Thursday, November 24, 2016

What are you thankful for?

I have always loved fishing, ever since my dad put the new Zebco 202 in my hand around the age of 7.  I remember the times spent in that old olive green boat on the cranberry marshes of central Wisconsin.  There was a gap in my fishing for many years.  I still went out, but not as often.  This was mostly due to where I was living, but also because life was happening (full time job while attending full time college, a baby, etc, etc, etc.).

Fast forward to four years ago when my family moved 1 mile from an amazing fishery.  My father-in-law gave me his 12' flat bottom jon boat to use in the small reservoir.  It was a perfect fishing vessel and landed several respectable bass.

The following year I started getting a bit more serious, spending more time on the water and jumping into a baitcaster.  I was having fun, but was spending a lot more time working and doing other things.

Now fast forward to last winter, when my perspective on everything, especially life, changed.

It was December 2015, my wife was 8 1/2 months pregnant, expecting our second child any day. She had been having complications throughout the pregnancy and was on her 8th week of full bed rest, which had followed many months of on-again off-again restrictions. Our 5 1/2 year old (she insisted on the 1/2) daughter was excited to have a little brother on the way. My wife had a weekly check-up with her doctor, she went into town while I stayed home with our daughter. She was going to discuss the scheduled induction with her doctor, as we weren't sure if her ever rising blood pressure would hold off for another 5 days. At her appointment they found that her BP had risen to an alarming number and decided that she would be induced that evening rather than waiting. This was not really an alarming decision as the baby was a healthy size and we knew that it would be best for both mom and baby if this was the course we took.

The process started and all was going very well.  Her cousin and his wife came up to help watch our daughter until her parents and brother came up to be there.  We were all laughing, taking pictures and discussing how excited we all were to hold this baby boy who she had went through hell to keep in the womb until it became life threatening for her to do so. The labor nurse came in and told us it wouldn't be long now, but then noticed the baby's heartbeat beginning to drop.  A normal event in some cases, the nurse said a little re-positioning should move the baby around and help the cord to move to a better position.  The baby's heart rate did not increase.  The nurse calmly asked one of the other nurses to page the doctor.  The next couple hours were a blur.

During labor, our son's umbilical cord began to make it's way ahead of our his head and became lodged.  This cut off his blood and oxygen flow.  They had to rush my wife into surgery for an emergency C-Section.  Luckily, the surgical team was there already and were able to do it quickly.  As I waited in the room, in scrubs, waiting for a nurse to come get me, a million thoughts ran through my head. This wait ended up being 45 minutes. In that 45 minutes I was wondering, is my wife okay? Is my son okay? What are we going to do if he doesn't survive? How will we tell our daughter? What will I do if something happens to my wife? 45 minutes is a long time to ponder such questions. The anxiety just continued to build, until finally someone brought me to her.

When I was able to visit her in the OR, our son was still being worked on by the doctors.  My wife was very upset, he had come out limp and blue.  They couldn't detect a breath or heartbeat. I was able to see him between the circle of doctors working on him.  Our family doctor was there. She took me into a room and explained the severity of the situation. They resuscitated him for 40 minutes before they were able to get his heartbeat back. It was highly likely he had suffered brain damage, but he would need to be assessed further to determine the extent of such damage. He needed to be transferred to a specialty hospital in Minneapolis.  They would normally transport via helicopter, but they couldn't fly in the icy conditions as it was sleeting.  An ambulance specially equipped to transport infants was en route to get him from Minneapolis. My wife was not going to be able to be transferred to a hospital near him until the following day so I drove up to spend the night with him because we did not want him to be alone.

The days that followed were an excruciating roller coaster. For the next 72 hours he had to be on a special cooling blanket.  We couldn't hold him or cover him in a blanket as he shivered. He was sedated and connected to many different machines including a 24 hour EEG machine that was monitoring for seizure activity.  They were keeping him cold to reduce brain activity which would allow the swelling to go down after what they consider a brain trauma.  A few days before Christmas, he had an MRI to officially check the extent of damage done to the brain after being deprived of oxygen during his 40 minutes of resuscitation. Before taking him to the radiology department, my wife was allowed to hold our son for the first time. When he came back from the MRI, I was able to hold him and our daughter was able to meet her brother for the first time. These moments will stay with me forever.

I don't remember how long we waited that afternoon for those MRI results, but when the Neurologist came in the room, sat down in front of myself, my wife and our mothers, she smiled, shook her head and said "This MRI is your Christmas miracle.". The MRI appeared to be completely normal. She said that if she didn't know better she would believe that they baby lying in front of us was not the baby whose birth story was so traumatic and horrific.  A true Christmas miracle that nobody, the doctors included, could believe.  Normally in these circumstances the baby would have significant brain damage and resulting disabilities that would last a lifetime. Although they could not guarantee us that he would not have delays later on, the neurologist said that she did not see anything on the scan that would indicate he would have anything but a normal life.  Our son was completely healthy, inside and out as if his birth had been a normal and uneventful.

