John Cail

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John Cail came to my attention by way of an email.  It was penned by an associate of John’s, and informed me that, should anyone personify the perfect fit for The Milkcrate, it was John. A man with decades of kayak angling experience, John has clearly etched onto the sport his own larger than life character. A builder of boats, a collector of talents, and a gifted storyteller, the nominated angler in question is a true role model and ambassador for all that is right in the sport of kayak angling.

What first drew you to this style of angling? When was that?

I was first drawn to kayak fishing way back in 1970, when I was 12, and spending all my time on the water, fishing and row boat building. I had started out in kayaks as a macho thing. We would wait until a nice storm or gale, then stuff a group of guys in a row boat, with one perched on the bow and put a volunteer in a kayak, seeing who could handle the worst waves and weather – the gang of weenies in the overloaded row boat or the poor brave soul in the very crude canvas/plywood/fiberglass/marine paint kayak. More often than not, it was the kayak. This quickly gave me an idea of the kayaks capabilities  and like all boats at the time, the kayak started out as just another style of boat for me. I started looking at different designs, wondering how I would alter them and wondering where I could fish with them. At that time I was building and repairing wooden row boats, hanging out at a marina/wooden boat shipyard. That started me off on kayaks almost as much as Mothers Day. I know that sounds a little odd, but my mother started insisting that what she wanted from me on Mothers Day was a BIG brook trout. Not some small tasty brookies – she wanted something big enough to serve from a platter, and preferably a couple platters, and each years she would pointedly remind me well in advance to get out and catch her one. And keep reminding me. So off I would go on a great trout hunt, scouting/pre-fishing, often plotting to get to spots no one else could get at to fish, and more and more often, I would be fishing from a kayak. By my late teens and early twenties I was addicted. It also helped that my oldest sister started dating (and later married) Tom, who had a set of kayak plans, and was nice enough to let me build it first. That was the first kayak I owned, launching me into kayak building while teaching me that kayak decks were just as important as kayak hulls when designed to fish from. Soon I was on my second build, “correcting” the design a bit and materials just as much.

It’s a ball to fish your way up a small river, see just how far up the rapids you can paddle, learning more and more how to read the water, judging where you can get to, then top it all off by fishing your way back down stream. How could I resist? For years I did this each spring on the Lepreux River.

One other thing kept me coming back to kayaks – I could carry it myself. As primarily a trout fishermen at the time, I was constantly dragging the yak through alders, over causeways around water falls, often a couple hundred yards up trails to get to waters most boats would never see.

Sometimes it’s not the kayak fishing, but what happens while out kayak fishing that makes it become a habit. While yaking after some summer trout fishing on Black River, after working a pool on the bend landing a few trout for the table, I spotted a fly fisher wading on shore, trying for Atlantic Salmon. Giving him lots of space and a friendly “how’s it going,” I was fishing the edge of a shallows on the opposite shore when a huge salmon jumped over the bow of my kayak! The fly fisher went nuts, at first begging for me to come get his rod and hook it for him, them offering good dollars to let him claim it if I landed it (his wife thought he would never land a salmon). I didn’t take him up on the offer and it never rose again but I can see it still in my minds eye, clearing the kayak on it’s way up stream. That left me looking for more, and a grin you could have used for a lighthouse. Yup, I was hooked on kayak fishing!

Do you remember the first fish that you caught from a kayak?

The most likely, was a brook (or as we called them, speckled) trout. This is a surprisingly tough question. I’ll confess I’m not sure which it was. However I think it was the same year the Beatles broke up, just before Mothers Day…

I had been biking over to the far side of a river, fishing from shore at my favorite big trout spot, a flooded creek off a river and close to the ocean. The flooding brought the trout there but the alders and underwater structure made fishing this spot very tricky. I lost a big trout when it broke off my trailing hook on the surface, giving me a good look at it. Then it wouldn’t hit again. Hmm I thought, I’ll be back tomorrow and sneak up on you from the other direction – by kayak! I had fished this spot for several years from shore and rowboat but couldn’t get the rowboats this far back in the flooded alder stream. The next day, after a 2 hr paddle to get there (an hour longer than I expected) followed by a short portage, I snuck up on that hot spot. On the second cast with a big spinner and again a trailing worm, I hooked up! It wasn’t the monster from the day before; this one was bigger! All right! I quickly learned that a net would have been a good idea too…this fish didn’t want to quit the fight just because I hooked it from a kayak, splashing, charging the yak, then racing off-around-under the yak. This scrap was a fairly short intense battle; just when I was sure I was going to lose it, this awesome brook trout paused for a moment. With no time to spare, I alley-ooped it up over the almost non existent sides, managing to land it in the yak. An impressively heavy 24″, it had me grinning from ear to ear and mom was glowing when she served it as the guest of honor at a great family meal. Still a kid back then, I have rarely matched or topped that big brookie in a kayak, over the years landing a few more from 24 to 26, with a 25 that really stood out, but that is another story.

Oh, okay, I’ll tell the story. It started about the mid/late 80′s, or to be more precise it started the year before that, just before Mothers Day. Fishing from shore with a new rod and the first fighting drag reel I had ever seen, received as a Christmas gift from a group of fishing buddies, I had pulled off the impossible. After landing a number of brook trout from 10 to 13″ I moved down stream to a spot I’d been eyeing. This water was in spring flood, the same creek mentioned above, with muddy banks choked with alders.Very few people tried to get through to here, let alone spend the time to sneak up on it quietly. It was flooded to the point where the far bank had disappeared and the bank I was on was a thin strip only 3 feet of mud to the back of it, followed by acres of flooded ground knee deep in cold spring water. Travelling 100 yards to go 20, I stuck my rod out through the alders, gave the Hildy spinner with trailing worm a flip out to “open” water, a 20 by 30′ hole in the alders overhanging the stream. As soon as I lifted the rod a true Mothers Day trout grabbed it, zooming towards the far side and it’s tangle of sunken alders. Ah!!! Sure it was my only chance I reeled down and yanked, sending that trout up out of the water and out of sight behind me…and the rod and reel, too! This massive fish had pulled the rod right out of my hands! Turning, an amazing sight was revealed – my rod hanging from a tree….and the biggest brook trout of my life hanging from another. Wasting no time (this would sure fill a platter – or two!), thinking still thoughts, I took out my knife and finished it off while still hanging there, afraid to lose it if I did anything else. It measured in at 28″ and I’m still in awe of this fish. So of course the next year I tried for a repeat from the kayak.

Just as I was entering the again flooded alders, still 80-100 yards down stream from that incredible catch and just above where I landed the 24″ mentioned earlier, I tried as long a cast as I dared. Hooking up just 5 feet from the kayak, it only took me a few moments to get the net out and land the trout. There it was, after an uneventful fight, without zooming off or threatening to break my line, a 26″ brook trout. A bit skinny, male, a beauty sea-run to make mom proud…and I was totally unimpressed. I almost released it, but them mom would not have been impressed too (a bad thing), so I continued to fish, looking for a better challenge, even from smaller trout…if I had to. Instead, after fishing until dark, I didn’t land another fish. I dropped off the fish at my parents on the way home, accepting the smiles and grins quietly, telling them when leaving that I would have some more fish tomorrow. I just had to see if there were more trout that size, praying that they would better live up to their size in the fight.

Working my way up to the honey hole, oh so slowly the next day, things were looking better. Already landing 2 fat trout just over 14″, just a few feet from where the lackluster fish hit the day before, I hooked some tall grass under my leg to hold the kayak in place. Nothing on the first cast, trying way up again, the second cast I put back down stream, where I had already fished. And all hell broke loose! This trout was a monster and wanted the whole world to know! Jumping, zooming, hauling me around so I gave up my grass anchor, hoping for a safer fight out in mid stream. It suddenly got interested in which ever side of the kayak the rod wasn’t on, I had my hands full trying to keep it on, with no time for getting the net out. After trying to smash my hook out on the kayak, then almost losing it in that tall grass, I caught on that it was time to get out the net or lose this fish. Not going along with this plan, it took 5 tries to get it in the net, and I still almost lost it lifting it into the yak, hammering against my legs. This was the fight I dreamed of!!! And what a fish! A whole inch shorter at 25″, this big monster was more than double the weight of the days before. As beautiful as the 26″ had been, in shinny sea-run colors, this awesome creature was in fresh water for a while already, sporting rich reds, brilliant oranges and glorious spots. Maybe not my longest trout from the kayak, I still consider this my best and biggest brook trout from the kayak. I would have released it except it was injured (I had the 26 and the other 2 fatties after all), that was the only disappointment, something I started to work on from then forward.

