Thursday, July 13, 2017

A(nother) Plea - It CAN Happen to You!

It was a beautiful day for a river float.  Hot, sunny, slight breeze, and the Red Cedar River was finally back to normal/safe levels after a raining June.  Our friend and other Small Craft Outfitters Guide, Chang Lor of, planned a fishing float.  My wife opted to come along, looking to get a relaxing day sans children (they were beachin' with my parents for the weekend).

The night before we prepared the coolers, food (Chang and I eat a lot better when the wife comes and makes good food), water, etc.  The fleet of Feelfree Lures for Chang and I (and a Feelfree Moken for the wife) are on the trailer.  Rods are prepared with river tackle, and our Bending Branches paddles are at the ready in the back of the Jeep.  Kayak anglers and gear are impatiently waiting for the next day.

Morning arrives, we enthusiastically hook up the trailer, jump in the Jeep, and head towards the meet spot while sucking down some caffeine.  My wife stands back as Chang and I go through the familiar unload/rig ritual performed dozens of times this year.  When finished, she stays with the gear while we drop the Jeep and trailer at the takeout.  A short time later we are floating.

We take our time, stopping at sandbars for food and to cool off.  It is a beautiful day, so the fishing is slow.  But we all manage to land a fish or two.  I was proud because my wife caught her first walleye on a PowerTeam Lures 4.5" Grub soaked in JBs Fishsauce!  She even handled the fish by herself and gave it a safe release.

We get near the end of the float in this beautiful area of the river.  To the left is a steep sand bank 100'+ tall.  On the right bars of smooth river rock and sand.  We stop to enjoy the scenery, chat to some canoe anglers about our kayaks, then sit and chat.

I am not a religious person, but believe everything happens for a reason.  For some reason Chang, Stacy, and I just sat there chatting about random things.  I don't know why.  Maybe it was because we were (finally) on no time crunch.  Maybe it was the beautiful day or the beauty of this sandy s-curve area.  Maybe it was to be there for what happened next.

After talking for a while, we seen a group of river tubers come around the corner and hang up on one of the branches on the opposite side of the river.  We had passed several tubers who were enjoying this nice day earlier.  We continued talking and noticed them stop in an odd spot in the swift current opposite us.  A hazardous piece of the river that claimed a new pole of Chang's (and nearly me) last year.  We assumed it was some people messing around.  A short time later, Stacy said, "I think those people need help.".

I look over and there is a couple down the sandbar about 20 yards running for their canoe, they are going to go help the tubers calling out in distress.  Knowing the canoe will be difficult to hold in the dangerous current, I jump in my wife's Feelfree Moken and grab my Bending Branches Angler Pro paddle.  The Moken is narrower than my Lure and much easier to paddle.  It was my best chance of getting to these people and staying there if required.

Paddling vigorously, but calmly, towards the tubers I call out to ask if they are OK.  I can't tell by the scene.  They cannot hear me over the sounds of the river surrounding them.  Paddling closer I can see they are indeed in need.

I get closer to assess the situation.  It is a family of 5.  Two children, girls, about 12 and 15 years of age.  The older of the two is in the water, her grandfather holding her up against the current.  She was being pulled hard by the current and had ran into a rock or stump when she came off her tube.  Her tube is now deflated, caught on a stump just under the water.  Their tubes are tied together so the entire group is being held in the strong current with no escape and no life jackets.

While I'm assessing the situation, Chang was paddling his Feelfree Lure upstream, a difficult task in this fast current.  I call out to him and Stacy, who is watching the situation unfold from the bank, calling out any problems she can see.  I tell her to grab the spare life jacket we keep in one of the Lures and toss it to me.  Chang is able to strong-arm his way upstream and toss the life jacket to me as the current sweeps him away.

Handing the life jacket to the girl in the water, I tell her to put it on.  She puts it on backwards, the only way she can right now.  But it will do.  I try to free the tube from the stump but the current is too strong.  I'm holding onto the grandfathers tube while trying to pull on the snagged one.  I'm taking water over the side of my kayak.  The force of 5 people pulling on it via the current is too strong to free it.  The girl with the life jacket had bumped into something hard under water during the incident and was starting to panic about hitting something else if we freed them.

In an attempt to calm her down, I told her it was my only option and they would be pushed downstream to the corner where Chang and the couple in the Canoe were waiting to catch someone if needed.  She was still panicking about hitting something, so I told her to pick up her legs.  The water was deep her and that would keep her safe.  I knew in my mind a bump, bruise, laceration, or break was better than drowning.  And the party was only going to be able to hold onto her in this strong current for so long.

In addition to extra PFDs, we always carry extra safety gear on our kayaks.  Chang, Stacy, and I are all CPR/FirstAid certified.  I am also training to be an EMT.  We each have a Stohlquist SqueezeLock knife on the rail of our kayaks (Chang found out the sheath for them snaps perfectly into the Feelfree track so it is handy).  We also carry CPR masks, first aid kits, a Stohlquist throw bag, and other survival gear.  Today I'm glad we do.

The nylon ropes connecting the snagged tube to the rest of the group are openly exposed.  I can safely cut them without risking injury to the family.  I pull the blade out of the sheath and cut the first rope.  There is a brief jolt.  Before any nerves can set in with the family, I cut the second rope and they float free down current.

Looking back, I see Chang and the couple in the canoe on the corner ready to catch them.  Since I'm already upstream, I pull the limp tube off the stump and throw it on the deck of the kayak before turning around to check on the family.

At the corner, they are hanging onto the front of Chang's Lure.  He is back paddling, but 5 people against the current is abating his progress.  The couple in the canoe had thrown a life jacket to the other young girl in the group just in case she were to fall out.  As I was trying to figure out how to get these people to shore, one of the girls is able to touch bottom and walk.  I slide over the rail of the kayak and walk to them, grabbing the tubers, allowing Chang to reduce his paddling efforts.  I suggest the family come to the sandbar so we can check them out and let them collect themselves (and honestly me too because my adrenaline was on fire in my veins).  They thanked us profusely and insisted they were fine.  But they were now short one tube.

I suggested the girl most shooken up (the one stuck in the water) ride on the front of my Lure.  I explained the river was too dangerous to go without a craft.  Sharp rocks, holes, undercurrents awaited them on the brief float to the takeout.  She needed to be out of the water, especially shooken up and possibly injured.  The family agreed she should ride with me, I assured them my kayak had room and was plenty stable.

I had her get in the Moken as I pulled her along the shore back to my kayak where Stacy was waiting.  I got my tackle cleared off the deck area and had her sit on the front cooler on my Lure 13.5.  She tightened the life jacket and we pushed off.  Chang and Stacy were going to gather their things and follow behind.  I wanted to catch the rest of her family who were floating down river.  Unsure of their current state given adrenaline and fighting the current, I pulled my throw back from under the seat.  The girl and I rescued their cooler lid before reaching her family who were immediately concerned, asking where she got hit under water and if it still hurt.  Luckily it didn't and she was fine.