The next several days would be spent bringing him out of sedation, feeding him for the first time and letting his body adjust to doing everything on it's own. We could only cross our fingers that he would make fast work of this so he could be home for Christmas.

My wife called me after the doctors made their rounds Christmas Eve morning. Our Christmas wish was being granted and  Jackson would be coming home on Christmas Day!  I made the hour drive to Minneapolis to pick him and my wife up first thing in the morning while family stayed with our daughter.  We brought him home that day and had a Christmas we will never forget.

Our son Jackson "Jax" enjoying
the comfort of my FeelFree Lure
Events like this change your perspective on life.  From the nurses and doctors that went above and beyond throughout the whole process, saving his life; to the family and friends that helped us in ways they will never know (our friends/neighbors even insisted my daughter and I join them for their family Christmas eve so we weren't alone that evening).  Even my employer made an impact by being more than understanding and accommodating of our situation by allowing me to take 8 weeks paid off to care for my recovering wife and fragile son.

Since then, my appreciation for life, and enjoyment of fishing have increased exponentially. I am taking pleasure in the little things rather than the big things. Prior to this event, a fishing boat was on my wish list but not feasible. Instead, I ordered my FeelFree Lure in February, sight unseen.  It was love at first sight and I have never looked back or considered a fishing boat since.  Fishing in a kayak brings me closer to nature than a boat ever could.  The no maintenance, zero noise, and ability to go anywhere has been the perfect vessel for my new "Smell the Roses" attitude.  Every day I'm thankful for my family, my friends, my health, and those amazing days on the water.

This is my first, and likely, only article that will be mostly off-topic. I wanted to share this event with you so you are able understand the beginnings of Small Craft Fisherman. My passion is kayak fishing, but it was derived from a deep personal revelation. I choose to share my experiences with you through my written word in an attempt to paint the beautiful picture that is kayak fishing.  If, in my 7 months of writing, I have brought one smile to one face, or made one reader feel like they were in the kayak with me, I have succeeded.  Should you not like my words, I have included my favorite pictures of the season, which offer a visual of the beauty kayak fishing brings to my life.  I sincerely thank you for letting me into your life every week by taking you on my amazing adventures and allowing me to share a hobby that started at childhood but truly came alive and morphed into a true passion with one life-altering event.

I wish you and your families a very happy and healthy holiday season.

Into the Mystic
Photo By: Mitchell Iverson

Big Lake
Photo by: Chang Lor of

TourneyTag Sunrise

Fun and stable for the whole family!

Breathtaking summer sunset

Looking for bass in the summer sunrise

Mississippi tank
Photo by: Chang Lor of

Glowing sunrise

Wisconsin 6.5lb Largemouth
Photo by: Chang Lor of

Glassy Fall Morning

Trees Afire

Wisconsin Northwoods Fall Sunrise

Unbeatable glassy fall sunrise

Clear blue fall day, Wizard Staff in back
Photo by: Chang Lor of

Paddling goodbye to the last kayak
sunset of the season

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Last Hoorah

Paddling goodbye to my last
kayak sunset of 2016
After the terrible bite during our last trip, a group of us kayaking buddies decided to plan one last hoorah for the season.  This time at a lake where we never get skunked (though sometimes that means landing only dink bass and pike).  But we want to end the season on a good note and with slime on our kayaks.  My Home Boss (wife) authorized this last full-day hoorah with the agreement I would put the kayaks away for the season the next day (in her defense I was tournament fishing HARD the last few months).  I offered the barter as my body was battered and tired from the countless hours on the water pushing myself in the KBF tournaments.  The frigid temperatures only made my aches and pains worse, I needed time to recover before ice fishing season.

The evening temperatures in Northern Wisconsin has been dropping into the teens and 20s.  With the time change, we opt to meet at 8 AM to mitigate numb fingers from working our bait casters in the frigid temperatures.

We launch in the calm, crisp morning air and start running our fall lures (spinner bait for me) through the 45 degree water.  Shortly after starting, I'm able to land a small largemouth and a small pike.  Mission accomplished, I'm not ending the season on a skunk.  I told my buddy Chang of it was his turn to land one.

The bite abruptly slowed as the wind began picking up.  Chang and I separated a bit to find where the fish were hiding.  A short time later I hear him yell out with a "Wooooo!".  This is normally the international sign for "Grab the camera!".  But this one had a sarcastic tone to it, which meant "I caught one, but don't bring the camera.  I'm just glad I didn't get skunked!".  We continue working the main body of water where the fish typically hide.  The summer weed ledges have died of and blew away in the cool fall winds.

