Saturday, May 7, 2016

It's On Like Donkey Kong

As with other parts of the world, Wisconsin has sacred days.  Do not make plans with those participating in these events in Wisconsin.  These days include opening of archery deer hunting, the rut, gun deer season, turkey season, first ice (ice fishing), or any event allowing an excuse to drink beer (especially in public).  Today's sacred holiday was fishing opener.  Wisconsinites are now able to fish game species on all waters.  No more panfish or carp....  It's on like Donkey Kong.

As per usual, I meticulously prepare my lures, load my kayak, and pack my tackle.  Though my home water is 3 minutes from my front door, I cannot waste any time returning home for forgotten equipment. 

After enjoying an evening Wisconsin cookout with the major Wisconsin food groups (brats, burgers, beans, beer, cheese), I turn in for the night.  Having enjoyed the evening with neighborhood friends, I went to bed later (and with more beers in me) than expected for my opening day.  The price of making memories....

A short four hours later, I awake at 4 AM.  Like a kid on Christmas morning, I am tired and excited....  I thought to myself, "I can sleep for another hour.....".  After a failed attempt at sleeping, I give in shortly before 4:30.  I tip-toe around the house as not to disturb my wife and kids.  Like a kid waking too early on Christmas, I sneak around and peek at what is to come today.  

I check the weather.  Chance of wind, no problem.  Otherwise nice (save for the air quality warnings caused by smoke blowing through Western Wisconsin from the Canadian wildfires).  I verify my phone is charged and that I'm logged into my TourneyX dashboard.  I plan on catching bass, and want to ensure I'm ready to upload my catches to the Kayak Bass Fishing North Central Great Lakes May tournament I'm participating in.  After getting my go-go juice (coffee and soda), I'm off into the darkness.

I arrive at the lake and am greeted by a seemingly empty lake.  Great.  Early bird gets the worm, as they say.  I perform my rigging ritual and use gravity and my FeelFree Lure's keel wheel to launch my craft.  It is still quite dark, so I turn on my light for safety.  I expect several boats to arrive shortly.

Given the spring we have had in Wisconsin, I wasn't sure what to expect.  Thus, I had several lures tied on for my go-to tactics.  My best spinning rod had a chartreuse buzz bait, my baitcaster a chartreuse spinner, and my other spinning rod a jointed Rapala.  I opted out of tying on a frog, not convinced the water temperatures would allow for frog season.

I first paddle to the rock shore.  Rock tends to hold a more consistent temperature, attracting the fish in extreme temperature changes.  As I arrive, I'm surprised to find a fellow kayak angler working the rocks.  After a few casts with no action, I move on.  I know the water well enough to know how quickly to expect activity in various areas.

I look at my Garmin Striker's temperature reading and silently cheer while doing a "fist pump".  It is 62 degrees.  I go for broke and head for the shallows, hoping the spawn is on.

My gut feeling is confirmed after a few casts of the buzzbait in the shallows.  My first bass of 2016, and in my FeelFree Lure, is on!  It wasn't the glorious top water blowup us anglers live for, but I was appreciative.  The lake was quickly hosting other kayaks, canoes, and boats.  I did not want to make a scene and attract others to my location.

After a short battle on my spinning rig with 6 pound mono, I pull the fish into the boat.  In true fashion of my home fishery, she is a tank.  What she didn't have in length, she made up for in girth.  As I swing her into my cockpit, my line snaps, my heart stops.  She must have understood the importance of her coming into my life and stayed calm while I grabbed my Hawg Trough for its inaugural measuring.

Fishing tournaments are new to me, I'm smiling like Ralphie in A Christmas Story ready to shoot my Red Ryder BB Gun for the first time.  As I hold my catch and draw my Hawg Trough from my crate, I quickly learn an additional challenge of CPR (catch-photo-release) tournaments.  Keeping the fish on the measuring board, in the boat, while taking a photo, with the identifier in clear view.  Luckily, the folks at Tourney Tag took 95% of the challenge out of the equation for me.  Their amazing product keeps my identifier safe from the elements, secured to my measuring board.  Had I needed to hunt for the identifier in a sandwich bag, I would have lost 2 of the 4 fish I landed today.

Given the weight of this bass, I was a bit disappointed by the length.  However, I have no complaints.  My equipment and knowledge performed flawlessly, I've officially submitted my first TourneyX catch, and it is a beautiful morning.  Life is good.


I carry on working as much water as possible with the buzz bait.  Knowing the wind will pick up as the day continues, I take advantage of the calm waters.

Several fish swirl at it, but no hits.  After working the shallow area, I move to a shallow point in the lake.  Given the bass are in shallow water, they must be partaking in some spawning activities.

After a few swirls, I successfully antagonize another largemouth enough to hit the buzzer.  As with the first, it is not the majestic top water blowup we love.  It is a gentle grab of the bait, again, perfect given the growing audience on the lake.  If Ralphie hadn't shot himself in the eye, his face would have looked like mine.  I was smiling ear-to-ear.  I cannot believe it.  An adverse spring with fluctuating water conditions, within an hour of opening morning, and I'm about to have two on the board! (Pun intended).

