic day permanently without.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

It Gets Better!?!? - The New Bending Branches Angler Pro!

It is no secret, I love my Bending Branches Angler Pro.  So much I got a second Pro Plus for paddling my narrower kayaks.  I even became a Bending Branches dealer through my new business, Small Craft Outfitters!

I have my Feelfree Lures and Bending Branches Angler Pros to thank for allowing me to paddle longer and safer.  They have saved my life once, and recently were critical in rescuing a family of 5 (another article coming soon on that adventure).

A beautiful Wisconsin paddle with a beautiful Wisconsin bass
I am lucky to live close to Bending Branches HQ in Wisconsin and made a trip to visit and pick up a customer paddle (yes, it is true they make all of the paddles by hand and to-order).  I was welcomed by an extremely talented, passionate, and kind group of people.  They were enthusiastic about the new paddles, talk to me about my new business, and went as far as asking if there is anything they could help me be successful.  I was completely taken back.  This is a giant in the industry with amazing values, I'm truly honored to be part of their Regional Ambassador Team and a dealer.  As a dealer, people always ask if the Pro is worth the money.  I tell them, "Paddle it and see.".  This will now hold even truer with this amazing new design!

I couldn't be happier with my Angler Pro, attention to detail they put into every paddle, and their amazing company values.  Until I caught a glimpse of the new Angler Pro.

Me smiling because of the new Pro paddle.....
oh, and the fish
First of all, this paddle is stunning.  Equipped with a carbon shaft and fiberglass blades, the new patterns are beautiful.  I found myself staring at it, the pictures do not do it full justice (I may have drooled a little too).  Hold the paddle up to the light and prepare to be amazed, again.  The patterns in the blade are unlike anything I've seen before in a paddle.  The passion and attention to detail is apparent from the first time you lay your eyes on it.  Then, there is the paddling experience.

I was given an opportunity to paddle the new Pro Plus, and I was blown away.  I hit the water with Bill from Bending Branches.  We each had our current Angler Pro Plus paddles and the new one.  I didn't think it got any better, but it did.  And I loved it, couldn't get enough.

Bill from Bending Branches pushing off a river sandbar
Anyone who has paddled the Angler Pro knows it slices through the water efficiently, with an amazing amount of ease.  The materials and design allow kayak anglers, such as myself, propel the larger fishing kayaks with ease.  Without it, my 13 straight hours on the water would not be possible.  Well, this new paddle, with adequate caffeine and toiletry supplies, is going to make me want to stay on the water for 24 hours straight.

I don't know how they did it, but the engineering geniuses at Bending Branches outdid themselves.  The new design slices through the water even better than the old model.  The best part is the silence and efficiency of the paddle pull.  The current Pro is quite quiet (even for paddlers like myself that do not use a "proper" paddling technique), but this new Pro is nearly silent.  Very little flutter, no sound of air rolling off the blade on the stroke.  I was blown away.  I paddled it for a while, fishing rods at the ready.  I was so taken back by the beauty and performance of this paddle, I forgot I was there to fish.

Bill from Bending Branches with his Angler Pro stowed,
using Drew Ross's Pro while Drew experiences the beauty
of the new Pro!  Check out Drew's review at his Looknfishy blog:
All of this and they somehow managed to reduce the weight AND price on the paddle!  My hats are off to the entire team at Bending Branches.  I am honored to represent them on multiple levels and can't wait to get my hands on a new pro of my own!

Along with this major announcement, Bending Branches also announced the new lower weights on their Pro and Ace models.  And they take it to the next level with the Bending Branches Angler Pro Carbon - it weighs in at 25.5 oz and is carbon fiber end-to-end!  Finally, they also announced the new lower price point of the Angler Classic.  These announcements make me excited for the year to come in the kayak industry!

