My Favorite Native Watercraft Accessories Part 1

     Since I started fishing from a Native Watercraft kayak this season I have fallen in love with a few well thought out accessories from their product line.  I intend for this series of posts to grow over time as I test out and rig up different Native Watercraft components.  This post (part 1) will focus on 2 items that I almost didn't purchase.  At the time I didn't think they were really needed, however I have come to really depend on them when I'm on the water.  Which items am I talking about?  The First Class Seat Pack and the High/Low First Class Seat Organizer.
First Class Seat Pack
     The First Class Seat Pack is a great addition to my Slayer Propel.  It's already formed to fit the seat, and attaches quickly and simply with some velcro straps.  The top of the seat pack has a zipper for easily accessing small items or a jacket while seated.  It also includes two adjustable pockets that can hold just about anything.  I use it to hold my Backwater Assault Hand Paddle on my left and my Hawg Trough on my right.  I know other anglers use these pockets to hold water bladders, bagged soft plastics, even small tackle trays.  As an added bonus the First Class Seat Pack has reflective piping for a little more visibility when you're out on the water.
High/Low First Class Seat Organizer
     The second accessory I can't live without is the High/Low First Class Seat Organizer. This handy accessory stores your must have items right at your fingertips.  It is specifically designed to attach to the bottom of the First Class Seat (again with velcro straps) and gives you a convenient place to store tools, tackle trays, or any other small item.  I use mine to keep my musky release tools at the ready.  With 4 pockets just below my seat I am able to keep pliers, hook cutters, and that mouth holder open thingy accessible and ready should the situation call for it.  The D rings make tethering my Lucid Fishing Grips simple and the two tackle tray pockets hold the cover to my Garmin Fish Finder and a pair of release gloves safe and secure.  The High/Low First Class Seat Organizer is made out of the same material as the First Class Seat so it washes easily and dries quickly.  It's one of those once you have it, how did you function without it kind of things.
     Give these 2 items from Native Watercraft a try if you own any of their kayak models that come with the First Class Seat.  Installation is a breeze and they look great on the boat.  They're made in the USA (that's reason enough) and are built to last.  To get them for your boat swing by Rutabaga Paddlesports or check them out online.  I'm sure they will be more than happy to help you out.
     Tight Lines.

     