You should have seen the grin she gave me when I dropped off the trout to mom!

 

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You have been fishing from kayaks for the better part of three decades – a feat which bestows upon you a title of modern day pioneer. With the sport’s contemporary inception occurring, conservatively, in the 1990s, it can be said that you have been witness to all related evolutions and iterations. Tell us a bit about the changes, with regard to the sport, that you’ve seen.

When I first started out, the kayaks I had available were crude. Semi circular rounded bow and stern, canvass connecting wood paneling over either a clumsy frame or no frame at all, made waterproof with a little fiberglass resin and lots of marine paint, not the expensive cedar strip kayaks also around at that time. This made the Inuit kayaks look very sophisticated, even though they were made of skins covering a bone and drift wood frame. I have since researched their designs and have seen how they built them to fit the paddler and have seen how the design works to help keep you warm and handle rough water. Back then I envied those great little boats and even today it’s hard to find a boat that is a better design to fish from. When the all fiberglass boats came out, they were based on that design but often the fishing capability was forgotten about. The sides were often so low and the deck just off the water, you couldn’t try any wave without it washing over you from bow to stern, or just as often the “seat access hole” was to tight to easily get any gear or fish in or out off. They concentrated on being able to Eskimo roll the kayak, or shooting white water or for long salt water tours. Wooden cedar strip kayaks also were popular then, but had the same problems of being fisher unfriendly while being great for touring. There were some very good folding kayaks available in Europe, which were constructed closer to what’s called a duck boat here, and much better designed to fish from. Light framed and canvass covered, they were fairly expensive and only seen in magazines.

Then along came the plastic SOT. Combining the wave rider paddle-able surf board and the life guard’s handy swim float, the sit on top started a whole new family of kayaks. I sort of think of SOTs like dories – there is the average fishing dory, competitive racing dory’s with moving seats, dories with sails and oars, dories with motors, etc. – all boats defined by what they are used for, not what propels them. I can’t agree that all the boats out there right now called kayaks are kayaks, not that this reduces my interest in them at all – far from it, but I accept more as kayaks now. These kayaks are a mid price range craft that make a reliable, durable kayak available to a public that didn’t have much to chose from before.

Now we also have a lot of hybrids, mostly crosses between kayaks and canoes. I sort of like them, after a season’s access to one I originally thought was a scanoe that turned out to be a hybrid. We also used to call some of these designs “duck boats,” locally made of wood, sometimes wood and canvas; these new hybrids of plastics and other modern materials have breathed new life into these ideas. Expect to see more of these; they are very versatile in the backwaters while rarely at their best in big waters and big waves.

Developments of plastics and resins have given us more than kayaks, too. The paddles and paddle blades have greatly improved, where before the plastics would bend and fold, or break on the first rock, while wooden yak paddles were either rare or expensive…or both and fragile, too. Way back in the late 70′s I was fishing the Lepreaux river on a cold April opening season day, running down to a deep hole then paddling back up a riffle and short rapids. Far from serious water, yet I broke the blade of the first paddle striking a rock on the way own the first time, walked back up for another paddle and broke it by folding it’s aluminum shaft in two in the riffle. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I had a third paddle with me, which worked the rest of the day until dark; it broke while running back up the rapids, with first a blade and then the shaft shattering. My worst day ever for paddles! The first was fiberglass blades on a wooden shaft, the second was plastic blades on an aluminum shaft and the third was all wood covered in spar paint. We have come a long way from some of these models, yet I enjoy my wooden paddles the most – the best “feel” and if I need to abuse it, like paddling through ice flows, it can still be fixed with just a little glue. Of course, it doesn’t fold as well, but now they have those too.

I got to try out a number of kayak add-ons when they first came out, and then come up with my own variations, due to a friend who thought it was a great idea for me to try kayak stuff out, then just use the stuff that passed the grade. That wooden shaft paddle with the fiberglass blades was the first of those, and although he got it back missing a few pieces, he kept feeding me kayak gear to try. The first removable rudder I tried was indeed removable…with either a lot of tools and time, or more extreme measures – I thought it was just what I wanted, and used it for half a season. I found it great for going strait in a wind or across waves, but terrible for getting what seemed like every second fish wrapped around it. He sent that one back and picked up a retracting one the next season, which I never got my hands on. Trying out the first anchor trolley was a bit wild – understand, there were very brief instructions and the person supplying this stuff was mostly a white water yaker, so it was a real learning experience. This one was only half of what we use today, a tracked system running from just behind the seat to more than a foot from the stern, which turned out to be too short (they did suggest you get more than one). The system jammed often (so you had to get out of the yak), it got caught in branches (so you get out of the yak) it froze up (so you get out of the yak in freezing water! Ah!) and you couldn’t anchor facing upstream without taking it off the stern. Finding out that if it jammed in heavy current while set too close to the seat, you would get pinned cross current taking on a lot of water, and have to once again get out of the kayak to solve the problem. The next couple seasons I tried a couple of my own designs and a plastic model (total failure), ending with something just a bit more complicated than what is sold today. Most of the problems have been fixed or are something to be avoided, like icing up, and I would suggest an anchor trolley to anyone that wants to anchor a kayak. But I don’t use them anymore, in part because I rarely use an anchor. And I found a simpler method. Use your butt. Depending on the current, either run the anchor rope through an anchor trolley, handle or carabiner at the stern for heavy current, half way from stern to seat for medium current or less. Now run the rope over your seat. Do not tie it off. This allows you to simply bounce to let out more rope when you need it, or easily release the anchor in emergency. Not perfect, however the parts are easy to find and it works reasonably well. you can turn this into a quick release by adding a float to the end of the anchor line, then run a loop of anchor rope through the trolley ring etc., running the loop across the seat instead. Now when you bounce to let the line go, it will take the loop out, ending with the float for later pick up. The anchor line must have no other knots or twists or it will not run out well.

Fishing rods for kayaks are starting to arrive, although I find anything under 7.5′ usable.  Being set up to take a lanyard is a great idea. I also prefer parabolic rods to any other action or blank – way easier to land fish with! There are a number of fish nets for kayaks, which have evolved very slowly. They concentrate on being extendable, which is nice, but while busy with a rod in one hand, a floating, large bag, large mesh size is way more important. I have lost a good number of fish nets from the kayak, either from having them pick-pocketed by branches out the back of the yak, dropping metal ones that immediately sank to the bottom (two years in a row in the same spot on the Hammond river), or the latest, losing a floating (?!) one in big waves that hooked the bag on bottom structure, never to be seen again. The nets are getting better slowly, something I’m tired of waiting for, so this spring I’ll be converting a landing net for the kayak myself – after one more search around the lake I lost the floating net in late last fall ($130+!!!).

And then there’s the electronics! Electronics that can be used in a kayak! Depth finders, fish finders, side scans, GPS, cameras, video cameras, underwater cameras, sounds of feeding fish imitators - the list goes on and on. All of this and in a variety of prices that makes using them affordable to almost everyone. My “Fundy Tiger Shark” design includes enough room to place a Fish TV right inside the front deck, so the deck itself acts as a sun shade and protects the electronics at the same time. Rather then pre-fishing I spent more time using this underwater camera system to study the bottom, vegetation, and flooded trees to win the NB Paddlers Derby in 2012. The electronics are great devices to use and can expand what you can do in a kayak. Sometimes this actually distracts from the fishing, so I often prefer to do one or the other, less often both using the electronics than fishing, getting better results from both that way. Emergency radios are small enough now for kayaks, dropping in price so they will be seen much more often. Cell phones with GPS and fishing apps add yet more to this mix.

All those developments and innovations, yet I still spend a lot of time in a simple kayak. No bells, whistles, fish finders, or rod holders – just a rod, reel and a couple pieces of gear, off to see if any of the fish are game for a little action, just for the fun of it!

