My 2014 fishing season was filled with many fond memories.
I caught my personal best bass, took a lot of first-timers out kayak fishing, and focused on species other than my usual favorite, smallmouth bass. I also relocated to a different area in Pennsylvania where the Susquehanna is narrow, there’s access to many remote lakes and ponds, and the winter comes in a blink of the eye. Below are my results and most memorable moments from my 2014 season.
The best catch hands down was the gigantic largemouth I landed earlier this August. The fishing trip was completely spontaneous; I was planning on heading out later in the day with one of my good friends, but my boyfriend wanted to hit the water before he had to work at 2 PM. We headed out around 11:30 and arrived at the spot by 12. The area is a nearby reservoir that is filled with dead trees, thick algae, and lots of lily pads. Less than a half hour went by and I felt my line tighten during a slow drift with a Lockett Lures Outlet soft stick bait. I started reeling in what looked to be a 6 lb largemouth. As it started to near the kayak it jumped out of the water and tossed my lure.
Frustrated, I paddled back up to the area I hooked it in and started another drift. I thought for sure that was going to be the big one I lost that day, but I was wrong. Five or so minutes passed and once again my line got tight, but this time, I knew I had something insanely large on the end. I was beyond determined to get the fish in and was careful to not let it throw my lure like the previous one did. After an awesome adrenaline infused battle, I got the beast in. She was 24 inches long with an 18 inch girth, still not sure of the exact weight, but most bass calculators put it around 10 pounds. Once I got her into my lap I felt like I was in shock. My hands were trembling as I stared dumbfounded, as if it was if it was my first fish and I didn’t know how to handle it. I absolutely couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t on the water more than 45 minutes and I had landed my personal best largemouth!
In 2014 I moved to the endless mountains in northern Pennsylvania. Not only are the winters longer, but also the wind gusts tend to be stronger due to a lot of the lakes being on the top of mountains. My biggest challenge was learning how to adapt to abrupt wind gusts without limiting myself by anchoring at a spot. Through trial and error I found that the best method for catching fish in an area with wind gusts was to use a drift and drag weightless method. To do this I would first determine which way the wind was predominately blowing. After that it’s pretty simple, paddle up in front of the wind, cast out, and let the wind push you to the other end while occasionally twitching your lure. Most of the summer I used this method with various soft plastics weightless rigged such as senko style worms (both wacky and weedless rigged) as well as weightless tubes and flukes.
MOST MEMORABLE DAY
The most memorable day fishing I had this past year was taking one of my good friends kayak fishing for the first time. My friend is quite the angler, but he’s used to chasing after trophy trout from boats on the big lakes. When I first heard that he never kayaked before, I knew that I needed to take him out. We hit the water around 2 PM and fished until just before dark. Both of us were having a blast catching over 10 bass each on variety of lures including Lure Concepts buzz baits with soft plastic trailers, swim baits, and dark colored with chartreuse tip Lockett Lure fatties. It was awesome seeing my friend’s reaction on how stable and easy kayak fishing is. We both fished in areas that boats could never reach due to submerged trees, thick lily pads, and tight spaces. Sean loved the fact we could fish separately in different spots without having to compromise, but we still could communicate across the water. I’m just excited I was able to show a dear friend, who’s a lover of fishing, the joys and differences of kayaking.
The funniest moment of my past fishing season happened as I went to load up my kayaks after a good day of fishing. We were the only ones on the lake for the majority of the day and around the early evening a man pulled up with his jon boat and took forever to launch it. I kept wondering what on Earth he was doing and finally figured it out when I was done fishing for the day…he stole my tie down ropes! I was borrowing my Grandmothers Subaru Forester, which was already a pretty funny sight to begin with having two kayaks laid down on the backseats of a 250k mile vehicle with the hydraulics broken on the trunk. Originally I had the kayaks tied down in the back and then in the front to double secure them. However, the man stole the longest ropes I had. Luckily, I found a small rope in the passenger’s seat that was just long enough to be able to handle-tie two kayaks to the headrests of the car. Needless to say it was quite a fun ride back home. The drive is filled with many mountain roads, most being gravel only with a numerous amount of crater sized potholes. We had to hold onto the kayaks every time we went up the hills. Thanks, man who stole my ropes, for a ride back filled with laughter and uncertainty!
