Here are a few quick tips from two fellow Wilderness Systems Pros.
Key question to address typically are: How much weight capacity do you need? Do you want to stand? How much speed and/or maneuverability do you need? To compliment the video, I wanted to talk a little more about selecting a river fishing kayak and some specific attributes that I look for when paddling moving water.
I tend to lean more toward maneuverability however I still want my river fishing kayak to have decent tracking. Decent tracking allows me to line up with the current nicely to slow my drift and keeps “spinning” to a minimum when fishing. That’s why you’ll see me in the Tarpon series or the Ride series kayaks most of the time. The kayaks offer enough speed for most river fishing applications, great tracking for a short kayak and enough maneuverability for most easy class I and II rapids.
In terms of maneuverability, I like shorter kayaks for river fishing so I like kayaks under 13.5 feet long. I also look closely at the hull to make sure that it has some “rocker”. This means the the hull has a slight “banana” type bend. If the kayak is sitting on a flat floor, the rocker will result in the front and the back of the kayak being slightly off the floor while the middle of the kayak rests on the floor. What this means to the paddler is that when you try to turn or spin the kayak in moving water the front and back of the kayak will be “less involved” in the water allowing for easier maneuvering. Too much rocker though can be detrimental allowing the kayak to spin way to easy creating positioning problems while trying to fish.
Contrary to popular belief, tracking is also very important to the river angler. Tracking is basically the ease at which a kayak can maintain a straight line without a lot of corrective paddling strokes. Tracking is at the heart of many of the position holding and drift techniques that I each in my Guided Kayak Fishing Classes. For example if a boat has good tracking, I can line it up with the current pointing the boat upstream to slow my drift past some fish holding targets along the bank allowing me to increase the number of casts that I can make to a targeted structure. Good tracking will decrease the amount of corrective paddle strokes I need to do in order to keep the kayak pointed up river because the kayak will have less tendency to try to spin the bow downstream. I look for kayaks that have a bit of a center line keel. They tend to track much better than rounded hulls.
I’m most familiar with the Wilderness Systems line-up of kayaks so I’ll give you some examples from their stable of kayaks. Again, there are more kayaks in the Wilderness line that are suitable for river fishing but these are the ones I’ve come to rely on most.
The Tarpon Series Kayaks (100 & 120)
The Ride Series Kayaks (115, 115X, 135)
The Commander Series Kayaks (120 and even the 140)
There are a number of other considerations as well and many of them are covered int he video below… enjoy!
Should I Include Speed in my Kayak Selection Checklist?
Just because you’re in an uncomfortable place does not mean you have to be uncomfortable.
Jeff Suber Kayak fishermen, when you hear someone say, “That’s the fastest kayak out there”, what do you think about? Do you think: "I’m in a kayak, I’m going no where fast." "I’m in no hurry." "I’m all about stability." I paddle the Tarpon 160, because I'm big, its big, and its fast. Well how about this, if a kayak is fast, then it must be easier to paddle than a slow kayak. And by easy I mean it requires less work. Work equals calories burned, energy sapped, exhaustion kicking in, and your getting ready to bonk (depleted of all energy). So ask yourself do you want to have enough energy to fish a full day, and paddle back with ease, or do you want to fish a half day because you can barely paddle your slow stable kayak back to the Hill (Boat Ramp).
Well of course you want to enjoy a full day of fishing, and that can be 4 hours or 8 hours or 12 hours. But you want to be in a kayak that is comfortable, stable, and fast. Fast, means that the kayak is more aerodynamic and has less friction area in contact with the water. This means you can use less energy to paddle one mile that it would require you to paddle your stable, comfortable, slow kayak. Before you lift that flag protesting ‘I’m not looking for speed”, think about the fact that you get more fun per hour out of a fast kayak than a slow one. Just because it can be paddled 6 mph hour does not mean you have to paddle it 6 mph. You can paddle it 4 mph with the same energy your using paddling your slow stable kayak 3 mph. You can paddle it 3 mph with even less energy than it took to paddle the slow kayak.