 

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What food and/or music fuels your drive to the put-in?

I munch down on a number of foods on the way to and from the water and while out kayak fishing. For meals, it’s almost always a sandwich, either a peanut butter and jam triple decker on whole wheat or a cold cut sandwich (but don’t tell my doctor about the cold cuts…shhh!). I often take kipper snacks for a meal or treat too, and almost always have a can somewhere as emergency food. For most snacks on the water I prefer soft candy, like peach rings or jelly drops, plus some power bars and chocolate bars. On sunny hot days I’ll eat a bag of chips on the way back for a little salt. I also have some comfort foods that I only eat out in the wilderness - Joe Louis flakey cakes and caramel cakes. When you have a long beard, eating these in public is not a good idea, so I save them for the great outdoors. I feel I have started out right when I eat these on the way to some hot fishing spot, and confidence always helps when fishing. Water, Five Alive juice, and chocolate milk are what I take to drink most these days…but I rarely drink the juice, and take in as little water as needed (I’ve noticed I don’t dehydrate as quickly as most people, letting me stay out a bit longer), while I finish off the chocolate milk every time. On the way back I’ll drink half a liter of water, making sure I have it available in the car. Throw in the occasional shore lunch and that is what keeps me fueled up for kayak fishing.

For music, rock is what I tune into on the way and even sometimes while fishing. Paul McCartney, the rest of the Beatles, Neil Young and CSN&Y, Rush, Colin James, Lenny Kravitz, David Bowie, Heart, Led Zepplin, Queen, the Sheepdogs. Sometimes the oldies, more often whatever is rocking today. Other music, too  mostly jazz and blues with some folk or traditional. One of my best days on the water I was tuned into Woodstock 2, which really stood out. A fishing buddy and I were slamming some great brookies, Mothers Day size in the 16-19 inch range (I do target other species, honest!). We had the radio cranked and noticed some splashing behind us over the rock. It turned out to be a 2 year old bull moose. It was feeding on grass in the shallow water, hanging out with us just fine, very sociable – until commercials! Then it would shy and back away from us, coming closer again and settling down to feeding on sunken grass when the music was back on. It would have been a great scene in vid or film, a memory that sticks with me.

Who, specifically, is shaping the future of kayak angling?

Good question. There are many to choose from although I’m sure I haven’t met or perhaps even heard of many yet. Jim Sammons and Chad Hoover may do more to promote kayak fishing, but Kayak Kevin steers the way for me. Someday I would like to have fished with all of them, and that unnamed kayak guru, too.

With regard to kayak angling, what issues are important to you? What, if anything, can be done about them?

Safety. A couple concerns for kayak and equipment designs, a few more for kayak anglers.

Until there are more comfortable style PFDs, and more of those available, we are going to continue to have problems getting fishers to wear them. One with a simple between the legs pair of straps will keep the PFD from riding up on you while paddling and keep in place in the water if you need it. It seems to be a very rare PFD that both works, is comfortable in a kayak, and has handy things like pockets and lanyard rings for fishing.

A couple years ago I did a rescue during a tourney that pointed out a design fault that I’ve seen in a lot of kayaks. The kayak angler had been hit by a wake while turned working on his rods, dumping him overboard. Normally not a problem, but his rods, lines, anchor rope and more got wrapped around his legs. Some were acting to pin his yak upside down and he could’t right it. I was already going for his gear when I asked if he wanted me to grab the stuff or help him, and was surprised when he said to help him. He was floating okay, PFD on, but struggling with all the stuff wrapped around his legs. When I went to grab the bow of the yak to help right it or tow him in, I couldn’t get a grip on it, and couldn’t reach under it far enough to grab the toggle to tie on too. The toggle being just a couple inches to far in made it useless and there was nothing else to tie or even grab on to, a big safety issue from my point of view, and the angler I was helping. Since he couldn’t leave the boat, I had to tackle taking them both together. In this case we were not to far from shore and I just spun around and pushed him in with the bow, then when a rod popped out I grabbed on to it and used that to hold on to while I backpaddled him to shore, the whole time talking with him to make sure he was okay. He ended up fine, but the delay cost him a couple hundred in lost gear as it slowly sank. Ideally I should have had him hold onto the bow or stern of my yak and towed him in that way, but he had a bunch of gear corralled on the upturned kayak and I don’t think I could have convinced him to let go of that or the kayak, and didn’t want to waste time convincing him. A little tricky but we made it to land safely. So all you kayak designers out there keep in mind mounting the toggle or handle forward enough to reach when the yak is upside down – emergencies can happen.

Safety and paddling demos should be a common event at kayak tourneys and meets. Perhaps as part of a kayak fishers rodeo? Even if fishers don’t hang around in numbers after the tournies to watch, it will remind people that they should learn how to save themselves and others, too. It would be the perfect time for dealers and producers to show off their available models…!

Availability. If you can’t find a fishing kayak or a kayak to fish from, you just won’t get into the sport. To a lesser degree, the same is true for paddles, kayak PFDs, rod holders, nets designed for kayaks, etc. Availability will get better as the kayaks and gear are for sale in more and greater numbers at specialty shops, hardware stores, outfitters and most especially boat dealers. A paddle float is the only piece of gear besides a PFD that is advised for a sit-inside kayak, yet I have only seen one, just one, in over 40 years kayak fishing the east coast.

Big boat interaction. Kayakers and big boat drivers don’t always play well together, something both groups need to get better at. Reckless wakes are a common problem; at the same time kayakers have to keep in mind that we can compete on an equal or better standing fishing yet can’t compare to big boats in mass or possible destructive force. We have to assume, at least for now, that every big boat is a danger, and be prepared to take active position to keep ourselves safe. Getting pinned against shore and swamped is no fun, except on hot summer days of course…lol. Neither is getting rolled…or run over. It’s an odd thing – there have been kayaks and canoes around long before big boats and power boats, yet it’s like they have never seen them before. Perhaps selling kayaks at more marine boat dealers and more participation in tournies would remind them that there are people just like them in those small boats. It also helps to keep in mind that they treat small motor boats and rowboats just as badly. That all said, I think cameras and cell phones will be the quickest cure. Pre-fishing this past summer with another yaker, we were just anchoring getting set up for sturgeon when first one, then another large power boat came charging down at us, wakes several feet high shooting out down a well known fishing channel. The first boat buzzed close to the other yaker who turned into it and handled it well (this was the same yaker that I had rescued – he has had some practice with wakes now!). This was my home turf, this ticked me off and I let these reckless boaters know it, loudly. I was far enough from the channel and facing the wake, so in no trouble, yelled “Cops!” and pulled out my camera. That second boat was going right through, blazing like the first, saw/heard this – and hit the brakes! This boat was throwing a bigger wake and killing the engine still didn’t stop part of the wake nailing my buddy, who was able to ride it out again. They didn’t hang around, and hopefully will act better next time, camera or no camera.

Speaking of cameras, it’s about time the rest of the fishing world caught up with CPR for tournies. As you can tell, I’m a fish eater, still it shocked me a bit to enter a catch and release tourney a week after a catch photo release tourney. I ended up spending 20 minutes after the check in trying to revive some of the fish others had brought in, then dumped at the dock.

 

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Barring money or logistics, what is your dream kayak angling trip?

New Zealand was my fantasy fishing destination when I was young. More recently Costa Rica for rooster fish held my interest, while successfully kayak fishing in each of the Canadian provinces and territories has always drawn me. However the Kennebecasis River by kayak has become my dream. It’s in New Brunswick, Canada, paralleling the coast of the Bay of Fundy, a beauty of a river in the picture province. Starting out paddling as soon as the water is deep enough, then work the fly only section and follow that up by a couple weeks kayak fishing my way down to where it joins the St. John River. Trophy brook trout, striped bass, short nosed and Atlantic sturgeon, Atlantic shad and more make for some great fishing. It starts out as a small brook, then builds up to a medium river, finishing as a major tidal water, the deepest inland flowing river in eastern North America. I know it well, since I grew up with a view of the lower tidal section and have enjoyed many miles and days on the river. Yet I have traveled only a small portion of this great water, maybe a 1/4 at most. Someday, I would love to have kayaked it all. It’s the river that flows through me.