WORST FISHING MOMENT
In the area I recently moved to there are a bunch of nearby ponds and lakes. Almost everyone around who owns a chunk of land has a pond built because the ground tends to have a lot of clay and therefore water is retained easily. The worst moment of my 2014 season was realizing how big of a fish kill occurred in a nearby favorite lake. My aunt introduced me to the spot a few years back and it was always pretty promising. She pulled a few trophy largemouth out of it and I’ve caught some 20+ largemouth out of there as well. In 2012 I noticed the algae and underwater plant life in general was increasing. Both my aunt and I had to switch primarily to top water baits because plant life was too thick to get reactions most of the time. In late 2013, she told me she witnessed a fish kill to what we think was suffocation due to oxygen levels decreasing from the increasing plant life. She said the lake smelled horrible and she witnessed many trophy bass floating on the surface. In 2014, I fully realized how damaged the lake became. On a bad day, the lake used to give you at least a couple topwater blow-ups each hour. However, after fishing the lake 6 or so times in 2014, catching a fish was pretty rare. I think the largest I pulled out of the lake was only a mere 13 inches, compared to the old 18-inch average. I haven’t been back since mid July, but will try again in 2015, to see if anything has changed, but I feel it’s not going to be promising for quite sometime. Usually once a fish kill starts, there’s not much that can be done to fix it. Oxygen is found in water due to underwater plant life. During the day, the plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis. However at night, the plants will use the dissolved oxygen in the water for their own respiration. Fish kills occur when the oxygen levels get too low. Usually these kills tend to kill large fish and sensitive species. Smaller fish usually to survive, which is why the fish I caught there over the summer were very small.
MOST INTERESTING OBSERVATION
I noticed, after fishing the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers the past few years on different stretches, not only are the numbers of bass with skin discoloration spots are increasing, but the number of largemouth found in the river has been increasing as well. Back in 2012, it was rare to catch a largemouth in a Pennsylvania river, especially a bass that was of a decent size. Over the years I’ve caught a few largemouth in the rivers here and there, however, the amount of largemouth I caught in the Susquehanna River in 2014 was significant. In fact, it was significant enough that I actually adapted my usual smallmouth techniques to a mixture of both largemouth and smallmouth. From my observations, there are so many largemouth in the river that it is low-balling it to say that you catch one largemouth per every two smallmouth.
MOST SPECIES CAUGHT (OTHER THAN BASS)
This past year I really learned how to hook and land pickerel. Pickerel used to be a fish that prior to this year, I typically associated with ice fishing because I tend to catch a bunch during the winter season, however, this past year I caught more than previous years. From my experience, if you’re fishing an area that has a decent amount of pickerel and you’ve experienced a “miss” on the surface, pickerel are usually the culprit. Whether it is you had your line sliced after a topwater hit, or have a complete miss, pickerel tend to be the reason why. I caught a lot of pickerel the past year on white soft plastics cast towards the edge of lily pads in shallow water. Most pickerel were caught in water depths between one and six feet. I switched to soft plastics after having many aggressive line slicing blow-ups on the surface. I first tried using top water lures with steel leaders, but instead of pickerel hitting it and staying on, they wouldn’t hit at all. To compensate for the aggressive attacks I switched to non-topwater soft plastics and was able to hook onto them without slicing the line. Of course, you have to be careful when pulling one close to your kayak after tiring it out, but it gives you a better chance than having it slice your line initially.