Specs on the new Angler Series lineup:

NEW Angler Pro Carbon
• $399.95 (Snap) $424.95 (Plus)
• Weight: 25.5 oz
• Full carbon construction from tip-to-tip
• Same blade shape as the Angler Pro, but Compression Molded Carbon
• Available in lengths from 230-260cm in 10cm increments and in the Plus ferrule, 230-245cm or 240-255cm
Angler Pro
• New, lower price points! $299.95 (Snap) $324.95 (Plus)
• New patterns: Dorado, Radiant, and Raptor
• New, lower weight: 28.5 oz
• New, oversized blade shape and profile
• Available in lengths from 230-260cm in 10cm increments and in the Plus ferrule, 230-245cm or 240-255cm
Angler Ace
• New, lower price points! $199.95 (Snap) $224.95 (Plus)
• New, oversized blade shape
• New, lower weight: 30 oz
• Available in lengths from 230-260cm in 10cm increments and in the Plus ferrule, 230-245cm or 240-255cm
Angler Classic
• New, lower price points! $139.95 (Snap) $164.95 (Plus)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

All in the Family

Kayak fishing.  It brings you closer to the water and nature (figuratively and literally).  We love the challenge, the peace, the health benefits, and the thrill of the sleigh ride when we hook a big fish.  Something not considered/realized until you join/reach out to the kayak fishing community is the the brotherhood/sisterhood/family of kayak anglers.

When I joined the kayak fishing community, I expected it to be fun.  I never expected to be welcomed with open arms immediately, such an immediate positive response to my writing, being immediately considered a brother to my fellow kayak anglers, or the unparalleled amount of support given.

I have seen on countless occasions the kayak angler family come together to help others with questions, help locate a fellow angler's stolen kayak, or help fellow anglers in times of tragedy.  A time of tragedy is again among our family, and we need your help to bring this sense of family and support to a fellow member of the kayak angling family.

A very active member of the Mountain State Kayak Anglers, and the kayak fishing community as a whole, was killed in the line of duty.  Lt. Aaron Crook, a police officer and Marine Corps Veteran was recently killed in the line of duty.  Aaron was only 32 years old and left behind a wife and two young children.  The news of this took me back a bit, as a 32 year old father of two young children myself.  I can't imagine what that family must be going through.

Thus, I ask my readers kayak anglers, boat anglers, bank anglers, non-anglers, or whomever you may be, please help this family.  The Mountain State Kayak Anglers has gathered with the kayak angling, kayaking, and fishing vendors and communities to arrange a raffle to raise funds to go in a trust for Aaron's children.  If you can, please enter the raffle for an amazing cause with a great (growing) list of prizes!  Lets show Aaron's family that they are part of the kayak angling family and we got their backs.

You can enter the raffle here:

Get updates and more information on the fundraiser on the MSKA Facebook page here:

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Not Your Grandpa's Inline Spinner

When I was a kid, I remember my Great Grandpa telling me stories of fishing for Catfish and Musky on the Fox River in Illinois.  Some of the bait would be frowned upon today and would cause an uprising from PETA.  But in those times, it was as normal as a night crawler.  He used to tell me about some of the old lures they used.  Spoons and spinners.  Simple, flashy, effective.  To this day, though having more advanced engineering, materials, and manufacturing, just as effective.  My best fish have been caught on spinners.

I've always loved inline spinners.  The ones my Great Grandpa told me about, and we have all seen in magazines and on the interweb, are amazing.  Horse hair, a treble hook, a wire, and a hammered-out buffed piece of metal as a spoon.  Sure, lure manufacturers made some.  But in my Great Grandpa's youth, they didn't have the funds or supply chain to get things instantly.  Some made them in their machine sheds on the farm.  But they caught fish.  Without titanium, electronics, power anchors, topo maps, the Internet, etc.

Times change, and of course, society (and the fishing industry) changes with it.  Sometimes we see throwbacks, like bucktail/horsehair jigs being homemade by MLF/Bassmaster pros.  Now manufacturers are making more of those.  We've all used the variety of highly effective inline spinners like Mepps or Rooster Tails.  But every once-in-a-while, someone takes this time-tested design and changes it just enough to make the fish curious.  A hungry, curious, fish seeing an amazing action with a large profile ends up on the deck of my kayak.