I tossed the family the throw bag and tied my end to the handle on my Lure.  The current by the takeout can be tricky, so I want to keep the family retrievable just in case.  Glad I did.

We did some chatting with the family on the short float to the takeout.  Talked about me training to be an EMT, owning a kayak fishing business, being a guide, etc.  The girl riding on my kayak is interested in going into medicine and asked a few questions.  The grandfather asked what I recommend for safety on the river.

I told them I always wear my life jacket.  And anyone that comes on trips with us is required to wear one.  Even the strongest swimmers are no match for Mother Nature.  I don't give people a hard time that don't choose to wear them, but if you are with us we require them (for safety AND insurance reasons).  We also have straight blades on us.  Which, I explained, is what I used to free them.  These are the minimum items I recommend on the river.  I told them even if they don't wear it, they should have life jackets with them in case this happens.  A river, no matter how shallow or visibly slow, can turn on you quickly.  They change constantly.  You never know what will happen.

As we near the launch, we have another situation.  The difficult current by the takeout takes them to the opposite side of a small island than I.  With some brute force, I was able to verify my kayak was securely tied to the throw bag line, get out, instruct the girl to stay on my kayak, and pull the other family members back around by my kayak.  One of the family members was able to get out and help.  The rocks here were shallow and jagged.  He suggested he walk back to the takeout, but I advised against it.

At this point Stacy and Chang had passed us and landed, ready to catch the family as we came around the corner.  They had sandals on and were able to safely walk on the jagged rocks.  The landing was mostly uneventful.  As Stacy called their ride back, we chatted.  They thanked us profusely, and we insisted we stay with them until they had a ride to make sure they were OK (and honestly it took a while for my adrenaline to wear off).

Their ride arrived shortly after.  They took some business cards, thanked us again, and went on their way.  These kind people send us a nice thank you card and a monetary donation.  Completely unnecessary, but very much appreciated.  We wanted the money to go towards further rescue efforts so it will be donated to our local EMS.

I didn't write this article for attention, thanks, etc.  It is in my nature to help people and react quickly, calmly.  I get that from my father.  I wrote this for those who say, "It won't happen to me." and "I'm a good swimmer.".  Please, at least have a flotation device within your reach if you don't wear it.  Get a nicer life jacket.  The inflatable ones and paddling-specific life vests are comfortable and easy to wear.

I personally want to thank my good friend Chang Lor and my wife Stacy.  They kept calm and in critical positions to make this rescue happen without further incident.  I want to thank Feelfree Kayaks for their ultra-stable platforms allowing me to paddle upstream then carry someone downstream to keep them safe.  Thank you to the folks at Bending Branches for making the best paddles on earth.  My Angler Pro paddle saved my life twice and now this family's.  Thank you also to Stohlquist Waterware for making great safety gear.  Chang, Stacy, and I wear their paddle specific life jackets.  They are effective and comfortable.  Our spare life jackets are also Stohlquist paddle specific.  Their SqueezeLock knife at the ready saved the day.  Ultra easy to grab, with a blunt tip for safety, and ultra sharp edges.  Without the knife, this rescue may not have happened.  And for their throw bag.  Small, easy to deploy, and strong.  It was critical in bringing the family back safely to dry land.

Don't let a beautiful day with your family turn into a tragic day permanently without.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

It Gets Better!?!? - The New Bending Branches Angler Pro!

It is no secret, I love my Bending Branches Angler Pro.  So much I got a second Pro Plus for paddling my narrower kayaks.  I even became a Bending Branches dealer through my new business, Small Craft Outfitters!

I have my Feelfree Lures and Bending Branches Angler Pros to thank for allowing me to paddle longer and safer.  They have saved my life once, and recently were critical in rescuing a family of 5 (another article coming soon on that adventure).

A beautiful Wisconsin paddle with a beautiful Wisconsin bass
I am lucky to live close to Bending Branches HQ in Wisconsin and made a trip to visit and pick up a customer paddle (yes, it is true they make all of the paddles by hand and to-order).  I was welcomed by an extremely talented, passionate, and kind group of people.  They were enthusiastic about the new paddles, talk to me about my new business, and went as far as asking if there is anything they could help me be successful.  I was completely taken back.  This is a giant in the industry with amazing values, I'm truly honored to be part of their Regional Ambassador Team and a dealer.  As a dealer, people always ask if the Pro is worth the money.  I tell them, "Paddle it and see.".  This will now hold even truer with this amazing new design!

I couldn't be happier with my Angler Pro, attention to detail they put into every paddle, and their amazing company values.  Until I caught a glimpse of the new Angler Pro.

Me smiling because of the new Pro paddle.....
oh, and the fish
First of all, this paddle is stunning.  Equipped with a carbon shaft and fiberglass blades, the new patterns are beautiful.  I found myself staring at it, the pictures do not do it full justice (I may have drooled a little too).  Hold the paddle up to the light and prepare to be amazed, again.  The patterns in the blade are unlike anything I've seen before in a paddle.  The passion and attention to detail is apparent from the first time you lay your eyes on it.  Then, there is the paddling experience.

I was given an opportunity to paddle the new Pro Plus, and I was blown away.  I hit the water with Bill from Bending Branches.  We each had our current Angler Pro Plus paddles and the new one.  I didn't think it got any better, but it did.  And I loved it, couldn't get enough.

Bill from Bending Branches pushing off a river sandbar
Anyone who has paddled the Angler Pro knows it slices through the water efficiently, with an amazing amount of ease.  The materials and design allow kayak anglers, such as myself, propel the larger fishing kayaks with ease.  Without it, my 13 straight hours on the water would not be possible.  Well, this new paddle, with adequate caffeine and toiletry supplies, is going to make me want to stay on the water for 24 hours straight.

I don't know how they did it, but the engineering geniuses at Bending Branches outdid themselves.  The new design slices through the water even better than the old model.  The best part is the silence and efficiency of the paddle pull.  The current Pro is quite quiet (even for paddlers like myself that do not use a "proper" paddling technique), but this new Pro is nearly silent.  Very little flutter, no sound of air rolling off the blade on the stroke.  I was blown away.  I paddled it for a while, fishing rods at the ready.  I was so taken back by the beauty and performance of this paddle, I forgot I was there to fish.

Bill from Bending Branches with his Angler Pro stowed,
using Drew Ross's Pro while Drew experiences the beauty
of the new Pro!  Check out Drew's review at his Looknfishy blog:
All of this and they somehow managed to reduce the weight AND price on the paddle!  My hats are off to the entire team at Bending Branches.  I am honored to represent them on multiple levels and can't wait to get my hands on a new pro of my own!

Along with this major announcement, Bending Branches also announced the new lower weights on their Pro and Ace models.  And they take it to the next level with the Bending Branches Angler Pro Carbon - it weighs in at 25.5 oz and is carbon fiber end-to-end!  Finally, they also announced the new lower price point of the Angler Classic.  These announcements make me excited for the year to come in the kayak industry!