The winds continue to pick up speed as the temperature starts to plateau in the high 40s.  We knew strong winds were in order, but these were blowing 20+.  The cooling waters changed from a calm lapping against my hull to a forceful splash from the whitecaps on the main body.  Before we were blown too far, we opted to make a grueling paddle head-on into the wind to seek harbor in the lake's sloughs. 

We are able to (slowly) make our way back to the safety of the launch area where the sloughs begin.  One of our other buddies is launching to join us.  We all fan out in attempt to find the fish.  Unfortunately, after a few hours, we land mostly dinks.  But it is still a blast to be on the water for the last time with good company.  Our buddy Aaron manages to hook into a 5 lb. largemouth but loses it right as he is about to pull it from the water.  The wind is gusting so hard that it manages to swirl its way into the valley where the sloughs reside.  Chang and I opt to go ashore and rig up drag chains to slow our kayaks.

We rig up the chains and allow the winds to carry us back to the main body of water.  The drag chain helps, but it quickly collects a large amount of the sunken dead vegetation below.  It then becomes ineffective in the strong winds.  But we continue fishing until we reach the far shoreline.  We then prepare for the grueling paddle into the fierce winds.

We manage to make it back after paddling for what seemed like an eternity in the high winds.  Between the gusts and splashes of water blowing over my bow, I glance down at my Garmin Striker to confirm I'm moving.  It shows forward progress of .75 - 1 MPH.  Rough.

We eventually make it back, exhausted.  Aaron is still working the sloughs, he opted to take the path of least resistance and stay in the calmer waters.  We all begin working some ledges near the landing.  I quickly realize how battered my body is from several months of 1+ all day trips per week.  The extra effort and cold caused by the wind accentuates every ache, pain, cut, and bruise.  I'm quickly snapped (pun intended) out of my trance of pain.

I am fishing a 25 foot hole between the lake and slough, allowing my spinner bait to sink to the rocky bottom.  I'm hoping some fish are sticking to the rocks in the cold temperatures.  My theory was proven correct when there was a tug on my line so sharp my rod is nearly pulled out of my grip.  The sharp tug stops as quickly as it started.  I begin to reel the now weightless line.  Whatever tugged cut my 50lb braid clean off.  This lake is known for 40"+ Northern Pike.  Chang has landed one, and I lost one next to my kayak in these waters.  This was likely one of the big ones.

A respectable end of season pike for Chang Lor of
I grow increasingly tired as my body aches increase.  The wind seems to calm a bit, so we head back out to the main body one more time.  Aaron starts coming with us, but the wind starts picking up so he opts for the sloughs again.  Chang and I float the main body.  Chang manages to land a respectable pike.  Shortly after, I am able to get one of similar size, but it self-releases as I begin to pull it into the kayak.

We work the end of the large body a bit longer before we start the brutal journey into the howling winds.  After a bit of no success, we point our bows upwind and start paddling.

Some of Chang Lor's ( lasts casts of 2016
This paddle is different though, something seems off.  Chang is out-paddling me, which was always the case in his kayak.  However, he is in a demo FeelFree Lure and is still getting used to the extra weight/width of the ultra-stable kayak.  I was paddling as hard as I could and was not gaining on him.  My Garmin Striker shows a speed of .5 MPH!  Assuming it is my battered body giving up for the season, I grind on until we reach the safety of the launch area.  I have an ah-hah moment and ask Chang to check my drag chain retracted to the rear handle of my kayak, just below the water line.  There is massive clump of vegetation stuck to it.  We laugh about the situation, and decide it is probably time to call it a day and season.  Chang does a "last cast" (20 or so) near the launch before we land on the ramp.
Some of Chang Lor's ( lasts casts of 2016

It is a bittersweet landing.  I am relieved because my body is in pain and I need to rest and recover.  But we are saddened knowing this will be our last time on the open water for the season.  As we load, we make plans to meet up for ice fishing this year.  Chang has never tried it, so I am going to show him the ropes once the ice is thick enough.  We all shake hands, wish each other well, and get in our vehicles for the last drive home with kayaks in tow.

The Essential Kayak Fishing Christmas List

It's that time of year folks!...the holiday season!  For a lot of us kayak fisherman (especially us guys in the Northern United States) it's time to trade in the kayaks for hunting and ice fishing gear.  For me, I already have too many hobbies so that means it's time to spend some quality time with the family and tinker with a thousand different things before spring.  With that tinkering comes the wish list, that is continually being added to every time I open up a catalog or start perusing the web.  Sadly for a fisherman on a budget I am forced to limit myself to the essentials that can pertinently help my fishing experience day in and day out.  While these items might not be the most expensive, they are essential and tremendously improve kayak fishing experiences!