By the time you reached twenty years of age, you had amassed quite a bit of experience within the realm of kayak construction. Since then, you have built and paddled many vessels bearing your name. Chat with us, if you would, about your views regarding modern fishing-specific kayak design and implementation thereof.

I have a tendency to set high expectations when defining what makes a kayak a fishing kayak. Most kayaks, like other boats, are just kayaks you fish from, and I have caught thousands of fish from these. Until recently, these were all we had, and it was questionable if there was a market for such developments. I sat on the design for my Fundy Tiger Shark for twenty years, only trying out the more conventional parts of the design in the “kayak light” that I lovingly refer to as my “Old Girl” now. To be a fishing kayak, it needs to be designed in some way or form specifically for fishing, or some aspect of it, and this doesn’t mean a rod holder, or the capability of adding a rod holder. I was on a web site and spotted an article that drew my interest, about a white water kayak designed to fish from, how this was a revolutionary design. Yet the only change to the design to make it a fishing kayak was to add a hole to either mount a flush mount rod holder your self in or just use the hole to hold your rod. I appreciated the attempt to give fishermen access to white water conditions, but you would lose the rod out the hole the first time you rolled or hooked into a big fish while playing in the rapids. Instead things like an external sealed gear compartment; an external protected rod locker; an external cooler or some place else to put your catch in/on a modern white water kayak; a completely sealed fish finder with sealed and armored screen all built in; rod holders designed and/or placed for white water fishing, aimed out the back or tucked in a channel down the side, perhaps designed to pop up like a downrigger set up. Soon they might take that next step.

A great rod holder set up can certainly help out and complete a fishing kayak design, as can a great fish finder set up. A kayak rigged or designed for fish finders qualify as fishing kayaks if it does this well, and not just as an add on given little thought. It’s hard to see screens in bright sunny days on the water, so built in sun shields and a well placed transducer point and battery holder all come in handy for a good fishing kayak. For some species you need to be able to stand to fish them, and a few designs have stepped up for this, especially for fly fishing. Channels down the sides of the bottom for stability, as well as innovations like the splitting stern kayaks have shown some designs made for a specific style of fishing. Being able to effectively mount outriggers so you can stand can help take a kayak up to a fishing kayak level. Paddle boards may look like the same idea at first, but where are you going to put your gear, and what happens to your catch when a breaking wave rolls through? You would need a good fishing PFC. These days often the first question with a fishing kayak is where do they mount the fish finder and transducer. The transducer needs to be either mounted to still leave a clean hull or able to be lowered to the water/removed or be a through the hull set up. These are all available now, with better mounting for the display and battery, even flip-able protective covers that let you play in the big surf with much more confidence…and a lot less replacement costs. Someday they will come out with the first HUD (heads up display) with a recording unit; it’s coming…!

Storage is something that fishing kayaks need to have in most cases, someplace for the rods you won’t need until later, somewhere to keep all gear you brought “just in case.” Perhaps even more, like someplace to put a live well or cooler, a flat place to work on baits or gear or make lunch. Someway so you can take back the catch of a lifetime on or in the yak, not something you have to jury rig on the spot miles out in the ocean or while drifting the wrong way down a river. There are now a number of yaks out there that do some or all of this, making them kayaks you enjoy spending time out fishing in. Fly rods can be such a pain…lol!

Similar to kayaks you can easily stand in, some fishing kayaks are designs that let you fish where you normally can’t, to get there, slam some fish and get back again. The white water idea was trying to do that. Pedal power lets you go further out and troll faster doing it, opening up more waters and species to fish. Sails help in this, too, but rarely do more than stand in for a mother ship, so I don’t count these as fishing kayaks unless the sail is an assist or the paddle is actively used for control AND you can really fish while under sail (it’s rare to fish from any boat while under sail) or you take down the sail and paddle the boat once you get to the spot. My Fundy Tiger Shark fishing kayak is a model that has as part of it’s design the ability to handle waves much higher and choppier than other sis kayaks and most other kayaks besides. Being able to go out for land locked Atlantic Salmon on big lakes where they like to hit in nasty waves, conditions that would leave most kayaks sneaking along a protected shore helps top off the many other things that make this a great fishing kayak. The surfing hull kayak designs may not be something specific for kayak fishing, but I’ll say it counts anyway – read on to find out why!

Comfort is a part of a fishing kayak that is becoming more and more important. Partly this comes from stability  the wider the better, and almost all kayaks for fishing and virtually all fishing kayaks are wide, often 6 to 12″ wider than normal kayaks. Leg room in a sit inside is not common, the extra leg room in a fishing kayak lets you stay on the water longer. A good seat or being able to select and mount your choice of seats can take a kayak up from just a yak to comfy deluxe fishing kayak, something kayak makers are just now finaly catching on to. How can you expect a glowing recommendation of a fishing kayak if it’s a pain in the butt to sit in it for more than half an hour? Or you get a back ache every time? Having arms on my kayak chair lets me relax and take a break, and a place to rest my paddle besides across my legs or clipped on the side when out for hours and hours. The new adjustable height seats are going to help sell a lot of kayaks and expand our sport, keeping it much more painless to be a paddler.

One thing I added to my Fundy Tiger Shark that doesn’t seem to be available on other yaks is a self righting feature. Besides helping to keep it stable, especially if swamped, this helps keep all your gear up out of the way and with the yak if you do end up in the water, and less likely to roll in the first place.

 

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What’s in your milk crate?

My “milk crate” varies a bit with the kayak I’m using and the season. Some things are always with me, including a sharp, easy to get to knife; bailer and/or sponge; compass/whistle; pliars; line clippers; and a simple throw line. For stripers add in a fish gripper, for tournies add an alarm clock (or two!!!), for cold weather add in some hand and feet warmers, for fishing with others or popular places I add in a more substantial rope and throw bag and a heavy pair of bolt cutter…just in case. Add some food and drink, a radio, buff and hat light, and I’m good to hit the water. Most times I would also add in a good net, preferably a floating one. I use hats with lights attached but will often have additional lights with me.

I have a tendency to go bare bones with just the safety gear and minimal other gear if using my “light” sit inside, which was built to be carried with just one hand, following along with the keep it simple, keep it basic theme. If I’m in one of my bigger special purpose kayaks like my “Fundy Tiger Shark,” it’s hard to resist the tendency to fill that big accessible space. In very cold conditions a piece of 1.5″ thick foam, about 1′x3′, wrapped in duct tape, makes it much more comfortable for the feet. The foam keeps them warmer both by keeping them off the hull bottom and by further insulating them from the freezing water. Wrapping it in tape makes it much more durable and keeps it from breaking up or leaving a trail of foam. I don’t use a fish finder much anymore, preferring to go without or use my fish TV.  When using the fish TV i’m not so much looking for fish as I’m studying where they could be and what’s on the bottom, what  the bottom made of, and what is the bank like, any hidden holes etc. I had this in mind when setting the dimensions of the Fundy Tiger Shark, the fish TV monitor fits inside the bow deck, either on my legs or on a fishing gear box, with the battery pack hanging from the lower inside rod holder. By tucking it in the yak the deck acts as a big sunshade, so I can see on bright sunny days. Getting to suddenly see a school of stripers or salmon go by is just an awesome bonus.

Oh, and fishing gear. Often in the bigger kayak,s too much fishing gear – I like to have lots of options!

Tell us about your best day on the water.

Picking out just one day is hard, there have been so many wonderful days. So I made a list, adding and removing some, looking at it from different ways. One keeps on coming up, so that’s the story I’ll tell, but first some background. Land loched (or landlocked) salmon are Atlantic Salmon that never go to sea, and so don’t take on the huge size that food supply can produce, and have fairly complicated local rules. Not often monsters, they are legal to keep from 13.5 to 23.99″, require a salmon tag from 18 to 23.99″, and are considered legally Atlantic salmon from 24″ and above, and must be released. Landing a land loch from 24 to 28″ from a kayak would be a good accomplishment. To complete the background let me tell you the story of landing my first land loch.

