A Kayak Angler’s Work Ethic
From the moment I stomped on the parking break to when that same foot shoved off for a full day of kayak fishing, I was hustling.
Unfortunately, my buddy who got to the ramp before I did was still screwing with his gear. "Hold on man, I need to tie on this leader!" he called out as I made my first cast. I thought about waiting for something less than a millisecond then shouted back, "Meet me at Harner's Cove!"
An angler's most valuable resource is time on the water, specifically time with your line in the water.
The anglers I know who catch the most and biggest fish understand this in a functional sort of way. Anything that keeps them from that is a problem. My friends leader needing to be tied on is an excellent example of a preventable problem. It should have been tied the previous night.
Pre-trip gear organization is an angler skill just as much as pattern development or being able to detect a subtle jig bite. My vehicle is usually packed and ready mid week. I empty and repack my tackle to match the target species as well as the expected water conditions. For instance, if Saturday's forecast is sunny and 84, but thunderstorms are expected Thursday and especially Friday evening, I know to throw the tackle tray that has rattle traps, as well as some dark colored soft plastics with rattles. Those expected muddy water conditions may not materialize, but I'm prepared for them.
Rods also need to be looked over well in advance of arriving at the launch. I tend to put my gear away in a heap, late in the day, not to be messed with until the following Tuesday or Wednesday. At that time, I will find leaders with nicks needing to be replaced. A reel with a loose screw or a loose guide may need some repair. My time is better spent on this mid-week, not on Saturday when my time matters the most.
Another facet of rod preparation is having multiple rods at the ready. I fell into the habit of carrying more rods than a porcupine has quills when I was guiding. It was easier to just hand a client a rod with the right lure on it, than to dig through tackle boxes to locate, extract and tie on said lure. Down time.
I'm all for simplicity if it works in your fishery. Some places, like the Chesapeake Bay don't require a great variety of lures. The Striped Bass are likely to hit a jig and soft plastic near the bottom, a topwater popper, or some sort of hard jerkbait in the middle of the water column. But on the Susquehanna River, certain baits excel in certain seasons and water conditions. Being able to put a spinnerbait followed by a suspending jerkbait, followed by a crankbait, followed by a soft plastic on bottom in rapid succession to a spot that you know holds fish allows you to hone in on today's pattern faster. Have one of each of your set of confidence lures at the ready.
If you don't have them at the ready, or if the lure you use is one that frequently breaks off, how long does it take you to retie? Here's an example of how I feel I do this right when jigging for striped bass, but didn't always. I put a set of a dozen or more pre-rigged soft plastic jerkbaits on 1 oz jigheads in pool noodles, cut in half and strapped in with deck rigging bungee, right below my legs. The spool of 30 lb flourocarbon leader material is right there in that front well along with a set of long nose pliers. I don't have to turn around, dig through my YakAttack BlackPak to get each item. I break off, and assuming if I need to retie the whole leader and jig, it takes me less than 2 minutes to be back in business. I've seen guys knocked out of a hot and heavy action bite for 20 minutes retying and rerigging. When the tide is ripping it’s hardest, the fish are often actively feeding on predictable structures.
This is exactly when every second you spend retying counts. You’ll lose ground fast with that sort of ripping tide. Practice at home if you need to. Have what you need the most of within easy reach, and be able to tie good knots quickly.
When I get out on the water, I have a physical path mentally drawn on the chart. It's my milk run. I stop at key structures, deliver quality presentations, then move on to the next productive area. I rarely stick to the plan as precisely as I mapped it out the night before, but having the plan helps keep you focused. When traveling from point to point, I move with purpose. The larger the body of water, the more this calls for a fast kayak, like the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 or 160. On waters where more maneuverability is needed, you may need to compromise the speed of the boat by choosing a shorter model. Regardless of hull design, keeping your eye on a target destination as you paddle makes your travel paths straight lines. That means more fishing time.
Another option that eliminates "down time" when in transit is trolling. My friend Alan Battista recently authored a book on light tackle kayak trolling called Light Tackle Kayak Trolling the Chesapeake Bay. His frame of reference is striped bass on the Chesapeake Bay and it's tributaries. Don't let that stop you from applying his tactics to other species. It's ideal for fish like crappie, lake trout, bass, perch, walleye, musky, pike or any number of saltwater predators. You never have down time when you have what Alan refers to as "the eternal cast".
One of the tools that both Alan and I use in trolling is an electric motor. Purists are quick to dismiss the technology as something that makes us not kayakers anymore. If that's the case, so be it. I don't care. I want my line in the water for more of my Saturday, and the motor gets me to and from productive spots faster. It allows me the range to explore more remote areas of wilderness. The first year I had a motor on my kayak, I did an informal assessment of how much "paddling to the next spot" down time my Torqeedo Ultralight turned into fishing time. It averaged a little over an hour.
The motor certainly helps, but I fish with someone who proves that an angler's work ethic matters more than anything in eliminating down time. Dave Thompson fish's out of a Wilderness Systems Ride 115 - a boat that has many great attributes, but speed is not one of them. I love filming episodes of Tight Line Junkie's Journal with Dave because he always seems to find fish. He's relentless. Whenever I lose track of him, then find him again, he's fishing. I know that may sound like a plain and basic statement, but it's profound. I've never caught him digging through gear, retying a knot, hopping out to eat lunch, messing with malfunctioning gear, or anything else that I've identified as a creator of down time. He's a machine. He's casting, focusing on his presentation, or moving with purpose to the next spot. He has an excellent angler work ethic, and will stick with me in oppressive heat, thunderstorms, rain that changes to sleet, to snow and back again, as well as heavy wind. When we've been out there for 9 hours and both of us are still without the first bite, he never taps out first. He wouldn’t if he were alone either. He fishes until the last possible chance to make a cast, expecting the next one to be the one, and knowing Dave, it usually is. He's an optimist, and that too reduces the kind of down time caused by quitting early and driving home. Fish hard. Fish smart.
Dave on a very chunky Potomac River last winter.