My favorite event during the 2014 season was the Big Spring Festival in Bellefonte, PA. It’s normally a festival where there are food vendors, free crafts for children, and the local fish and boat commission stocks trout into Spring Creek. This past year I brought a twist to the festival by promoting and attempting to spark a fishing interest in children. With the help of many generous donations, I was able to give over 150 children bags of free fishing lures and fishing accessories. If I didn’t spark the interest in the children receiving the lures, I definitely rekindled the memories their parents had of fishing in the past. Many adults talked to me about fishing memories and how they wanted to take their children out fishing in the near future.
On a recent trip, I found myself in what should have been a "smallmouth wintering hole".
Angler: Wes Widrig
Fishery: New River near Bluestone Dam, Hinton, West Virginia
Lure: 1/4 oz Swim Jig
Catch and Pattern Description: Targeting a smallmouth winter pattern sometimes leads to a more interesting encounter with one of the New River's less understood and sought out species, the musky. On a recent trip, January 18th, I found myself in what should have been a "smallmouth wintering hole". With cold northwestern winds and frigid 35 degree water temps, I sat on the sunny side of the river prospecting the ledge that await my offering of a Blue Chrome Rapala Shad Rap.
I made several casts to the current seam in 8 feet of water and slowly drifted towards the tail out about 30 yards downstream. After 5 drifts, 45 minutes later and no bites I decided to tie on a 1/4 oz Bluegill Swim Jig with a beaver style trailer. On the very next drift I was surprised at what picked up the jig being hopped about 2 feet off the bottom. With a 6'8" spinning rod and 7lb fluorocarbon leader I immediately felt the thump of a big fish. Little did I know but the fish that just picked up my jig would wind up weighing nearly 15 lbs.
Fishery: Lake Zirahuen, a mountain lake near Morelia, Michoacán, central Mexico
Lure: Texas-rigged small watermelon craw on a 1/0 wide gap hook and ¼ oz tungsten weight
Catch and Pattern Description: Alejandro regularly catches up to 4-pound largemouth bass during the winter on rocky humps. He states that this is an established pattern in deep lakes with significant water temperature changes throughout the year. He describes the process of finding the right spots and working the lure, “I usually fish in deep lakes and reservoirs; I’ve found that a very clear established pattern is to present a slow-hopping craw along the slopes of rocky humps in deep water. I usually find them using a fishfinder, but they can also be found by dragging a free-hanging 2-lb dumbbell around the area and depth you expect the top of the hump to be. Once I have located the hump, if there is vegetation, I move on and look for another spot. I fish barren, rocky humps; they are devoid of vegetation usually due to type of substrate, current or water transparency. Once I have located a suitable site (usually the top of the hump reaching 10-20 feet), I anchor on top of the hump and cast to the sides, slowly hopping a Texas-rigged craw from around 45 feet deep all the way to the kayak. I choose any small craw (around 2” works best for me) with subdued movement and usually cut off the appendages if they provide much vibration. I want a muted action and not a lot of water displacement. Watermelon is my color of choice; I prefer purple or black flake on overcast days and red flake on bright days. I always use a 1/0 wide gap hook and a ¼ oz tungsten weight.
My rod of choice is a Kistler MH, 7-foot fast-action baitcaster, with 20-lb braid on a 12-lb fluorocarbon leader. This is really one of my go-to techniques when largemouth bass in big lakes start to move from deeper water up when water is starting to heat up a bit. It won’t give you many bites but it will save the day when nothing else works. I think the hopping motion and the nature of a Texas rig gives the appearance of a very natural fleeing crayfish, which is a staple diet during this time of year and is abundant in these humps. Other deep-water techniques such as a drop shot or shaky head do not work very well for me on these conditions, so I stick with the Texas rig. It is also a classic rig that everybody likes; it takes you to the basics of largemouth fishing. It is very enjoyable".
Since releasing in 2014, the thresher has proven itself to be more than a salt water surf launcher.