I was not actually targeting land lochs, instead I was again on a big brookie hunt, scouting other spots. This was far from a pristine creek, the lake instead was a place known for wrecked cars and partying. Called Schooner Creek locally, it is a collection of former gravel pits connected to a creek that runs from a couple fair size lakes to a reservoir.  My main fishing buddy at that time had been bragging about the brookies and land lochs, others were landing there while complaining he was only catching yellow perch from shore. Well, I knew a trick to get out past the perch – kayak! A few days later we put the idea to the test, him on shore and me in the yak. At first it looked like I had made a mistake. He was landing fish while I was barely getting nibbles, however all his fish were yellow perch so I stuck it out for a couple hours while we teased each other on our strategies.  That quickly changed to whoops and yells as I hooked up with a chunky land loched Atlantic Salmon. I was amazed as it took me for my first real Nantucket sleigh ride! Yahooo! Looking back, that was the strongest land loch I have hooked up with for its size, just under 18 inches. It didn’t hit the speeds towing me that the stripers I hook with these days do, but it pulled me around at a fair pace, only going airborne once. I did land a few nice trout after that, not the monster Mothers Day trout but I didn’t mind. For weeks I was talking about being towed around in the kayak, something that gives me a thrill to this day.

On this best of days I again started off after big brook trout. I had been shown the night before a heavy weight brookie that was caught in a spot I knew – not too long but very deep and heavy, around 3 pounds. I just had to find out if it had relatives there. What information I was given placed the catch on a stream leading into one of my favorite reservoirs to paddle and fish. Designed for water transport, you drive right up to the launch with plenty of parking on one side and the dam on the other. With thoughts of monster trout running through my mind I set off on my 2 – 2 1/2 hour paddle to the stream, throwing a 3″ holographic crank out to troll along the way. Heading out away from the dam I cut along the edge of a flat cove, a little more shallow than I normally troll there – and immediately hooked up. With a lot of line out (normal for land lochs), it took a little while but finally I landed a nice 16″ land loched Atlantic Salmon. After a quick release I swung around to try the spot again – and hooked up again. A nicer one this time, I was tempted to keep the nice 18″, but I was hours from returning, and with no ice, so it was released, too. Wondering how many were interested in feeding in the area I swung by again, and again, landing another pair of fair land lochs. This was a lot of fun, but I was only a couple hundred yards from the launch and those monster trout were calling, so paddled away from the cove and into a narrow channel with islands…and more land lochs!

Still trolling the same lure, I was weaving in and out of the shallows along the shore, running the lure along the sides of points and taking sharp slow turns out to deeper water and over holes. Landing 3 more land lochs while paddling through this channel, I actually thought the first heavy bite in the shallow cove was just a blip, since this channel was where I catch most of my land lochs. Pushing on I rounded a dog leg and worked the shore, staying in a little deeper water due to a number of snags that I had found the hard way before. This was a great spot to pick apart, and good later in the season for smallies, but taking time to tie on another piece of gear wasn’t in my plans. Soon paddling across a long shallow sand point on the edge of a wide basin, the reel was peeling line again and time to take a break from paddling and fight a good fish. This one lived up to the salmons latin name much more than the others so far, launching a bunch of times way up in the air, then speeding any direction except towards my yak. This feisty forktail was the biggest by far, measuring up to be released after that great fight, it was just over the legal keep size at 24″.

There were a number of motor boats working the basin and the sand point, so despite an itch to swing by again, I instead paddled hard across open water and into the next section, a narrows with a number of points. A good spot for small brook trout and yellow perch, so I switched to a small spinner and worm. This worked out well, landing 3 fat yellow perch before hooking up with a few smaller ones, the fat ones were volunteered to be back ups in case some trout didn’t want to join me for dinner. Leaving the narrows, thinking I should switch back to the crank, when the rod goes off and I’m in a short fight with a little small mouth, no bigger than the yellow perch I kept. Hoping to find a rare lake trout in the next section I switched back to a gold version of the same shallow crank. There are not supposed to be lake trout in that reservoir  but the one above it does have them, and sometimes they manage to make their way down there. Letting out a ton of line, the channel to the stream was almost in sight when I hooked up again. Thinking it was a fair brookie, it turned out after a lot of reeling to be another fair size land loch, just over 20″. This catch took a little mulling over but even though I thought I might regret it, back into the water it went.

Paddling into the last channel, I switched back to spinner and worm, with quick rewards. Casting out to a brush pile I had just started paddling when the rod bent for a nice fat little 8″ brook trout. Ah! They were here! So of course it was more than a hundred yards of intense fishing, paddling past the start of the 400 yard uphill portage to the next reservoir  before the next hit – fall fish. Then 2 more of the same. Not on my target list, I skipped more power pitching/trolling and just paddled up to my destination, that stream.

A fairly strong current, lots of motor block sized boulders, and even another small feeder trickle running in just below it, the white foam at the bottom of a small rapid may as well yelled “Trout here!” It was also as far upstream as I can paddle without starting to portage. There is an overhanging cedar tree on the shore to the left, and the shore was a little flooded, with a couple inches of water around the cedar and a ways further in. I paddled up to this, tucking into this flooded shore, beaching the yak just a couple feet from the tree by sneaking in hard on that side. Quietly, trying not to disturb the area. Being under the cedar, with alders down stream from me, there wasn’t much room to cast, which was fine by me. Gentle flips, landing the spinner and worm lightly in the water, without disturbing the foam or making a big splash below it is my standard for this sort of spot when trout fishing.

My first cast, I flipped it just below the foam, planning to pick the whole area apart. Giving the spinner an immediate quick, light lift, letting it flutter in the current before kissing bottom, when I saw a flash of silver – a big flash of silver! Thinking that it was a huge trout but wondering about all that silver, I gave it another little lift, dancing the spinner up into the current. Wham! It nails it, I see it head down stream, I try to swing its head back thinking no way is it just going to turn, when it does just that and jets to the bottom. I’m thinking it’s going to jump, and saw that it was way way bigger than most trout, I come up with a plan just as fast as it launches into the air. On the way up I see that it’s a land loch, which spells a most unkind end to my plan or so I thought, but give it a go anyway. This is all going through my head in the short second it goes from the bottom of the pool to several feet in the air, where I set off the plan, yanking it out from above the pool still in the air, over my kayak and into the flooded shore beside me! Quickly trapping it to the side of the yak, it was fairly calm as I removed the hook in shock. There was no doubt this land loch was longer than legal to keep; it was clearly far longer than any other I had ever caught. It was doing fine in the 1 1/2 or so of water, still in shock (me at least as much as the fish), I measured it against my rod and then since it was resting easy, quickly with my tape. Then I carefully lifted it back over the yak, setting it down in the water to revive it. Instead it took off with a soaking splash to remind me this was all very real.

It was near dark, I was quickly losing light, but I sat there for a while and just glowed there, before finaly picking up the rod to try for the trout again. Bap – another land loch on! Lol, no monster this, just a little 14″ to be released. A few more casts with no more hits, which didn’t surprise me. That big fish put on a spectacular if short fight, which probably scared off the trout. So I pushed off from shore and drifted back 20′, grabbing on to an alder branch for an anchor, then made the same flip cast, pitching below towards the little feeder stream. Nab, nab – yup, there were trout there. In short order 3 were in the yak for the next days table, joining the other and the yellow perch but my thoughts were all about that wild plan and the fish it landed, pulling a silver beauty out of the air and across my kayak. Flying salmon again!! My personal best until that time for land loch Atlantic Salmon was a decent 28″, a size I haven’t landed in the years since. That flying monster was an amazing 36″! Paddling back through the darkness, and many dark nights dreaming since then, I replay sliding up onto the flooded shore, picking out how I was going to pick the pool, riffle, rocks and overhang apart, how the big silver flash should have alerted me to salmon, not just fish. The sureness I was going to lose it instead of turning it, the joy as it swung back towards me, then shot by and into the pool. Over and over the image of it flying through the air over the kayak to land perfectly beside me to wait patiently to be released.