Now I know that the whole Christmas list has been done and overdone...  What is different about this is it isn't your average wishlist, don't worry we will have a couple awesome pricey items for a splurge situation, it is made up of lower cost gifts that anyone can get you!  If your family is anything like mine, trying to narrow down gift ideas is like pulling teeth and usually ends up with a gift card.  So with this I give you 9 gifts for those family members whose gift is on a budget along with another 3 that you might want to send to that special family member who likes to splurge!  Please use this article and share it will family members and I hope it helps them get you just what you NEED this fishing season!...ENJOY!

1. The Hawg Trough $15-20

Hawg Trough in both colors
Love them or hate them, it doesn't matter.  To my knowledge every kayak bass tournament uses the hawg trough as their official measuring board!  In addition these things have a tendency to break at all the wrong times.  These can make a great gift to any kayak angler! No matter how many of these I have, I always need one more!

2. Boomerang Tools Snips $13-$25

Boomerang Tools hooked to PFD

This tool is one of the most used tools I carry! These snips have a retractable lanyard that I attach to my inflatable PFD with a small carabiner.  It allows you to cut line quickly and easily! the base model starts out at $13 and for a few more dollars you can upgrade to a model with a LED light, longer snips or a super beefed up version for salt water!  I also wanted to mention the line cutterz ring (also very popular) and a super great product, but I personally don't like rings.  Both of these tools are essential and allow for quick easy access when you need them!

My Line Cutterz that come standard on all Jackson Kayaks

3. Waterproof Plano Boxes $10-15

Plano 3740 waterproof box
In any angler's life organization is key!  For a kayak angler, with the limited space, it is even more crucial!  We can never have enough boxes, but a key is waterproof boxes.  Tackle is expensive these days and no one wants to turn brand new hooks into a big rusty mess.  These boxes are great, completely waterproof...I've even dropped a few in and they remain bone dry!  I prefer the 3740 size but I am also a huge fan of the 3640 size as well.  These make great gifts and they are pretty easy to wrap!

4. Tourney Tag $5.00

A massive Toad caught by Tyler Thiede, Small Craft Fisherman Creator
While I have not had the opportunity to use Tourney Tag yet, I am getting one for next year!  It allows you to hold your identifier for any online or live tournament and is a great tool that helps our sport!  Plus it makes a great stocking stuffer!

From Yak
I want one of these so badly that I probably won't be able to wait for Christmas.  They hold almost any drink securely...I hate spilled drinks in the kayak.  It keeps that hot coffee or any "adult beverages" close at reach.  They attach to any Yak Attack gear track, which is strewn all over kayaks these days giving a ton of different mounting option.  Additionally, they also have slots on the sides to hold any lures (especially crankbaits) to keep them out of your way!  At $20 this is an absolute bargain.

6. Buff USA Buff and Gloves $15-40 (buff) $30-45 (gloves)

Gore Tex buff with full length and fingerless gloves
Everyone needs some good sun protection these days! Skin cancer is nothing to mess with.  Buffs help keep sun off your face and can even help keep your face protected from wind.  A lot of people don't know that they also make products that even have insect repellant built it, I have one and it works flawlessly, plus specialty buffs with merino wool and gore tex to help keep you warm in cold and windy conditions.  I just recently got a pair of the gloves and the are so amazing and have so many benefits! They help keep the sun off your hands, protect them from wind in the winter and keep them cool in the summer.  The grips on the palm help you grip the paddle and fish.  They dry quickly and don't inhibit any casting ability! The gloves are offered in both fingerless and full length.  I have a pair of both and won't leave home without them anymore!

7. Fish Grips $15
Fish Grips help ya hold them tricky bass for a photo opp, photo by: Tyler Thiede (Small Craft Fisherman)

I always carry these with me when I am on the kayak.  It allows me to securely and safely hold fish, especially toothy critters.  It is also very helpful to hold fish in the water, while you prepare your camera, hawg trough, and identifer with CPR tournaments! 

8. Safety Whistle

Almost any whistle can be used but these make a great stocking stuffer! I go through so many whistles every year...I am always losing them.  It's a simple gift that can be found almost anywhere that any kayaker will love! Plus it keeps your loved ones safe!

Would I dare to say best water shoe on the market?...I would!
This is a great gift for anyone that spends time around water! These things drain so quickly and help keep your feet dry and cool!  I have two pairs of them and never go on the kayak without them.  I have tried almost everything and keep coming back to these! A feature I love about them is their aggressive trail tread.  This gives excellent traction on went, slimey boat ramps and rocks.  