Specs on the new Angler Series lineup:

NEW Angler Pro Carbon
• $399.95 (Snap) $424.95 (Plus)
• Weight: 25.5 oz
• Full carbon construction from tip-to-tip
• Same blade shape as the Angler Pro, but Compression Molded Carbon
• Available in lengths from 230-260cm in 10cm increments and in the Plus ferrule, 230-245cm or 240-255cm
Angler Pro
• New, lower price points! $299.95 (Snap) $324.95 (Plus)
• New patterns: Dorado, Radiant, and Raptor
• New, lower weight: 28.5 oz
• New, oversized blade shape and profile
• Available in lengths from 230-260cm in 10cm increments and in the Plus ferrule, 230-245cm or 240-255cm
Angler Ace
• New, lower price points! $199.95 (Snap) $224.95 (Plus)
• New, oversized blade shape
• New, lower weight: 30 oz
• Available in lengths from 230-260cm in 10cm increments and in the Plus ferrule, 230-245cm or 240-255cm
Angler Classic
• New, lower price points! $139.95 (Snap) $164.95 (Plus)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

All in the Family

Kayak fishing.  It brings you closer to the water and nature (figuratively and literally).  We love the challenge, the peace, the health benefits, and the thrill of the sleigh ride when we hook a big fish.  Something not considered/realized until you join/reach out to the kayak fishing community is the the brotherhood/sisterhood/family of kayak anglers.

When I joined the kayak fishing community, I expected it to be fun.  I never expected to be welcomed with open arms immediately, such an immediate positive response to my writing, being immediately considered a brother to my fellow kayak anglers, or the unparalleled amount of support given.

I have seen on countless occasions the kayak angler family come together to help others with questions, help locate a fellow angler's stolen kayak, or help fellow anglers in times of tragedy.  A time of tragedy is again among our family, and we need your help to bring this sense of family and support to a fellow member of the kayak angling family.

A very active member of the Mountain State Kayak Anglers, and the kayak fishing community as a whole, was killed in the line of duty.  Lt. Aaron Crook, a police officer and Marine Corps Veteran was recently killed in the line of duty.  Aaron was only 32 years old and left behind a wife and two young children.  The news of this took me back a bit, as a 32 year old father of two young children myself.  I can't imagine what that family must be going through.

Thus, I ask my readers kayak anglers, boat anglers, bank anglers, non-anglers, or whomever you may be, please help this family.  The Mountain State Kayak Anglers has gathered with the kayak angling, kayaking, and fishing vendors and communities to arrange a raffle to raise funds to go in a trust for Aaron's children.  If you can, please enter the raffle for an amazing cause with a great (growing) list of prizes!  Lets show Aaron's family that they are part of the kayak angling family and we got their backs.

You can enter the raffle here:

Get updates and more information on the fundraiser on the MSKA Facebook page here:

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Not Your Grandpa's Inline Spinner

When I was a kid, I remember my Great Grandpa telling me stories of fishing for Catfish and Musky on the Fox River in Illinois.  Some of the bait would be frowned upon today and would cause an uprising from PETA.  But in those times, it was as normal as a night crawler.  He used to tell me about some of the old lures they used.  Spoons and spinners.  Simple, flashy, effective.  To this day, though having more advanced engineering, materials, and manufacturing, just as effective.  My best fish have been caught on spinners.

I've always loved inline spinners.  The ones my Great Grandpa told me about, and we have all seen in magazines and on the interweb, are amazing.  Horse hair, a treble hook, a wire, and a hammered-out buffed piece of metal as a spoon.  Sure, lure manufacturers made some.  But in my Great Grandpa's youth, they didn't have the funds or supply chain to get things instantly.  Some made them in their machine sheds on the farm.  But they caught fish.  Without titanium, electronics, power anchors, topo maps, the Internet, etc.

Times change, and of course, society (and the fishing industry) changes with it.  Sometimes we see throwbacks, like bucktail/horsehair jigs being homemade by MLF/Bassmaster pros.  Now manufacturers are making more of those.  We've all used the variety of highly effective inline spinners like Mepps or Rooster Tails.  But every once-in-a-while, someone takes this time-tested design and changes it just enough to make the fish curious.  A hungry, curious, fish seeing an amazing action with a large profile ends up on the deck of my kayak.

I'm not talking about taking a standard plug, putting a flashy pattern on it, having marketing experts put it in fancy packaging, shipping it with an elaborate display to major retailers, and slapping a $30 price tag on it.  I'm talking about taking the effective design of a time-tested lure.  Making it stronger.  Making it present an amazing life-like action in the water, and fixing the things that make us pass over the older versions when browsing through our tackle boxes.  Enter a young man, a fellow Wisconsinite, 7 years of age, who got hooked on (pun intended) making lures and catching fish at the age of 4.  He comes up with this dream, now called the Lovertail 2.

The combination of Alex's amazing sales skills (I have witnessed them first-hand), the build quality, and in-water action of the Lovertail 2 in the water make this lure a hot item.  I happened to stumble across these amazing lures for the first time at a small bait shop called Bite-Me Baitshop in Mondovi, WI.  The beautiful colors and high-quality components of the lure caught my eye.  The owner told me Alex's story and I had to try one of each color.  To say the least, I'm glad I did.

I've since added several to my collection, and plan to add many more.  This year I was extended the honor of being their first pro-staff member.  I believed so much in their products, story, and mission that I had been previously promoting them without ask or expectation of anything in return.  These are truly amazing lures.  Their exploding popularity, expanding to small bait shops around the country, is a testament to that.  I often wait to get their latest-and-greatest lure because they fly off the shelves so quickly!

Initial glance at the Lovertail 2 and you may think its just another spinner.  I assure you it isn't.  These lures are hand-made by Alex, his dad, and friends/family.  They have only the highest quality components.  The skirts are top quality, landing me countless bass and pike with zero signs of wear.  And unlike the inline spinners of old, they are weedless without affecting hookup ratio.  The weedless design actually adds to the action of this lure.

Why do I believe in these lures so much?  The photo evidence is in this article.  Alex is a lure design genius with the support of an amazing family.  He is doing what he loves at an early age.  He creates highly effective, high-quality lures, and he and his family are some of the nicest people you ever meet.  They are doin' it right.  Add JBs FishSauce to their lures and you've got a deadly combination!  Check out James Gang Fishing Lures at!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wisconsin Fishing Opener 2017 Part 2

After a rough start to the 2017 Wisconsin fishing season in Part 1 of this story, I was out to redeem myself. My good buddy Chang Lor of suggested we start at a big lake then move to a body of water connecting two large lakes in Western Wisconsin.  A bit sore from the previous day, I'm running late and tell them to launch sans me.  I arrive at the launch on the big lake, go through my rigging exercise, and hit the water.