I never landed any big trout that trip, instead gathering a meal and memories of an incredible fish, enjoying one of my favorite paddles. This had been one of my go to spots for a while, so easy to access, a great view, friendly people and fish willing to make things interesting, but I hadn’t expected 11 land lochs, including what was now by far my biggest land loch. When I reached the end of the last narrows with the dam just in sight in the moonlit darkness I paused for a bit, letting the days events wash over me before paddling the last few hundred yards to the launch – what a day!

I paddled a much bigger section of this water this season past (35 km), along with a few other trips there, always seeing the images of the fights and that great fish in my memories when paddling by. I can’t think of enough good things to say about that day, it was just great! Awesome!!!

As an end note to this story, one of the reasons I finaly got around to building the Fundy Tiger Shark design was I needed a kayak that could handle the waves in a lake I fish for brown trout and land lochs in. The problem was the 4′ plus waves and chop that built up there, making most yak fishing from a sit in side both wet and dangerous at times. It was over a month after first launching a Fundy Tiger Shark design that the lake was open to fish and the waves were big enough for a true test. After convincing my nephew to act as safety man in his rugged inflatable power boat I launched in search of storm loving land lochs and waves tall enough to test this wave eating design. Halfway across the lake, at an opening in the rock barrier to a shallow cove I found both. Positioning my yak facing the waves, paddling constantly to hold it bow on, the kayak handled wave after wave of 4′-5′ and taller waves with no more water taken on than if you spilled a glass of milk! Awesome! The spacing of the waves matched their height with tons of power, and the yak took it all. About 10 minutes into this my rod went off – fish on! Now of course I had to figure out how to land a fish in these conditions, which looked to have very wet possibilities.  Then my nephew went by, yelling that he was heading in, giving up…and that the new kayak and I were both crazy! Lol! That land loch needed attention so I followed him to calmer water, reeling in to revive and release a tired salmon. I think I was bouncing as high as the waves when I got to shore! The kayak had met and exceeded my hopes while proving how effective fishing from it would be in harsh conditions. That wasn’t a half bad day kayak fishing either, even though it wasn’t much more than an hour on the water.

Land loch salmon seem to bring out the best days of kayak fishing for me, and I plan to enjoy many more to come.

 

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What is the kayak fishing lifestyle?

The kayak lifestyle? Doing more with less. Covering more backwaters, more skinny waters using less expensive and more thought out boats. We travel in groups more often now, pods of kayak fishers, yet often fish alone. Being able to just go out on your own is a big part of the attraction of kayak fishing. You are captains of your own destiny, even when fishing in a crowded kayak tournament.

Part of this lifestyle is having fun while the biggest arctic char of your life teaches you the problems with fly fishing them, while also anchored with a minnow trap out, too. In that case the char swam round and round the kayak, inspiring me to finally catch it by pulling in the anchor line until the char swam close enough to slip into my net. What a ball, especially while others landing much smaller fish from clunky rowboats looked on. In my twenties and early thirties I spent many muggy nights escaping the heat by fly fishing for brown trout late in the evening from the kayak. Hoping not to break my light 5 wt fly rod, yet hoping to hook up with a brown trout that might do just that, while fishing waters only a float tube or a kayak could get to.

Part of the lifestyle is using the versatile kayak to switch what you are doing to something more productive, like the time I learned to use lizards for smallies. Fishing from my “kayak light” while some buddies fished from a motor boat, I caught up to them after trolling a long cove. Pulling up beside them, I mentioned how the lizard I was trolling for the first time kept grabbing the bottom, banging hard off of structure, or so I thought. The buddy that got me back into fishing gently pointed out that since I was using a Texas rig, I shouldn’t have done more than occasionally tap the bottom. Hmmm. I spun around, called out that I would be back shortly, then paddled back to the start of the cove to give it another try. Slowly this time, watching for the bite…and ended up having the best smallie day on that lake any of us had ever seen. Landing 3 to 5 lb smallies over and over again, the others stopped fishing just to watch the show. They had already fished this cove, now I slammed bass there for several hours, armed with a little more knowledge…and the kayak and paddle that let me turn an alright day to the most outstanding smallie fishing those buddies have ever seen. That’s kayak fishin’!

It’s not all about taking fish home. Still, it’s a great feeling to bring back enough salmon, trout, and mackerel to feed a big extended family, while leaving plenty in the water for another day. The kayak lifestyle is also about those days when you catch and release every fish, or don’t land any at all, where working a line from a kayak, drifting, paddling is more than enough. While smallie fishing with a few friends, a fish my buddy had on jumped into my kayak. With a fish on myself at the same time I just flipped it back into the water, telling him to land his own fish while hooting with laughter as I landed mine. Kayaks are fun!

It’s a fishing and boating lifestyle with little environmental impact, a very small footprint. We travel slow, relaxed, so we don’t miss the best the outdoors has to offer. We also charge through the waves and the froth, challenging nature at her worst. All this and some great exercise, too!

Tell us a story, any story.

Even though it sounds like I spend all my time kayak fishing for trout and salmon, besides other species, I actually spend half of my time fishing for stripers. It’s extreme fishing, mostly at night,often in heavy current, around nasty structure and big boat areas. I fish a trophy striper spot that held the world record for stripers just a couple miles from where I’m sitting now, just above and in the Reversing Falls Rapids in the St. John River in New Brunswick Canada. Fishing there has produced a number of interesting stories, I’ll give you a little warm up first.

My longest striper battle was just over 3.5 hrs. Starting out shore fishing with a 9′ surf rod one night, after hooking up 30 yard out, a good size striper wraps me around an underwater post about ten minutes into the fight, we both struggle to take line, but neither of us can get more than 15′ and this tug of war goes on for another hour and a half! The fish wouldn’t quit! Worn out, I let him fight the line (co-polomar) by himself for a while by hooking the reel under a steel turnbuckle anchored to the rock. After an hour break tide was almost low ebb and the striper still hadn’t given up, and by some miracle the line hadn’t broken. With calmer water I ran back to my car and grabbed my kayak. Just the little kayak light, I was quickly in the water and paddled around to the spot my rod was anchored at. Getting back into the yak with that big surf rod and a fish gripper, I was glad that, for fun, I had practiced with smallies handling it. I paddled up stream from the fish then drifted back, sticking the rod down into the water, working it hoping to end the fight by either unwrapping from the post or inspiring the striper to break it off. With no luck the first drift I tried it again, seeing a big wide tail come up and flip me a wave – the fight was back on! A bigger fish than I expected, he proceeded to haul me out to deeper water and then down towards the falls before finally tiring him out. Then came the trick of landing a fish with a 9′ rod that gave him enough slack to smack its head of the bow of the yak, trying to pop the hooks out. Letting him fight a bit more away from the kayak, I then brought him back in strait to me, got the gripper in his mouth to land him in the yak, she was a fat fat 36″.

Ever used an ice fishing rod in a kayak? They take up less space, are a ball for bait fish, and just crazy with small mouth and stripers! One night fishing a large cove that was all flats, where the stripers would go closed mouthed if you made too much noise and ignored fast moving baits, I had the ice rod across my chest, line trailing back over my shoulder with a 7″ floating lure. Paddling as slow as possible, just a slow stroke to one side, then a drift and pause, then as slow a stroke on the other side. Very slow! So slow, I actually fell asleep! Lol, when the rod smacked me in the shoulder, I thought I was at my favaorite smallie lake, with the image of a nice 5# fish and fighting with the no flex rod it took me a moment to notice it was first dark out and second it was a schoolie striper on the end of the line. Laughing at myself and the fight with the schoolie, I released it thanking it for the fun time. That’s not the only time I’ve fallen asleep striper fishing from the kayak and I haven’t woken up wet – yet! Lol!