Now for the not so budget gifts that we all dream about!...

9. Orion Cooler 35 $420

Orion 35 in Bluefin color, from

Everyone has seen the massive Rotomolded Yeti coolers but what makes these different is that they are specifically designed with kayaking and camping in mind.  They have Yak Attack gear tracks and sea deck top standard.  This makes for a great platform to attach rod holder, speakers, cup holders, and whatever else you can dream up.  Additionally they can be used to replace your camp chairs and kayak seats.  More importantly they come in sweet and awesome colors!  These things will keep all your necessities cold for days upon days! Helping extend those fun filled trips!  

These rods combine the best of both worlds, glass rods and graphite rods.  This blend is the first of its kind that gives you sensitivity with a forgiving tip that keeps fish pinned no matter how they try to evade their capture, making them great for moving style baits!  While it might be pricier than some rods, it is worth the extra bucks!  It is high quality and MADE IN AMERICA!  Check them out you won't be disappointed!

Kistler KLX Feel-N-Reel Series,

This paddle was specifically designed with the fisherman in mind! It comes feature packed with a carbon shaft with fish measuring system, adjustable ferrule, length adjustment (optional), and high-performance fiberglass blades.  All in a lightweight packaged at 30 oz.  This is one sweet paddle that can improve your stroke efficiency paying dividends on your fishing experience! It comes in both hi-vis for extra safety or camo to help you sneak up on skittish fish!  Just think this is your gas powered motor that never has to be maintained or filled with oil or gas! Spend the extra bucks and you won't be disappointed and it will never cost you another dime! 

Small Craft Fisherman creator Tyler Thiede putting the Bending Branches Angler Pro to work!

I hope this blog helps give you some ideas for your Christmas list, not so much on the high priced items but on the essentials that help you day in and day out!  Hopefully some of these will show up with a bright, shiny bow under your tree! Feel free to share with friends and family for gift ideas, think of it as a fishing registry if you will!  If any family members have any questions for that special someone post a comment or even shoot me an email ( I can help you however possible!

Thanks for reading! I hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday Season!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Don't Try This At Home

The first weekend in November.  Typically in Wisconsin the temperatures and hunting seasons are leaving lakes mostly barren.  A few walleye and musky fisherman remain.  Pleasure crafts are winterized, the trees are nearly completely bare, and a few lingering flocks of geese pass overhead headed to warmer climates for the winter.  This year is different, daytime temperatures are in the 60s, record highs.  Overnight temperatures are near or below freezing.

This temperature swing makes kayak fishing extra challenging, and dangerous.  Water temperatures continue to drop.  Falling in the water before the air temperatures rise after noon could turn deadly.  The temperature swings also make the bite slow and difficult.  With the nice weather still in the forecast, a group of us decided to plan a trip to a local lake in the Chippewa Valley of Wisconsin.

Chang Lor of and his first
sunrise on a FeelFree Lure
We arrive early as the sun is rising.  It is a balmy 30 degrees.  Luckily I always keep a sweatshirt and rain gear in my kayak.  As I am putting on the extra layers, my buddy, who is trying my demo FeelFree Lure kayak, is literally jumping with joy on the deck of the kayak.  He is in awe of the kayak's room and stability.  I chuckle and launch to join my buddies on the water.

We immediately feel the impact of the freezing air temperatures on the water.  The spray from our baitcasters and drips from our paddles quickly cause our hands to become stiff with cold.  As we start complaining about the cold, our buddy John yells, "I got a big one on here!"  We start our paddle towards him, prepared to capture photos of the catch.

John of the Wisconsin Kayak Fishing Club
with a nice fall Musky
I'm expecting to see a nice bass or a Northern Pike since we are using spinner baits.  As we approach he yells, "It is a small Musky!".  After his little sleigh ride and a battle with the Musky on a spinning setup, the beautiful fish is next to his kayak.  The powerful fish and cold temperatures make landing difficult.  He takes extra care not to harm the fish, which, after it emerges from the water, is a respectable size.  Given the fight, cold temperatures, and troubles landing it, he opts not to measure it.  We estimate it to be around the 36" mark.

We are excited for the early bite.  Surely a sign of a good day to come..........

**** 4 Hours Later ****

Found a Wizard Staff, hoping it will bring us luck
Photo By:  Chang Lor of
We haven't caught a thing.  However, we are still having fun.  The temperatures are in the 60s, and the water temperatures are up from 48 to 52 degrees.  We receive a call from one of our other kayak fishing buddies, he arrived a couple hours ago and was working the other side of the lake.  We are exhausted from a long paddle, so we head his way near the landing and take a break.