I'm not talking about taking a standard plug, putting a flashy pattern on it, having marketing experts put it in fancy packaging, shipping it with an elaborate display to major retailers, and slapping a $30 price tag on it.  I'm talking about taking the effective design of a time-tested lure.  Making it stronger.  Making it present an amazing life-like action in the water, and fixing the things that make us pass over the older versions when browsing through our tackle boxes.  Enter a young man, a fellow Wisconsinite, 7 years of age, who got hooked on (pun intended) making lures and catching fish at the age of 4.  He comes up with this dream, now called the Lovertail 2.

The combination of Alex's amazing sales skills (I have witnessed them first-hand), the build quality, and in-water action of the Lovertail 2 in the water make this lure a hot item.  I happened to stumble across these amazing lures for the first time at a small bait shop called Bite-Me Baitshop in Mondovi, WI.  The beautiful colors and high-quality components of the lure caught my eye.  The owner told me Alex's story and I had to try one of each color.  To say the least, I'm glad I did.

I've since added several to my collection, and plan to add many more.  This year I was extended the honor of being their first pro-staff member.  I believed so much in their products, story, and mission that I had been previously promoting them without ask or expectation of anything in return.  These are truly amazing lures.  Their exploding popularity, expanding to small bait shops around the country, is a testament to that.  I often wait to get their latest-and-greatest lure because they fly off the shelves so quickly!

Initial glance at the Lovertail 2 and you may think its just another spinner.  I assure you it isn't.  These lures are hand-made by Alex, his dad, and friends/family.  They have only the highest quality components.  The skirts are top quality, landing me countless bass and pike with zero signs of wear.  And unlike the inline spinners of old, they are weedless without affecting hookup ratio.  The weedless design actually adds to the action of this lure.

Why do I believe in these lures so much?  The photo evidence is in this article.  Alex is a lure design genius with the support of an amazing family.  He is doing what he loves at an early age.  He creates highly effective, high-quality lures, and he and his family are some of the nicest people you ever meet.  They are doin' it right.  Add JBs FishSauce to their lures and you've got a deadly combination!  Check out James Gang Fishing Lures at!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wisconsin Fishing Opener 2017 Part 2

After a rough start to the 2017 Wisconsin fishing season in Part 1 of this story, I was out to redeem myself. My good buddy Chang Lor of suggested we start at a big lake then move to a body of water connecting two large lakes in Western Wisconsin.  A bit sore from the previous day, I'm running late and tell them to launch sans me.  I arrive at the launch on the big lake, go through my rigging exercise, and hit the water.

Eventually I merge with my fellow yakers and we hit a small area of the water.  Chang manages to haul in some bass.  I'm targeting crappie once I see the size of the slabs spawning in the shallows.  To make a long story short, the big crappie won't bite on anything.  They have other things on their mind.  I do eventually landing a few nice ones.  A bit later, we try the big water, but it is fruitless.  We opt to head to the smaller water.  Chang tells us stories of the amazing vegetation there, making it a frog heaven.  

I am closer to the launch, and slower to load up than the others, so I begin the paddle in.  A couple dozen heads of pan fisherman in aluminum boats turn as I paddle by in awe of my Feelfree Lure.  A short time later, I go through the land, load, and go process.  I opt to keep it simple for the next stop using only two rods.

After a short pit-stop for lunch and to fix Chang's brake light, we are at our destination.  On an old gravel road in an area that could have been used to film the movie Deliverance.  Nonetheless, we begin unloading whilst choking down our lunch and the clouds of dust we kicked up.

We launch in a small area.  The launch looks promising, a dirt launch for small craft.  The swamp surrounding smells of dirty diapers left in a gym locker.  Most would be repulsed and leave.  We comment on the stench, but understand this means cover for fish.

We go our separate ways in the open water.  I'm dreaming of topwater, so I'm watching my Garmin Striker's temperature reading like a hawk looking for roadkill.  It is still below 60, so I start with my search bait, a Northland Tackle Reed Runner.  I manage a few weak hits, but overall am fruitless.  Meanwhile, one of our buddies is landing bass non-stop on a rubber worm.  

At a loss in this odd water, I throw on some plastics.  But by this time, his plastic bite slowed and the weather is changing.  Frustrated, I go for broke.  My Garmin reads water temps just above 60.  Good enough for me.

