|Kayaks, ultralight tackle and panfish make a successful combinationBy Noel VickPhoto courtesy of Hobie|
from The Fishing Wire
“Panfish” is perhaps the biggest catchall category in fishing. Essentially, if it’s round and measures somewhere between the size of an adult hand and the fateful frying pan, it’s a panfish. We’re talking about the zillion species of sunfish, a couple styles of crappies, as well as – in the opinion of many including myself – white bass.
Drumroll please… And now you’re being urged to pursue the commonest freshwater fish in North America with the uncommonest of approaches: pedal kayak trolling. Take a breath and a moment to get over the weirdness. It’s an extraordinarily effective technique.For this discourse, it’s best talking lure selection first, as it’ll dovetail into techniques. My panfish trolling portfolio consists of two primary categories: hardbaits and spinners.
Hardbait Pedal Trolling
Not too many years ago, the marketplace was inundated with downsized bodybaits, including lipped crankbaits, jerkbaits and lipless rattle baits. Manufacturers miniaturized existing models and developed entirely new micro hardbaits. I’ve trolled and tested them all from my Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14.
Panfish of all stripes – especially larger specimens – either make a living off bait and fish fry or will opportunistically eat forage with fins and tails. Hardbaits also ferret-out the most aggressive fish and can be trolled faster than spinners, letting you cover more water in less time. Hardbaits are unquestionably the best search tool.
Trolling by pedal kayak simply means casting the bait back, letting out additional line – minimum of 100 feet – and you’re fishing. Whatever species you pursue, the odds of success are improved by getting the lure as far away from the boat as possible, especially in depths of 10-feet and less where fish more easily scatter. Experience has proven, however, that the darker the water the closer you can run baits.
As with other forms of pedal trolling, longer rods are recommended. Think about the common practice of spider-rigging for crappies; it’s about spreading the field of coverage. In a kayak, where legal, two long rods can be easily managed.
The best all-around panfish trolling rods hail from St. Croix’s Panfish Spinning Series. The blanks are constructed of a dynamic blend of SCVI and SCII graphite providing responsive touch, balance and finesse. I employ either the 8-foot (PFS80LMF2) or 9-foot (PFS90LMF2), light, moderate-fast, 2-piece models. They curve concentrically on the move, and natively sweep-set upon strike. For added machismo with larger baits, or bigger-billed ones with greater resistance, I carry the 7-foot, light, extra-fast-action model (PF70LXF).
Rods are paired with 2500 size spinning reels. Smaller 1000 and 2000 sized reels don’t take up line nearly as fast. And personally, I like the feel of a larger reel. And when you opt to stop and cast, they yield greater distance. Daiwa’s affordable Regal LT is a solid and widely available choice.
Like all my pedal kayak pursuits, braid is the word. Braid has better sensitivity and buffers the softness of long panfish rods with stoutness to produce ideal, hands-free hooksets. Braid also lets the rod communicate to me that lures are running true. Consider either 6- or 8-pound test of Daiwa’s super narrow diameter J-Braid x8.
Leaders are mandatory, too, long ones (24-inch minimum), which combat panfish species’ exceptional vision. Fluorocarbon makes are best. I tie in sections of Daiwa’s J-Fluoro in 4- or 6-pound test, finishing with a tiny snap for speedy lure changes.
LIVETARGET’s 2 ¾-inch Rainbow Smelt Jerkbait does it all, never discriminating against species, including bass. Although designed to replicate a rainbow smelt, fish in waters dominated by shad and other shiner species don’t seem to care. I theorize that the Rainbow Smelt Jerkbait’s precision anatomy, pure trolling path, and seductive action make it universally effective.Rapala has a major stake in the panfish market, too, and their baits are always onboard.
Fish fawn over the petite, 2 ½-inch Rapala Husky Jerk, a downsized rendition of the popular, slow-sinking series. To that, Rapala also tenders the Ultra Light series, catering specifically to panfish anglers. The 1 ½-inch Ultra Light Crank is not only cute as hell, but has the surprising capacity to run deep on the troll, nearing the 10-foot mark.
Daiwa also comes to the plate with a couple diminutive heavy hitters. The 2-inch Dr. Minnow Jerkbait turns fish heads. And when you’re in the midst of larger, meat-eaters, consider Daiwa’s 3.75-inch TD Minnow.
Color selection is an exercise in experimentation. For the most part, I stick to natural, baitfish tones – the silvers, whites and blues – but often opt for more color in stained water. And for whatever reason, panfish respond exceptionally well to greens, especially ones with lighter bellies.
Spinner Pedal Trolling
Let’s first clarify, I’m talking about hairpin spinners, not inline spinners. Years of pedal trolling have proven that bags are basically doubled with hairpins. I believe it’s the flash combined with a juicy, baitfish profiled target – the jig and soft plastic.DIY is the only way to go with hairpin spinners. Certainly, there are hordes of pre-rigged variations available, but none matching my surefire assortment. To this, entirely, my hairpins are founded on Betts Spinners. The series affords Colorado blade sizes 0, 1, and 3, the heartier 3-size providing the best loft, especially with smaller jigs. Both silver and gold options are available, too. I employ silver in most scenarios, but swap to gold in dark water.Z-Man Slim SwimZ and Finesse ShroomZ jighead with hairpin spinner.
Next in line is the actual jig. Betts offers several workable styles, too, but I prefer a couple others. Z-Man’s capsule-headed Finesse ShroomZ are the defacto heads for Ned Rigs, and I find them equally amazing with hairpin spinners. Featherweight sizes of 1/15- and 1/10-ounce are the magic bullets. Keep a pool of red, black, green and white heads onboard to color match bodies.Northland Tackle’s RZ Jig is another winner, and easily found above the Mason Dixon Line.For my druthers, there are three failsafe brands of bodies: Z-Man, Bobby Garland and Bass Assassin. The throbbing paddletail of Z-Man’s 2.5-inch Slim SwimZ is a crappie menace. Its narrow girth prompts the hairpin to run single-file. And, constructed of ElaZtech, a single Slim SwimZ can easily burn through a limit of crappies.
Nationwide, Bobby Garland Crappie Baits own the most shelf space. This is warranted. The popular bodies – specifically the Original 2” Baby Shad – are to panfish what peanuts are to elephants. Ideally shaped like fish fry, they are squishy in the fingers, causing fish to hang on, and come in a staggering 75 colors. The flamboyant Cajun Cricket is a sunfish favorite. Baitfish-toned Blueback Shad Diamond Mist tempt everything in clear to lightly stained water. Glacier Blue, a white body peppered with blue, is a frequent flyer as well.Grab a few packs of Bass Assassin’s 3-inch Baby Shad to mix things up. They, too, come in a wide pallet of colors.
Northland Tackle’s legendary Rigged Mimic Minnow Shad come pre-rigged with physically accurate bodies and fish-fry-shaped heads. The color matching is already done. 1/32- and 1/16-ouncers are the chosen ones. Pedal trolling hairpin spinners is elementary. Locomoting slower than you would with hardbaits, even as slow as 1 MPH, is enough to keep the blades turning while riding high in the water column. Hairpins are at their best lazily humping along above targeted fish. In 10-feet of water, I want the hairpin mobilized 3 or 4 feet down, and no deeper than 5. Sometimes, I’ll run a hairpin rig in both rod holders, crack a cold one and light a cigar, and make sequentially spaced passes over suspect water.
