Friday, September 16, 2016

Back to Basics

Being disconnected from the world via technology is an odd thing.  The day prior, I had lost my phone in the Mississippi River, you can read about it in my article "Mississippi River: Kleptomaniac".  I found myself reaching for, and attempting to check, my phone a scary number of times.  Like I was an amputee that still had sensations as if my appendage was still attached.  After I came to this realization, I found the situation freeing.  Just silence, like when I was a kid.  No connections, just life.  Though, I'll admit, driving home the night before in the dark of rural Wisconsin was a bit tense.  Should I hit a deer, I could go without seeing another car for hours.

Don't get me wrong, I love what technology has brought to our lives.  Especially what it does for the fishing community.  It allows me to connect, communicate, and compete with anglers all over the world.  Social media allows the communication and connections.  The app Drophook allows like-minded anglers to share their fishing pictures and log their catches.  TourneyX allows for fair real-time tournaments both in-person and across the country.  That said, it was nice to be disconnected for a small while on my home body of water, one of my favorite places on earth.  Though disconnected, I was still competing in several online tournaments and documenting my shenanigans for you.  Both of which I love to do, and am able to do thanks to technology.  I carried with my old 8" tablet (no cell connection) for capturing pictures for both uses.

This trip started with a discussion the night prior with some friends.  One had personal obligations and couldn't make it.  Another was tentative, having wanted to see my home water and give it a try.  My wife and I also decide its best to stay local.  Travelling to rural Wisconsin lakes without a phone is something that makes us uneasy (she is out of town for the weekend so I can't borrow her phone).

My only hesitation fishing my home water is the frustration.  During the spawn there was a re-freeze, the snow melted slower than usual, increased fishing pressure, and several floods.  All contributed to a complete change in the fishing here.  It has been a tough bite on this body of water, slower than usual. My wife reminded me that I need to slow things down and re-learn the lake.  Just like I did a few years ago when we moved to the area.  I formulate a plan to take it back to basics.  

Today's market is flooded with various lures with the latest technologies.  Some even have electronics inside requiring charging.  I believe some are designed to catch the fishermen/fisherwomen more so than fish.  I'm guilty of this.  "Ooooo....that looks cool.  And if it is $15 it has to work.  Sold!"  Don't get me wrong, these innovations are shaping the sport of fishing.  However, I find myself feeling obligated to use some of these lures I've spent (probably too much) money on.  If I don't get results quickly, I get frustrated.  I usually learn new waters with basic lures, time tested: spinner bait, buzz bait, and frogs.  My plan was to tie on my favorites, a Northland Tackle buzzbait and spinner to re-learn my home waters.  I also vowed not to turn on my sonar.  It is an essential tool in my fishing.  However, in my home water, it distracts me.  I know every depth and feature of the lake.  When I spot big arches in open water, I get distracted and spend my time trying to coax this unknown fish with unfamiliar techniques.

The next morning, I have every intention of leaving at dawn.  Reality hits when I wake up.  I'm having difficulty moving from a 13 hour day on the water in a challenging wind.  I take my time, take care of things around the house, drink some coffee, and watch a bit of the MLF event on TV.  I notify my friends via Facebook that I am running a bit late, letting some pain meds kick in before I head to the lake.

I finally roll into the lot around 7:30 AM and begin my unload-and-rig routine (noticeably slower than usual).  Finally done, I roll my FeelFree Lure towards the water.  As I approach the ramp, one of my friends pulls up, ready to join me on the water.  As he unloads we catch up on recent events.  We haven't fished together in a couple weeks.  Ready to go, we launch into the water, smooth as glass.  I suggest we work the rock bank first.  Fish like to suspend there when temperatures are changing.  The bank also becomes difficult to fish when the wind picks up.