Fast kayaks are also a lot more comfortable to paddle into the wind, and most of the time the hill is located in the exact same location the wind is coming from. So in the future, when making your kayak selection check list out, include speed in there. Because even if your not going to paddle fast, it may be that you want to paddle long, and not worry about bonking before you get to the hill.
Find your balance between stability and speed, and most important should be comfort. Because there is no reason to have enough energy to be in a fast stable kayak all day long if your not comfortable. So next time you make it out to demo day, find a kayak your comfortable in, make sure its stable, then seek out the one you can paddle the length of time you plan on being on the water. It may be that it comes in three lengths and one of those is the one that will fit you need. If your fishing a farm pond then you will be very happy in a 12 foot kayak, but if your fishing the banks of the Gulf of Mexico, then you might want to look at the 14 or 16 foot model. Whatever you decide on, try it, before you buy it.
I am often asked about the paddles that I use and why I use them.
There are a variety of paddles that you can use on the river and a lot will come down to personal preference. Here are a few key characteristics I look for in a good river paddle for kayak fishing.
Acceleration: acceleration is really a function power. In river situations you need good acceleration to avoid obstacles, overcome current and obtain upstream.
Power: Blade design is critical to producing more power in each stroke. Blade designs based on white water paddles tend to be more powerful. Power is needed to help position and maneuver the typical gear laden fishing sit on tops in moving water scenarios.
Durability: It no secret that river paddles will take a beating. Rock, gravel and the occasional push off a river obstacle can take its toll on a paddle. No environment is more laden with potential “paddle breakers” than a ledge and rock infested river.
Adjustability: With the development of high and low seating options for fishing kayaks, having the ability to adjust the length of a paddle shaft can be critical to keeping your paddle stroke in the water and efficient.
Light Weight: When river fishing, you have to be an active paddler to hold position and get to the fish. A day of paddling on the river with a heavy paddle can ware you out! The lightest paddle you can afford should be your target. In general, the lighter the paddle the higher the cost. Believe me though it is worth the price if you fish a lot. Many of my guide clients are amazed at the noticeable difference in weight when they spend some time with one of my carbon paddles.
Here is an example of the paddle that I use which has all the attributes listed above and more. For over a year, I’ve been using Adventure Technologies Oracle Carbon paddle which is based off the AT-2 white water paddle blade. The Oracle Carbon is considered a touring paddle but it is designed for high angle paddling which is a much more efficient paddling angle for running rapids and negotiating moving water. Take a look at the video to learn more about the paddle that I prefer for my river fishing. You’ll also be able to visually see what I mean by an aggressive white water blade design.
Waters So Spectacular You'll Think You're In A Postcard
Bassmasters magazine recently named Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, the top bass waters in the country.
Having spent over 200 days out of Sturgeon Bay over the past 20 years, I guess I’ve known what a special fishery this is. May and June are my prime times in Sturgeon Bay, which is in Door County, a well-known and popular tourist area that I would liken to Cape Cod. But, I actually like it even better. Probably, because of the thousands of smallmouth bass I’ve caught there.
With 300 miles of shoreline along Green Bay and Lake Michigan’s ultra-clear waters, it’s a kayak anglers delight. From the three bays west of Sturgeon Bay to all the bays and harbors heading the 40 miles to the tip of the peninsula, there are dozens of great places to launch. These include your more formal boat launches, kayak launches in state and community parks, along with many roads that dead-end at the water where you can easily launch your vessel. Once on the water, the beauty is breathtaking and the fishing can be spectacular. For a little later fishing, Washington Island, off the tip of the Door peninsula has its season open on July 1 each year. This May and June, 2014, I’ll have been on the water over 15 days and caught over 700 smallies, with over 50 in the 4 to 5 ½ pound range. They feed on those little “protein” bar gobies, so they are super fat. A 19” fish usually top 5 pounds. Many of your typically successful smallie presentations work. Some better than others based on water temperature. But, since 2008, when I began using the Kalin’s Lunker Grubs, my numbers have increased. I swim this “fish catching magnet”, slow and steady on a Gopher Tackle Big John’s 3/32 or 1/16 ounce Mushroom Head Jig. St. Croix 8’ medium-light spinning rods are my weapon of choice to get the super long casts needed in the gin-clear water.