Even though many missions are in less than 10-feet of water, my eyes are glued to the electronics, a 9-inch Raymarine Axiom. Even in shallow water you can mark fish. But more importantly, the Raymarine reveals weeds and other fish holding elements, not to mention signaling depth breaks. And if you find panfish pasted to the bottom, it’s time to hit the brakes and go to a vertical presentation; just the jig and plastic or a weensy jigging spoon. The Raymarine will reveal these tiny baits beneath the kayak in real time. Turn on the A-scope feature and experience the same, live drama you enjoy when fishing vertically through the ice.
Assuming you’re the results-oriented type of angler who has gotten over the stigma of trolling in general (you likely wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t), expand the technique into your panfishing – preferably by pedal-driven kayak – and see what happens. A cooler of crappies and sunfish does not lie.
Specialized Kayak Gear that Can Improve Your Fishing, from Hobie
|Hobie pro anglers tour their tournament boats|
from The Fishing Wire
OCEANSIDE, Calif. – Think of it like a downsized bass boat that happens to afford stealth-access to untouched fishing spots. If you’re an angler the likes of Kristine Fischer, it also serves as your mobile fishing office. For Hobie kayak pro Fischer and countless expert ‘yakers, outfitting their fishing rides distills down to space management and accessibility; i.e., How fast can I find and grab that particular hot bait?
Just like the desk in your cubicle (dread the thought), every little gadget, doodad and device—from your computer screen, mouse and iPhone all the way down to your favorite pencil—must lie within arm’s reach at all times. Preferably, you can snatch it without getting up or falling out of your chair.
“That’s one of the first things you notice and appreciate about a boat like my Hobie Pro Angler 14,” notes Fischer. “Every element of its design has been intelligently positioned to maximize space and allow for optimal convenience. But the kayak’s also been engineered to allow for customization, if you want. Hobie understands that every angler wants to trick their ride with different gear—electronics, rod holders, tackle storage and other essentials.
”Hobie Associate Product Manager of Fishing Accessories, Howie Strech is quick to spotlight the kayak company’s H-Rail system, which serves both as a convenient kayak handle and as a robust mounting base for an array of accessories along either side of the boat.
“Adjustability is everything in kayak fishing, and the H-Rail lets you quickly attach, remove and adjust all the essential ‘yak accessories,” says Strech.“The 12-sided H-Rail accepts a 1” or 1-1/2” RAM ball, to which most anglers mount sonar units, a GoPro or an Aqua-Vu underwater camera. You can also attach horizontal rod racks and rod holders, as well as cup holders and tackle bins, and the Universal H-Rail Mounting Plate allows you to adapt nearly any mounting base and accessory on the market.
”Hobie kayak pro Kristine Fischer utilizes every square inch of her boat through immaculate rigging and customizing.Fischer calls out one particularly valuable accessory adaptation. “I use a paddle holder connected via 1-inch RAM ball to secure my landing net,” explains the Hobie Bass Open champ. “Instead of holding a paddle, I use it to keep my net resting up in the front of my kayak where it’s out of my way but easy to reach.
”Also connected to the H-Rail of Fischer’s Pro Angler is a second RAM mount for her Lowrance HDS 9 sonar. “One kayak-specific tweak is a Point-1 GPS module, which shows me the exact on-screen position of waypoints relative to the nose of my kayak,” says Fischer. “This assures that every cast I make is right on target.
”The versatile Hobie H-Crate Storage System family affords countless storage possibilities.Another often-overlooked tech-tool that accompanies both Fischer and Strech on every outing is an Aqua-Vu micro underwater camera. “I can mount the Aqua-Vu directly to the H-Rail with a Pro Snake mount or use a RAM Camera Mount designed for a GoPro,” adds Fischer. “The Micro Revolution camera even has a built-in cable reel so I can instantly drop the optics into the fish zone and see what’s happening. When I’m done, I can reel the camera back up as quick and easy as retrieving a lure. The camera is an awesome tool for tournament prefishing, too.
”On the East Coast, pro kayak angler John Hostalka has taken the initiative of DIY-rigging his own GoPro mount. “My Hobie Mirage Outback is so full of extras that I haven’t had to do much accessorizing,” admits Hostalka, who casts for the wide variety of species in Chesapeake Bay.
“But for taking video, I needed a mount that allowed me to easily spin the camera any direction with one hand. Based on something I saw Brandon Barton using, I made a mount modification to my Scotty rod holder base that also let me remove the pole and camera for taking quick underwater release shots. It’s a pretty slick set-up that I can even adjust while fighting a fish.
”Another increasingly important piece of on-board electronics used by anglers is a Power-Pole Micro. The downsized Power-Pole rides astern and pins the kayak in place in up to 8-feet of water, which is especially handy for achieving perfect positioning in windy conditions.“Everything is powered by a single Dakota Lithium 23-amp battery, which is half the weight of a comparable sealed lead acid battery. Also keeps me juiced up for up to sixteen hours straight—either a really full day on the water or two or three normal days of fishing. The battery can fit into either the front hatch or right under my seat, secured in place with zip ties.”
“The storage space in these boats will blow you away,” adds Fischer, who admits to carrying a load of tackle, and up to 14 rods a day. “I can carry 12 rods—2 per slot, 6 per side—in the built-in rod racks on my Pro Angler. I like that they’re horizontal so I can sneak under bridges and trees without worrying about snapping tips.
”Strech notes Hobie’s ultra-versatile H-Crate, which fits perfectly in the space directly behind the seat. “The H-Crate Storage System is made for personalization,” suggests Strech. “Its integrated rod holders carry four combos, but can accommodate up to 10 or more with additional rod holders installed to the crate’s grid walls. The H-Crate also has four sections of H-Rail that serve as carry handles and accommodate extra accessories such as a tackle bin or Hobie’s new feature-rich Mini Bin. Inside, you’ve easily got enough space to pack around ten standard 3700-size tackle boxes.
”Fischer, of course, loads her H-Crate with tackle and then some. Between her seat and the H-Crate lies a Cal Coast Battle Box, which organizes terminal tackle such as tungsten bullet weights and worm hooks. Under her comfortable, adjustable seat, Fischer stashes two additional totes filled with Ned rig baits and other soft plastics. Attached to the back of the seat is a zippered Vantage Seat Accessory Bag loaded with fluorocarbon leader and other fishing line.
Beneath the hidden hatch at her feet lies a Hobie Rectangular Gear Bucket filled with the most important plastics or lures for the day’s fishing; pliers and other tools fit neatly into a cargo pocket built-into the underside of the hatch lid itself. The kayak is also armed with extra rubber mesh pockets alongside the seat, which Fischer uses for more tools and a Cal Coast Donkey Leash lanyard equipped with a multitool. Up front, the spacious bow hatch is equipped with a liner that contains more lure totes, camera monopods, safety flags, a hand paddle and an extra life-vest. Providing extra traction, comfort and sound-dampening advantages, Fischer finishes her ‘yak with Hobie EVA Deck Pads, giving it a cool, customized look.