Eventually I merge with my fellow yakers and we hit a small area of the water.  Chang manages to haul in some bass.  I'm targeting crappie once I see the size of the slabs spawning in the shallows.  To make a long story short, the big crappie won't bite on anything.  They have other things on their mind.  I do eventually landing a few nice ones.  A bit later, we try the big water, but it is fruitless.  We opt to head to the smaller water.  Chang tells us stories of the amazing vegetation there, making it a frog heaven.  

I am closer to the launch, and slower to load up than the others, so I begin the paddle in.  A couple dozen heads of pan fisherman in aluminum boats turn as I paddle by in awe of my Feelfree Lure.  A short time later, I go through the land, load, and go process.  I opt to keep it simple for the next stop using only two rods.

After a short pit-stop for lunch and to fix Chang's brake light, we are at our destination.  On an old gravel road in an area that could have been used to film the movie Deliverance.  Nonetheless, we begin unloading whilst choking down our lunch and the clouds of dust we kicked up.

We launch in a small area.  The launch looks promising, a dirt launch for small craft.  The swamp surrounding smells of dirty diapers left in a gym locker.  Most would be repulsed and leave.  We comment on the stench, but understand this means cover for fish.

We go our separate ways in the open water.  I'm dreaming of topwater, so I'm watching my Garmin Striker's temperature reading like a hawk looking for roadkill.  It is still below 60, so I start with my search bait, a Northland Tackle Reed Runner.  I manage a few weak hits, but overall am fruitless.  Meanwhile, one of our buddies is landing bass non-stop on a rubber worm.  

At a loss in this odd water, I throw on some plastics.  But by this time, his plastic bite slowed and the weather is changing.  Frustrated, I go for broke.  My Garmin reads water temps just above 60.  Good enough for me.

I toss a Whopper Plopper 130 in Perch pattern alongside a few patches of floating vegetation.  The water depth is about 4-5 feet, with thick vegetation below.  The skies clear blue and the sun bright.  Other than the less-than-ideal water temps, a recipe for topwater.  Probably looked like a kid moving their controller while playing Mario Kart as I maneuvered the Whopper Plopper between the floating vegetation patches.  Then it hits!  

First topwater of the year!  Its a dink, about 12", but I celebrate as if I just got my personal best.  First topwater of the year!  I eagerly tie a frog on my other rod.  I only brought two rods.  Luckily one is my frogging rod, but I left my topwater ones in the rod tube.  But I make do with my spinnerbait rod as my Plopper rod.  I continue to work the area of patchy floating vegetation.  I'm getting hits, but they are short and weak.  I drool as the water temps continue to climb.

Getting frustrated with all the short hits, I decide to venture on.  My co-yakkers are long gone.  I spot the Lime Camo of Chang's Feelfree Lure in the distance and head that way.  While en route, I come across a small bay.  The wind is blowing all the floating vegetation into the bay.  I give my frog a toss, again getting short hits.  Though the vegetation is helping the sun heat the water quicker than the other areas.  

I head across to the other shoreline to chat with my buddies.  I let them know of my topwater success, they excitedly tie on topwater lures.  I suggest they follow me to the bay because the water on this side of the lake is still below 60.  They continue working the same shoreline, I head directly for the algae-filled bay with the determination of an Olympian on my face.  I'm going to get a fish via frog before I call it a day.

My efforts start slow.  I miss a few big hits in the brush near the bay.  Growing frustrated, I move within casting distance of the algae.  A short time later, I get my first solid frog hit.  But I was so excited, I set the hook too early and missed it.  But alas, the next cast, I landed my first frog fish of the season!  I excitedly continue tossing my River2Sea Spittin' Wa frog lathered in JBs FishSauce, trying to figure out the retrieval pattern they want today.

After landing another fish shortly thereafter, I find they prefer the slow roll retrieval.  I land a few more fish, but the bite suddenly stops.  I need to change it up, they are onto me.  I tie a Livetarget mouse onto my spinnerbait rod.  I long for my backup frog rod with 50lb braid, but this will do.  I land a few more fish on the mouse until it is stolen by what I assume was a large pike.  I silently curse myself for leaving my topwater rods behind and tie a smaller River2Sea frog on without the popper cup.  The popper is beginning to spook them.  

As I finish tying on the smaller frog, I notice my Garmin reporting a water temperature of 68 degrees!  Yes!  I manage several more bass, a few of them respectable, all of them a blast to catch.  Blue skies, warm temps, floating in my kayak, catching nice fish on frogs, with the smell of muck and algae around me.  I'm in my happy place.

After a while, and a few more fish, I have a problem.  Albeit a good one, disappointing nonetheless.  After a full day fishing the day prior, a full day today with a move between, and the number of fish landed this evening, I'm exhausted.  I miss several fish.  I try to blame the bite, but realize it is my inability to set the hook.  My hands and forearms are aching.  I take a moment to look around, enjoy the beautiful day, and decide to call it a day.

After taking a moment to enjoy the beautiful view of my kayak covered in algae and muck (a sign of a great day froggin'), I put away my rods, clean up my deck filled with lure candidates, lower my seat, and casually begin paddling in Chang's assumed direction.
I hadn't wandered terribly far from the swampy launch, so I take my time paddling.  Enjoying the the scenery of this small body of water connecting two large lakes, I appreciate the day.  A beautiful day, filled with great scenery, with good friends, ends with catching fish to the point of exhaustion.  This is what it is all about.

Chang and I rendezvous and chat as we paddle towards the stinking swamp launch awaiting us.  We both agree it was an amazing day on the water, no matter our level of success.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Wisconsin Opener 2017 Part 1

It has been a long Wisconsin spring.  We had a wide range of weather and temperatures.  Anything from 20 degrees to 80, sunshine to snowfall.  This has made the bite difficult to lock down.  Early in the season the pike bite was hot on spinners during their spawn.  The temps rose and I was able to boat over 40 bass and a nice 4.5lb bass in one day on PowerTeam Lures Grubs and the James Gang Fishing Lovertail2 both covered in JBs Fishsauce.  The two weeks following were slow when the water temperatures dropped back into the 40s with the cold temps.  I was able to coax a few bites, but not the hot pre-spawn bite while temps were on the rise.  The first weekend in May, Wisconsin Fishing Opener, a sacred day to some (myself included), was no different.

I'm still in winter sleep mode, my mind still sleeping late to avoid the bitter cold mornings from the Wisconsin winter.  To avoid side affects (severe irritability) I ease into my summer up-and-at-em-for-fishing sleep schedule by waking up at dawn.  This allows me time to get up, gather my things, get to my home reservoir, and get on the water before sunrise.  This also allows me to beat most to the water.  This opening morning, my brother-in-law is also joining me for his first time kayak fishing.  He is now using the first boat that started my Small Craft adventures, his dad's 12 foot flat bottom jon boat with an old MinnKota.  A fine fishing machine, but no Feelfree Lure.