We get a few hits along the rocks but don't land anything.  My friend continues to work the bank ahead of me and lands a bass along some reeds.  He has a good distance on me.  I'm working the banks as slow as possible, taking time to work every angle with my spinner and buzzbait.  As I finish the rock bank, the wind picks up strong.  Whitecaps start rolling across the lake.  I hug the bank, sheltered by the dam and woods surrounding the lake.

As I work my way into a bay, I'm now on a side of the lake I rarely fish due to lack of prior success.  But, I am learning this "new" lake.  I make noise in the shallow water around some vegetation with my buzzbait.  If you have watched my videos, you'll notice I'm constantly looking around.  This is partially due to my inability to sit still, a trait inherited from genetics.  The other reason is I am always looking around, observing the water, structures, other people fishing, the wind, and the sun.  My constant looking paid off.  Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a large swirl near a patch of vegetation.  Based on the pattern, most likely a bass chasing a meal.  I toss my buzzbait past the patch and work it through a thin part.  The bass blows up on the buzzbait as I haul it in.

I'm laughing with joy, like a kid who caught his first bass.  The fish is 17", not massive, but has a nice weight to it.  I throw it on my hawg trough, adjust my TourneyTag, and snap a picture.  This is when I miss my phone.  Holding a highly active bass with one hand while trying to snap a picture with an 8" tablet in the other is no easy task.  However, I manage to get the required picture for later upload.  With a big smile on my face, I paddle on.

Still sore from yesterday's long day on the water, I head deep into a shallow bay.  There the thick vegetation will hold me in place.  I carefully work the bay.  I use a frog in the thick areas and a buzzbait in the breaks.  I manage to coax several massive hits, but no hookups.  Just like the pike at the end of the day prior, there seems to be a lack of commitment from the fish.  As I float the bay, I do some sight fishing from my kayak.  The dense vegetation acts as a natural filter.  The water is crystal-clear in this lake normally the color of cappuccino.  I spot several bass swimming through the vegetation, chasing the various bluegill minnows hiding within.  The bass run the vegetation like a deer does trails through the woods.  Unfortunately, they didn't have any interest in any topwater.  I wanted to try some punching into the vegetation, but don't do it often.  I chose not to deviate from my plan of using my go-to lures.  My time would be better spent covering large amounts of water to find the active fish.

We make our way to another shoreline.  My friend was interested in fishing for crappie, so I put him on a crappie crib I frequent in the spring when bass season is closed in Wisconsin.  Once he is setup and lands a crappie, I start working the bank.  I am alternating my buzzbait and spinner bait, breaking down every angle of every structure I can.  I had broke my vow to leave my sonar off to help my friend get on the crib.  I still had it on and noticed fish around 6 feet below me.  Thus, I deviate from my plan slightly and toss on a shallow crank (though it is becoming one of my go-to seeker lures I'm still gaining confidence with it).  I'm unsuccessful after working the section of bank and realize what I've done.  I shut of my sonar and put my spinner back on.  Just as I finish tying on my spinner, my observations pay off again.  Another large swirl under a tree next to the bank.  

Spinner Bass
Photo by: John Brandt
I quickly sidearm my spinner under the low branch with a slight "bloop" as it hits the water.  Perfect.  I few rotations of my Ardent Tournament handle and my rod bends.  Mission accomplished.  As I pull the bass towards the kayak, my eyes widen.  Again at 17" fish, but it has a nice weight to it and put up a respectable fight.  My friend comes to look at my catch while I work on snapping a picture with my tablet.  This time was harder than last as this fish had more spunk than the other.  I manage to get the picture without losing my tablet or the fish and my friend snaps a picture from his phone.

I continue working the bank as he works for crappie.  Both of us come up empty handed.  The bite slowed, the lake now nearly empty due to a Green Bay Packer game.  We are both tired and growing hungry.  My family should be home soon from their weekend trip out of town.