“People tell me I have the most organized kayak they’ve ever seen,” she laughs. “I’m not so sure about that. But it does always amaze me how much tackle, accessories and electronics I’m able to fit on this rig. When the bite is on and time is short, sure is nice to having everything I need right at arm’s reach.”
About Hobie Since 1950, Hobie has been in the business of shaping a unique lifestyle based around fun, water and quality products. From their headquarters in Oceanside, California, Hobie Cat Company manufactures, distributes and markets an impressive collection of watercraft worldwide. These include an ever-expanding line of recreation and racing sailboats, pedal-driven and paddle sit-on-top recreation and fishing kayaks, inflatable kayaks and fishing boats, plus a complementary array of parts and accessories.
Kayak Fishing: Back to the Start
|By YAKGEAR Pro Tim Hotchkin|
from The Fishing Wire
I am like most kayak fishing folks reading this. I started kayak fishing to get out on the water more often and to access water that was difficult to fish from a big boat. In 2011 I had a truck that got horrible gas mileage and a big bass boat that was not much better. Whenever I went to the lake, I always knew I would spend at least $100 between the truck and the boat due to gas prices.
This caused me to not fish as much as I wanted to. I started thinking about options to get on some of the smaller lakes closer to my house — ways I could easily throw and go.
After looking at several options, I settled on a kayak. My first kayak was nothing special — a 12-foot Perception Pescador 12 purchased at a discount at Academy due to some shipping damage.The boat was a great start, and by the next year I was ready to upgrade. (Over time I’ve learned that this would become a trend, but that’s another story altogether–including lots of YakGear equipment to get each new ‘yak just the way I liked it.)
I got involved with my local kayak scene and found a tournament trail. When I started hanging around with some of those guys and checking out the events (I am a competitive person by nature) I felt it was a good way to still have a competitive sport in my life and matched what I enjoyed doing in my free time. That club eventually dissolved and a group of us started a new trail, which quickly grew. We went from a good turnout being 15 to 20 people to where, if we had fewer than 60, the anglers were disappointed with the turnout.
After years of involvement, my fishing revolved around tournaments. I no longer went to those cool places I liked to explore, as I was always focused on pre-fishing and trying to pattern the fish.Last year I knew a change was coming. My wife and I already had a 3-year-old little girl, and now had twins due in November. I tried hard to finish well in Angler of the Year standings and felt good with my finish just outside of the top 10 — out of well over 100 anglers.
The main issue was that I was pretty burned out. I had already decided to step away from the tournament board to focus on the family and twins, but when the new season came around, I had no desire to compete. Lack of sleep from the boys may have contributed to some of that. I attempted to pre-fish for the first tournament of the year, but the excitement just wasn’t there. I could also tell me being gone all day put a lot of extra stress on my family. So, I decided I wasn’t going to fish tournaments either.
This year I got back to where kayak fishing began for me, back to what made me fall in love with this sport. My fishing has been focused on short trips, just enjoying the chance to get on the water like I did in 2011. The times where I could fish for longer periods of time or have an entire day, I went to places I loved, but which I hadn’t fished in years. I have fished more rivers than I have in the last three years combined. Just a couple weeks ago I got to take my daughter out and let her catch her first smallmouth in a small scenic river.
That was an amazing thing to experience. I got to have more trips with my friends and just go out and enjoy the peace that being on the water brings. It has been an amazing reset.I can tell as the season has progressed that my desire to get back out and compete is growing again. I think that, like everything in life, it is about balance. I look forward to seeing what next year holds and getting back out on the water with friends I have made with the Natural State Kayak Anglers group. And I look forward to grabbing my YakGear Fish Stik measurement board and setting out to fish some of the tournaments again.
If you are starting to feel burned out, I recommend stepping back and thinking about what got you into the sport. Take a break and go do those things, whether that means fishing with friends or fishing a body of water you haven’t had the time for.
About the Author YakGear Brand Ambassador Tim Hotchkin is an Arkansas resident who has been fishing his entire life, thanks to his grandfather and uncle. He started out wading creeks and fishing ponds to catch bass, and later found that kayaking gave him the ability to easily travel from one favorite spot to another. He enjoys kayak fishing because it allows him to really get close to nature. You will often find him fishing in tournaments through Natural State Kayak Anglers.
Turn Your Rod Holder Around for Easier Kayak Angling
|by YakGear President Bill Bragman|
from The Fishing Wire
It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Through the combination of kayak fishing for most of my adult life and working in the paddlesports industry during this period of incredible growth, this old dog thought he knew most of the tricks.I was wrong.
Recently I had the pleasure of traveling to New Zealand to meet with our friends from RAILBLAZA. While the usual work, product development and distribution talks were very exciting, I was most excited for the opportunity to get out on the water with these kayak fishing experts!
With few to no inland waterways, most kayak fishing trips are done in 40 to 100 feet of water. My dependable 6-foot YakStick Mud Anchor wasn’t going to cut it. Jason Milne, better known in the industry as Paddle Guy, picked me up at 5:30 a.m. and we were off.We hauled our kayaks out to the water on C-Tugs and began to load up the kayaks for a surf launch.
Just as I have always done, I put the RAILBLAZA Rod Holder II in a StarPort facing the bow of the kayak. Jason laughed.“Sit down in the paddling position,” he told me. As I got comfortable, Jason used the slide-locking mechanism on the RAILBLAZA base to pop the rod holder out, turned it around and raised it to an almost vertical position.
The light bulb popped on inside my head before he even finished setting the rod holders into place. It was the first time I did not have to scoot forward to reach past my knees to grab my rod out of the front-mounted rod holder. The paradigm of a forward-facing rod holder was so embedded in my brain that I forgot to consider just how impractical the setup was!
The once impractical and time-consuming process of either scooting forward or stretching like a gymnast – because kayak anglers are super flexible, right? – was finally comfortable and quick!
The benefits of turning my rod holder around became clearer than the beautiful blue New Zealand water. Think about how different aspects of kayak fishing could be made much easier with this added quickness and comfort.
Changing Lures In the past, if I wanted to change my lure I would either have to scoot or stretch to get the rod and lay it in my lap. Leashes and all, having a rod unsecured in your lap is always risky. The more unsecured the rod is, the higher the chances of a mistake happening are. You never know when the rod will slip, you will lose balance or the hook will catch some unsuspecting piece of flesh.By having the rod holder mounted almost vertically and facing me, the lure literally dropped into my lap and I was able to easily apply my bait or change my lure.
Rod Retrieval In New Zealand, trolling is the way to go kayak fishing! Trolling with my rod holder turned around allowed me to easily see when I was getting action on my line. While shortening my reaction time to grabbing my rod is great, the real benefit comes from the how easy the rod is to retrieve. With one quick swoop of my rod, I was fighting the fish quicker than ever before because I eliminated the “scoot” to the front facing rod holder or the “turn and grab” to the rear-mounted rod holder.Think about the importance of a quick rod retrieval to sight casters! How much could simply turning the rod holder around help stalking a redfish in the flats? You’re quicker, more comfortable and thus quieter.