I toss a Whopper Plopper 130 in Perch pattern alongside a few patches of floating vegetation.  The water depth is about 4-5 feet, with thick vegetation below.  The skies clear blue and the sun bright.  Other than the less-than-ideal water temps, a recipe for topwater.  Probably looked like a kid moving their controller while playing Mario Kart as I maneuvered the Whopper Plopper between the floating vegetation patches.  Then it hits!  

First topwater of the year!  Its a dink, about 12", but I celebrate as if I just got my personal best.  First topwater of the year!  I eagerly tie a frog on my other rod.  I only brought two rods.  Luckily one is my frogging rod, but I left my topwater ones in the rod tube.  But I make do with my spinnerbait rod as my Plopper rod.  I continue to work the area of patchy floating vegetation.  I'm getting hits, but they are short and weak.  I drool as the water temps continue to climb.

Getting frustrated with all the short hits, I decide to venture on.  My co-yakkers are long gone.  I spot the Lime Camo of Chang's Feelfree Lure in the distance and head that way.  While en route, I come across a small bay.  The wind is blowing all the floating vegetation into the bay.  I give my frog a toss, again getting short hits.  Though the vegetation is helping the sun heat the water quicker than the other areas.  

I head across to the other shoreline to chat with my buddies.  I let them know of my topwater success, they excitedly tie on topwater lures.  I suggest they follow me to the bay because the water on this side of the lake is still below 60.  They continue working the same shoreline, I head directly for the algae-filled bay with the determination of an Olympian on my face.  I'm going to get a fish via frog before I call it a day.

My efforts start slow.  I miss a few big hits in the brush near the bay.  Growing frustrated, I move within casting distance of the algae.  A short time later, I get my first solid frog hit.  But I was so excited, I set the hook too early and missed it.  But alas, the next cast, I landed my first frog fish of the season!  I excitedly continue tossing my River2Sea Spittin' Wa frog lathered in JBs FishSauce, trying to figure out the retrieval pattern they want today.

After landing another fish shortly thereafter, I find they prefer the slow roll retrieval.  I land a few more fish, but the bite suddenly stops.  I need to change it up, they are onto me.  I tie a Livetarget mouse onto my spinnerbait rod.  I long for my backup frog rod with 50lb braid, but this will do.  I land a few more fish on the mouse until it is stolen by what I assume was a large pike.  I silently curse myself for leaving my topwater rods behind and tie a smaller River2Sea frog on without the popper cup.  The popper is beginning to spook them.  

As I finish tying on the smaller frog, I notice my Garmin reporting a water temperature of 68 degrees!  Yes!  I manage several more bass, a few of them respectable, all of them a blast to catch.  Blue skies, warm temps, floating in my kayak, catching nice fish on frogs, with the smell of muck and algae around me.  I'm in my happy place.

After a while, and a few more fish, I have a problem.  Albeit a good one, disappointing nonetheless.  After a full day fishing the day prior, a full day today with a move between, and the number of fish landed this evening, I'm exhausted.  I miss several fish.  I try to blame the bite, but realize it is my inability to set the hook.  My hands and forearms are aching.  I take a moment to look around, enjoy the beautiful day, and decide to call it a day.

After taking a moment to enjoy the beautiful view of my kayak covered in algae and muck (a sign of a great day froggin'), I put away my rods, clean up my deck filled with lure candidates, lower my seat, and casually begin paddling in Chang's assumed direction.
I hadn't wandered terribly far from the swampy launch, so I take my time paddling.  Enjoying the the scenery of this small body of water connecting two large lakes, I appreciate the day.  A beautiful day, filled with great scenery, with good friends, ends with catching fish to the point of exhaustion.  This is what it is all about.