**** 1 Hour Later ****

We have been working a bay filled with steep shores, vegetation, and brush piles with no success.  Two of the team of four decided to head out.  My buddy Chang Lor from and I decide to make the best of (potentially) our last day on the water this season.

Earlier in the day, a walleye fisherman stopped by my kayak.  He was curious when he seen me standing and fishing on a small craft from a long distance away.  After answering the usual questions about my kayak and our success rate for the day, he suggested we head up the river that feeds the lake.  He said there were small rapids where the smallmouth bass.  Determined to slime our kayaks, and after verifying it was a reasonable paddle via Google Earth and Navionics, we headed north.

The rapids were interesting.  An otherwise calm lake, fed by a lazy river.  The two met at a small island filled with trees.  On either side fast-flowing rapids over enormous boulders of varying shapes and sizes.  The view and sound were calming, but I knew navigating upstream in these waters would require all my skill, especially in hypodermic conditions.

I paddle into the current, finding small eddys to target.  I'm rapidly switching between my paddle and Ardent Apex Pro.  In these conditions you have to be ultra alert.  Getting pinned sideways against a boulder could be disastrous.  Every cast into the calm pockets, which typically hold smallmouth bass waiting to ambush prey, must be precise.

A powerful river smallie caught in sketchy conditions
Photo By:  Chang Lor of
The next few minutes were a blur.  I was focusing intensely on the boulders, water flow, kayak position, paddle strokes required, and placing my spinner bait precisely where I wanted it.  My intense focus was soon filled with excitement when my rod doubled over, with a respectable smallmouth on the other end.  I manage to land the bass while navigating the strong currents.  I'm able to safely rest my hull on a shallow boulder out of the strongest part of the current.  This allows me some time to admire the beautiful fish, and for my buddy to snap a photo.

This is when the fun begins.  Chang gets up to the beginning of the rapids, showing the stability of the FeelFree Lure by standing and fishing!  He snags his spinnerbait above the current and is determined to retrieve it.  I think he is kidding until he places his rod on the large boulder next to him.
At this point I'm entering another level of disbelief.  I'm able to position myself just down-current of him should I need to rescue gear (or him), and grab my phone to capture a video of this unbelievable attempt to pass what I would normally (even in ideal conditions) impassable.

After placing his rod on the boulder, he is able to get the keel of the kayak on the rocks where the water spills into the rush off water below.  He places his paddle across his kayak.  With Chuck Norris-like moves, he jumps to the boulder while maintaining hold of the kayak.  He is somehow able to pull the kayak up over the rock ledge, swing it around, get in it, retrieve his gear, and back-paddle before the current takes him back from where he started.  At this point, we are both cheering this crazy feat.  Then it gets crazier.  Chang suggests I join him.

I give into the peer pressure.  I weigh a lot more than Chang, and have a lot more gear on board, but am confident in my equipment and abilities.  He first lands his kayak at the island engulfed by the rapids and tosses me his anchor rope.  I grab it and he nearly gets pulled into the rapids.  Bad idea.  Between myself, my kayak, and gear, I'm probably around 400 pounds or more.  Coupled with the force of the current, there is no way a single person can pull me upstream.

I park myself on a boulder and assess the current.  I see a line, if I can paddle about 50 feet up the strongest part of the current, where I can land in an eddy next to the island.  From there I can use the wheel in the keel of my FeelFree Lure to cross a short stretch of land into the lazy river above.  I make sure my rod is out of the way, my action cam is on (this could get interesting), and tell Chang my plan.

I look at my Bending Branches Angler Pro paddle.  This thing has taken a beating and gotten me out of some crazy situations this year.  But this will be the ultimate test.  I almost have a "moment" with the paddle.  I am about to be completely reliant on my paddling skills, the stability of my FeelFree Lure and the cutting power of my Angler Pro.  In this "moment" I feel like Thor, becoming one with his hammer, I with my paddle and push off from the safety of the boulder.

I paddle furiously upstream.  The left blade of my paddle is hitting the smooth stone that makes the shore of the island.  I attempt to move myself further to the right to allow for a deeper stroke, but submerged boulders nudge me back to the left like a pinball.  I'm paddling furiously.  My left blade isn't able to push any water.  The current pushes me back to my starting point.  I try again.

Paddling furiously, I look to the shore and am paddling in place, not making any progress.  Essentially paddling with one blade.  I allow the current to carry me back downstream and announce to Chang I am going to do one more attempt before I give up or try another tactic.