I had a great weekend of fishing with great friends.  I spent a total of 23 hours on the water between the two days and had some great experiences.  Had I been fishing with lesser equipment: the ultra-comfortable and stable FeelFree Lure kayak, the insanely light and efficient Bending Branches Angler Pro paddle, the reliable Garmin Striker 4DV sonar, and the incredibly smooth and powerful Ardent Apex Tournament reel, I would have never survived this long of a fishing marathon in these high winds.

Everyone has different passions.  Some people think those who fish, hunt, camp, hike, etc. are crazy.  Why do you put yourself through that?  Dealing with heat, cold, rain, sweat, blood, bugs, and numerous dangers.  Because we love it.  If you slow down and don't think, just be, there is a certain beauty and challenge that comes with these activities.  And in the end, you are tired, dirty, and smelly.  As you load up you look forward to a shower followed by a hot meal and relaxation with friends and family.  I arrived home to my family who had smiles on their faces.  I was hit with a realization of a new level of exhaustion like I'd never felt.  Even so, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Mississippi River: Kleptomaniac

My relationship with the Mississippi River has been a love/hate one this year.  I love the great fishing it has provided me and the beautiful scenery as I travel along the Great River Road along the Wisconsin border as I travel to my fishing spot.  I hate that it has become a kleptomaniac, stealing from me the last two trips.  My last time on the Mississippi, I lost a new spinning combo, which you can read about in my article Old Man River.  We'll get to the latest item robbed later.

The adventure began, as per usual, with a plan.  I was talking fishing plans with my friend Chang Lor of www.cxfishing.com.  After some discussion, we decided to meet again at the Mississippi.  My cousin, who is familiar with the waters, suggested an area near where we were fishing before.  My home boss (wife) approved and took it as an opportunity to make plans with family out of town.  I began preparing for a weekend fishing marathon.

Saturday morning we meet at the launch.  There is a slight chill in the air and it is overcast.  Recent rains have the water a bit high, but that usually isn't problematic in the ever changing environment of the Mississippi.  After performing our unload-and-rig rituals, we launch and glide through the calm morning water.

As we emerge from the narrow piece of water connecting the landing area to larger water, we realize the morning water was calm because we were sheltered by trees and a dike at the launch.  The choppy water tells us we are in for a ride.  We fish our way to our destination, about 3/4 of a mile paddle away.  Though it takes a lot more paddling than usual, we are able to work through the wind and light current.

The backwaters a maze, I use my Navionics app to confirm a path to our destination.  On one of our last turns, we come across an area with an interesting swirling pool of current caused by several large trees down in the water.  Chang gets a topwater hit along the side of the pool, but it doesn't hook up.  I toss my spinner bait and also get a hit-and-miss.  Interested to find out more about this water, I position my kayak to allow the current to push me up against the down tree and begin casting into the pool.

5th Bass in a Few Minutes
Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com
I immediately land a largemouth bass.  Then another, and another.  I'm giggling (yes giggling) with amazement and joy.  We couldn't believe I had pulled that many fish off one spot in such a short time.  Nothing huge, but the river bass put up a great fight.  The largest was 17" with a nice girth.  In the end, I end up landing 7 fish from the spot before the bite slows and we decide to move on.


Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com
As we near the open body of water we are destined for, the wind is noticeably worse.  It is blowing at our backs, but we are concerned about our ability to get back.  The constant blowing is causing rolling whitecaps on the open water.  Not ideal conditions for paddling fishing kayaks rigged for a day-long trip.  We take a few moments to enjoy the beautiful spot.  Other than the wind, it is a picture-perfect day.  Skies are clear blue with small puffy clouds.  In the distance we can see the beautiful bluffs along Wisconsin's border.  We notice the longer we take to enjoy the scenery, the further away it blows us so we paddle back to the shelter of the sloughs.