Sure, it can handle open water swells with confident ease, but here are some other applications the thresher is great for. Designed to be a capable angling kayak, the Wilderness Systems Pro Staff has taken the Thresher into a variety of fisheries, both saltwater and fresh. Check out Jeff LIttle's rig here:
Fresh from the California coast, we received the following image of a crab enthusiast who uses his Thresher to set and collect crab traps...apparently quite successfully:
Fishy features aside, the Thresher is a work horse in the area of sheer capacity and many paddlers have found it quite useful for camping and even SCUBA applications:
Once the lakes and rivers freeze up us kayak anglers don’t go into hibernation here in Alberta.
Angler: Mike & Ben Zilkowksy
Fishery: Gull Lake, Alberta, Canada
Lure: #4 3/32 oz jig head tipped with minnow tail
Catch and Pattern Description: Once the lakes and rivers freeze up us kayak anglers don’t go into hibernation here in Alberta. We take this time to spend with our loved ones and to teach patience, techniques and proper fish handling to the next generation of anglers that they will hopefully carry with themselves for the rest of their lives. For me it was an ice fishing trip with a good friend, and fellow kayak angler, and my best buddy Ben (3). We hit the ice and I got him set up to fish for Yellow Perch. His patience was amazing and I was very proud of him, he actually sat still longer than I did. I showed him how to jig his bait erratically about 8-10” at a time and eventually he got hooked up on his first fish. I held the rod while he reeled in the line, with a little daddy help, until it was time to pull it out of the hole. Then it was all him and his smile and laughter made that day for me. Hopefully next time I will not be out fished by a 3 year old, but the memories that were made that day for both him and I will last a lifetime.
Kayaks allow us to access remote ponds that get very little traffic. Being prepared for a variety of unfortunate events can make a bad day better.
With that being said, these areas can get very little traffic. Being prepared for a variety of unfortunate events can make a bad day better. Most of us will not face a life or death situation when fishing but they do happen. The items I have listed below can easily be stored in a medium size dry bag and should be with you on every trip.
Cell Phone- I cannot think of too many people who are not carrying a cell phone on a daily basis. Checking in periodically with your wife, husband or anyone else to let them know you are safe is a must. A handheld marine radio should also be onboard if you are in an area they can be utilized.
Camera- Whether you are participating in a CPR tournament or just out for a relaxing day on the water, a camera is a great thing to have. Using a camera to take pictures minimizes the amount of times your cell phone needs to come out of your dry bag. One “oops” and you can potentially lose contact with the world. A waterproof case is no good when your phone is tumbling down a river or headed to the bottom of your favorite lake.
First Aid Kit- Hooks and uncooperative fish leave plenty of opportunity for accidents to happen. Having a first aid kit on board is a no brainer.
Emergency Poncho- Did the meteorologist get it wrong again? With a sunny forecast you forget all about your rain gear. In a pinch, a poncho can also be used for shelter. Taking up less space than a deck of cards and priced less than $2.00 an emergency poncho is a must have.
Fire Starting Kit/Waterproof Matches- Many people relate a fire starting kit to winter time fishing. Everyone knows how unpredictable Mother Nature can be. Fishing in the early spring and late fall exposes us to a variety of temperature swings. Having the ability to get warm after a quick dip can make a bad day better.
Multitool- Our kayaks are no longer just a piece of plastic. They are fishing machines rigged with multiple rod holders, anchor trolleys and many other innovative ideas. Traveling from spot to spot, something is bound to come loose or needs to be tweaked a bit. Did you forget your pliers in the truck again? Weighing around 9 oz. and only 4” in length when closed, this tool can be equipped with everything from pliers and screwdrivers to saws and can openers. It’s a must have when on the water.
Flashlight- Get off the water a little later than expected? Phone battery low and your flashlight app won’t work? A flashlight or headlamp fixes that problem. A spare set of batteries can ensure light for hours.
Line Cutter- The Snip Line Cutter by Boomerang Tools is a great tool that will cut all three line types with no problem. I always carry an extra set.