The Maritime Provinces are known for their fog, and this can add a tricky component to kayak fishing stripers, not just at night but even in the day time. Late one night, dawn arrived but didn’t help you see anything. Tucked in above an island, I had been able to use the lights of the tug boats nearby to keep position, but with the increased light I couldn’t pick them out anymore. So keeping shore in sight about 10′ away, of course I hooked up with a real fighting striper. Hoping to get him in the boat before it pulled me out to deeper water, this fish quickly showed it had other ideas. Taking me past the island, then along and past the next point, shore disappeared just as the red marker and light for the point came into view. Since the next spot I would see down stream from there would be the entrance to the falls, I tucked the rod under one leg and started fighting the fish with paddle and kayak instead of rod and reel. This style of fight happens fairly often with a good sized striper but in this case battling the striper to keep that red marker in site was tough – the fish was putting up a great fight and the fog got thicker! Losing the marker occasionally then hard paddling, surging back to it, fighting the striper and current, this went on for 45 minutes until that striper decided to swim my way. Towing it to the protected side of the point before reeling in, I started tapping off something with the paddle on the left side. Looking down there was the striper swimming along beside me! Quite a surprise since my line was out the other side with tension on it, caused as it turned out by a bow in the line and some seaweed. That striper went 39″ and was pure fighter.

And now for the main feature, my latest top striper story. This happened on my first outing actually fishing in the Reversing Falls last year. Preferring to fish above it, the falls are rapids that can be fair drops to haystacks, standing waves to lots and lots of whirl pools. There is often debris in the water, along with birds, jet boat rides, and depending on the tide, a lot of boat traffic. This all changes constantly as the tides rise and fall, averaging 26′ in the canyon below the falls. The day before I had fished Blacks Harbour, 45 miles down the coast, landing a number of squid which would be my bait of the day, with one hook through the mantle and another by the head. I was running a second rod with a 14″ shallow crank, which in this case was one rod too many. Arriving above the falls in daylight, this first trip of the year instead of darkness, there were lots of fishermen along the shore across from several islands, while the opposite shore had power boats stacked up, all fishing for stripers. It was high tide and the falls were reversing, with salt water bursting up stream over top of brackish water coming downstream into the ocean. Around the islands and on the far side, tongues of waves, white water and whirl pools spilled in and out, from nothing to a hundred yards of insanity. While the opposite side held a fairly steady the section by the islands was constantly changing as the ocean came through in big gulps.

Fishing from one of my Fundy Tiger Sharks I approached from upriver, which was downstream at that tide! I had no sooner gotten there when a big hit doubles the rod with the squid…then pops back. After giving it a bit, I reeled in to find a striper had taken a bite out of it in the middle, cleanly missing both hooks. So leaving the remains still on, I added another squid, sending the bait back out into the maelstrom. I had planed to run the bait low while pitching the crank into and on the edge of the worst of the craziness  Instead, working the yak around the edges of it, avoiding the deepest of the whirl pools – this was just the fist trip of the year after all. With no other hits I slipped along the side between the shore and the tongue, watching to stay far enough out not to interfere with the shore fishers. This was a little too easy and I pushed it, running further up until nearing a shallows halfway up the top island, a spot I’ve landed numbers of stripers later in the tide, when it’s calmer (this spot is always heavy current). Wham! My Ugly Stick slams against the side of my kayak as a monster striper takes my squid! Then it hauls me right into the tongue of craziness  Not too bad at first, except as I reach for the rod with the fish on the other catches a bunch of weeds. Starting to back paddle both these catches away from the frothy nastiness when 4 whirl pools spin up around me. Not dipping in too far, I’m fine with these in the Tiger, still fighting to take that fish out to easier water…and getting nowhere! Then just the tongue pushing upriver takes both the yak and the fish along with it, leaving me 60 yards further out and then spun the yak around – now the lines are crossed. The crank is handling the weeds well, not cutting in very often and when it did popping right back up with the next up-well of seawater. Thinking I might just get this monster in yet, the striper had other ideas, hauling me right back into the tongue of craziness.  Just waves and white water to begin with I back paddle hard, trying to gain those 60 yards back, when worst trouble arrives as 4 more whirl pools form around me. Not the gentle ones of the first go around, these beasts quickly turn deep, with the kayak being sucked right down the side of one. This whirl pool was a couple times the length of the yak. I slid down the side held in place by that monster striper and paddling like nuts to pop out of it. Now a couple feet down the inside of this whirl pool and on a heavy angle, I use my hips to flatten out the yak, hoping to drive my way out by paddling with the pool – and take about 6 gallons of water over the side! This isn’t my first tricky spot, so I don’t panic and twist trying to stop the water, instead holding it flat, letting another couple gallons over the side, getting wet but managing to power out of the whirl pool and paddling hard to get out of the tongue.  All without getting yanked over the side my the fish. Thinking I should have cut that striper off rather than try fighting it in that whirl pool but not having a chance to at the time, I readied my knife…just in case.

Then it got even more interesting…thinking that floating lure had to go one way or the other, grabbing that other rod I manage to take in half the line, so it isn’t causing me so much grief anymore. Just as I reach for the hooked up rod, the striper misses the crazy current and hauls me back into it! Frustrated, it hammers the rod off the side of the yak, then wraps it around and under it as the froth and waves send me every which way. This is getting serious again. Suddenly it goes deep, taking drag – but not for long! Apparently this woke it up, or it just noticed it was towing around a kayak. Either way, now ticked off, it starts pulling me deeper into the run, and peeling line. Uh Oh! It’s trying to take me up the Reversing Falls and out to sea! With so little control (none!) I’m in trouble; it’s taking me through major waves, froth – total craziness…and i’m running out of line! Now moving at fair speed against the tide and all that nastiness  being towed by what is clearly a 50+ striper. If he hits the end of the line I’m expecting it to throw me out of the kayak. So grabbing the ready knife I sliced the line, cutting off the craziest striper battle of my life, losing a true monster fish!!! Totally exhausted, I paddle out of the craziness and drift back up stream to calmer water. After a break, I force myself to work a lure around the islands, now pitching the lure as my other squids were floating around the kayak somewhere. A case of “ya gotta get back on the horse that threw you,” I didn’t fish long before calling it a day, armed now with an incredible striper story.

 

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In our initial correspondence, you made mention of a mackerel-induced pearling, or stern-to-bow rolling, of your kayak. Such hints warrant further explanation; tell us about this occasion.

I really enjoy mackerel fishing from a kayak, fishing a number of places in Atlantic Canada for them, spending most of the time fishing them in either the Bay of Fundy near the New Brunswick/Maine border or the Bay of Chaleur where New Brunswick meets Quebec. The Bay of Fundy is cold, dark, often turbid waters on a rocky coast churned up by the highest tides in the world, while the more northern Bay of Chaleur is warm, shallow waters and I fish it on one end or the other of a 40 km long sandy beach. With such nice conditions, I have a tendency to play a bit on the Bay of Chaleur, practicing beach launches and recovery in big waves and other fun stuff in waters that are warm and made to swim in, and thankfully this wild experience happened on a trip to the Bay of Chaleur. For a number of years my trips there have been during, before or just after hurricanes and the remains of them have come barreling through the area. It’s happened often enough now I make plans to miss a couple days on the water for it. Well this time I decided to go out the day after a hurricane blew through, while the waves were still… playful. I could almost hear the mackerel calling to me, feel them schooling a couple hundred yards out, off from where a rocky point marks the start of the next beach. With a few days fishing them earlier that week, I had zoned in when they were feeding, what they were hitting on best (my favorite mackerel lure, bigger than what the locals used), and my numbers were rising. I had also come up with a couple new tricks that were looking good so far but were about to bite me. The first was hooking my spare mackerel lures into my plastic bailer – this was keeping its hooks out of me and my other gear nicely, and was easy to get to if another color was suddenly getting all the hits. The other trick was using a dollar store fish keeper net, netting with a couple of cookie tin size wooden rings to keep it’s shape and a top draw string, so you could just drop the macs into it, no fuss or mess (mackerel are a very messy fish to catch!). Just keep it over the side until done fishing, then flop it into the kayak when it’s time to move on or head in. This had me a little nervous about accidentally chumming in some sharks, but the Bay of Chalure has few sharks compared to the Bay of Fundy, where the great white and tiger sharks are king. This turned out to be the only problem I didn’t have, but I’ll keep it in mind for next time.

After studying the waves for half the day, I knew it was time. The waves breaking on shore were down to about 3′ with the waves further out going to 5′, with almost no breaking waves that size or bigger further out…at the moment. The kayak I had with me was my Old Girl. a kayak “light” sit in side, with a surfing hull design. Narrow for fishing from, light enough to be carried a distance or put on top of a car with one hand, it’s an open cockpit design not made for Eskimo rolls, or even most waves above 2′. I love it and have used it as my primary kayak for the last 2 decades.