Chang and I rendezvous and chat as we paddle towards the stinking swamp launch awaiting us.  We both agree it was an amazing day on the water, no matter our level of success.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Wisconsin Opener 2017 Part 1

It has been a long Wisconsin spring.  We had a wide range of weather and temperatures.  Anything from 20 degrees to 80, sunshine to snowfall.  This has made the bite difficult to lock down.  Early in the season the pike bite was hot on spinners during their spawn.  The temps rose and I was able to boat over 40 bass and a nice 4.5lb bass in one day on PowerTeam Lures Grubs and the James Gang Fishing Lovertail2 both covered in JBs Fishsauce.  The two weeks following were slow when the water temperatures dropped back into the 40s with the cold temps.  I was able to coax a few bites, but not the hot pre-spawn bite while temps were on the rise.  The first weekend in May, Wisconsin Fishing Opener, a sacred day to some (myself included), was no different.

I'm still in winter sleep mode, my mind still sleeping late to avoid the bitter cold mornings from the Wisconsin winter.  To avoid side affects (severe irritability) I ease into my summer up-and-at-em-for-fishing sleep schedule by waking up at dawn.  This allows me time to get up, gather my things, get to my home reservoir, and get on the water before sunrise.  This also allows me to beat most to the water.  This opening morning, my brother-in-law is also joining me for his first time kayak fishing.  He is now using the first boat that started my Small Craft adventures, his dad's 12 foot flat bottom jon boat with an old MinnKota.  A fine fishing machine, but no Feelfree Lure.

We arrive at the reservoir, unload his mighty steed, a Feelfree Lure 11.5.  Instead of a MinnKota older than he, his boat will be propelled with a Bending Branches Angler Ace.  An efficient, light, paddle to make his adventure easier.  It also has a lure retriever built into the blade, which is a key feature for someone I've previously called "The Snagmaster".  We finish our rigging and start rolling the kayaks towards the water.

A short time later we are paddling towards the dam.  We always target the areas accessible by larger boats first.  Once they begin to flock after sunup and warmer air temperatures, we retreat to the shallows where they can't go.  I watch the temperature on my Garmin Striker like a hawk, hoping for that magical number, 60.  Typically topwater starts working when temps raise above that magical number.

While paddling to our destination, we are spooking several panfish.  Unsure of the bass bite this early in the reservoir, we brought our ultralight gear as a backup.  We toss small Rooster Tails out and my brother-in-law quickly starts pulling them in.  Though not massive, still fun and immediately gets the skunk off of the trip.

A short time later, we carry on to our planned location.  Our efforts using various spinners along the dam are futile.  We opt to try the other side of the lake.  The sun hits it first, and the wind is starting to pick up, perhaps the water temps and shelter from the wind will help.

We arrive at our destination, deciding to toss the Rooster Tails again we begin hauling in several panfish, both Bluegill and Crappie.  We catch two nice "eater" Bluegill and I toss them in my Lure 13.5's cooler.  The panfish bite slowly dwindles, so we try our hand at the shallows without success.

At this point, we both caught bass.  The biggest approximately 4".  We are glad to have been successful with panfish, but we know the caliber bass in this reservoir.  We are disappointed not to have been able to snag into some, so we mix it up and move to a bay on the opposite side of the lake.
At this point, it is 10 AM.  The sun is up, causing us to have already shed some layers previously worn to abate the chill of 38 degree morning.  To make a long story short, we were nearly skunked on good bass until my brother-in-law managed to pull out a nice largemouth.  His first on a Feelfree Lure, or any kayak for that matter.  His smile said it all.

The stability, comfort, portability, and other features of the Lure made him like it.  Catching a nice bass in the kayak made him fall in love.  The sport of kayak fishing is exploding because of this.  There is nothing like being one with the water, your gear, your "home" in the seat and on the deck of a kayak.  Then you feel that first tug of a large fish.  But this time it is different.  This time, your vessel is smaller.  It tilts ever so slightly during the bite, rocks gently during the hookset, and starts moving towards the fish during the fight.  There is nothing like it, and that is why we love it.  That is why I do it, why I share these experiences with you, and why I started a business to bring people this joy in the sport.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

KBF National Championship Recap

Man things are finally starting to settle down again.  Even though KBF NC was a few weeks ago things are just now beginning to go back to normal, just in time to pack up and head to Michigan in a couple weeks...  Any ways the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship and Open was one heck of a good time! I got to meet so many new people and hang out with some great friends from my personal club, Kayak Bass League.  Plus I got to fish one of the best bass fishing lakes in the nation, Kentucky Lake.
Captains Meeting