Landing a Fish As easy as it was to retrieve, mounting the rod back into the rod holder was equally easy. You don’t have to go much further than a search for kayak fishing on YouTube to see that, when folks get a fish close to the kayak, they lay their rod across their lap.Wouldn’t this rod be safer in the rod holder? Wouldn’t the process of landing a fish be much easier with two hands on the fish and none on the rod?
But it Looks Funny, Right? It may look funny to some people. You know, it’s not the classic “two back rod holders angled at 45 degrees and one front rod holder facing straight over the bow.” It looked funny to me at first. However, with all the benefits that turning your rod holder around provides, you won’t catch this dog on the water ever again without showing off the new trick he learned!
From Tarpon to Bass, Nothing is Off Limits when Kayak Fishing
Photo courtesy of Justin Ritchey
From the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission
Kayak fishing is a growing sport and it’s easy to see why. Kayaks are nimble, less expensive than most motorized boats and provide access to places even the best casts from land just can’t reach.
The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation confirms that kayaks are the most popular type of boat for Americans to own and that the number of people participating in kayak fishing has gone up in the past six years.
But those who love the sport say kayak fishing is more than just a quick and less expensive way to get on the water.
“You are more in tune with what is going on,” said avid kayak angler Tony Hart, who runs YakOutlaws.com, a website dedicated to all things kayak fishing and stand up paddleboard angling. “The slower approach gives you an opportunity to take in more. It’s almost as though you become a part of what’s around you.”
“Because you are so low in the water, there is this sense of vulnerability when you start fishing, but you also have this feeling of freedom and accomplishment, blood, sweat and tears,” said Justin Ritchey, who has been kayak fishing for 10-plus years and has competed across Florida and internationally, taking fourth place in the 2014 Hobie Fishing World Championship in Amsterdam. “I’m very passionate about it, it’s a huge part of my life.”
Interested in kayak fishing? Read on to learn more about why this sport is booming and how you can get in on the action.
Access for all
Like many kayak anglers, Hart and Ritchey got into kayak fishing for similar reasons: they loved fishing and didn’t have access to a boat.
Ritchey, a fishing manufacturer representative from Orlando, got his start in college renting a two-person kayak for the weekend and asking random classmates to foot the rental fee for time on the water. Ritchey would provide the car, fishing gear and knowledge.
Hart was fishing from a dock in Jacksonville when he noticed fish off a point too far for him to reach casting. “That’s when two young guys paddled by and I thought, that’s the smartest thing in world,” said Hart. “The next weekend I got two kayaks.”
What often gets people into kayak fishing is the ability to access places they just can’t reach from shore.
“You can go anywhere you want with no stress of a motor breaking down or electronic failure,” Ritchey said. “And because you are quiet, you can often get closer than boat anglers can get.” You also can often get in shallower waters than many motorized boats.
Some might be thinking, kayaks are great for seatrout and redfish, but what if I want to catch a monster tarpon or a sailfish?
While what you catch within paddling distance will vary according to where in Florida you are fishing, if you can catch it, your kayak can take it.
“Being able to catch every species from a kayak is personal goal of mine,” said Ritchey, who has personally caught sailfish, blackfin tuna, mutton snapper, kingfish and tarpon from his kayak. “In a boat, when a fish takes a lot of line, you have less control. In a kayak, you might be getting towed, but you are never too far away from the fish, which allows you to get the fish in much faster.”
Ready to get your line wet? Check out these expert tips.
Buying a ‘yak
Don’t be afraid to spend more for quality, safety and access. Ritchey says most kayaks will hold their value, so if you decide kayak fishing is not for you, you should at least be able to get some of your money back.
Safety is key. Invest in a personal floatation device you will actually wear, carry a whistle or other sound-making device, and establish a float plan or let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. “Buy a life jacket that fits and is comfortable,” said Hart. “To me that is the biggest thing. Spend the money. Get a PFD that’s going to take care of you.” Inflatable lifejackets are very comfortable and are gaining popularity as well.
Try one out. “A lot of outfitters offer demo days,” said Hart, who suggests getting a feel for different types of kayaks before making a purchase.
With any luck, your paddling hands will be busy reeling in a big one, so look for a kayak with foot propulsion pedals.
Start with a sit-on-top, which is easier for ocean going trips (and dealing with Florida’s hot summers).
Accessorize: kayak fishing may have started with nothing more than a pole and boat, but these days anglers can customize for whatever preference or need they have, and we are not just talking cup holders. One of Ritchey’s three kayaks has a livewell, depth finder and a downrigger. Consider having more than one kayak for different types of fishing.
Where to start
Learn from others. Attend seminars about kayak fishing, find others who kayak fish and ask lots of questions.
Get started in saltwater by sight-fishing in shallower water, two feet or less, or try bass fishing at a local pond or lake. The key is to look for places without a ton of current to contend with until you get used to the feel.
Concerned about tipping? Try to keep the fish off the front of your kayak, which is the best and most comfortable way to fight a fish.
Make it a lifetime sport
Have kayak, will travel. Florida is bountiful when it comes to different fishing experiences. Strap that kayak securely to the roof of your vehicle and take it with you. You never know what you might catch next.
Catch a Florida Memory. Add fish to your Saltwater Fish Life List, conquer a Grand Slam or land that Reel Big Fish, all while earning prizes and supporting marine fisheries conservation. Submit catches on com.
Bring the family. Kayaks come in all kinds of sizes and make for a great family outing. Take out those kayaks and build fishing memories that will last a lifetime. “My fondest memories are when my wife, kids and I all go out together,” Hart said, referring to his two young sons.
Need more inspiration? Check out these videos by Justin Ritchey:
Tarpon off the Beach (Cape Canaveral) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSE4WzoVmIo Adventure Fishing World Championship https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xqCe4PDYYw
The quarterly Gone Coastal column is one of many ways that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Marine Fisheries Management is helping recreational anglers understand complex saltwater regulations and learn more about saltwater fishing opportunities and issues in Florida. We are also available to answer questions by phone or email anytime, and we would love the opportunity to share information through in-person presentations with recreational or commercial fishing organizations. To contact the FWC’s Regulatory Outreach subsection, call 850-487-0554 or email Saltwater@MyFWC.com.
How to Pick a Saltwater Kayak
By Kyle Manak
from The Fishing Wire
When choosing a good saltwater kayak, there are many things that come to mind. First and foremost, consider what your intentions are regarding that saltwater kayak.
Where Will You Be Using Your Kayak?
Your personal fishing habits will come into play when choosing a kayak. After all, not all kayaks are made the same. Will you be fishing? Will you be in marshy waters or bays, or will you venture offshore? Marshes call for a kayak that does well in “skinny” water. Do you choose a paddling kayak or a pedal style? In waters eight inches deep or less, for instance, although your kayak will float, your pedal drive might not be usable. Knowing that you can paddle your kayak is still important. Pedal drives are great options for deeper waters of 14 inches or more, and of course, they keep your hands free when going distances or trolling. A paddle kayak can be used in all waters, but are you comfortable paddling three to six hours or more? Additionally, are you using your saltwater kayak for recreational fishing or tournament fishing? A you just searching for a good kayak you can be in all day? Make sure to ask yourself these questions while you’re shopping around.