We arrive at the reservoir, unload his mighty steed, a Feelfree Lure 11.5.  Instead of a MinnKota older than he, his boat will be propelled with a Bending Branches Angler Ace.  An efficient, light, paddle to make his adventure easier.  It also has a lure retriever built into the blade, which is a key feature for someone I've previously called "The Snagmaster".  We finish our rigging and start rolling the kayaks towards the water.

A short time later we are paddling towards the dam.  We always target the areas accessible by larger boats first.  Once they begin to flock after sunup and warmer air temperatures, we retreat to the shallows where they can't go.  I watch the temperature on my Garmin Striker like a hawk, hoping for that magical number, 60.  Typically topwater starts working when temps raise above that magical number.

While paddling to our destination, we are spooking several panfish.  Unsure of the bass bite this early in the reservoir, we brought our ultralight gear as a backup.  We toss small Rooster Tails out and my brother-in-law quickly starts pulling them in.  Though not massive, still fun and immediately gets the skunk off of the trip.

A short time later, we carry on to our planned location.  Our efforts using various spinners along the dam are futile.  We opt to try the other side of the lake.  The sun hits it first, and the wind is starting to pick up, perhaps the water temps and shelter from the wind will help.

We arrive at our destination, deciding to toss the Rooster Tails again we begin hauling in several panfish, both Bluegill and Crappie.  We catch two nice "eater" Bluegill and I toss them in my Lure 13.5's cooler.  The panfish bite slowly dwindles, so we try our hand at the shallows without success.

At this point, we both caught bass.  The biggest approximately 4".  We are glad to have been successful with panfish, but we know the caliber bass in this reservoir.  We are disappointed not to have been able to snag into some, so we mix it up and move to a bay on the opposite side of the lake.
At this point, it is 10 AM.  The sun is up, causing us to have already shed some layers previously worn to abate the chill of 38 degree morning.  To make a long story short, we were nearly skunked on good bass until my brother-in-law managed to pull out a nice largemouth.  His first on a Feelfree Lure, or any kayak for that matter.  His smile said it all.

The stability, comfort, portability, and other features of the Lure made him like it.  Catching a nice bass in the kayak made him fall in love.  The sport of kayak fishing is exploding because of this.  There is nothing like being one with the water, your gear, your "home" in the seat and on the deck of a kayak.  Then you feel that first tug of a large fish.  But this time it is different.  This time, your vessel is smaller.  It tilts ever so slightly during the bite, rocks gently during the hookset, and starts moving towards the fish during the fight.  There is nothing like it, and that is why we love it.  That is why I do it, why I share these experiences with you, and why I started a business to bring people this joy in the sport.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

KBF National Championship Recap

Man things are finally starting to settle down again.  Even though KBF NC was a few weeks ago things are just now beginning to go back to normal, just in time to pack up and head to Michigan in a couple weeks...  Any ways the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship and Open was one heck of a good time! I got to meet so many new people and hang out with some great friends from my personal club, Kayak Bass League.  Plus I got to fish one of the best bass fishing lakes in the nation, Kentucky Lake.
Captains Meeting

In case of the odd chance that you have never heard of Ky Lake...this place is huge.  Just think to go from the North end of the lake to Paris, Tn (weigh in location) was over an hour and a half drive....definitely don't want to paddle that!  I spent a whole week down there hanging with friends and of course fishing!  While practice had its ups and downs, I was having a great time!  Throughout the week we had rain, hail, wind and sun causing the bite to be all over the place!  Going into the tournament I knew I would need to find a good area to compete with the best.

This is one big lake with a lot of water to cover!
Throughout practice I found many good shallow bite areas that seemed to vanish as soon as they appeared.  Being a river system, I knew the bite could change quickly based upon how much current was being created by the dam, but I had no idea how to counteract that.  After 4 days of finding a shallow bite and watching it disappear the next day, I went exploring.  I found a ramp on my lake map while driving through the country... side note don't try it, its super unsafe but I had no cell service and was super lost...  I found an area that looked good when I got there and by looked good I mean there was no one fishing it with white caps rolling straight into the cove, sounds promising right?  Well I gave it the good college try, finding a fish on the three secondary points I fished.  I knew I had found a diamond in the rough but I still didn't have confidence in the deep bite.

Being as stubborn as I am started at my go to shallow spot to find it was dink city.  I caught my limit within 30 minutes, all the fish being from 9-12.5 inches...that's not gonna win anything!  I fished it hard till around 11:30 until I realized I needed to do something different.  I hauled it back to the ramp and loaded faster than I had ever seen and sped off to my deep spot I had no confidence in.  I rolled up and got the yak in the water to realize the wind was even worse.  I pulled out my Kistler Mag 2 MH with a 1/4 oz homemade shakeyhead with a june trick worm and went to work.  Right away I got on em!  I was about to make a run.  With only about 2 hours to fish at my new spot I culled my 40ish inch limit into 83 inches.  I was on cloud 9 about day one!  Plus I had finally gained some confidence in fishing deep!
There are some big bass on KY Lake

I started day 2 at my deep cove and immediately started on my favorite secondary point.  I knew the weather was going to be windy and overcast till about 10 or 11, helping the deep bite, so I had to get to work quickly.  I caught my limit within the first two hours and went to work culling.  I finally started to find some nicer fish in the 18 inch range.  Unfortunately I did lose a nice one, around 20 inches.  As the wind died and the sun came out the deep bite died.  I went searching with a jerkbait but couldn't find anything to help me.  I ended day 2 with 84.75 inches.  I was very happy with this, especially since I hit my area very hard on day 1.

Next came the results from the weekend.  While I didn't cash any position away...I was very happy with my finish.  I ended the national championship in 41st out of 359 anglers and in the open I managed 34th out of 326 anglers.

This whole week was an amazing time.  I was honored to be able to fish in the National Championship and to even be on the playing field with the sports best! I learned a lot and gained valuable deep water fishing experience!

I also would like to say thank you to all the companies that support me.  Kistler Rods helped me feel those light bites in white cap conditions.  Pline's 17lb tactical fluorocarbon helped me keep those fish pinned in deep water.  My Smith Optics helped keep my eyes protected and helped me see the fish before they saw me when fishing shallow!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Plea - Pine River Safety

Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water
Photo By: Pine River Trails and Recreation
Pesticides, roadways, pastures, etc.  Though inevitable, runoff is a reality in our water ways.  I'm not a "hippie" or "tree hugger".  I drive a Jeep, love my guns (have a CCW and carry one in my kayak), and do not have a compost pile in my yard.  But I'm a realist that loves the outdoors.  Runoff happens in our society, a fact of the evolution of society.  As an avid outdoorsman, professional kayak fisherman (who fishes tournaments, owns an outfitting company, is a guide, and a mentor to up-and-coming kayak anglers), I understand the importance of preserving our waterways for future generations.