Dry Rag- Fish slime is a beautiful thing but sometimes it does end up in the wrong spot. Spray on your electronics can make them difficult to read. Having a dry rag can fix many of your daily annoyances.
Sunscreen- Most bodies of waters offer little shade to protect you from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Don’t let a sunburn be your reminder to bring sunscreen on your next trip.
Bug Spray- How many times have you gotten to your favorite backwoods spot only to find it riddled with bugs and mosquitoes? Having bug spray will make your day a little more enjoyable.
Lip Balm- Low humidity in the winter months and sun exposure in the summer months are just 2 things that cause chapped lips. Throw a tube of lip balm in your dry bag to avoid chapped lips.
Resealable Bags- A dry bag will protect your belongings from the elements but having your phone, wallet and camera in a resealable bag gives them added protection. A large bag is also a great way to collect all the trash you create throughout the day.
Hand Sanitizer- A good alternative when clean water and soap are not readily available before enjoying your lunch.
I think it was my first float down the Susquehanna River when I realized anything could have gone wrong. We were catching fish and floating down the river without a care in the world. Needless to say as very inexperienced kayak anglers, we were far from prepared for any situation we could have been faced with. The day was a success and we made it home safely like many other trips before. It was the very minor nonlife threatening situations we were not ready for. After stopping to eat lunch we quickly realize we have no good way to get our hands clean. The back of Chuck’s neck was a good indicator that we both forgot to apply sunscreen before launching. After rifling through our crates looking for the sunscreen we knew we did not have, a five-hour paddle back upstream to grab sunscreen out of the truck was not an option. Just a few weeks ago I found myself almost face down on the ground after the handle on my kayak gave way. I assume the screw worked its way loose after being bounced around trip after trip. Having a mulititool easily remedied that situation.
I wish I could sit here and write about some crazy life threatening experience I was able to survive because of what I had in my dry bag. The reality is I can’t. I have used my fire starting kit one time to ensure I could build a fire if need be. Have I needed it? No. But having the tools necessary to get warm in the event of an emergency is reassuring. Learning from my seemingly simple mistakes and listening to the misfortunes of others, I was able to take a hard look at the everyday dangers that come with being on the water. Without the ability to race across the lake or shoot down the river, as kayak anglers we need to be prepared for a variety of situations every time we are on the water.
Recently, on a cold winter morning, I gathered up a great group of friends for a day of paddling and fishing on Lake Jocasse in South Carolina.
We awoke early filled with the thrill of adventure in our souls, but little did we know how our day was going to turn out. This will be a day that I will never forget for many reasons.
It was a brisk and cool 27 degrees when we arrived at Devils Fork State Park. We rushed out to the non-motorized boat ramp and immediately started to unload our kayaks and canoes. Jon, Kris and I were in our kayaks, while Dave and his two boys were in canoes. Our game plan was to seek adventure with each other through fishing for Smallies and Trout. Lake Jocasse is known for its fantastic Small Mouth and Trout fishing, but there is also the monster Large Mouths that lurks in the lakes beautiful crystal clear waters.
Jon and Kris were the first ones in the water; as Dave and I squared the boys away in there canoe. We paid very close attention to the boys to make sure they were being safe and moving into the cove to fish for trout. Dave and I positioned our boats on the edge of the water, and Dave made his way off the shore. I was pushing off from the bank, and I started to make my way out into the open water.
All of a sudden I looked up and Dave had rolled his carbon fiber race canoe.
I was about 25 yards from him, and yelled out to make sure he was okay. It only took me a few seconds to get to him, but boy did it feel like an eternity. I asked Dave to swim in, and get into a change of clothes, while I dragged his canoe back in. In typical Dave style, while he was changing clothes, he said, “boy JD this is a heck of the way to start out the day.” I could not help but to smile as I made sure he was okay. We did not want to panic the boys so I paddled towards them to make sure they were having fun, and to check to see if they needed anything.