What Size Kayak is Best for You?
This goes back to where you will be using your saltwater kayak. Most anglers like a kayak that is 12 feet or longer. This is because the longer the kayak is, the easier it is to keep on a straight path, with or without a rudder. Will you be standing for some of your fishing, or always sitting? Offshore, of course, you will be sitting, while you may decide to stand inshore sometimes. Having a kayak measuring 14 feet or longer, and with a seat in the lowest possible position, is a wise choice for offshore ventures. It allows you to breach the waves in launching or your return through the surf. YakGear’s Sting Ray and Manta Ray seats are both great options for a comfortable low, four-point seat. For occasional standing, you may want to look for a kayak measuring 36 inches wide or wider, and which has a pontoon-style keel, rather than a single sharper keel. This creates more stability, but it is not foolproof. You must always be careful. Longer and narrower kayaks are typically faster and less susceptible to cross winds. Sitting higher in a wider kayak will catch more wind, and you will have to put in a lot more effort. If you do choose to stand aboard your kayak, consider adding a YakGear StandNCast Bar to aid in balance.
Should You Sit Inside or on Top?
Many years ago, sit-inside kayaks were the only option out there. In the last 15 to 20 years, however, sit-on-top kayaks have become more popular for saltwater. A sit-inside kayak does not allow you the flexibility of standing, and if you want to get out and do a little wade fishing, it is much harder in a sit-inside than a sit-on-top.
What Should the Capacity of Your Kayak Be?
Your own size and the gear you will bring with you plays an important role in kayak selection, as well. If a kayak has a weight capacity of 300 pounds, that is the amount of weight it will hold while still allowing it to float. If you weigh 200 pounds, for example, and bring 50 pounds of gear, you are using more than 80% of the weight capacity, which will reflect in the kayak’s speed and maneuverability. Kayak Angler Magazine’s Chris Payne notes that a good rule of thumb is not to exceed 75% of your saltwater kayak’s weight capacity.
How Will You Transport Your Kayak?
Speaking of weight, make sure the size and weight of your saltwater kayak fits your transportation. Will you be hauling your kayak on top of your car? In the bed of your truck? In a trailer? All important things to keep in mind when deciding on a kayak. Also, when you get close to your launch spot, how will you get your kayak down to the water? The C-Tug cart offers two helpful options — a hard wheel for asphalt and such, and the newer Sandtrakz wheels for beach sands and other all-terrain scenarios.
I asked myself these questions and more before purchasing my kayak. A wide kayak will offer stability and comfort, but the tracking ability is diminished a bit. A longer, narrower kayak will increase your speed and tracking, but you might lose some stability. One way to pick a good saltwater kayak is to test out several options. Go to kayak demo days hosted by retailers across the United States, and test as many out as possible. Maybe borrow a friend’s kayak or rent one for the day. I promise you will know the minute you get in if it feels right. Until then, happy kayak hunting and tight lines.
About the Author:
YakGear Brand Ambassador Kyle Manak learned most of his fishing techniques — and developed a love of the water — in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. Although he enjoyed boat fishing, bank fishing and wade fishing through the years, it was when Kyle ventured into kayak fishing that he found his stride and never looked back. For him, the simplicity and beauty of being on a kayak and catching a fish was something special. He was hooked by the beauty and peacefulness he experienced out on the water.
Kyle has been kayak fishing for many years now, and has extended his passion to social media. A few years ago, he created Kayak Fishing Texas, an online community which started small but today has more than 6,700 members who share the same passion. He continues to spread his passion for fishing to his own children and other children whenever he can.
Tips for More Efficient Kayak Paddling
from The Fishing Wire
Whether kayak fishing or out for a quiet day on the water, proper and efficient kayak paddling will help increase speed and momentum so you can travel farther with less fatigue. YakGear provides a few general tips for new and seasoned paddlers to make the most of their day on the water.
Efficient paddling begins with proper sitting posture. An upright sitting position is key to getting the most from your paddle blades and allows for easier dipping and removal of the blade from the water. Paddlers should be sitting upright or slightly forward and not lean on the backrest. Feet should be anchored to the footrests or foot molds with knees slightly bent.
Proper Hand Grip
To determine the optimal grip placement, position the middle of the paddle on your head and grab the shaft with elbows at 90 degrees. This will be the ideal gripping spot for each hand. Most paddlers will tend to over grip the paddle. A light grip will prevent hands from growing tired and give you a better feeling for the balance of the paddle. Using paddle grips, such as HOLDFast Kayak Paddle Grips, will help keep hands fresh and provide a consistent, tactile point of contact.
A smooth and consistent paddle stroke is perhaps the most important aspect of efficient paddling. Most new paddlers hold the paddle too close to their bodies with their elbows bent – more commonly known as paddle hugging. Instead, keep the paddle as far in front of your chest as possible, with elbows slightly bent. This will allow you to reach farther forward when you begin your stroke.
Begin the stroke by reaching forward and inserting the blade into the water, vertically in line with your feet or ankles. If the stroke is on the right side, the right hand serves as a fulcrum point while the left hand pushes forward while your torso rotates to the right. The blade should come out of the water as it passes the hip. Keeping the blade in after the hip does not help propel but actually creates drag. Leaving the blade in the water past your hip also promotes the paddle blade to spoon or bring up water, which will drip down the shaft when that blade is up and out.
Using the Correct Length of Paddle
The general rule of thumb for finding the correct length of paddle is to stand straight and position the paddle vertically alongside your body. If you can reach up and just hook your first finger joint over the blade, it will be the correct length. For kayaks wider than 30 inches, you will need to add those extra inches to the overall paddle length. Paddles are measured in centimeters instead of inches, so a conversion will be needed. One inch equals 2.54 centimeters. For most kayaks and adults, a 230 cm or 240 cm paddle will do the trick.
For kayakers that straddle standard paddle lengths or may have several different sizes of kayaks, the Backwater Assassin Carbon Fiber Hybrid Paddle provides added versatility with an extra 10 centimeters of adjustment to fill the gap. The kayak paddle is available in lengths of 230-240 cm and 250-260 cm.
Efficient paddling is achieved through extensive practice. Spending time on the water in a kayak is quality time that is best shared with family or friends. YakRule No. 15 says it all – “Never Go it Alone.”
See the latest kayaking products and get more tips at www.yakgear.com.
Top 5 Kayak Safety Tips For Kayaking Alone
from The Fishing Wire
Kayak safety is at the forefront of many discussions in the kayak community this year. While the 2018 American Canoe Association statistics have not been released yet, 2017 had a total of 149 documented paddle sport fatalities, which consisted of 94 kayak, 44 canoe and 11 paddleboard deaths. One fact that highlights the growth of kayaking as a sport is that canoe fatalities accounted for most deaths in the United States until 2010, when kayaking took over the leading category – and ever since, kayaking has not relinquished the title of deadliest paddle sport in the United States.
