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.