Let alone environmental issues, there are enough waterway issues to make your head spin.  Where do we start?  We start with responsibility and mitigation.  This includes picking up your own garbage, picking up garbage of others you encounter on the water, and respecting the body of water you are on.  The last item has become a concerning issue in my hometown of Richland Center, Wisconsin where jet skiers have begun frequenting this narrow river.    

I now reside in Spring Valley, WI (between Menomonie and River Falls) where we are blessed with similar amazing river systems which frequent numerous tourists every year.  A motorized pleasure craft on the Red Cedar River or Kinnickinnic river would be obscene (though motorized fishing boats frequent the river without issue).  These narrow rivers are a haven for numerous wildlife, one of which is trout.  Trout, a draw for tourism, are sensitive to environmental changes.  A group of dedicated people in the Richland Center, WI area have gone to great lengths to fix and maintain this habitat which is now in danger of getting reversed.  

When I tell people I kayak and grew up in Richland Center, the instantly say, "I've paddled the Kickapoo!  I loved it!".  I agree, the Kickapoo provides an amazing waterway for anglers, paddlers, swimmers, campers, etc.  But I never hear anything about the Pine.  They were finally starting to move the Pine in the right direction to get "on the map" as a paddling destination, jet skiers are now putting that at risk.

My parents own a large motorized boat, they used to have jet skis which I thoroughly enjoyed on numerous occasions.  But there is a place for pleasure craft.  That is on larger bodies of waters capable of handling the wakes and traffic.  Running a jet ski (or any motorized pleasure craft creating a wake) on a river as narrow as the Pine is reckless and irresponsible.  

Should someone encounter a canoe, kayak, tube, or any other watercraft around a blind corner there is a high risk for collision.  This is why any fishing boats I encounter on the Red Cedar River are motoring no-wake.  Peaceful coexistence.  Let alone the human safety issues, there is an ecological impact having pleasure craft on this small river.

I frequently fish the sloughs of the Mississippi in Nelson, WI.  This beautiful area is covered in countless acres of water, beautiful bluffs, and amazing wildlife.  It also houses an amazing fishery.  You'll find this area filled with a variety of craft: canoe, kayaks, jon boats, fishing boats, large bass boats, air boats, and even hover craft.  But even in this large area, the narrow spots of the sloughs are marked no-wake because of the ecological impact of wakes and fast-moving motorized craft.

The motorized craft in shallow, narrow areas stir up the dirt and cause major erosion in the channel.  The wake causes erosion on the shore.  Yes, the water naturally erodes the shoreline and channels, but motorized craft exponentially speed this process if proper caution is not given to the area.  Let alone the safety issues for the motorized craft running these areas at high speed.  This can cause significant damage to the watercraft and/or injury/death to those on it.

This is not about spoiling someone's fun.  Yes, I would love to run a jet ski on the Pine.  I thought it was funny the first time I heard of it happening (assuming it was an early season one-time deal to get things ready for the season).  But to allow this to continue is irresponsible.  Running any motorized craft on that river, other than at no-wake speeds, is like allowing ATV traffic on the Elroy-Sparta bike trails year-round. 

As an avid kayak angler and EMT trainee, I am deeply concerned with this activity which can either be made no-wake or taken to a larger body of water.  Watercraft do not have brakes and human-powered craft have limited maneuverability.  I don't want to hear of ANYONE (kayaker, canoer, tuber, boater, jet skier) being injured or killed because of these activities.

Thus, as a friend, family member, and native of Richland Center, I ask those partaking in the activity make it no-wake or move to larger water.  I ask paddlers to stay off the river until they do.  And I call on local DNR and law enforcement to do what is right and make this a no-wake area.  I can't imagine responding to an EMS call involving a collision on that small river.  And I can't imagine telling a family member they lost a loved one enjoying one of their favorite pass-times whether it be boating, kayaking, jet skiing, canoeing, tubing, or floating down a river with a cooler full of beer in arm floaties.

My friends, family, and community members in the Richland Center, WI area, please be safe.  I know and love some of the people partaking in the jet ski activities. I beg you, please move on from this.

Tyler Thiede
A Proud Richland Center Native


Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Itch

For those of us in the north it is inevitable.  Winter hits, water turns to ice, and our kayaks are put away to hibernate for the winter along with our souls.  This winter, I would open up the shed to sneak a peek and say hello to my Feelfree Lure and Bending Branches Angler Pro whilst they slumbered.  A tear would drip from my eye and instantly freeze.  Head hanging low, I shut and locked the shed before retreating to the warmth of the house.

A couple ice fishing trips slightly abated the urge to hit the water.  It at least gave me an opportunity to wet a line and land some fish.  But the odd weather this winter ranged from dangerously cold to dangerously warm.  This made for tough and/or unsafe ice conditions.  I was unable to get as much time on the "hard water" as I would have liked.  Still, I had to scratch the itch to fish.

I was able to accomplish this by stocking up for the upcoming season and the first season for Small Craft Outfitters, my new kayak sales/guide business.  Things were looking promising when we hit 60 degrees in February, unheard of in Wisconsin.  But, alas, the temperatures again fell, ice conditions were unsafe, and the urge to hit the water continued to grow.

My good buddy Chang Lor of (and a Small Craft Outfitters Fishing Guide), conspired to do something crazy.  We were willing to scoot our kayaks across thin ice to get to open water at a local lake.  My wife wasn't thrilled about the adventure, but understood my need to float.

We reached out to our local kayak fishing buddies (and a new one from "Vikingland" aka Minnesota).  They were also willing to do the scoot, but our buddy John from the Wisconsin Kayak Fishing Club found an open body of water part of the Chippewa River system.  A much safer option, we chose the longer drive over the sketchy ice scoot.

Our new friend from Minnesota meets at my house, closest to the unholy "Vikingland".  We then drive east, meeting Chang to officially start our official Feelfree Convoy.  We meet at John's place while he loaded up his yacht (Hobie PA 14) and then caravan to the launch.  We are all smiles.  I have to admit, I giggled with joy when pulling into the lot.  The snow in the lot was deep enough to hit my rocker panels on my car.  But I was going kayak fishing for the first time in months!  First time yakin' this year, first time on the water in months, and all but one of us are embarking on the maiden voyage of our kayaks (three of which are Feelfrees).

Some of us feel a bit lost.  Its been months since we performed our rig-and-launch routines.  And we all have new tackle, riggings, and boats.  It took a while for us to get our boats to the launch, but eventually were successful, took the first group launch photo of the year.  During our rigging and this key photo-op, several people drove through the area staring.  A local old-timer stopped, rolled down his window, and hollers, "Whatcha fishin' for!?".  I reply, "Whatever is biting.".  He chucked and said, "I like that.  I have lived here all of my life and have never seen a lineup like that!" referring to us standing like knights in front of our new molded steeds.  He wished us well, gave us a friendly wave, and drove off.  We unceremoniously mounted our steeds and pushed off.  Grinning from ear-to-ear.

