Written by Tyler Thiede. Originally appeared on Small Craft Fisherman.
Today I learned a valuable lesson about respect. Respect for Mother Nature. She provides us with wonderful things we all enjoy. For me, I was using one of her rivers in an attempt to catch her bass.
To prepare for the upcoming May KBF North Central Great Lakes tournament hosted by TourneyX, I pre-fished a nearby river. I’ve fished rivers, but never by kayak. I prefer the calm lakes, but bass season is closed until May 7 here in Wisconsin. I was up for a new challenge, blinded by the possibility of catching my first bass of 2016 in my newfound love (my FeelFree Lure kayak).
My goal was to launch shortly before sunrise. The night before, I ceremoniously removed my bass trays from my tackle box and placed them in my kayak crate. I loaded the rest of my gear into the car and strapped the kayak on the roof. After a Wisconsin winter that refused to give way for spring, finally. I was actually going bass fishing! I enjoyed the evening with a few beers and the family and set my alarm for 5:00 AM.
My alarm awakes me and I roll out of bed. Knowing the morning was going to begin cold, I slip into my top layers typically reserved for winter fatbiking. I place my go-go juice (caffeine) in the cup holder and am off to the river.
This is my first time fishing this river. Being April in Wisconsin, it has been rainy recently. However, I was about to fish for bass. As I pull up to the launch site, I notice the water seemed a bit high and fast. Geese were swimming in it, so it can’t be that bad. I had my Bass Goggles on.
I go through my routine of unloading and gearing-up the kayak and wheel it to the launch. It was a beautiful, but unseasonably cold (36 degree) morning, but I’m sure it will be fine. My FeelFree Lure is stable as a pontoon boat and my Bending Branches Angler Pro paddle is light and slices like a katana. After snapping a picture capturing the beauty of the morning, I launch.
Sure, it’s cold, but it isn’t too bad, considering I have fatbiked in -30 degrees. I paddle upstream while keeping a keen eye on the temperature reading on my Garmin STRIKER 4dv, but it isn’t rising as quick as I’d hoped. I paddle on. Well short of my planned starting point, my Bass Goggles slightly de-fog. This current is faster than I thought … no problem. I’ll just start fishing here. I grab my DIY three-pound dumbbell anchor. Given the current, I decide to attach the second three-pound dumbbell.
I clip my anchor rope to my anchor trolley, stow my paddle, and prepare my Quantum baitcaster for its first workout of the year.
After a few moments of getting my kayak into fishing position, I notice I’m downstream of where I dropped anchor … and still moving. I consult my Garmin’s speed reading to confirm. I’m moving 1.2 MPH while anchored with six pounds of weight. I pull anchor, re-position, and add my drag chain to the anchor party. Finally, I’m holding position and begin fishing.
I’m throwing a 3/4-ounce football jig with a Havoc Pit Boss trailer – a relatively heavy setup. The current is carrying it like Emmitt Smith carrying a football. My Bass Goggles, still fogged, tell me everything is fine. This is completely normal. I continue fishing.
I slowly work myself downstream. Hundreds of swallows awake as I silently float under the bridge. The local bald eagle has awakened and begins circling to find the next meal for his family. I notice riprap along the shore. The air temperature has not broken 40 degrees and the water temperature is a disappointing 51 degrees. The unseasonably cold Wisconsin spring has dropped the water temperatures. Rock holds temperature longer, so I’m hoping smallmouth bass are sticking to the rocks.
After unsuccessful attempts working my jig and jerk bait along the rocks, I move further downstream. I drift upon a pocket of seemingly calm water between the riprap and a large tree. Surely a bass would be sitting here, waiting for forage to float by … I toss my jig and the current takes it downstream … This isn’t right … Maybe if I toss it ashore and gently drag it into the pocket … I successfully hit land. However, I wrap it around a dead bush I did not notice prior to casting. My 50 lb. Suffix braid is performing majestically. I cannot yank the jig out of the shrub.
Having landed many-a-bass, this is my favorite football jig. The water is calm in this pocket. I’m sure this is retrievable. My anchor rope has some slack, so I use my Quantum/Suffix setup to pull me nearer. I notice the current between me and the pocket is swift. I put my rod down and begin paddling towards the pocket. Things turned for the worse. Quickly.
Broadside to the current, the current in front of the pocket shoves me towards the tree. Of course, I have three other poles in an upward position, waiting for action, in the back of my kayak. In an attempt to paddle away and free them, my paddle gets wrapped in my line. I put my paddle down and grab the tree branches. One of my poles managed to stay free of the branches. My ultralight was not so lucky. Fortunately, I was able to easily snap the 4-pound test wrapped around a branch. My paddle falls into the river and is now under the kayak. Fortunately, my paddle leash allows me to retrieve it.
After the paddle is secured, my braid is still an issue. My adrenaline is pumping as the current slaps against the side of my kayak. While holding the tree with one hand, I grab my razor sharp straight-blade knife off the sheath attached to my PFD. I cut the braid and allow myself to float away from the tree.
As I collect myself, my GPS shows a speed of 3 MPH. I look up and am quite a distance downstream. The wind has picked up. This is not over yet. I drop my seat to the low position and begin paddling upstream. Given the head wind and strong current, I watch the speed on my GPS to confirm if I’m making progress. I’m paddling upstream at 1.2 MPH. Honestly, I was impressed. A stable, wide, fishing kayak is going upstream in strong currents and a head wind. I’m going to be OK. I love this kayak and paddle.
After a rigorous paddle, I reach the bridge. Holding onto the pillars, I take a break. I’m only a few yards from the launch, the safety of land, and warmth of my car. My Bass Goggles are hanging on by a thread. I can still land one…
Paddling back to my original starting point, I drop anchor. Shortly thereafter I manage to snag my swimbait and jerkbait together. I lose the swimbait and almost completely de-spool the spinning reel my jerkbait was on.
My Bass Goggles fall off, and I call it quits. I am cold, tired, nearly went for a swim, lost my favorite jig, and lost my new swimbait. I need to cut my losses and come back when Mother Nature has calmed down.
The unseasonably cold spring temperatures and recent rains caused the water temperature to drop and the levels to rise. I let my Bass Goggles cloud my judgment and it endangered my safety. Lesson learned.
I am not affiliated with FeelFree Kayaks or Bending Branches paddles. However, I truly believe their high performance, quality, products prevented me from going in the water today. Given the air temperature, water temperature, and currents I’m sure I would have been in grave danger. I thank them for their amazing products getting me out of a bad situation. I’m an inexperienced paddler. Had my equipment been of lesser performance or quality, I’m sure the outcome would have been worse.
Be safe, think with your head, and recognize when you have Bass (or other) Goggles on. It isn’t worth the risk.