After spending about 15 minutes with the boys and watching CJ land a nice Rainbow Trout, I focused my attention back on Dave. Dave is an expert paddler, and really knows how to handle himself on the water, but it goes to show at anytime something can go wrong, quickly. As I arrived at where Dave was standing he seemed a little bummed out. I did not realize but Dave lost two of his rods when he rolled into the cold waters of Lake Jocasse. The thing that made it so bad was that Dave’s brother hand crafted one of the rods, and Dave’s father signed that very same rod, so it was irreplaceable to say the least. We both made our way to were the accident happened and neither one of us could see rods, which was odd because the lake is extremely clear. Little did I know Dave was marking land marks so he could later find his rods.
As I paddled my Wilderness Systems Ride over to where Jon and Kris were fishing, I could not help but to think about what all just happened.
Needless to say our first 45 minutes on the water were quite the adventure.
The three of us made our way up towards the Bad Creek Dam area to enjoy the rest of our day, while Dave and the boys fished the coves around the boat ramp.
The fishing was slow but the paddling and scenery were absolutely spectacular. Lake Jocasee is completely surrounded by mountains and has many mountain waterfalls that dot its shoreline. As we were taking it all in I looked up and right over our heads were two Golden Eagles, and one Bald Eagle. That alone made the hour drive to the lake worthwhile. These are just a few reason why this is one of my favorite places to paddle and bring people.
After spending almost the entire day on the upper end of the lake we arrived back at the boat ramp. We noticed that Dave and the boys had left. Jon also had to leave, but Kris and I were dead on staying until around dark. So Kris and I maneuvered our way back into this amazing little cove, and all of the sudden the trout fishing blew up. The cove was smack full of Rainbow and Brown Trout. Almost every cast we were landing a fish, and the two of us were really enjoying ourselves.
As we drifted back out of the cove towards the boat ramp, I explained to Kris this is right were Dave rolled his canoe. By this time it was around 4:00pm and we could see all the way down to around 25 feet. So we started searching around to see if we could see Dave’s rods, and low and behold Kris said there they are. We could see them sitting in about 15 feet of water. I look at my Lowrance, visually marked the spot, and noticed that the water was a chilly 48 degrees.
I could not stand the thought of leaving the lake and not trying to get Dave’s rods back. I knew I would only have a few minutes to try and retrieve them because of the chilly water temperature coupled with the 46 degree air temperature. So I made my decision and ran it by Kris, so he could keep an eye on me and the rods.
I ran up to the restrooms and took off all my layers besides my thermal shirt and waterproof pants. I made my way quickly down to the edge of the water, and asked Kris if he was still on the location where the rods were. As he said yes, I dove right into the fridge waters and made my way out to him. When I arrived to where he was at I immediately dove down to try and retrieve the rods. No luck, so I tried again, no luck. I grabbed onto Kris Wilderness, as I was gasping for air. The coldness of the water was really setting in.
I could not stop shaking, my chest was starting to burn from the cold, and it felt like someone was sticking 10,000 needles into me.
I told Kris that I really need to get out of the water, and he agreed. I was only in the bitterly cold water for around 3 minutes, and hypothermia was knocking on my door. I moved quickly to get up to the restroom so I could change into warm dry clothes. As I was changing I noticed that my thighs were turning blue, along with my feet. I jumped in after the rods to try and help a fellow paddler out, to test my body in cold water, but I really did not realize all of the effects it can quickly affect the body. I would not change a thing, but boy is this a day that I will never forget for many reasons.
There are three points to this entire article. One, you never know when something can and will go wrong, so be prepared in all situations. Secondly, wear your PFD at all times. Luckily Dave had his on, but it amazes me how many people do not even bother to wear one. Take the time, and try out several different kinds and find that right one for you. It just might save your life one day, especially when you least expect it. Lastly, think twice before jumping into ice cold water.
Oh yeah, Dave went back up to Devil’s Fork State Park the next day, and was able to retrieve both rods from his canoe.