I measure, position my Tourney Tag, snap the picture, and submit it to the folks at TourneyX.  I'm a bit disappointed buy the length.  But it is a great start to the tournament and season.


The bite quickly turns off.  Word has spread on the largemouth interwebs not to bite the loud, bright green thing dashing through the shallows.  I decide to employ other tactics as the lake begins to get busier and the weather conditions change.  I roll the dice and target the location where I've caught my two biggest bass in this water.  Unfortunately, it was too soon.  This area of the water is too clear and too cold.

With the bite slowing, I too realize I'm cold.  I'm dressed in my PFD (of course), a tshirt, shorts, and sandals.  But I've ridden my fatbike in -30 degrees.  This is the tropics in comparison.  As I continue working the various areas of the water, I continue unsuccessful.

I'm able give my mind a break on three separate occasions by fellow kayak angers paddling up to me and asking me about my FeelFree Lure.  They are interested in the look.  They are also interested in how I can stand, paddle, and cast so easily.  I happily give them the elevator speech on the Lure's stability, sonar pod, gravity seat, and wheel in the keel.  Several other kayak anglers also paddle near to grab an obvious glimpse of my kayak and its branding.  I love teaching and sharing the love of the sport and the companies who make the equipment I use.  I also share with them the CPR tournaments hosted by Kayak Bass Fishing and TourneyX.

Kayak fishing is exploding.  This is my third summer fishing this body of water regularly.  I have never seen more than 2 fishing kayaks on a given day.  I counted over 12 fishing kayaks today, opening morning of bass season.  Amazing.

As the wind speed picks up to the foretasted ~20 MPH, the kayak fishing herd thins.  I smile as they gather at the landing to seek refuge.  My FeelFree Lure can take the rollers broadside.  However, my 6 pounds of dumbbells are not holding in the current and wind.  Time to roll the dice one more time.

Frogs are my favorite lure.  I love them.  Wisconsin waters are filled with algae in the summer.  Not the beautiful water plants you see in the fishing shows from down south.  The mats are thick, slimy, green bodies that smell like mud and decomposing worms.  Frogs thrive in this environment.  I'm lucky enough to find this luscious greenery in another shallow spawning area.  As I tie my favorite frog onto my baitcaster's 50 pound braid, the Lunkerhunt frog, I grin.  This setup is my Barrett 50 caliber, my Ferrari, my Chuck Norris.  This setup is my go-to when in doubt.

As I navigate the shallow waters and mats, I stand and paddle to see fish darting everywhere.  Bluegill dart about while bass chase them out of their beds.  Perfect.  I start tossing my frog to the various mat patches.  I quickly get a hit.  My Suffix braid and Quantum KVD setup perform as expected and haul in a bass along with pounds of vegetation with ease.

I put the latest quarry on the measuring board, snap the photo, and submit it to the folks at TourneyX.  Again, a bit disappointed with the length, but I'm not complaining.  It is a beautiful day, on my favorite fishery, my equipment is working flawlessly, and I've slid into (an unconfirmed) third place in the KBF/TourneyX tournament.


As I stand and paddle deeper into the shallows, I'm able to see fish darting around.  I stop and notice a tailfin of a largemouth bass casually swinging above the water.  This one is working on some spawning.  I quickly slide my stakeout pole through my anchor trolley and into the mud.  I stop to watch him flip, dig, and flop about.  I toss my frog past the bed multiple times.  I try longer pauses, quick retrievals, noisy pops, and noisy overhand cast landings.  The bass is oblivious to the tasty frog asking to get inhaled.

I tie my football jig with craw trailer onto one of my spare spinning poles.  A bad idea chosen out of desperation.  The fish wasn't large, but enticing one off the bed is always addicting.  I am not accurate with a spinning reel.  Nor is a 1/2 oz with craw trailer a quiet landing.  As it hit the water, the fish darted away.  It wasn't meant to be.

I pull up my DIY stakeout pole along with 5 pounds of mud and algae and secure it to the side of my kayak.  I've decided to allow the wind to take me out of shallows.  I've hit my goal of limiting in the tournament, time to spend the rest of the day with the family.

As I drive towards the main body, I'm able to entice one more fish on my Lunkerhunter frog.  My KVD Quantum rig with Suffix 50 pound braid horse it, and several pounds of algae in with ease.  I land the fish and put him on the board.  I've already reached my three fish limit in the tournament, and he is smaller than my other three fish.  I realize this, of course, after he is the most difficult catch of the day and stabs me with his dorsal fins during a picture attempt.

  
Though the weather is finally warming, the wind is becoming more constant.  The smoke from the Canadian wildfires is thick and causing coughing.  The fish are still biting, but I'm content.  I'll be out another day to increase my catch length.  I have a family to spend time with.

This is a bass opener for my books.  I didn't think I could love fishing more than I already did.  But fishing from a kayak in a CPR tournament brings a whole new level of excitement.  If you haven't tried either, I suggest you do.  There is a certain solace in a human powered fishing machine a few inches off the water.  It requires a heightened sense of planning, rigging, and security.  It is a challenging, freeing, and relaxing experience like no other.





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