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....