Two Wisconsin Beauties:  Waters of the Chippewa Valley
and the Bending Branches Angler Pro
Chang Lor of
showing the stability of the
FeelFree Lure
This time, I paddle with everything I have into the strong current.  My eyes are focused on my target, a small eddy calmly waiting for me to emerge from the rush of water around it.  I use a new stroke.  Instead of my usual chop-style stroke, I use a normal stroke with the right, but push off the stone on my left.  After what felt like an eternity, I'm able to bypass the narrow spot between the boulders and arrive at the eddy.  Chang grabs the front of my kayak before the current me sucks me back out.  I'm able to easily cross the small patch of land (love the wheel in the keel of my Lure).  Once on the other side, I take a moment to absorb the events that just happened over the last few minutes.

This was a completely crazy attempt to cross unsafe water in hypothermic conditions.  DO NOT TRY THIS YOURSELF.  Had we been less experienced paddlers with inferior equipment, we would not have attempted this.  We take a few minutes to laugh about how crazy and rewarding it was.

Chang Lor of rock crawling to
get upstream.
We paddle up current of the lazy river for about an hour.  We get a few bites, but don't manage to land any fish.  But we don't care, this was the best fish-less adventure of the season.  We decided to lazily float down the river, through the rapids, and lazily paddle our way back to the landing.  We took the time to enjoy the scenery, watch some nearby skydivers, see a few more flocks of geese off on their adventure south, and exchange some kind "how's the fishin?'" conversation with locals drinking beer around their lakeside camp fires as we paddle by.

This was our last hoorah.  From an adventure standpoint, it was one for our record books.  However, the poor bite triggers us plan one more last trip....

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Lake Fork Expectations

Hey all! I would like to apologize for my absence lately!  I recently just returned from the great state of Texas. It's actually what this article is about...just to clarify I didn't catch a PB, I didn't see an armadillo, and I didn't have the best steak of my don't expect any of that!

Biggest fish I caught at Lake Fork

So many trees!
Picture by:
The reason for my visit to Texas was for the Yak4It Tournament of Champions, which I qualified for through the Kayak Bass League Championship.  It was an honor to attend this elite event, and I was very excited to visit Texas for the first time.  More importantly I was going to have the honor to fish one of the best bass lakes in the nation, Lake Fork.  No matter where you live in the nation, I guarantee you have heard of Lake Fork.  It has been at the top bass lakes for years.  It has produced multiple bass over 15lbs and continually produces double digits on a weekly basis.  While continually reading all of these stats about how great Lake Fork is, one can only start thinking of all the possibilities of 20+inch fish!  Needless to say, I was super excited and could not wait to get down there!  The plan was to leave Wednesday afternoon, get there by midnight, and have 4 whole days to fish.  Plenty of time time to find the big ones one would think right?...well not so easy...

Finally found some grass!
The first day of prefishing was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.  The lake consists of almost 28,000 acres of water with over 315 miles of shoreline, no small task for a kayak.  Additionally Lake Fork is FILLED with timber, since this lake was not cleared of standing timber before it was filled.  This creates a large lake with an obscene amount of structure, making it very difficult.  The first day I covered several miles of water only managing 3 bass.  The biggest of which was right around 17.25 inches and the other two around 12 inches.  This is not what I expected from the magnificent Lake Fork!  I needed to make a change and quick!  I decided to break it down into two elements, water depth and cover.  Since the lake was covered in standing timber and not enough time to find key areas I decided to find some form of vegetation.  This would more than likely give isolated targets for fish to hold least so I thought.  Next is water depth, if I haven't mentioned Lake Fork is massive! Massive lake means massive waves.  Even though I had heard rumors of fish being caught deep, I knew i would not be able to hold position over there fish plus the several mile paddle one way was daunting to say the least. I decided I would be able to break down and fish more shallow water areas to a much greater extent than deep water, also I am much more comfortable and have a lot more confidence in shallow water.  Additionally, I knew if I could just get a limit both days I would be in good shape.  This helped me narrow down my fishing to shallow, weedy creek arms.  Another tricky factor is finding a certified boat that is accredited by Yak4It to launch that was close enough to allow efficient time management throughout the tournament.

Day two, I started prefishing my new area to see its potential.  After catching a few fish over 14 inches (limit size for this tournament) I continued my exploration for more areas, to no success.  after two days of prefishing I had built up two solid areas that was gonna have to supply me with 10 fish over 14 inches for the next two days.
There are plenty of dinks in Texas

As the next two days began to unfold, I did not catch a limit either day.  Although I did manage to catch 3 keepers each day, including two 18s and a 16.5 inch fish.  I was very thankful for these fish as it was a grind out there with many anglers unable to bring Amy fish inl.  I ended up with 95.25 inches for the two tournament days.  This tied me for 19th place out of 125 anglers.  I was very excited for this tournament and absolutely stunned by my finish.  All of this was made possible due to breaking down the water.  If I hadn't broke the water down into depth and structure type, I might have never been able to find fish.  Once I was able to target these specific areas it allowed me narrow down water and begin to get the full picture of the bass's patterning.  I did this by fishing to my strengths. I made the crucial decision to fish what I knew how to fish, rather than chasing dock talk. This is a must in a lot of tournaments, epescially on unfamiliar water. Dont't just do what others are doing. Blaze your own trail to find the bite that a lot of other anglers are overlooking. A lot of times tournaments are won like this and you end up having the area all to yourself, allowing you to pick apart areas and manage fish to your pleasing.