After a hard paddle into a strong headwind, we take a short paddling break once back in the calm of the slough.  Are arms are burning, but we still manage to cast and work our lures.  On our way back to the honey hole, Chang notices a small channel of water off the side of our path.  He yells to me that he is going to check it out.  A few minutes later, I hear a "Wooooo!", which is the universal sound for "I caught a nice one!".  I paddle in his direction and find him landing a nice 16 inch bass.  The bass today aren't terribly long, but have a nice girth and weight to them.  Fun to catch.  I give my spinner a toss.  First cast I land a respectable Northern Pike.  We continue to work the new area and both get a few weak hits, but don't land anything.

As we work back into the larger part of the slough, we are fishing to the loud growl of a duck boat scouting the area.  A bass boat with two adults and a child is working the area as well.  Chang quickly lands a Northern Pike.  The wind is picking up, so we seek the shelter of the woods.  Out of the wind, we take a short break for a Wisconsin lunch of champions (cheese, crackers, and beef).  I show Chang a lure I've been using since I was a kid, a Moss Boss and tie it on as we drift deeper into the slough.

As Chang works down trees, I start exploring a small channel.  Spotting schools of bait fish churning up the water, I start working the vegetation at this intersection.  The channel forms a vegetation point.  A slow current runs past this branch of water, offering a perfect spot for the predators we seek.  

The pole with the Moss Boss is laying on my deck, lure dangling gently in the water.  I use my spinner bait to search for the fish.  I work the edge of the vegetation, edge of the current, and across the channel.  I end up luring a Northern Pike out of the current into the vegetation.  It hits my spinner bait hard, but doesn't hook up.  I reel it faster to give it another toss and the pike grabs the spinner again as I'm pulling it out of the water, but only got the skirt.  I wasn't expecting a large pike to jump next to my kayak.  As I'm processing what happened, my Moss Boss pole flips up and nearly enters the water.  The pike hit the tail of the Moss Boss that was dangling in the water.  Again, no hookup.  A few more casts and the pike is no longer biting, so I continue working into the channel.  

About 20 yards from the previous Pike, another grabs my Moss Boss through the vegetation and slices through my 50 lb braid with ease, taking the Moss Boss with it.  I immediately follow it up with my spinner bait and a pike hits it hard (possibly the same one but the Moss Boss is no longer with it).  I don't call myself a pike fisherman, but I don't mind catching them.  They put up a great fight, and this one was my best pike fight so far.

It comes out of the water thrashing, splashing water and Mississippi scum everywhere.  I start yelling with excitement as Chang paddles my way.  As I go to pull the pike closer to my kayak, it flops off.  It was a nice size pike and I'm slightly disappointed I didn't land it, but we carry on.

We encounter another landing in the next slough and get out to take a break.  A kind bank fisherman arrives.  As I submit my catches to tourneyx.com, we converse with the fisherman.  We talk about our day, his fishing tactics, and answer the usual questions about our kayaks.  Chang takes off, eager to work an area he spotted near the launch.  As he works the bank near me, I recite the standings in the Northcentral Great Lakes Kayak Bass Fishing tournament he and I are competing in.  I still hadn't caught up with him, but getting closer.  The bank fisherman takes interest in the tournament and asks how the online tournament works, etc.  I oblige and then launch to join Chang.

Working the area near the launch, I spot a log down in front of a section of water about 2 feet wide.  It is covered by brush and has a slow current running through it, feeding a field of lily pads beyond.  Sometimes you just get a feeling that a fish will be there.  I had that feeling, and it was correct.  The bass blows up on my frog as soon as it hits the water under the bush.  My Ardent Tournament baitcaster easily hauls the fish up and over the log via 50 pound braid.  As I go to grab the fish out of the water it flops off and swims away.  After a moment of frustration (this fish would have moved me up another spot in the tournament), I continue working the area until I find Chang.
A Bending Branches Angler Pro Blade - the Other Chopping
Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com

We formulate a plan to wrap around the slough, up a small channel, to a slough where we had previously caught nice fish, and allow the current to float us back to our landing.  With about 4 hours of daylight, a perfect plan.  As we approach the connector between sloughs, we are concerned we will not be able to pass.  The water is up and we are able to dig through the thick reeds.