While not all accidents are preventable, there are a few kayak safety practices that you can work on to minimze the amount of risk you take on each individual trip. Here are some not-so-commonly mentioned kayak safety tips to help you maximize your chances of survival if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation.
1. Understand the differences in PFD (Personal Flotation Device) types
·Type I PFD – provides the most flotation of any PFD, suitiable for rough water or stormy situations. The only PFD that will keep most unconscious victims face up and out of the water.
·Type II PFD – suitable for most water conditions and provides great flotation in calmer water, but may require the individual to tread water to remain face up in rough water.
·Type III PFD – designed for calm water or where rescue would be very quickly accomplished. Type III devices are not designed for extended survival situations and will not turn individuals face up.
·Type IV – throwable devices made for overboard situations or to keep someone afloat long enough to direct the watercraft into a rescue position.
·Type V – special use. This is a very broad category that encompasses most inflatable life vests, special purpose life vests and jackets, as well as white water vests. They must be worn to meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements for vessel flotation devices. Automatic inflatable life vests are included in this category and provide the most comfort and user mobility during use.
Each category of life vest has different uses and provides different levels of protection during survival situations. Understanding what your life vest will do in these situations is critical to making the right decision for your equipment and survival gear.
2. Dress appropriately and for the worst-case scenario.
It’s a common kayak safety mistake to plan to go out on the water for a few hours and not bring the right gear for an extended period of time. For example, if it’s a chilly morning below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s convenient to wear a hoodie and some thick pants and call it good for a few hours. But what happens when the wind is higher than you expected or you get wetter than you planned? Having the gear and protective clothing for the worst conditions puts you in a position to remove items rather than wishing you had them. I often sweat a little during my winter fishing trips because for me, if I’m anything but cozy, I have put myself at a disadvantage and have a higher risk of an incident if my situation goes south. Always try to carry extra gear as a precaution, even if it seems inconvenient.
3. Prepare to be rescued.
Nobody likes to picture themselves in a life-threating situation, but planning for these types of things can be the difference between life and death. Flares are exremely useful for helping you be seen and located by other boaters or authorities. If you’re out of range of a whistle to another boater, a flare or a good VHF radio might be your only shot at being noticed right away. Many search and rescue cases would have different outcomes if distress signals or messages were relayed at the time of the incident, but many searches don’t even start until that person is far overdue and reported missing by a friend or loved one. Those first hours can make all the difference in the outcome of a search. Even if you only fish freshwater lakes and rivers, flares and/or a radio can save your life.
4. Always have your safety equipment within reach of both arms.
Imagine you’re fishing in windy, choppy conditions and have a hook become imbedded in your dominant hand or arm. Could you handle lifting the weight of that fish and putting that much pressure on your wound to reach your gear? Personally, I have a pair of heavy-duty diagonal cutting pliers to cut the hooks away from whatever is connected to it, whether it’s a fish or debris, to at least regain full use of that limb. I can reach these pliers with both hands no matter what awkward position I’m in when this happens, if it ever happens. It looks goofy, but my big diagonal cutters in the center of my life vest are a huge risk mitigator if I ever get hooked while the line or lure is attached to an object. The point is to think about these situations and be able to plan for these things to happen so they don’t catch you by surprise. If you ever want to see an example of this, check out Chris Castro’s leg gear on Next Level Fishing TV. He always has some emergency tools and survival gear on his leg for unexpected situations.
5. Is your kayak rigged to flip?
This can be a contradicting kayak safety question at first glance. Is your kayak rigged to flip to save your gear, or save yourself? Tethers, line, trolleys and gear are valuable, but they can also create a tangle hazard when you’re flipped and in proximity to them underwater. I use every gear leash I have when I am actively fishing, but when I’m in a situation where I think flipping my kayak could happen, I disconnect everything, lay the gear down and use bungees that do not move and will not create tangle hazards for me if I flip with my kayak. Another important point on flipping a kayak is to always stay upswell of the kayak. If you’re on the side of the kayak facing the wave direction, a wave can throw the kayak into your body or head, which risks serious injury to you and in turn can impact your ability to swim and tread water. With kayak seats getting higher and higher, high winds can really increase your chances of flipping in rough conditions.
While these kayak safety tips may seem like planning for the worst-case scenario, there is a reason for it. Writer Alan Lakein once said, “Planning is bringing the future into the present, so you can do something about it now.” I plan because I spent eight years of my life in the United States Coast Guard observing and responding to situations that every single person I helped never planned or dreamed they would be in. Take these tips into consideration, and always keep in mind that it could happen to you.
About the Author
YakGear Brand Ambassador Holton Walker now lives in Tyler, Texas. After serving our country in the Coast Guard for eight years, Holton brought his family of four back home to Texas to work for McCoy’s Building Supply. Holton is an avid angler, having grown up fishing the Laguna Madre in Corpus Christi, Texas. Now, Holton spends his time fishing freshwater lakes and occasionally comes down to fish his home waters on the Texas coast. Don’t be surprised if you see Holton at your next kayak fishing tournament.
Floating and Fishing Kentucky’s Drakes Creek
From the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
from the Fishing Wire
Trammel Fork and Middle Fork of Drakes Creek rise in the northern Highland Rim area along the Tennessee border in Allen County. The two forks flow into Warren County where they meet the main stem of Drakes Creek that drains into Barren River near Bowling Green.
The gravel substrate of Trammel Fork, Middle Fork and Drakes Creek allows floodwaters to carve holes of varying depths, reminiscent of the world famous blue ribbon smallmouth streams of the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks. The Drakes Creek system is vastly different water than smallmouth streams flowing through the limestone sections of Kentucky where the water is rarely over an adult’s head. Trammel Fork, Middle Fork and Drakes Creek also hold largemouth bass, spotted bass, rock bass, bluegill and a few muskellunge.
Fisheries personnel with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources routinely see smallmouth bass from 15 to 18 inches long in this system. Trammel Fork, Middle Fork and Drakes Creek also have many riffles that make the paddling interesting, but are easy enough for beginners and families.
Western Kentucky University has a helpful website for paddlers on the Drakes Creek system called the Warren County Blueways at www.wku.edu/blueways. The website features an interactive and printable map with GPS coordinates, locations of put-in and take-out locations, floating mileages and other important information along with links to participating partners. This map corresponds with brown metal markers at the put-in and take-out locations on the river to avoid confusion and also on the map that accompanies this article.
In its journey from its spring-laden headwaters to its confluence with Drakes Creek, Trammel Fork has deep holes, gravelly shoals and riffles that make ideal habitat for smallmouth bass.
The first float on Trammel Fork of Drakes Creek begins near the Warren and Allen County line at the KY 240 Bridge on Woodburn – Allen Springs Road and ends two miles downstream at Boyce – Fairview Road Bridge in Warren County. Limited parking exists at the put-in at the KY 240 Bridge.
Trammel Fork in this section has many long, moderately deep holes interspersed with gravel bars and braided stream drops. This float makes an excellent half-day float for anglers pursuing black bass, rock bass or sunfish.
The second float begins at the Boyce – Fairview Road Bridge and ends five and one-half miles downstream at Romanza Johnson Park on Mt. Lebanon Road in Warren County. This float makes an excellent full-day float for those who plan to fish and half-day float on a straight paddle.