Several members of the Wilderness Systems Fishing Team took to the road to take on some big bass at the Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) Spring Open on Kentucky Lake in Paris, TN on March 13-14, 2015.
The event was put on by Pro Staff emeritus and ubiquitous bass man Chad “Knotright” Hoover, and what an event it was! Veterans Chris LeMessurier and Troy Meyerhoeffer and drove from Michigan and New York, respectively, to try and pull a win for Team Wildy, while newcomers Brad Case, Buster Swisher, Cory Dreyer, Dwayne Walley, Matt Lehman, Tammi Collins and Tim Perkins came up from all over the South.
Kentucky Lake is renowned for producing record-smashing bass and is hotbed for fishing tournaments, though the KBF was the first all-kayak tournament ever held on the lake. Conditions were tough and the fishing even more so, as the area had just seen some snow and there was a consistent off-and-on rain throughout the entire weekend. Despite the odds Team Wildy did relatively well with Cory Dreyer being the highest-placing member, landing the 14th spot and winning $400!
Chris LeMessurier did well too, placing 45th after a couple of decent days fishing an undisclosed honey hole.
Humorously, Troy Meyerhoeffer won “Smallest Fish” award though he swears he caught some hogs the day after the tourney.
After the final weigh-in, tournament-goers were treated to some live country music from up-and-coming artists Odiss Kohn, Danica Honeycutt and Markus Fox.
The A.T.A.K. was unveiled to the group of over 150 kayak anglers and with there being Manufacturer’s Money on the table for fishing out of a Wilderness Systems kayak, the A.T.A.K. will likely be the boat of choice at subsequent KBF Open events as well as at the National Championship slated for March 25, 2016 back at Kentucky Lake.
The world of kayak angling has been extremely good to me.
There are countless memories, friends, and lessons learned that I can tie directly to this wonderful sport. Kayak angling has allowed me to be part of record setting events in fresh water and salt water and also appear on TV for a few moments. The sport and the people associated with it have given me so much that I feel obligated to give back when I can, no matter how seemingly small my contributions may be.
Adam Harbuck is a native of Louisiana and has been fishing out of a paddle-powered watercraft for longer than a lot of us have been alive. A life long outdoorsman, Adam specializes in shallow water swamps and bayous that are so thick with cover you can almost walk across them. Now me being a Yankee from Pennsylvania, I was not accustomed to fishing in these types of environments. Luckily for me, I ran into Adam one morning on a local lake and after a few minutes of chewin’ the fat he offered to take me fishing. Six seasons later, the weed choked waters that seemed impossible to fish became my comfort zone, thanks to Adam’s tutelage.
About three years ago while I was visiting family back in PA, I met Juan Veruete at big box retailer where he had a Ride 135 rigged up and on display. I had come to know Juan through the forums on Kayak Bass Fishing and you could always count on him to post up some pictures of giant smallmouth bass. I believe there is a fishing rod that was inadvertently named after Juan, it’s called the “Smallmouth Guru” and rightfully so.
For whatever reason, no one told me that just 45 minutes south of where I grew up and lived for 20 years, there was world-class river smallmouth fishing. If only time travel was possible! After meeting me for the first time in person Juan was generous enough to invite me out smallie fishing with him anytime I’m back in PA.
I had only been out for smallies one time before with fellow KBF members Jamie and Mike McCabe who put me on my first and long standing personal best 18 inch smallmouth. Mike and Jamie are another great example of total strangers reaching out to help someone based only on the fact that they share the common thread of kayak fishing.
I was kind of shocked when my fishing mentor, Adam, told me that he had never caught a smallmouth bass. After everything that Adam has taught me and donated to me, I figured the best way to start paying him back was to take him on an all (mostly) expense paid trip up north. This past April we loaded up our Rides and fishing tackle and set off to meet the man himself, Juan Veruete in the Keystone State. The 1,300 mile, 20 hour drive up to PA was the start of a 12 day 3,500 mile epic grind for me.