I grabbed a rod, a couple mackerel lures, the holding net, then stopped in at the camp to give my wallet to my nephew to hold. To reply to his questioning grin, I told him I thought it might get wet, then walked down to the beach.

A popular spot for mackerel fishing, looking around this busy spot. there were no boats or small craft in sight – I had it all to myself. Picking a launch spot where the waves weren’t crashing the shore too bad, then letting the last of a set of 3 bigger waves pass, I launched. After the quick burst of stokes getting away from shore and barely getting wet, then dropping to a medium pace while checking out how far out the storms collection of weeds and debris went. After about 80 yards it was clear enough to start trolling, searching for an active school while on my way to what I hoped was still the hot spot. To the locals this was strange behavior since none of them trolled for mac’s, preferring to drop anchor and work a jig below the boat. I may have been alone out there, but as it turned out quite a few of those locals were watching, either to see how the fishing was or how crazy you had to be to be out there, something I found out later. Picking up just a couple macs as I trolled, I soon took up position on the hot spot, about 300 yards out. The idea was to paddle enough to stay in a basic area until I lost the school, then paddle up wind a couple hundred yards to then drift back, finding another school along the way, and if needed I would drop back towards shore for them, but not too close – rocks!

The first cast there hooked up just after the lures splashdown, landing a nice mac, followed by the next and the next. Three fish in 3 casts – yup, I had found a school in the hot spot. Switching to dropping it strait down a mac immediately hammered it, then another and another. I now had a growing number of macs in that dollar store net which I had slung over the side and tied off to my chair. After a few more from below me I started alternating casting up wind and vertically jigging, using the pull of the fighting mackerel on the long cast to help keep me in place. After half an hour more of this the net was nicely filling with macs and I hadn’t needed to bail at all yet. In fact I was doing so well, the net was getting to be a pain, making it difficult to keep even close to position both by causing drag and occasionally getting wrapped in my paddle, so I pulled it aboard placing it still full of mackerel between my legs beside the bailer. It was a fair weight, clearly the lure was a top choice, the spare (same lure, different color) wouldn’t be needed unless I lost it to the bottom, which went from sand to rocks just in from my hot spot. The waves were building a bit, as was the wind, but not enough to interfere with the fishing. Then things got interesting…

I had a school right below the yak, smacking the lure within a few feet off the bottom. Fighting a good strong fish, just as I landed it a rude wave deposited some water int o the yak. I reached for the bailer and found it now connected to the net full of mackerel by the hooks on that spare lure. Crap! Another wave breaks on me. I try to rip the bailer off the net again with no luck but now the macs (still in the net) are floating and flowing around the bottom of my yak, leaving me no space to work the bailer if I could get it free.

I take another breaking wave full over the side – my mind hits the emergency button! As it sometimes will in emergencies, time slows down from my point of view. Near to being swamped, I know I’m in trouble. The choices look simple: either try again and succeed at freeing the bailer and throwing the fish overboard with the water…or get outta there. Since the first tries with the bailer hadn’t gotten anywhere, that didn’t look good, while getting to shore or calmer water would be a major challenge, emphasized by my view of what had become a bay of cresting and breaking waves. It takes much longer to write about it than it took to make the decision, I choose to get out of Dodge as fast as possible! Paddling alone wasn’t going to do it, so I gave it my maximum power strokes, calling on another burst of speed to grab the next wave. Surfing in was the only way I could see to get to the beach, travelling at the speed of a wave. The kayak was sluggish, staying on the wave demanded paddling at that burst pace all the way in! Trying to hold on, I slipped off that wave but managed to grab the next one, taking on yet more water. As the shore approached I picked out a spot at the base of the point ending the main beach (no way would I make it right back to my launch spot), with a dozen feet of beach between rocks and a huge pile off driftwood, that looked to be my best bet. About 60 yards out I noticed every time I took a stroke on the right side that entire side of the kayak went under water. Again. Again! I gave it all I had left, digging deep, ignoring the right side, the beach is closer now, 25 yards, 20… then preparing to exit the kayak – I wasn’t going to quite make it!

So then, it gets a little weird.  As I start to pull in my legs to get out of the boat, I start to roll off the wave just as it crests. This throws me backwards, rolling me out from the chair to on my head off the stern deck and into the water, the kayak rolling backwards with me! This left me standing amazed in chest deep water, with a dry face and beard, and the top of my head wet! Not expecting to be able to save much, I pushed the yak towards shore, grabbed the paddle, then the chair…and stopped short. My chair is not attached to the kayak, and barely floats, so I was surprised I found it, and now just as surprised that I couldn’t move it. Another tug on the chair and I realized that the net was still tied on and was stuck to the bottom on some rocks! So giving up on what little dryness that was left, I ducked under and freed the net. After dragging everything up on shore I was pleased to find not only did I still have all those mackerel in the net, but the bailer and spare lure were still attached to it, so I had lost nothing in the whole adventure except a little dignity. Once the kayak was empty again I loaded it back up, then waited a bit for a break in the wind and waves before launching. Scooting out and running just off shore from the breakers, then paddling back down to my launch area, following a series of waves in to stick a perfect beach landing by the camp. As I came in I could see a welcoming committee gathered by the other boats. There were cheers and laughs, some pats on the back and shaking heads as soaking wet I hauled the yak up on the beach, holding their suppers in the net full of mackerel. They had seen my battle with the waves, but lost sight of my surfing self rescue just as the bow of my kayak went strait up, their view blocked by the cliffs. They had come down to see if I had won my way to shore safely or become part of that pile of driftwood. Apparently as they decided how long to wait (the cove I was trapped in was hidden from sight), they got a laugh about how I had left my wallet on shore, declaring me the most dedicated mackerel fisher present…and slightly crazy.

It was a wild ride, a mackerel trip like no other, and certainly one that will stay with me forever. I guess it’s the actor in me, I’ve seen a number of tricky things done in films, so remembering I often chuckle about how much fun it would be to watch some stuntmen perform and film this as part of the story of my life, with no CGI!! I keep thinking about them trying to get it right over and over and over…Lol!

What does the future hold for you?

The future is fairly murky waters. Pursuing more species in fresh, salt and tidal waters has become a real pleasure. Muskies will be added to my species caught list soon, since they can now be found just over an hours drive away. Hake, either silver, white or red could easily be added sooner. And then there’s the next species…The tournies drive me to look for different species but I’ve always been the guy that caught the odd fish, the ones hardly ever seen. I look forward to that happening some more. Actually we saw a fish none of use could identify just the other day while ice fishing, it swam just under the large trough cut in the ice. Perhaps a young flounder, it was just around the corner from where I normally turn around kayak striper fishing…

I know I’ll be building more of my kayak designs, developing a wide family of kayaks and kayak products. Touring kayaks, ultra light and other specialty kayaks and of course more fishing kayak designs come to me fairly often. Some are slight variations, others new concepts. I can see exploring more ideas from the kayak point of view. So many designs – so little time! Guiding for kayak fishing and kayak tours will play a part in the coming years, just how big a part has yet to be seen. Where I live you only need a guide by law to fish one smaller river, and that is to make sure you do not fish for the prime species in it – Atlantic Salmon, so regs, rules, and where I’ll live may make a big difference with this. We’ll see.

Introducing newbies to yak fishing and exploring new waters are a pair of activities on opposite ends of my view of the future. Bring in more fishers and kayakers to our sport is fun and you can never know when a newbie comes up with an answer to something you never thought of before…or a question that you never looked at, besides making new friends. Watching some one land their first fish in a yak is almost as much fun for me as it is for them. Getting away from it all, some where new to me lets me step away from the rest of the world by myself, something to look forward to also. Reading the water, looking for the fishy spots, going out into the unknown…and coming back again. One of the best ways to tell how a journey went is remembering how satisfied you were at the end, paddling up to the landing, even if you don’t want to leave .

I picked up an inflatable kayak at the end of the last season, one that is small enough and light enough to fit in a backpack so I can try spots I haven’t been able to kayak before. My future is still unwritten.

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