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The Truth About Rivers, Kayaks, and Bass

A fictional story by a mystery GRFer

    You may have heard how great kayak fishing is somewhere, maybe even this site.  But, allow me to enlighten you on the realities of yak fishing with this fictional story, based on true experiences from the river.

    One shoalie, two shoalie, three shoalie….ZZZZZzzzzz.  After falling asleep counting these shoal bass I had heard so much about, I finally woke up at 4am and headed off on my first kayak fishing trip with my old college bud, Frank.  I had to drive two and a half hours to get to the river and upon arrival Frank tells me that it was now time to drive another 45 minutes round trip for the shuttle – joy.  Finally, time to get on the river, right?  Sorry, this is not a bass boat where all your gear is perfectly stored inside and you can just launch and go.  Nope, it is time to spend another 15-30 minutes rigging seats, tackle, extra storage items, rods, PFDs, food, drag chains etc.  Finally I have the opportunity to drag my boat down the rocky bridge pilings and into the water.  Ah, time to relax and wet a line – or is it. 

   My buddy tells me that we have to paddle now, in order to make up time so we don’t get caught in the dark later.  Just great, more work.  After 45 minutes of straight paddling, I finally get the go ahead to wet a line, only four and a half hours after I started my journey this morning.  This is the same kayak fishing I have heard so much about?  Hmmm.

    Frank caught a few fish here or there, but the fish just weren’t on yet.  The hot summer sun was beating down on us harder than the Steelers beat down on the Seahawks.  We decided to take a break and eat some lunch to refresh our moods.  I was told, “Hey, sometimes it is just like this.”  This was a new stretch of river for my partner and I, and at the beginning of the day he had told me, “When doing a new stretch you can either hit gold or hit a lump of coal.”  I was starting to think that maybe we had hit the black stuff on this day.  “Lunch is over,” Frank said, “time to keep moving.”  Time to put on my hard-hat and head back into the mine – I was still eager to strike gold, a “green and gold thigh,” that is (Editor's note: A "green and gold thigh" is GRF parlance for a really big shoal bass).   

    As we looked downstream, our eyes gazed across a landscape dotted with islands and tumbling shoals.  Maybe this is where things would pick up for us.  Frank called out, “These are the shoals we have been waiting for, follow me.”  Well, I tried to follow him down this one shoot of rapids, but my yak hit a rock and I headed down sideways.  In the midst of the chaos my mind drifted back to my kayak lesson earlier that day, where the last thing Frank had told me was, “Whatever you do, don’t go down a rapid sideways!”  Kerplunk, I was down for the count.  My gear was all over the river and the yard sale was on.  After recovering what we could, I ended up losing a rod and reel, some tackle and I ruined my digital camera and scale!  I figure I lost about $300 with that graceless spill.  As I sat on the rock, wet, tired and defeated, I muttered to myself, “So this is kayak fishing.”

    I could tell Frank was not enjoying himself because he so desperately wanted me to enjoy myself.  He lent me another rod and reel and tried to console me by telling me, “it happens to everyone at some point, it is part of yak fishing – you gotta take the good with the bad.”  I couldn’t help but think, “What good?”  Anyway, I was a trooper and put the hard hat on once more and headed back into the mine to find that gold.  Frank noticed a small side channel that looked inviting and said, “Hey, why don’t we go down this small channel, sometimes those fish don’t get pressure and can be easier to catch.”  Sure, why not, it couldn’t be any worse then the main river was.

    The channel was narrow, but looked like it had possibilities.  Frank immediately hooked into a nice two and a half pound fish.  He turned to me and said, “see, there are fish in here after all.”  My hope was renewed once again.  I saw an awesome looking spot right at the trunk of a big tree that had branches overhanging down into the river in front of me.  I thought, “If I can just get a cast in there before I float by I could hang into a fish.”  “Sploosh,” the cast was perfectly laid in there and sure enough – WHAM – the fish nailed it.  The fight was on!  This was a nice fish and it wasn’t coming in very easy.  I looked ahead only to see that I was less than a foot away from crashing into the overhanging branches.  I had no time to do anything.  I had two hands on a rod fighting a fish, so I just covered my face the best I could and smashed into the branches.  My other rods were all tangled up and I had scrapes all over me, but Frank kept yelling at me, “Don’t lose that fish, it could be a four pounder!”  From what I have heard, fighting a 4lb shoalie is hard enough as it is, but add in the fact that I was smashed into a thicket and I really had my hands full.  The line and rod where impossible to control and the fish decided to reveal herself with a glorious golden jump right in front of us.  Yes, I indeed had a big fish on the line.  However, as quickly as I hooked her and ended up in the tree, she jumped again and threw the bait right back at me – ouch man, very ouch.  I was left with all the “clean up on isle mine.”  I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I have never been uncontrollably smashed into a tree in my bass boat.”  After finally getting untangled from the spider web of a mess I was in, I half jokingly asked Frank, “So, why are we in these kayaks again?” 