Out of the Reeds
Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com
Emerging from the weeds, Chang gets a bite.  I toss my spinner bait into the open area surrounded by vegetation.  Within a few minutes I land a small Northern Pike and a small bass.  I also had a 6" bass on, but it saved me the hassle of removing the hook by flopping off.  With the wind whipping hard through the larger water, we decide to paddle straight through to our destination, the weed mats about 200 yards away.

As I continue battling the strong wind, I toss my frog into the mats.  Within a few minutes I have 5 hits but no hookups.  I'm hopeful this is a sign of things to come, though they were the low "gulps" of Northern Pike hitting the frog.  The water is high, so Chang and I explore a deeper part of the vegetation.  Fish like to explore new structure introduced by high waters, as do we.

I continue getting weak pike hits on the frog.  But the vegetation is too thick for anything else.  I work some open patches with the spinner bait with no results.  As the sun is going down, I am beyond exhausted and my mind starts to wander.  

I exit the mat and notice a trail of green vegetation trailing behind me.  The under side of my kayak collected some of the small pieces of vegetation and was slowly emitting them from behind me.  I laugh to myself and I name it "Froggin' Essence".  This is where the Mississippi steals from me again.

I want to share the view of Froggin' Essence with you, my readers via picture.  It honestly looked beautiful.  Bright green flakes slowly drifting behind me in the dark water tinted by the setting sun.  You may have noticed there is no such picture, nor does this article have my usual first-person views.  As I'm snapping a picture of Froggin' Essence, I start thinking to myself "I should really get a floating case for this".  I start retracting my arm post-photo and my phone slips.  I must have juggled it 4-5 times before it finally went in the drink.  

I immediately shout my frustrations in a non-family-friendly manner.  Chang is deep in the woods and the highway noise by us is louder than usual with the wind blowing the sounds in our direction.  The water is still warm enough and my Garmin Striker shows it is 3.5 feet deep.  I kick off my sandals and go for a swim.  My bare feet are immediately greeted with the disgustingness that is the bottom of a Mississippi slough.  The mud has the consistency of a bucket of wet bread.  I'm sinking calf-deep as bubbles rise all around me.  They carry with them the smell of rotten vegetation, fish, and who-knows-what-else under my feet.  I use the GPS on my Striker to walk to the approximate spot with my kayak next to me.  I hold on in case of any dropoffs.  The river is an unpredictable place.  After about 20 minutes of hunting, Chang spots me outside my kayak and paddles towards me with the speed of an Olympic rower concerned I'm in trouble.  I report the situation and he makes several attempts to call the phone.  It is water resistant and still operable.  However, the ring cannot be heard and the vibrations cannot be felt.  Both are surely dampened by disgusting mud below.  After a few more minutes feeling in the water with my bare feet (the water is too stained to see), I'm tired of being stabbed by wood shrapnel.  Aware of large snapping turtles in the waters, I decide my phone insurance deductible is a better pill to swallow than the loss of an appendage via turtle.  

I was frustrated, but didn't let it ruin my day.  On a positive note, Chang texted my wife to let her know what happened so she didn't worry (and so she could start the insurance claim).  Secondly, I finally did my first re-entry into my FeelFree Lure.  I found it very easy on the stable platform.  Lastly, I had (thankfully) submitted my catches for the day to tourneyx.com during our break.  I was most upset that I had lost some beautiful pictures from the day.  Everything else is backed up nightly to my various "clouds".  Luckily Chang was able to help salvage the visuals for the post.  Not only is he the best topwater fisherman I know, but he is a great photographer.  He had captured several pictures throughout the day which he said I was welcome to use here (check out his site at www.cxfishing.com and his other amazing pictures on Instagram @cxfishing).  We decide to finish our float plan after I wash off the Mississippi filth and pick off the leeches acquired from it.  