A spinning reel with long-cast spool using very small diameter braid or superlilne, with a fluorocarbon leader rounds out the equipment I use. My most productive Kalin’s color and size is the Smoke Salt and Pepper in both the 4” and 5” versions, but there are a few other colors that work well. These include Smoke, Ed’s Smoke, Apple Juice and Avocado. Most of my 4,000 smallies caught and released since 2008 have come on the 4” Smoke Salt and Pepper. This presentation is so productive, that I can document only about 125 smallies on something else. Will other lures work, yes, but as well? Probably not. If you enjoy road trip kayak fishing, and love catching big smallies on waters so spectacular you’ll think you’re in a postcard, then Door County, Wisconsin is the place to head.
Wilderness Systems has taken comfort, simplicity and function to an entirely new level with the Phase 3® AirPro MAX.
The first thing I noticed was just how comfortable the seat was after a 5 hour kayak fishing trip. The lower leg support and back support make this the most comfortable seat I’ve had the pleasure to fish out of. The back is fully adjustable so you can find the perfect spot for lower back support, while the bottom offers great lower leg support. The material is very breathable and if it stretches out a little, no big deal, just flip the seat over and tighten the straps to the desired firmness.
The coolest feature this seat offers is how quick and easy it is to move the seat from the low to high position, and vice versa. Its so simple that you only need one hand so that you can keep the other hand on your paddle or fishing rod at all times. You don’t even have to get all the way up to switch positions - just raise up enough for the seat to move up and you are on your way! This allows for quick and stable adjustments while on the water. As for stability in the high position, I honestly couldn’t tell any difference in the stability as the current AirPro high seat.
The seat has 3 positions - High, Low and even a Recline. Yes, I said recline. I know what you are thinking - why would you need a recline position? I thought the same at first, but taking a break on the water for a snack is that much more enjoyable in recline! Not only is this seat comfortable in the kayak, but you can also easily remove the seat and use as a chair on the shore or around the campfire.
Looking at the seat you would think "wow, that thing has to weigh a ton," but it is very light and folds up very compact for loading into your vehicle. All in all, Wilderness Systems has taken the Ride series to new heights in terms of comfort, stability and performance with the new AirPro MAX.
CPR, or "Catch, Photo and Release" has become ingrained in the kayak angling vocabulary.
CPR, or "Catch, Photo and Release" has become ingrained in the kayak angling vocabulary. Tournaments are based upon the practice. But how do you get that magazine cover quality shot of your big catch when you are by yourself? Here are a few options and some tips to make your fish look as big as it truly is.
Buy a camera with a timer or remote shutter.
I started taking solo shots with a waterproof camera that took Advantix film fifteen years ago. I would find a rock to place the camera on, hit a timer button, shove my kayak back from the camera, and with luck I would be somewhere in the frame holding my fish. I still use my timer with my current camera, a Canon T4i, but I also utilize a small remote. It allows me to take multiple shots without moving up to touch the shutter each time.
Get a cheap full sized tripod.
I remember shopping for my first full size tripod. I had become frustrated with the mini tripods letting my camera tumble into the water. The camera shop salesman took me right to one that was over $100. I shook my head, looked him in the eye and said, "cheaper". He showed me an $89 tripod. I shook my head again, and he showed me a $65 tripod. I then delivered the ultimatum. "If you don't show me your least expensive full sized tripod right now, I'm leaving and buying one at Walmart. I will shove this thing in pond muck, jam it's legs between ledge rocks on the river and will probably lose it within a few months." He sold me a $16.99 full size tripod with extendable legs and a quick release head. Nine hard years later I still use it on almost all my trips.