This thing raced past hobies!
While Lake Fork was not what I had envisioned I still had a magnificent time.  It was also great to see and fish a new state for the first time, working in fishing in ever state in the U.S.  Also minor achievement of the weekend...I did out-paddle a hobie PA12 to a that's some serious speed! Next time you are out try holding 4.5-5 mph for over a mile...the Jackson Kilroy LT does it like a dream!

I also would like to congratulate all the anglers who qualified and participated in the Tournament of Champions, regardless of how they did.  It was awesome to meet a ton of great people who all love to fish just as much as I do!  If you wanna see the full results click here.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A New Kind of Battle

The end of October.  The beautiful fall colors have dropped from the limbs, now rotting on the forest floor and my gutters.  The water temperatures are below 50, the air temperature in the 30's at night.  I hit one of our favorite lakes with a buddy, hoping to get into some of the 5-6 lb. bass of recent weeks.

I was currently holding onto 2nd place with 60.75" for the KBF Regional Challenge (MN, WI, MI).  My fellow FeelFree Kayak Fishing Team member Mike McKinstry was 1.5" ahead of me in first place.  I needed 2 21" tankers or a 22" monster to move ahead (note 3 fish bags over 60" are extremely tough in this region - we had both been blessed with an epic month).

The conditions seemed right.  The skies overcast, rain in the forecast, and a light breeze.  But they weren't.  The water temperatures low, bass were not as active.  We found ourselves catching Northern Pike and dink bass.  I had landed a nice 24" Northern Pike with a good amount of meat on it.  I was keeping a few medium Pike for my family to pickle, so I tied it on the stringer.  I couldn't resist and posted on Facebook, tagging Mike, that I had just landed a 24"er.  I put the photo of the Pike in the comments, successfully making his heart skip a beat.
I continue to work the vegetation where the Pike and bass tend to hide to ambush large prey without success.  Pointing my bow downwind, I work my way back to the other side of the lake which has more rocks and structure.  Unfortunately, this area too has a slow bite.  I'm only able to boat dink bass.  Growing frustrated, I decide to tie on my secret weapon that pulled a 19.5" bass out of the Mississippi this summer when nothing was biting.  It is a LoverTail 2 by James Gang Lure Co.  Designed by a local kid named Alex, it is an amazing high-quality lure.  Check them out here:

A few casts in I see a long silver torpedo shooting through the water, past the LoverTail 2.  It circles back and t-bones the lure with amazing force.  The razor-sharp hook latches on strong, my Denny Brauer medium action bass rod doubles over more than it has all season.  My Ardent Apex Pro with 50 lb. braid is able to land the powerful fish without a problem.  (I am a bass angler so I did feel a bit awkward trying to land this pike since I have a small net and they razor-sharp teeth).  Check out the video on my YouTube channel here:

Happy with this catch, I continue working the LoverTail 2.  Not long after, my pole doubles over again.  Except this time is different.  With 50 lb. braid, I have my drag VERY tight.  Line is going out.  I have a monster on the line!  The beast takes me for a sleigh ride in my kayak as I pull it nearer.  I get a look of the beast and it is a Northern Pike, approximately 40" in length.  My eyes bulge at the sight of such a large fish.  Without a large net, I'm at a severe disadvantage as I reach for my FishGrips.  The Pike darts under my hull.  A fish this large is intelligent, this one proving so by knocking the hook free with a bump to the underside of my kayak.  

As I take a moment to catch my breath and stop shaking, I yell "Nooooooooooo!!!!".  I message my buddy Chang Lor of who landed a 40"+ Northern Pike via kayak this year to tell him I think his released Pike is alive an well.

I assess the damage.  The monster bent the thick Gamakatsu hook on my LoverTail 2.  It is otherwise untouched.  Another advantage of the LoverTail 2.  An extremely strong lure modular enough to repair the "consumable" parts (hook and paddle tail).  

I left the lake exhausted and disappointed I couldn't move up in the KBF leader board.  However, I left with a new addiction, Pike fishing.  I'm already planning to purchase an Ardent Magnum reel and Edge heavy action rod for next year.  Strung with 65 lb. braid, that big pike will end up in my FeelFree Lure next year.