We vent about the situation on the way to our next stop.  I'm disappointed that I didn't clear some space on my Garmin VIRB before the incident (this is done from the phone).  I would have liked to share another Small Craft Fisherman PSA (like my pole loss PSA from Old Man River).  Chang shares with me his experience losing a phone in a previous year.  A fish knocked it out of his hand while snapping a photo, getting its sweet revenge for the catch.

A short time later, we arrive at our location.  We work the area carefully with various tactics.  We get a few weak hits but nothing landed.  The sun is dropping along with the temperature.  I'm starting to get a chill because I was wearing standard sport shorts which were not drying quickly.  Instead they were acting as a refrigerant in the early fall evening.  On the float back, I have another pike attack my lure at the kayak 4 consecutive casts.

We are working various structures as we allow the current to carry us back near the landing.  Chang gets some hits and loses a pike near his kayak.  The awareness of my exhaustion grows exponentially.  I decide to put away my poles, sit back, and enjoy the view for the short float back to the launch.  I need to conserve some energy for the land-and-load routine about happen.  Not an easy task after 13 hours on the water in tough conditions.

In the end, we had an amazing time.  Though exhausted, we both caught several fish.  Other than the wind, it was a picture-perfect day.  We had some triumphs, some misses, challenges, and loss-of-phone.  We got off the water with a smile on our faces.  That is what it is all about.
Done for the Day
Photo by: Chang Lor www.cxfishing.com









Monday, September 5, 2016

How I FeelFree

Everyone has their "happy place", "black rock" (O.A.R. fans will get this), or something that makes them feel free.  I feel free by fishing from my FeelFree kayak.  Kayak fishing has brought me closer to the sport than ever before.  So much so, it is now my only fishing vessel.  After a tough month of fishing, this Labor Day weekend fishing marathon reminded me what makes me feel free (or FeelFree)....



Day 1

The extended weekend began with early Saturday morning fishing.  I arose early and let the dogs out, which introduced me to the early fall Wisconsin air of 48 degrees.  Used to the summer air, I felt a slight chill and grabbed a sweatshirt.  It was still dark, a hint of light peeking over the trees to the east.  I jumped in the Jeep, ready for my 2 minute commute to my local reservoir.

I was greeted by an expected empty parking lot.  The lake was covered in a foggy haze.  Except this was not fog, it was the haze of heat escaping the water after the lowering temperatures of the early fall evening.  The lot was empty, as most sane people aren't interested in fishing these temperatures until ice fishing season.  I'm not a sane person, my deep passion for fishing does not discriminate when it comes to weather.  I've caught my biggest fish when others have chosen to stay in the comforts of their homes.

I start my morning by hitting the rip-rap.  The water is like glass, my favorite time to disturb the peace with topwater lures.  Buzzbaits and poppin' frogs don't draw a hit so I try beneath the surface with spinners and cranks, no luck.

 This is a tough time of year for bass bite.  The temperatures are dropping at night, and they have impacted the water.  My Garmin Striker is showing the water has dropped to 68 degrees.  Not low enough to trigger bass to start their feeding frenzy in preparation for the frigid winter temperatures.  The bass are in a partial state of denial.  They suspend to rocks and ledges waiting for the warm sun to raise temperatures slightly.

Since the summer tactics aren't working, I switch to my fall approach.  A football jig with a craw trailer.  Shortly after tying on my jig, I notice the sun crawl above the trees.  I notice it climbing, attempting to abate further heat escaping the water.  I take a moment to enjoy it's beauty as it clears the trees.  The water still like a mirror, giving the feeling that I'm stuck between two beautiful skylines.  After taking a few moments to enjoy the view, I paddle on to my target location.

I appear to be the only person on the lake, but hear the sound of aluminum-on-gravel in the distance confirming another boat is joining me.  The small reservoir typically allows visual confirmation of any companions, but the haze denies me the opportunity.  Wanting to hit the boat-accessible spots, I head directly to my first spot.