Mount the camera on your boat.
This is probably the easiest way to know that you will get yourself and your fish in the frame. YakAttack's Panfish Portrait camera mount has quickly become the standard.
Practice taking pictures with small fish.
Practice makes pretty pictures of your fish. If you wait until you have that once in a lifetime fish in your lap to learn how to take self photos, you are likely to wind up with a shot of half your fish or maybe you'll cut your head off when the shutter goes off.
Use a fish gripper to keep the fish in the water while you set up the shot.
I carry a Boca Grip to know exactly how big of a fish I've caught. It also doubles as a way to keep the fish in the water and breathing while I figure out what the best looking background is, and where I will place my tripod. You don't have to invest that much though. A hard plastic fish gripper can be bought for under $20. Put a small carabineer on the lanyard and clip it to the kayak's grab loop, and let your fish breathe!
Find a non-sky background
Most likely, you'll be using a digital camera. I like many things about digital cameras. You can take lots of photos and you get quick feedback on if you are getting good shots. One downside is that an angler with a bright sky as the background can be clouded out. Position the tripod so that it is either looking slightly downward to you, with the water as the background, or make the nearest shoreline your background.
Hold your fish to maximize it's screen space in the frame
We've all seen the photos with the guy shoving the fish at the camera with his arm straight out. I'm not going to demean the practice, but rather suggest that you don't make it so obvious. Hide the hand holding the bottom lip of the fish by rotating it behind the fish's head. Support the rear of the fish with two fingers supporting the weight right behind the anal fin. With fish less than 10 lbs, there's no excuse for wrapping four fingers around the front of the fish. It diminishes how big the fish looks. If possible position the tail of the fish such that it contrasts sharply with a lighter background, such as the skies reflection on the water. Another way to maximize how much screen space the fish takes up in the frame is to make sure that the plane of the body of the fish is as parallel to the camera lens as possible. This means that the head and tail should be the same distance to the camera. The fish should not be at an angle where the top is closer to the camera than the bottom. It's a subtle thing, but the angle of the fish can really diminish how truly big it is.
Get a buddy to help
All of the concepts mentioned thus far are easier to utilize if you have someone looking through the view finder.
They have listened to the anglers and will be officially releasing the "Stabilizer Bar" (MSRP-$199.99), a stand assist/lean-on bar that will fit the Ride, Tarpon and Commander series of kayaks, in October of 2014.
Hot on the heels of the Wilderness Systems offshore “Thresher” kayak release and the highly anticipated Wilderness Systems innovative hi/lo seat - the “Phase 3® AirPro MAX” - release, Wilderness Systems and Harmony Gear have designed, developed, and tested a brand new must-have accessory. The original design intent was to develop a stand assist bar, but after talks with some of the Pro Staff testing the prototype, a second prototype was created that allows users to also have a place to lean on while out fishing.
The installation of this bar can be handled two ways. Either all 4 towers can be attached to the SlideTrax™ using the provided attachment hardware and only a Phillips screwdriver, or the rear set of towers can be physically mounted onto the kayak behind the SlideTrax to allow for more of a perch approach to using the bar.
The bar itself is constructed of double wall marine-grade aluminum pipe and high-grade plastic components. The design allows for the bar to be lowered onto the front of the kayak when not in use to ensure that paddling is not obstructed. It is as simple as pulling 2 pins out of the towers and lowering the bar with the provided nylon strap.
The bar, designed for anglers 5’2” to 6’4” with a strength rating of up to 500 lbs, is the perfect accessory to add to your Wilderness Systems fishing kayak. The possibilities of customization are limited only to your imagination and having the bar for assisting to stand up or lean against allows you to enjoy your time on the water longer and in more comfort.
Good Thing She Likes Halibut - Trinidad Rockfish Wars Recap
September was a big month for kayak fishing tournaments from coast to coast.
