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.





























2 comments:

  1. This is why I have found buying my kayak such a great investment. It's the fishing, sure, but it's everything else that goes with it.

    My local lake is Beaver Lake in Waukesha County. Small, carry-in only for the public. Nothing huge but the memories I have from this year...my first walleye to seeing my first bald eagle to having three hot air balloons float over the trees and come down to water level, only to have them float right over me.

    Then the Fox River, a river I fished as a kid with my brother and Dad. I paddled upriver from the DNR landing in Racine County all the way up to where we would stop as the furthest point with our small 14 foot Mirrocraft V-hull boat. Seeing things now about 15 years later after moving away to get married (and now back here so you know how that worked out), things changed yet remained the same. I got to see all the parts of the river we had names for; The Stump, Trees-in-the-water, Farm Woman's Point, The Golf Course, High tension wires...they were all there, the same but different. The high tension wires are about as far as we would ever go. I went past that up to the next bend in the surprisingly weedy river. I see a shore with some rocks on the bank and trees overhanging that. Looked perfect but still, weeds had kept me from a bite all the way upriver. Will this be different?

    Boy, was it different.

    We grew up usually fishing for whatever bit our nightcrawlers, either on the bottom or under a bobber. Today I am using a chartreuse spinnerbait but no luck. I switch to a green/brown chatterbait. I notice a couple of fish surfacing so I try in that somewhat clearer area. about 10 casts in I get a bite, and then the fight starts. He jumped once, then twice, then got tangled into a knot of weeds as I got pulled into shore. I felt nothing but the line tight in the weeds. I thought I lost this monster small mouth and then I see the tail. He's stuck, too. It is close to the kayak so I just scoop everything up with my small net and then I see him, Monster. The first small mouth I've ever caught in that river and by far the biggest in my life. I clear away the weeds, get him unhooked from my destroyed lure, and get my pictures. I kiss it goodbye.

    And then I break down and cry.

    Going thru the divorce I felt worthless. I felt nothing was ever going to give me that joyous feeling again. Catching that fish showed me that life may get tough but you never know when something special is coming up, or in my case, just one more river bend further to have that special moment.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story Brian. Glad to hear the sport brings joy to your life. There is certainly something about kayak fishing that takes the sport to a different level. I loved fishing before, but this is a whole new addiction. Tight lines brother.

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