Upon arrival, I deploy my DIY stakeout pole (a fiberglass electric fence rod with PVD t-handle) and begin jigging.  The haze burns off as the sun successfully slows the cooling of the water.  It reveals an aluminum boat holding steady in the deep part of the lake on a bed I use ice fishing.  Panfisherman.  I still have time to hit the boat-accessible spots before the weekend warriors arrive.

After a short time jigging, I snag a small 11.5" largemouth.  I love catching any fish, but am a bit disappointed my summer and fall tactics haven't yielded anything of size.  With afternoon family plans, I decide to try cranking for my last hour.  The wind has picked up, so I paddle into the wind and allow it to carry me back across the reservoir as I use a deep crank targeting the fish my Garmin is marking at 8-12 feet.  However, this too proves fruitless.  I call it a day, deciding to enjoy what remains with family.

Day 2

Whilst celebrating the afternoon on Saturday with my family, I decide to try an afternoon fishing trip to see if my luck turns.  The local weather is predicting rain early Monday morning so I'm hoping the drop in pressure will get the fish moving.  I collaborate with a local kayak fishing friend of mine and we plan to hit a river Sunday afternoon.  With the water temperatures dropping, our days of fishing swift rivers safely are numbered so I'm eager to give it a go and load up early, ready to land my first smallmouth bass of the year.

I spend the morning lounging.  My friend is fishing my local reservoir and reports great results.  I'm happy for him, but frustrated I wasn't able to locate anything the day before.  My wife reminds me I've spent a few years fishing the body of water and patterns this year changed.  Given my previous successes there, I get quickly frustrated when my old tactics don't work.  I need to mix things up.  After this pep talk from the wife, I shake it off as my friend and I decide our destination via text.  Upon his arrival at my place, we head for the river in a mini kayak fishing convoy.  Upon arrival, we employ our river car placement logistics and haul the kayaks to the starting point with one car left behind awaiting our completion.

After happily answering the usual questions from other kayakers about my FeelFree Lure and helping some new kayakers with logistics of floating this river, we eagerly launch.  The water is swift, but warmer than the reservoir.  We both get snagged/tangled right away.  I think it took our minds a few casts to switch from easy-going lake mode to stay-on-your-toes (or paddles) river mode.

After the initial hiccup, my friend confirms a good choice in lure/presentation by landing a smallmouth bass via buzzbait.  I change my lure, which hasn't produced, to something similar as we continued our float.

The weather was perfect, blue skies, few clouds.  I had deployed my drag chain, which acted more like an anchor with the strong headwinds.  A group of fisherman in a small boat reported luck with Sheepshead and Walleye.  I had gotten a few weak bites while fishing a slough behind a sandbar I stopped on.  My friend landed a few smallmouth and got more bites, but we were hoping for bigger fights.

We stop an another sandbar where I witnessed a falcon scream after successfully pulling a fish from the water.  A bald eagle soared gracefully by it, looking for a similar opportunity.  In this moment, I truly felt free.  Beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, a great friend, fishing, and (mostly) disconnected from real life.  We were in the middle of a powerful river.  Our only way out was to go with the flow.  After my friend missed a nice pike, I tried some wade fishing off the sandbar with no success, so we carried on.

My buzzbait proving useless, I tie on a darker color to better contrast in the bright sun.  Shortly after, we encountered some brush piles along the river where we both landed smallmouth.  It reminded me why I love river smallmouth.  It was only 13.5" but fought like a largemouth exponentially bigger.  They are powerful fish, strong from surviving in the current.