In case of the odd chance that you have never heard of Ky Lake...this place is huge.  Just think to go from the North end of the lake to Paris, Tn (weigh in location) was over an hour and a half drive....definitely don't want to paddle that!  I spent a whole week down there hanging with friends and of course fishing!  While practice had its ups and downs, I was having a great time!  Throughout the week we had rain, hail, wind and sun causing the bite to be all over the place!  Going into the tournament I knew I would need to find a good area to compete with the best.

This is one big lake with a lot of water to cover!
Throughout practice I found many good shallow bite areas that seemed to vanish as soon as they appeared.  Being a river system, I knew the bite could change quickly based upon how much current was being created by the dam, but I had no idea how to counteract that.  After 4 days of finding a shallow bite and watching it disappear the next day, I went exploring.  I found a ramp on my lake map while driving through the country... side note don't try it, its super unsafe but I had no cell service and was super lost...  I found an area that looked good when I got there and by looked good I mean there was no one fishing it with white caps rolling straight into the cove, sounds promising right?  Well I gave it the good college try, finding a fish on the three secondary points I fished.  I knew I had found a diamond in the rough but I still didn't have confidence in the deep bite.

Being as stubborn as I am started at my go to shallow spot to find it was dink city.  I caught my limit within 30 minutes, all the fish being from 9-12.5 inches...that's not gonna win anything!  I fished it hard till around 11:30 until I realized I needed to do something different.  I hauled it back to the ramp and loaded faster than I had ever seen and sped off to my deep spot I had no confidence in.  I rolled up and got the yak in the water to realize the wind was even worse.  I pulled out my Kistler Mag 2 MH with a 1/4 oz homemade shakeyhead with a june trick worm and went to work.  Right away I got on em!  I was about to make a run.  With only about 2 hours to fish at my new spot I culled my 40ish inch limit into 83 inches.  I was on cloud 9 about day one!  Plus I had finally gained some confidence in fishing deep!
There are some big bass on KY Lake

I started day 2 at my deep cove and immediately started on my favorite secondary point.  I knew the weather was going to be windy and overcast till about 10 or 11, helping the deep bite, so I had to get to work quickly.  I caught my limit within the first two hours and went to work culling.  I finally started to find some nicer fish in the 18 inch range.  Unfortunately I did lose a nice one, around 20 inches.  As the wind died and the sun came out the deep bite died.  I went searching with a jerkbait but couldn't find anything to help me.  I ended day 2 with 84.75 inches.  I was very happy with this, especially since I hit my area very hard on day 1.

Next came the results from the weekend.  While I didn't cash any position away...I was very happy with my finish.  I ended the national championship in 41st out of 359 anglers and in the open I managed 34th out of 326 anglers.

This whole week was an amazing time.  I was honored to be able to fish in the National Championship and to even be on the playing field with the sports best! I learned a lot and gained valuable deep water fishing experience!

I also would like to say thank you to all the companies that support me.  Kistler Rods helped me feel those light bites in white cap conditions.  Pline's 17lb tactical fluorocarbon helped me keep those fish pinned in deep water.  My Smith Optics helped keep my eyes protected and helped me see the fish before they saw me when fishing shallow!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Plea - Pine River Safety

Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water
Photo By: Pine River Trails and Recreation
Pesticides, roadways, pastures, etc.  Though inevitable, runoff is a reality in our water ways.  I'm not a "hippie" or "tree hugger".  I drive a Jeep, love my guns (have a CCW and carry one in my kayak), and do not have a compost pile in my yard.  But I'm a realist that loves the outdoors.  Runoff happens in our society, a fact of the evolution of society.  As an avid outdoorsman, professional kayak fisherman (who fishes tournaments, owns an outfitting company, is a guide, and a mentor to up-and-coming kayak anglers), I understand the importance of preserving our waterways for future generations.