We caught up with California pro staffer Rob Knoles after coming off a win at the Trinidad Rockfish Wars 4 in Trinidad, CA on September 13th, 2014. We asked him to describe his experience and methods on getting the win - here's what he had to say:
It was a two-man team tournament. We had won two years ago and got second last year by almost nothing, so we set out to regain our title this year. We studied the points table and knew exactly what we had to do. It was a best 6-fish and minimum 3-species to qualify for check-in ... good format! Catch big Lingcod was the plan, so that is exactly what we set out to do. We knew of some uncharted underwater pinnacles from past events, so that's where we headed first. When we got there we fished hard with little success ... slow bite for sure. We caught several fish but knew we needed to step it up against the heavy competition. My partner Adam landed a nice 38.5" Ling right after I had just landed a 21" Vermilion. Now we were rolling. We had a few guys tail us for about two hours. Every time we moved they followed; they definitely knew who we were! After losing a ton of gear in an extremely peaky area, they hightailed it. I had lost 10-12 setups myself, but I knew what our goal was and kept my eye on the prize. We decided to move to a new spot since the bite from our past waypoints just wouldn't give us what we needed. Once we located some new ground we turned it on and started catching big fish! The two biggest Ling we pulled in were 38.5"/24+ lbs. and 37.5"/20+ lbs. At check-in we ended up with 4 big Lings, the Verm, and a 20" Black Rockfish. Champs again!
The next day was supposed to be a relaxing Pacific Halibut hunt. Yea right! We got a late start at 8am, as we had planned on getting underway by 6am. We set off on an open ocean paddle that was easily 5 miles just to get the lines wet. Plagued by fog and zero visibility, we had to rely on GPS navigation the entire way. Despite the conditions, my Tarpon 160 was awesome in terms of tracking and speed. We got to the hunting grounds a little over an hour later, and we had explicit "honey-do" instructions to be back on shore and ready to go home by 2pm ... not much hunting time! At 11am Adam hooked up and lost one; I had a take down and missed. Then at about 11:30am, at the bottom of the tide, I had a big take down and the clicker started screaming Wicked Tuna style! I ended up landing a nice, but small, 37.5"/20 lbs. Pac Hali. Mission complete ... almost. Adam still needed one. After pushing the clock into overtime, it was just not going to happen. At this point we had 6.5 miles to go back to shore against a 1-1.5 mph current and 5-10 mph winds. We managed to average about 3.5 mph going in, hit shore a little after 2pm, and immediately got scolded by my Adam's wife. Oops! Good thing she likes Halibut.
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.
This weekend I was lucky enough to get to use the AirPro Max seat from Wilderness Systems on a Ride 115 in the San Diego Bay and was very impressed.
I have been using the phase 3 seat for a few months and to say the least it's a fairly comfortable seat. That being said the AirPro max in my opinion blows the phase 3 seat out of the water in comfort AND the fact that there is more than one position. It is also very easy to put the seat into position and it's surprisingly secure given how easily it goes into place in the kayak.
When I go kayak fishing I typically go for anywhere from 3-5 before I start to feel the effects of being in a kayak seat (slight aching feeling in lower back and rear end). With this new seat I was able to fish in comfort for 8 hours!!! Because I was able to stay on the water longer I was able to catch the incoming tide which is when I landed this beauty (on the 7th hour of fishing), a 23" California halibut.
This seat will definitely help you catch more fish because you'll be able to stay on the water longer in search of that trophy catch and all the while you will be doing it comfortably. I have used seats that are of similar design like the Jackson Cuda 14 and Old Towne Predator which are comfortable, but I am now a convert and would choose the Airpro Max if given the choice. All because of how secure and quiet the seat is (no banging or sliding from the seat when you get waked or take on the surf).
So all in all I'm VERY impressed with Wilderness Systems design and execution of this seat and can't wait till they hit the market so I can get one for myself. Big thanks to CJ Siebler for allowing me the honor in getting to test out this seat.