Boaters may put in at the KY 240 Bridge and paddle to Romanza Johnson Park on Mt. Lebanon Road for a seven and one-half mile float. Those who plan to fish should put in early in the morning and plan to take out at dusk on this stretch.
Fly rod anglers interested in smallmouth bass should try the Middle Fork of Drakes Creek. The Middle Fork is much smaller and intimate compared to Trammel Fork and offers excellent opportunity for fly casters to present black deer hair poppers and larger chartreuse cork poppers to woody cover in the flowing shoals and above and below riffles. The top-water bite grows stronger as the days shorten and water cools in September.
Kayaks provide access to miles of good fishing on the forks of Drakes Creek near Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Due to its small stature, deadfalls blocking the stream can be a problem on the Middle Fork and may require some portaging, especially after high flow periods.
The put-in for this float is on Goodrum Road in Warren County for a nearly four-mile paddle to the KY 240 Bridge on Woodburn – Allen Springs Road near the community of Drake. Parking for several vehicles and an easy carry down at the Goodrum Road access awaits boaters. However, the KY 240 Bridge access has limited parking and presents a long carry over private property that requires landowner permission. Paddlers can shorten this float to about three miles by putting in at the ford on Duncan Road, also known as White’s Chapel Road.
The next float is on the main stem of Drakes Creek. It begins at the KY 240 Bridge near Drake and concludes roughly five miles later at Romanza Johnson Park. Boaters need to paddle a short distance up Trammel Fork to the park which enters Drakes Creek on the right.
This section of Drakes Creek has many sharp turns that create flowing outside bends that hold smallmouth bass. Target these areas with a 4-inch black double-tailed skirted grub on a 3/16-ounce standup leadhead. Larger smallmouth bass prefer this presentation.
This stretch also features many sandbars slightly under water. Swim a 3-inch green pumpkin-colored curly-tailed grub just over bottom in these areas for smallmouths. Grubs really shine on hot days during low flow periods.
The next float begins at Romanza Johnson Park and ends about six miles downstream at Phil Moore Park in U.S. 231 near Bowling Green. This stretch is perfect for paddlers who want to spend a day on the water without worrying about time or difficulty of paddling. Both of these parks close at dusk.
Drakes Creek widens and deepens in this stretch and the same outside bends hold smallmouth bass, but anglers should also work the woody cover in the slower holes for spotted and largemouth bass. A pearl-colored weightless soft plastic jerkbait draws strikes when slowly worked alongside the submerged wood. A four-inch black finesse worm rigged on a 1/16-ounce leadhead and allowed to slowly fall beside this cover is also a deadly tactic for these fish.
Two take-outs await paddlers at Phil Moore Park. One is on the left just upstream of the U.S. 231 Bridge. Warren County Parks and Recreation installed a concrete pad for paddlers to land boats and gain their footing in current before ascending the steps to the parking area. The other take-out is about one mile downstream around a bend to the left. Look for a small set of concrete steps.
The last float on Drakes Creek begins at Phil Moore Park and ends about five miles downstream at the KY 2629 Bridge on Old Scottsville Road. The KY 2629 Bridge access has extremely limited parking and a long carry. Do not block the farm gates while parking vehicles here.
This section flows much more river-like and holds good numbers of largemouth and spotted bass. Anglers should also target sunken brush and tree tops for surprisingly large bluegill.
This section also holds some large muskellunge that migrate upstream from Barren River. Fish flooded timber with a large black and gold minnow-shaped crankbait for muskellunge.
Paddlers should consult the Drakes Creek near Alvaton, Kentucky gauge on the Kentucky Streamflow page at the U.S. Geological Survey’s website at www.waterdata.gov. For Trammel Fork and Drakes Creek, flows of at least 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) are best for minimal dragging with a 150 cfs minimum for the Middle Fork. Anglers can float these at lower flows, but expect to drag.
The upper stretch of Trammel Fork at the Concord Church Road Bridge and Blankenship Road Bridge in Allen County offers excellent wade fishing for trout at these two Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Voluntary Public Access Sites. Springs feeding Trammel Fork drop the water temperature low enough for trout to survive year-round.
Scottsville and Allen County offer plenty of antiquing for visitors to accompany paddling the Drakes Creek system. Both Allen and Warren counties’ strategic location on the main transportation routes from Louisville to the interior of the South provided much Civil War action in the area.
Scottsville/Allen County Chamber of Commerce:
Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau:
The Perfect Drift: Sub-Zero Bass by Kayak
How one globe-trotting angler taps winter smallmouth in the Gopher State
By Jim Edlund
from The Fishing Wire
The vast majority of northern bass anglers hang up their open-water gear for the winter. With most lakes under inches (if not feet) of ice by January, most fishing involves an eight-inch hole in the ice.
“You have to look hard in the northern states, but there are places to fish bass during the winter in open water,” says Minnesota-based kayak angler Paul Hansen.
Funny thing about Hansen, he has plenty of access to open-water fish during the worst of Minnesota’s winters. As a commercial airline pilot, he’s often free to explore waters during layovers in southern climes – something he’s been doing in one form or another for almost two decades. In fact, he reluctantly admits fishing was the impetus to learn how to fly.
“After working long hours in fishing retail, I knew there had to be a better way. If I could make it through pilot’s training and build up hours and experience, I could eventually create a business to fly adventure anglers into really cool destinations, which selfishly appealed to me,” says Hansen.
Turns out Hansen took to flying as naturally as he did to fly casting, and in the year 2000, he and legendary fly angler/travel partner Trapper Rudd started an exploratory kayak fishing program.
“We put kayaks on an airplane and brought them to Mexico. We had fished all the popular destinations and set out to find untouched snook, tarpon, and bonefish by kayak. We found some epic fisheries that wouldn’t have been accessible without kayaks. This led to years of great adventures, like the stuff I read about in magazines as a kid,” says Hansen.
These days, Hansen flies fewer angling expeditions into remote locations, having opted for the stability of a commercial airline job. “My kids are involved in a lot of school activities and sports, so naturally, I want to be there for them. I don’t necessarily turn down opportunities, but let’s just say my priorities have changed.”
Still, as a competitive kayak angler who frequently competes in both the Kayak Bass Series (KBS) and Kayak Bass Fishing circuit (KBF) tournaments, there are times when Hansen gets antsy during long Minnesota winters. Having qualified for the KBS Nationals on Lake Guntersville, Alabama, this past September, Hansen says he feels the need to stay at the top of his game despite Minnesota’s harsh winter weather.
“There are warm-water effluent areas throughout the frozen north that offer an open-water alternative to ice fishing. And some of the smallmouth bass fishing is pretty phenomenal,” says Hansen.
Just minutes from his Twin Cities, Minnesota home, the warm-water discharge from power plants on the St. Croix River and Mississippi River offer some legendary winter smallmouth bass fishing opportunities.
“I ran drift boat fly fishing trips on the Mississippi River for over 20 years, so I know the water like the back of my hand. But I always felt like the drift boat had to go away at some point—and I reached that point. It was far more convenient for me to drive over, drop in the my kayak, and hit the areas that I really liked. Some spots I can fish from the kayak, other areas I get out and walk and wade.”