As the float continues, the bite on my buzzbait stops once again.  I add a swimbait trailer, remove the skirt, and eventually swap it for a spinner bait.  None of these produced better results.  We both notice our growing exhaustion.  He had been fishing since 6 AM and I in high winds the day prior.  The time was nearing 5 PM, about 4 hours into our float.  We stop on a bar of river rock for a break where we again enjoy the beauty of the river.  The river is like a world of itself.  Other than the occasional corn field and footprints in the sandbars, there are few signs of life.  Nothing can be heard other than the bullfrogs, crickets, birds, and babbling of the current.  A freeing experience.  While enjoying the view, I look down and find a river creature.  Curious, I naturally look closer and find an unknown species of snake.

I lean in to get a picture and notify my friend of its presence.  While snapping pictures and attempting to get video of my new friend, the snake declines my friend request by biting my phone and swimming away (I googled the snake the following day and found it was a Common Water Snake, a non-venomous snake in Wisconsin).  After the rude interaction, I withdraw my friend request and we launch to continue on our journey.

The interesting thing about river fishing is the constant change of scenery.  The current carries you where it will.  This requires a constant need to be alert of your surroundings, the changing current, and obstacles.  My friend is having the best luck riding near the shoreline and keeping his lure in the strike zone longer so I adjust with the same approach since my current (pun intended) approach isn't working.  This approach requires a greater level of awareness as I'm constantly adjusting the kayak and my equipment onboard to avoid the countless obstacles along the riverbank.

Eventually, about 6 hours into the float, we both express our exhaustion.  The constant casting, reeling, adjusting, moving equipment, overcoming current, and obstacle dodging has taken its toll on our already weary bodies.  However, unlike lake fishing, we cannot "call it a day" until the river says we can.  We must carry on.

I'm slowly floating, allowing the current to have its way with my direction.  I'm a bit deflated from exhaustion and the slow bite.  I close my eyes for a moment when I hear "Wow!  Look at that kayak!  That is amazing - and look at the coloring on it!"  I look up and see cyclists upon the cliff over my shoulder.  A local bike trail runs along this section of the river.  Some cyclists were taking a break, enjoying the scenery of the river valley.  I yell, "Hello!" to the cyclist who is quickly joined by other cyclists.  I didn't see their bikes but assumed walkers wouldn't be wearing lycra and helmets.  One of the cyclists yells, "Nice rig man!  That is awesome!  What kind of boat is that?!".  I return with, "Thanks!  It is a FeelFree Lure!".  He replies, "No, not the kind of bait you are using, what kind of boat is it?!".  Me: "FeelFree Kayaks makes it.  It is called a Lure!"  Cyclist: "That is the name of it?!?!  That is awesome!  You are livin' the dream man!".  As I yell "Thanks!" I caught my second wind.

In addition to kayak fishing, I love mountain biking (specifically fatbiking as I can ride it year-round in Wisconsin).  Here I am, feeling unnecessarily defeated on this amazing kayak with a great friend on a beautiful river.  A guy enjoying another sport I love yells through the valley that I'm living the dream.  I am.  Kayak fishing is a dream that some are unable to enjoy.  This is amazing.  With a renewed vigor, I tie on my go-to spinner bait color (for when all else fails), stand up, and start casting.  The cyclist yells, "Whoa!!!  That thing is stable too, huh?!?!".  I smile and yell back, "Yeah, I can stand and fish all day long!  Have a good one!".  I float out of shouting distance and start working the banks on the search for smallmouth.

A short time later, nearing the end of the float, I hook into another smallmouth.  This one is smaller than the other but they always put up a good fight.  I continue working the banks, pulling and dropping my drag chain depending on the current.  The river is shallow here.  My spinner is constantly snagging and banging off rocks.  I get several bites, but nothing hard enough to hook.

As the bridge next to our boat landing approaches, I give the spinner another cast and the skirt flies off.  I reel it in, prepared to replace the skirt with another when I notice the reason for my fruitless bites.  The hook was broken off....  Sure, I could have gotten mad.  But it was one hell of a float.  Fun, but exhausting.  I smiled, put my rod in the rod holder and took a moment to enjoy the setting sun behind me before we arrived at our destination.  I was living the dream.  This is how I FeelFree.