    I was beat, and what came next didn’t help things.  Frank sighed and said, “We’ll have to get out and portage over this deadfall.”  Deadfall?  What is that?  I finally figured it out as I rounded the corned to see a fallen tree blocking the entire channel.  Urggg!  After about eight or nine of these “Deadfalls,” we finally made our way back into the main river channel. 

    Frank told me that we would need to paddle for about 30 minutes in order to make up the time that was spent dragging over those “deadfalls,” or, lumps of coal, as I called them.  My back was aching and my arms and shoulders were tired.  That was the slowest 30 minutes of my life, but we finally made it through.  It was almost 5pm at this point and I still had not brought a fish to the boat.  I dreamt of how many bass I could have already caught in the lake where I had marked brush piles that lay in 20-40 foot of water.  I have had days on the lake where I sit comfortably in my padded seat and caught 30-40 fish.   

    We came upon another set of shoals and this time my heart rate rose again.  I followed Frank down the rapids successfully and was ready to catch my first fish.  There were some nice eddies below the rapids and a well-placed cast triggered a bite from something.  I set the hooked and yelled to Frank, “I got one!”  I reeled the fish up to the yak and swung it in, it was a redbreast.  I looked silly getting so excited about a redbreast, but at least the skunk was off.  After a short rest and a quick bite to eat on the rocks, I decided to pick up my fly rod to try and catch anything that would eat a wooly bugger – everything bites a wooly bugger.  I’d take a creek chub at this point, I was desperate for anything.

    I threw that bugger until my arm fell off and never got the first bite.  Another hour had past and the sun was setting on our flow.  The exhaustion of the day’s experiences had taken a toll on us and we decided to quit fishing for a while and float down the river.  I could only do this for about 10 minutes before I realized how much my back was aching.  I continued to cast in order to take my mind off of the aches and pains.  It was almost 7:30pm and Frank thought we were fairly close to the take out.  I sure hoped so because I had had it with this trip.  7:45, no take out.  8 pm, no take out.  8:15, and still no take out.  Frank says, maybe we ought to paddle a bit.  I suppose we better turn our headlamps on and forget about finding (green and) gold, and just look for the exit to this endless coal mine.  8:30 rolls around and the sky is starting to look pretty dark.  “I swear we should have been to the bridge by now,” Frank says.  I don’t say a word in an attempt to not make a bad situation worse.  There were plenty of things I could say and wanted to, but I knew they would not help.  Still, I couldn’t help but think of all the brutal ways I could destroy these god-awful vessels we were sitting in.  Hmm, a chainsaw could really do some damage.  What about fire?  I could melt this thing down like the wicked witch that it was.  What about throwing it off a cliff?  Yea, that would really crack this thing up.  What about those machines that you throw whole logs into and it spits them out into wood chips?  It is amazing what the mind wonders off to after a long day on the water.  Still, anything to keep my brain off the reality that was, us paddling down a river in the dark.  Finally we heard the sounds of cars crossing the bridge and were able to breathe a sigh of relief. 

    There was a light under the bridge and knowing how panfish are always attracted to such a place I flew that wooly bugger in there for one last cast.  Wham, fish on!  I stripped him back to the boat and realized it was a small bass.  Frank laughed and sarcastically said, “See, isn’t this great!”  I couldn’t help but laugh a little too.  It is amazing what catching one little fish can do for a guy’s mood.  Then, I noticed the fish had some funny markings that I was not used to seeing.  I showed it to Frank and he confirmed I had caught my first shoal bass.  I had counted many more than one while falling asleep the night before, but I’ll take it.

    Well, that good feeling didn’t last long as cleaning out the yaks and loading them on the boat revealed to both of us just how beat we were.  Approximately 30 minutes later we were on our way upstream to get my truck.  After getting there Frank assured me that this was just a rare off day and that I will have to give it another try before I write it off. 

     My eyes drifted shut on several occasions as I drove the two and a half hours home.  I finally got showered and in bed by 1am and my wife wakes and says, “So, how was it?”  All I could say at that moment was “I’m beat.  I’ll tell you all about it in the morning sweetie.  All I can say now is, I don’t understand why anyone would do that again?"

     Although the story is fiction, all the kayak-fishing situations are based on true experiences that have happened to myself or some of my yak-fishing partners.  Although I, or my river partners have never experienced all of those obstacles on one trip, they have all been experienced at one time or another.

    To answer the question at the end of the story – Who would want to do that, again? 

    I would, and I can’t wait to do it again.  It takes a rare, sick breed to want to kayak fish in our nation’s rivers.  You either fall in love with it and develop a passion, or you are like the man in the story and despise it.  It isn’t easy fishing by any means, and there are many days like the one described in the article.  River fishing is the ultimate unknown – especially a new stretch of water.  However, there are days where all things go right and 4lb fish are landed, while being thrown into a tree or washed downstream in rapids.  Understanding the difficulty of kayak fishing in moving water is what makes the 4lber that much more satisfying when it is brought to hand.  Without the sour, the sweet just wouldn’t be as sweet. 


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