The air temperature was warm, but the skies were cloudy and the wind strong.  Strong enough to blow us upstream in this pool of the river.  But we were all happy to be floating again. My first real cast of the season was directly into a tree.  I underestimated the amazing casting distance my new Ardent Apex Elite reel, McCain LineCutterz Kayak Series rod, and Seaguar Invizix line was capable of.  I launched a jerkbait directly into a tree.  I grunted in frustration while laughing.  I was hoping to get the misfortune out of my system quickly while I was impressed with the performance of my new equipment.

Our group continued to paddle against the wind upstream.  We had whitecaps from the wind at our bows.  I laughed at them while alternating between my PowerTeam Lures Sick Stick, Northland Tackle Reed Runner Magnum Spinner (hoping for Musky/Pike), and my jerkbait.

I got a few hits on my jerkbait, and a buddy got a few hits on some finesse plastics.  Unfortunately, our minds and bodies were more excited than the fish in the 32.5 degree water.  Our buddy John, in his new Hobie
PA14 was flippering all over the place with a gigantic smile on his face.  We all had smiles.  New boats what we were more than pleased with, floating for the first time in months, and in good company.

In the end we got skunked.  It happens, but we didn't care.  As we said at the takeout, we would rather get skunked now when we were learning our new gear.  We don't want to learn our new gear when we gotta worry about catching fish.

It was an amazing day, with amazing friends (including one new friend), what more can you ask for given the conditions.  Good friends, new friends, floating, and fishing!  An amazing day on the water!  Stay tuned as this was the last day of bass/pike/a few other species season in Wisconsin for most inland waters.  Thus, we hit the Mighty Mississippi soon for some Whatever Bites!

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Best Kayak Fish Finder Battery!

12v 10,000mah Lithium Battery vs. 12v 4amp SLA Battery

One of the most essential kayak accessories is a fish finder.  A fish finder allows you to a lot of knowledge on the water such as depth, water temp, structure, and even fish.  Some fish finders also have GPS features that can help keep you safe on the water.  These units range from 3-10 inches, I'm sure somebody has gone bigger but not that I have seen...yet.  The one trick with these units is on a kayak you need a power source that isn't as big as the yak!  Bass boats have the luxury of being able to hold multiple 12v 30-50 amp batteries.  In a kayak you need a battery that has a lot of power in a small size.  Currently there are two major options for batteries, Sealed lead Acid (SLA) batteries and Lithium batteries.

Now before we get into talking about the differences between SLA and lithium batteries, a very common question is what battery do I need?  What I say is to look at what that the amps per hour that particular unit draws.  This is usually estimated at the highest power draw.  This number can help give you an estimate of how many amps your battery needs to be.  The most common size is usually a 12v 8-10amp battery.  This seems to work well with both the smaller and bigger units.  Now to the differences in battery type.

The most common battery in the kayak industry is the SLA battery.  The one benefit of a SLA battery is that they are cheap!  Great deals for these batteries can be found and your kayak can be wired up for under $50.  With that does come some downfalls of SLA batteries.  The first downfall is they are big and heavy.  One 12v 10amp SLA battery can weigh up to 10lbs per battery.  Throwing 3 of three of these into your kayak, depending on the kayak can hurt the carrying capacity of the yak and throw off how the boat is trimmed in the water.  The second downfall is that SLA drastically lose power in cold weather.  If you fish in cold weather plan on bringing several batteries or not using the electronics.
12V 4amp SLA is large, bulky, and heavy
The final drawback of SLA batteries is their life cycle.  Many of these batteries are not deep cycle and aren't meant to be drained till dead.  Additionally as a SLA battery loses amps the voltage will drop.  For most fish finders when this voltage drops below 12V it is no longer usable until it is recharged.  Also don't expect many SLA batteries to last more than a few seasons.
      Positive: Lots of power for the money
      Negatives: Heavy, not good in cold, short shelf life, and the voltage can drop below 12V

The new upcoming batteries in the marine industry is Lithium batteries.  There are many different kinds that are up and coming such as Lithium Ion, Lithium Iron, and Lithium Phosphorous.  Basically they are very similar just different formulas to generate power.  The benefits to lithium batteries in kayaks are plenty.  The first is that they are very small and lightweight.  This crucial when weight is an issue on a kayak.  Plus with their small size they can be stashed anywhere.
12V 10,000mah is small, light, and powerful
Only around 5 in x 3 in x 1 inch and less than a pound.
The second is that they provide 12v until the battery is completely depleted meaning you will get 100% performance until the battery dies.  The third major benefit is that there is a lot less drain in cold weather compared to SLA.  The fourth benefit is that these batteries are good for hundreds to thousands of charges meaning less batteries to be bought.  Now for the downsides!  The first downside is the price, these batteries are SUPER expensive, meaning a large upfront cost.  The second downside is that some lithium batteries have a risk of fire but in recent years companies have taken many safety precautions to prevent this.
     Positives: Light, small, all 12V, no cold weather battery loss, and longer shelf life.
     Negatives: EXPENSIVE and must take precautions for battery safety

Now that was a lot!  So I am gonna give you my recommendation on what I have been using! I personally use an external laptop battery charging pack that has a 12v output.  I have had great success with these.  I own two and one will power my Garmin Echomap Chirp 73sv for about 5-6 hours.  I found it on amazon and it provides 12v with 10,000ma. here.  As long as you can crimp marine connectors you can wire it up!  Its super simple, but if you have any questions feel free to ask!
 It cost me in total around $120 and has held up through all the abuse I have put it through.  Additionally it has usb ports already wired into it for charging my phone and it has a built in draw cut off that keeps the battery from being overdrawn and shorting out.  You can find it

The upfront cost of lithium batteries can be very daunting but if you can swing the fee, there are major rewards with it. Bioenno and Nocqua that are directly marketed at kayak fisherman.  Also don't be afraid to rock a SLA battery if it fits your.  They are dirt cheap they get you out on the water.  I hope this helps answer any kayak electronic battery questions you might have.  If you have any questions shoot a comment below or message me on facebook and I can help in anyway possible!
Battery box, both batteries give me a combined 10-12 hours of power.
12v output port for powering and 12v input for charging.
 Plus there are many manufacturers such as

