Lessons learned for winter fishing from a kayak the hard way. That’s really not how we want to do it, but sometimes we get overly excited about getting a new kayak and forget the small things. This is exactly what happened to me on my first kayak fishing trip, a good kayak fishing lesson learned.
It was late February as I walked into my local kayak shop. With a cold front looming and cold winds blowing, I exited my vehicle filled with excitement of the purchase I was about to make. That chilly morning, I purchased my first kayak, a Jackson Kayaks Coosa. I couldn’t have been more excited about this kayak purchase or more eager to get to the closest lake to fish.
As I drove back to the house with the kayak in the bed of my truck, I listened to the radio and thought about what I might need to grab to ensure sliming my kayak on its first adventure out. As I thought of different baits and which rods to grab, the weather came on which I halfheartedly listened to. This was a mistake that would soon rear its ugly head.
I arrived at the house and quickly loaded my tackle into the truck. I began going over every detail so that I wouldn’t have any mishaps from my gear while on the water. I rushed to the bedroom to grab what I thought would be the correct clothing to keep me warm during the trip. Keep in mind that I am an experienced outdoorsman and am knowledgeable on staying warm in chilly weather using layers.
The air was brisk with the cold front pushing in, which made the excitement even more tense as I always enjoy prefrontal fishing. At the ramp, I unloaded, checked my tackle one more time, and began putting my layers on. At this point, I noticed that the clouds were beginning to roll in and the sky had a winter storm gray and black color to it. I added my gortex jacket as well as my gortex pants. Once again, I looked over my gear and shoved off. Giddy like a small child over Christmas, I paddled feverishly to the entrance of the creek mouth. I was engulfed in learning to manage the kayak and fish at the same time. Although I was standing within minutes of being on a kayak for the first time, getting my sea legs out was a little more than I wanted to take on, so I paddled to the bank and put the seat in the high position. This was the first Hi/Lo seating kayak of its kind and I was determined to master the high seat.
Back in the kayak and back to fishing, I noticed the howling of the winds for the first time since I had been on the water. I saw the cracking of trees as they swayed in the heavy gusts, though the wind wasn’t bad on the water because of the direction of the creek channel. I took note and continued to work my way back out of the creek towards the mouth. I said I would be out for an hour or two and at this point, I was creeping up on the two hour mark when I had finally found the bait that brought my first fish. Now, I was hooked and feverishly working the bank line back towards the point that jetted out from the mouth of the creek.
As I casted to the widest part of the point and slowly worked the bait across the bottom, I felt the crosswind hit me. It was a steady 10-15 mph crosswind that also felt like it dropped the air temp from the 40’s when I had put in down to in the mid 30’s. About the time I reached for the paddle to adjust my position where I would not be sitting in the crosswind, I felt that bump in the palm of my hand. I tightened my grip waiting for the second bump, watching the line for a change with intensity that would burn a hole in steel. Then it happened. The wind gusted well into the 30 mph range. Gusting across the boat with my seat in the high position, I felt the boat rock extremely hard and in my very inexperienced panic, I quickly over corrected using my weight to slam the raising side of the boat back down into the water. This is where I realized I wasn’t going to get the chance to feel that second bump on my lure. As the left side of the boat slammed back down on the water, it never slowed down and continued until I was coming out of the seat and I was headed for a swim. The panic set in once the ice cold water hit my face as I completely submerged under the water. I resurfaced quickly seeing my boat upside down, tackle boxes fading into the dark colors of the lake, and gear floating across the surface.
At this point, I felt the cold waters against my skin, telling me all my layers were soaked. I quickly gathered myself and relied on knowledge and videos of re-entering a kayak and within a blink, I was back sitting in my seat. At this point, I took a deep breath and surveyed the boat and surrounding water for gear. It quickly dawned on me that I didn’t have a paddle, all 4 rods were gone and some of my tackle boxes were gone as well. Given the height and weight of the Coosa and the strength of the wind, it was easy to determine I would be blown down the lake much faster than my paddle. So, as I sat atop the Coosa waiting to hit the shoreline so I could wait for my paddle, I had plenty of time to realize there were many lessons to be learned on this trip. Once I had my paddle back in hand, I made my way back to the boat ramp. I had been unable to call anyone because my phone was soaked. Thankfully, I had told a number of people where I would be as well as how long I expected to be out there. As I rounded the bend, I saw a search party at my truck waiting for me. It was only then that I realized how long this had taken and that I had went way past my two-hour time frame. I was soaking wet, missing tackle, and blue in the face. That night as I inventoried gear, I began a list of lessons I had learned from this experience and all the things I had thought of while waiting on my paddle.
First off, let’s talk about paying attention to the weather and dressing for the occasion. I dressed to stay warm, not to stay warm if I hit the water. The two hours it took for the paddle to make it to the log I had snagged was one of the coldest I have ever been in my life. With the winter upon us and fishing still being in our blood, we have to ensure we are prepared. Waders, Gortex bibs, and jackets are great ways to ensure you stay dry and warm. A dry bag packed with a complete change of layers secured to the boat just in case is a must as well. Also, make sure you tell a few people where you will be and for how long, so that if something does go wrong, you can be found.
Now let’s talk about securing gear. Maybe you’re not new to kayaking, but are you guiding the new folks with your knowledge about this. This is a lesson we have all learned the hard way at some point. There are numerous companies like Yakgear who make leashes for paddles and rods. There are now floating tackle boxes so if you do turtle, your tackle doesn’t sink. There are even various packs on the market that can be secured to the yak suck as the YakAttack Black Pak.
I hope that you can not only laugh at this story, but learn from its lessons. Fishing is a learning process that never ends. I know now after many years of fishing how to be able to go out and fish in the winter not only being successful but being safe as well.
Until next time
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