One particular stretch of river—the Mississippi River between St. Cloud to Elk River, Minnesota—is high on Hansen’s list for winter smallmouth. “Although I had fished this stretch for years out of my drift boat, when I started fishing it from the kayak it was like brand-new water to me. Areas I would normally bypass with the drift boat were now fishable. I could get right up onto a sand bar, into the run-outs of an island or small creek, between boulders, or right next to an island and stake out—or get out and walk and wade. It really opened up an entirely new world to me. The kayak allowed me to re-learn my water.”
Depending on the conditions, Hansen employs the use of two specific fishing kayaks, both designed and manufactured in the USA by Maine’s Old Town Canoes & Kayaks, a company with over 100 years in the watercraft business.
“I like the 12-foot Old Town Predator MX because it’s nice and short with a stable 34-inch beam. At 82 pounds, I can grab it and go—and drag it through just about anything to my access points, including deep snow. Now, if I have access to a good landing, then the Predator PDL is my choice, because I then have more boat control on the river via the PDL Drive, which allows me forward and reverse with my feet and one-handed rudder control. With the MX, I’m drifting—and trying to fish on a float—and control the boat at the same time, which can be challenging on some waters. With the Predator PDL, I can back-pedal, I can slow my drift, and I can really fine tune boat control while fishing hands free.”
Despite the frigid air temperature, Hansen says he actually prefers kayak fishing smallmouth bass during the winter. “The fish tend to pod up and the kayak allows you excellent access to them. Winter is the best time to do this, more so than when they’re scattered the rest of the year.”
But Hansen admits that sometimes finding smallmouth pods can be a challenge. And even when you find them, it all comes down to just the right presentation.
Winter Smallmouth Location
The first thing Hansen looks for are areas that retain heat. As cold-blooded creatures, smallmouth bass will only expend as much energy as the water temperature allows. The biological imperative is to conserve energy; when water temperatures are low, bass will move less. As water temperatures climb, bass activity increases.
“Smallies will congregate in sandy areas, which retain heat. They may pull off and feed, but their metabolism has slowed down and they’re going to spend a lot more time just hanging out, less time actively chasing. So, I’m looking for sand, a log, or a tree that has fallen into the river, all which retain heat. Same with bottom substrate. Anything that’s dark will pick up heat from the sun and attract smallmouth bass—dark rocks and boulders, even mud at times. Same thing for cover that sticks up out of the water.”
Current also plays a big part in locating winter smallmouth bass. Winter smallmouth bass are typically found adjacent to current areas, only moving into fast water to feed when absolutely necessary. More often the case, winter smallmouths relate to slack-water areas just off current seams and eddies. Anywhere that current naturally pushes food is a sure bet. Such areas are visible to the naked eye.
There are areas along the river bottom, too, where current is slower. “You can often find groups of fish in troughs—and sometimes a really small area, stacked up like cordwood. Troughs or channels offer reduced current, warmer water temperature, and provide cover. The areas behind boulders provide something similar. Again, smallmouth avoid exerting too much energy in the winter, reserving it for feeding.”
Left to his druthers, Hansen typically reaches for a fly rod, but has found better odds with unique, hybrid techniques that merge his experience with fly and conventional angling.
“Fly fishing works great for many situations — including winter smallmouth — but you don’t have the success rate because any time you build up slack or drag, you’re creating an unnatural presentation. This fish are going to blow it off and eat something that looks more natural. Thing is, there’s probably more food in the river at any given time during the winter than any other time of year. Very few things are physically hatching and flying away. The bottom is often littered with nymphs, leeches, and baitfish are of a size that pack a lot of calories.”
Conventional spinning tactics like a jig and minnow also introduce drag. Go too heavy in jig weight to reduce drag and you’ve got the hassle of snagging in the crevices of river rock.
“A centerpin outfit gives me the perfect drift. Due to the rod length and the entire system, the drift is longer, slower, and more precise. It allows a very natural presentation. You want split-shot placement that’s appropriate for the current and allows the minnow to float along so it slowly rolls in front of the fish and they can’t resist,” says Hansen.
To that end, Hansen uses a St. Croix Avid 13’ ML power, moderate action center-pin rod with a Raven centerpin reel loaded with 10-pound braid. He attaches an 8 lb. Seaguar fluorocarbon leader to the main line, places small split-shots evenly below a steelhead float, and uses a small circle hook to prevent gut-hooking.
In terms of bait, Hansen’s had the best success with small-to-medium sized suckers or creek chubs. “For winter bass fishing, live bait simply produces more fish. Circle hooks make it low impact, with the hook penetrating the corner of the mouth for an easy release.”
There are times when Hansen goes artificial-only—like during the classic January thaw when temperatures can rise well above the 32-degree mark.
“Bass activity will definitely spike when the mercury jumps. That’s when tube jigs fished on a slow bottom crawl will keep up with live bait. It might take a few casts to get the right weight tube jig figured out so you’re not snagging or drifting, but once you do, they’re easy to fish. Wacky worms like Z-Man Zinkerz work in winter, too. Same for Fluke-style baits. Even hardbaits like the LIVETARGET Emerald Shiner Baitball jerkbait, twitched with super-long pauses. Just remember to work any baits slower than you would other times of the year.”
For situations like this, Hansen leaves the centerpin rig in the rod holder, and throws baits on a versatile 7’1” medium-power, fast-action St. Croix Legend Bass Tournament spinning rod and Daiwa spinning reel spooled with 8- to 10-pound Seaguar InvisX fluorocarbon.
Winter Bass Safety
Any time you’re fishing in winter—whether on the ice or open water—safety should be your first priority. Navigating rivers in winter can be dangerous. Ice floes are not uncommon, even in areas with warm-water effluent. Shouldn’t impact with an ice floe knock you out of your kayak, a PFD and spare clothes can save you from drowning and hypothermia.
“Because it’s one dump and game over, I always wear a PFD, and keep a dry bag filled with another pair of long underwear, socks, a top, another jacket, hat, gloves, etc. in my Old Town Predator’s bow hatch. I wear Gore-Tex waders, wading boots, a base layer, and fleece pants underneath. The big thing is staying warm and comfortable without too much clothing. You don’t want excessive sweating; neither do you want so much bulk that entering the kayak becomes difficult. I also keep my cell phone in a dry bag, and waterproof matches to start a fire on shore if need be to warm up and change clothing. I’ve yet for something like this to happen. Honestly, part of that is my choice in kayak. You wouldn’t want to fish rivers in winter with a Wal-Mart special. Old Town Predators are incredibly stable kayaks designed to resist tipping and allow anglers to even stand up and fish.”
Stuck with cabin fever or mid-season ice fishing burnout? In need of an open-water bass adventure? Hansen encourages anglers to investigate local rivers. Find warm-water discharge from a power plant, water treatment facility, or other industry, and you’re in business. Employ a kayak to get beyond the bank, learn to execute a perfect drift, experiment with live and artificial baits, and you might just be amazed by the hot bass bites possible in the dead of winter.