The five day, whirl-wind trip only included two days of fishing but the river was generous giving up over 100 smallies between four kayak anglers including two over 20 inches, more than a half dozen over 18 inches and a hefty load of 16-17 inchers. All were released back into the beautiful crystal clear water.
The friendships forged with the people listed above all started with the common ground of kayak fishing, that’s the beauty of belonging to a small and close-knit community. We all have our own stories about how this great sport has created memories and relationships and hopefully things stay that way for many years to come. Most of us have benefited greatly from the veterans of this community, and if you have make sure you pay it forward in the best way you can no matter how small you feel your contribution may be. You never know, you may take a seasoned angler on a bucket list fishing adventure.
At some point in our lives we’ve all probably muttered the phrase “one thing led to another” while recounting past events such as an epic outdoor adventure or night out on the town that went a little too far.
This is the exact phrase I would use to describe how my waterfowl-hunting career got its start. Like many sportsmen, I grew up hunting squirrels and rabbits along with the prolific Pennsylvania Whistle Pig, known more commonly as the ground hog. As I matured, pheasants and whitetail were added to my list of targeted species. Waterfowl hunting, however, never appealed to me in my younger years. It was not due to a lack of ducks and geese in our area, being close to the eastern flyway kept a constant supply of mallards and Canadian geese passing through.
Fast forward to January 2014, my four-year-old son was accompanying me on his first squirrel hunt on the wildlife reservation on Barksdale Air Force Base. This wildlife reserve is 18,000 acres situated next to subdivisions, shopping centers and an interstate highway; a literal wildlife oasis amid urban sprawl. Our hunt had ended and the mid morning sun revealed what had to have been a few hundred gadwall that had flown into a nearby bayou.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time hunting game knows a few things, chief among these: Adapt to changing conditions and take advantage when an opportunity presents itself. A few hundred carefree ducks feeding and splashing in a secluded back water bayou looked like a hanging curveball to me, and I knew I’d have to take a swing.
I quickly realized that getting started was not going to be that hard because I already had a shotgun, some camouflage and most importantly a Wilderness Systems Commander 140. When I ordered my Commander 140 I chose the camo color scheme not only because the kayak looks great but also I had hopes of one day using this kayak for some sort of hunting. This camo scheme is a reboot of the original camo colors offered by Wilderness Systems and feature darker greens, earth tones and subdued logos. This kayak really does a great job of disappearing while hugging the banks of a tree-lined creek or sneaking through a cypress swamp. Another virtue by design the Commander series has is they are the equivalent of a pickup truck. With a high weight capacity and an open design just about any piece of gear simply gets loaded up and tied down as easily as loading your truck bed.
Bungee cord in the stern tankwell is suitable for securing crates or dry storage boxes. The SlideTrax system that runs nearly bow to stern is exceptionally convenient for ensuring a custom fit while securing precious cargo like a shotgun. The beauty of the SlideTrax system is the movable mounts that can be made to accept bungee cord or cam-buckle straps for even more confidence when transporting valuable outdoor gear.
With all of these features plus surprising speed and no snag prone scupper holes, there are very few places for the ducks to feel safe. During most of my hunts I paddle to the area I want to hunt, drag the kayak up the bank into some brush, and then wade flooded timber or I will utilize brush blinds. There have been occasions when water levels have risen to the point where wading is no longer an option and when I find myself in these situations I have simply stayed in the Commander, the ducks don’t seem to mind. With minimal cover I have been able to stay inside my kayak and shoot birds over decoys, the Commander is also so stable I am able to swing on passing birds with ease.
I have been hunting most of my life and fishing out of a kayak for a number of years now, the combination of woods and water just makes sense. As it often happens, “one thing led to another” and two of my most passionate activities in life fused into one, and a duck hunter was born. The Wilderness Systems Commander 140 has served me well in my young duck hunting career and it will continue to be my platform of choice for seasons to come.