Let alone environmental issues, there are enough waterway issues to make your head spin.  Where do we start?  We start with responsibility and mitigation.  This includes picking up your own garbage, picking up garbage of others you encounter on the water, and respecting the body of water you are on.  The last item has become a concerning issue in my hometown of Richland Center, Wisconsin where jet skiers have begun frequenting this narrow river.    

I now reside in Spring Valley, WI (between Menomonie and River Falls) where we are blessed with similar amazing river systems which frequent numerous tourists every year.  A motorized pleasure craft on the Red Cedar River or Kinnickinnic river would be obscene (though motorized fishing boats frequent the river without issue).  These narrow rivers are a haven for numerous wildlife, one of which is trout.  Trout, a draw for tourism, are sensitive to environmental changes.  A group of dedicated people in the Richland Center, WI area have gone to great lengths to fix and maintain this habitat which is now in danger of getting reversed.  

When I tell people I kayak and grew up in Richland Center, the instantly say, "I've paddled the Kickapoo!  I loved it!".  I agree, the Kickapoo provides an amazing waterway for anglers, paddlers, swimmers, campers, etc.  But I never hear anything about the Pine.  They were finally starting to move the Pine in the right direction to get "on the map" as a paddling destination, jet skiers are now putting that at risk.

My parents own a large motorized boat, they used to have jet skis which I thoroughly enjoyed on numerous occasions.  But there is a place for pleasure craft.  That is on larger bodies of waters capable of handling the wakes and traffic.  Running a jet ski (or any motorized pleasure craft creating a wake) on a river as narrow as the Pine is reckless and irresponsible.  

Should someone encounter a canoe, kayak, tube, or any other watercraft around a blind corner there is a high risk for collision.  This is why any fishing boats I encounter on the Red Cedar River are motoring no-wake.  Peaceful coexistence.  Let alone the human safety issues, there is an ecological impact having pleasure craft on this small river.

I frequently fish the sloughs of the Mississippi in Nelson, WI.  This beautiful area is covered in countless acres of water, beautiful bluffs, and amazing wildlife.  It also houses an amazing fishery.  You'll find this area filled with a variety of craft: canoe, kayaks, jon boats, fishing boats, large bass boats, air boats, and even hover craft.  But even in this large area, the narrow spots of the sloughs are marked no-wake because of the ecological impact of wakes and fast-moving motorized craft.

The motorized craft in shallow, narrow areas stir up the dirt and cause major erosion in the channel.  The wake causes erosion on the shore.  Yes, the water naturally erodes the shoreline and channels, but motorized craft exponentially speed this process if proper caution is not given to the area.  Let alone the safety issues for the motorized craft running these areas at high speed.  This can cause significant damage to the watercraft and/or injury/death to those on it.

This is not about spoiling someone's fun.  Yes, I would love to run a jet ski on the Pine.  I thought it was funny the first time I heard of it happening (assuming it was an early season one-time deal to get things ready for the season).  But to allow this to continue is irresponsible.  Running any motorized craft on that river, other than at no-wake speeds, is like allowing ATV traffic on the Elroy-Sparta bike trails year-round. 

As an avid kayak angler and EMT trainee, I am deeply concerned with this activity which can either be made no-wake or taken to a larger body of water.  Watercraft do not have brakes and human-powered craft have limited maneuverability.  I don't want to hear of ANYONE (kayaker, canoer, tuber, boater, jet skier) being injured or killed because of these activities.

Thus, as a friend, family member, and native of Richland Center, I ask those partaking in the activity make it no-wake or move to larger water.  I ask paddlers to stay off the river until they do.  And I call on local DNR and law enforcement to do what is right and make this a no-wake area.  I can't imagine responding to an EMS call involving a collision on that small river.  And I can't imagine telling a family member they lost a loved one enjoying one of their favorite pass-times whether it be boating, kayaking, jet skiing, canoeing, tubing, or floating down a river with a cooler full of beer in arm floaties.

My friends, family, and community members in the Richland Center, WI area, please be safe.  I know and love some of the people partaking in the jet ski activities. I beg you, please move on from this.

Tyler Thiede
A Proud Richland Center Native