Thanks for reading along and Tight Lines,

Patrick "Pooti" Tharp

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

From Bass fishing to Bowfishing

Two weekends ago was beyond busy...busy with fishing!  With the recent warm weather than we have been having I knew it was time to break the cabin fever.  It also meant I finally get to take my brand spankin new Hobie Pro Angler 14 out.  I was like a kid in a candy store as I spent all week getting it rigged up for its first voyage.
Ain't she beautiful!
Now that the pre-excitement stage has been the good stuff!  Sunday is when all the adventuring began.  I was meeting quite a few KBL members and other area kayak fisherman at Coffeen Lake, a local power plant lake in Southern-Central IL, for a preseason shootout (aka a friendly competition).  The day began for me around 3:30 a.m.  Even though it's only an hour and a half drive and we were meeting at 6 a.m., I could not sleep any longer! I was so excited to try out my new yak!  I paced as the coffee machine slowly but surely poured my caffeinated jolt that would get me to the boat ramp.  As I made my drive down their the fog was so bad that I drove the hour and a half with my eyes glued to the 10ft of visibility that I had.  As I arrived, I went milled around mingling with all the fellow anglers, but my heart was yearning to put the yak on the water!  Once everyone got their we finally pushed off from shore.  I adjusted my pedals and finally began taking in my new kayaking experience...HANDS FREE!..believe me, it makes a world of a distance!  As the day continued, I began to get to work and put fish in the boat.  I managed to catch somewhere between 20-30 fish throughout the day.  With my best 5 going 72.5".  Most came on a neko rigged Zoom Trick Worm, fished on a Medium Fast Kistler KLX spinning rod, teamed up with 15lb P-line  TCB 8 Hi-Vis Braid, with an 8lb Tactical Fluorocarbon leader.  A few others came off a shad patterned squarebill and a swing jighead with a Missile Baits Crawfather.  While it was a dink fest most of the day, I did managed one nice kicker fish!  Plus it gave me a good photo-op to show off the new 2017 jersey.

As the day came to an end, I expected to go home and relax while grilling out...  This soon become a daydream as I got that classic text I always love "bowfishing?".  Now there is only one correct way to answer this and that is YES!!!  Now I know some don't care for the act of killing carp in the act of pure fun, but in the lakes we go are infested with them, so please don't think any less of me.  While I do kill them for fun, my collegiate education in conservation biology knows it's beneficial for the environment.  Plus don't knock it until you try it because it's a ton of fun!  It was a fun, warm night out there, can't complain when its upper 50's at night in February!  We ended up shooting 27 fish between the three of us that went, not a bad night at all!  
Don't worry we properly disposed of the carp!
As I finally got home around 3am, it ended my 23 hour fishing excursion.  While it was one very very long day, it was a great day of fishing.  Many bass were caught and many carp were shot, testing both outdoor aspects that I love very much.  I can't wait for more days just like this in this coming spring and summer!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Making Your Own Path in the Fishing Industry

The sport of fishing as we know it continues to grow exponentially.  Fly fishing, bank fishing, float tubes, jon boats, kayaks, canoes, bass boats, paddle boats, arm floaties, pontoons, mom and dad's speed boat, decked-out bass boats, etc.  As the vessels and technologies of each advance, we see the sport continually evolving.  Beyond the type of vessel/method you use, our sport has evolved even further.  We have tournament fishing, leisure fishing, fishing-when-the-wife/husband-lets-me, guiding, social media fishing.  Tournament fishing is spreading like wildfire (in a good way) thanks to technology, such as TourneyX.

The social media fishing scene also evolves constantly.  Prostaff applications now ask for your YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, blog, website, and related information.  Some choose to use all of these platforms, some focus on one and supplement with another.  I focus on the blog/writing and Facebook, using YouTube and Instagram as an additional tool.  No matter your path, some find it difficult to find their own path in the sport.  I hope my experience helps you find your path.

In my experience, it is a delicate balance.  Diving into too many types can lead to excessive stress and burnout.  I am a bass boat/leisure-craft/jon boat fisherman turned kayak fisherman.  The kayak is affordable, low maintenance, has endless possibilities, allows me to rooftop on my car.  It has also got me on the biggest fish of my life.  Last year I wanted it all: a blog, a YouTube channel, Instagram, Facebook, tournaments, guiding, etc., etc., etc.

When I landed two epic bass over 6 lbs. last fall (epic by Wisconsin standards), I drove hard into the tournament fishing.  I was spending every hour after work and on the weekends fishing.  It quickly became a job.  I personally think there is a fine line between a career, a passion, and a job.  I never want to cross any of those lines, especially with my passion.  When I pushed one of my types of fishing too hard, my passion started showing signs of a job (exhaustion, lack of interest, etc.).  My wife noticed it too.

This is when I stopped to think what I wanted out of the sport.  I love writing, sharing my adventures and knowledge.  I love teaching people how to fish.  I love the leisure part of fishing.  I love tournament fishing, but get stressed if I push it too hard.  I thought about my priorities and passion.  In what order do I love these things about the sport?  I have a stressful day-job (IT Consultant), so the leisure aspect is most important.  A close second is writing and teaching others.  Third was the competition and tournaments.

I sat down with my wife and discussed these priorities.  She told me, "Don't let your hobby be your job."  It was clear my personality, day job, and family life did not cater to hardcore tournament fishing.  But thanks to TourneyX and KBF, I can still participate without pushing it too hard.

If I can find a way to make a career (key word career - not job) out of my hobby, that would be perfect.  But balance is key.  My wife and I discussed and decided my personality and passion would cater well to a guide/retail business in the industry.  I also love writing.  I do enjoy the tournaments, but need my passion to focus on the teaching/guiding/writing with the tournaments a bonus.  Enter my plan.

First, I continued sharing my stories through written word here on Small Craft Fisherman.  I am privileged to have the following I have.  I truly appreciate my readers allowing me to take control of their imagination for a short while, sharing my adventures and knowledge.  Secondly, I wanted to start a business.  Not an easy feat, and not for everyone.  But my day job pays the bills and I am relatively young.  Why not give it a shot?

Enter Small Craft Outfitters LLC.  I filed for the LLC, the EIN, state licenses, DNR licenses, built a website, social media, etc., etc., etc.  I've been blessed to have several top-notch companies in the industry agree to work with me in this adventure.  I personally use and fully support all brands we sell.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  We are starting small out of a home office to keep overhead low, but will be focusing on guided kayak fishing adventures.  We will also offer for sale all the products and brands we use for these adventures.  It is much easier to sell products we personally stand behind.  But I digress.

The goal of this story is to help you decide what time of fisherman/woman you are.  We can't all be Drew Gregory or Chad Hoover with shows/brands/YouTube followings/etc., we can't all be Ike and KVD with a laundry list of tournament wins under our belts, and we can't all be a writer/publisher like Chris Payne from Kayak Bass Fishing Magazine/Kayak Bass Fishing Blog.

Instead of trying to be like these giants in the industry, find your own way.  Just like they did.  Stop and think what drives you, what your strengths are, and what works for your current personal situation.  If your current situation doesn't allow for you to follow the path you prefer/excel at, draft a plan to get there.  As they say, "KBF wasn't build in a day.".....errrr was it Rome.....  Anyways, find your own path, follow your own dreams, your own way that works for you and your family.  If you don't stress over it and understand what you want you will find success while still enjoying the sport you love.  Trying to be like someone else will always lead to stress and burnout.  Your passion for the sport will become a job and your overall stress levels in life will skyrocket.

I am by no means a giant in the industry, nor do I want to be.  I just want to do what I love while helping others along the way.  If you are considering getting into the blogging, social media, or any aspect of the sport and would like some advice, I am more than happy to help where I can.  Drop me a line at

Tight lines my friends.