Skunked with Friends

I don't play around when catfishing.
     It all started out as a simple fishing trip idea with my buddy Richard and my son Tsion.  Soon it kind of took on a life of it's own.  We were going to head up to Lake Columbia and try to land a flathead catfish.  I imagined sitting on the bank eating a bag of Doritos and lazily watching the steam come off the water.  Then hearing the click of my reel, my heart would pound as I raced towards the water for my fishing rod.  Pulling back hard on the line I would set the hook and battle with a 30 pound monster.  Finally it would all end as I triumphantly hoisted him into the air, took some quick pictures, and then released him back into the darkness.  At least that's what I pictured in my mind.  Suffice it to say, it didn't work out exactly I had imagined, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
A trusted family relic that I am told is not allowed to ever be sold.
     Wednesday night at work I mentioned to Richard that the conditions seemed perfect to chase some catfish on Friday night.  He said he was free and we made some quick plans to meet up at my place around 6pm so we could get to the lake in time to catch some bait and set our lines.  Then on Thursday night while bored at league I mentioned the catfishing trip to JJ.  I knew he wouldn't be interested since he is a "musky fishing only" (imagine the air quotes) kind of guy.  Still he is a great friend and I wanted to offer to have him and his girlfriend stop out and join us.  He said, "It might be cool and he would let me know."  Going off of past experience I knew it was a no and we continued the long and boring process of trolling for muskies.  Imagine my surprise when Friday afternoon I get a text saying he was coming and that he needed to know what to bring.  "This was gonna be great!" I thought to myself.  I was just about finished rigging up my rods when my wife arrived at home and threw me a curve ball.  She said, "I would like to come fishing with you tonight."  Once I came to, (she has never, ever, wanted to fish before) I said that would be great.  "Also I think we should take the canoe so that the kids and I don't just have to sit around waiting for a fish to bite."  Okay, this changed things a bit.  The canoe is buried beneath 3 other paddle driven watercraft in the garage and would take a while to dig out.  Still she wanted to come along, and I love getting the rare chance to hang out with her.  I got the canoe out and the family loaded up just as Richard was pulling into the driveway.  I pulled him aside and explained how everything had changed and that we were about to have a bit of an adventure.  He was fired up and said he was willing to help out with whatever I needed so everybody would stay entertained.  With that we tossed his rods and backpack into the storage container on the back of my Silverado and headed for Portage, WI.
Wife and kiddos on the water.
  We arrived at the shores of Lake Columbia just as the sun was setting and I immediately unloaded the canoe for the wife and kiddos.  Soon they were headed out across the warm little lake.  You see Lake Columbia is a warming pond for a coal run power plant.  It never drops below 72 degrees, even in winter.  It's an eerie kind of place to paddle since your paddle and watercraft actually heat up as you go.  Add to that the crazy steam that comes off the water as the sunsets and it's like something out of horror movie.  It can be a little unnerving, something my wife reaffirmed when she later returned to shore.  "I don't like this place" she said, "It's really kind of spooky out on the water."  I just laughed, although I knew exactly what she meant.  By this time JJ and Andrea had arrived, and Richard was landing the last of the bait we needed to get all of our lines out in the water.
JJ inspecting the bait.
     I showed everybody the slider rig we would be using and explained how to prep the bait for a predatory catfish.  Most people are only familiar with channel cats around here and aren't used to using live or injured fish as bait.  "Isn't it supposed to be dead?" JJ asked me as I was cutting the tail fin off a bluegill.  "Nope, these fish hunt and aren't normally caught on dead baits" I told him.  A quick explanation of where to hook the bait and how to set a circle hook and we had our lines in the water.  Now we just needed to settle into our chairs and wait for a bite.  Of course that's not what happened because despite my warning that it gets kind of cold on the shore at night, nobody bothered to bring along a jacket.
Scouts on fire duty.
     We needed a fire if we were gonna enjoy ourselves.  If I only learned one thing from being a scout leader, it's that kids have more fun and will want to do something again if they're comfortable.  So Richard, JJ, and myself set about rounding up scrap pieces of wood and my lovely wife got a nice fire going.  Once everybody warmed up a bit the stories and laughter started.  We were having so much fun that for awhile I don't think anybody noticed that we hadn't caught a fish.  In fact, we never even got a sniff from a catfish, or any other fish for that matter.  We just ended up having a good time by the water together.
     Soon it was getting late and we all had things to do in the morning and one by one everybody started to pack it in.  We had nothing to show for our trip besides some dead bluegills and a couple empty bags of nacho cheese Doritos.  Now I readily admit to hating getting skunked when on the water.  I don't like coming home with my tail between my legs.  This time however it was okay, in fact I was perfectly fine with getting skunked.  The next morning my kids told the neighbors about how much fun they had catfishing.  At work the following night Richard talked about catching the bait and helping to start the fire with a big smile on his face.  I bet even JJ would have to admit he that he had a good time.  So I leave you with nothing more than the obligatory, didn't catch anything beautiful sunset picture.  Until next time...
Because I had to show you something cool.
     Tight Lines.

Orvis Encounter 8 wt Combo Review

      I am constantly on the look out for affordable gear that performs well.  That is exactly what I was up to when I found the Orvis Encounter combo at Orvis of Madison.  Guiding clients for carp and bass on the fly I needed a backup combo for those that didn't have an 8 weight of their own to fish with.  Also having a spare rod in the truck sounded nice since I seem to break a lot of fly rods.
     The first thing you notice out of the box is the rod tube.  It's pretty sweet for a budget combo.  Inside it has four dividers to keep the rod sections separated and scratch free.  The outside of the tube has the Encounter logo embroidered on canvas (fancy) and features a carrying handle and zip closed top.  It is really well thought out and has a solid feel and build.  The rod is a 9 foot 4 piece, and has a cork handle with fighting butt.  The guides were nice and straight and the up locking reel seat doesn't have that cheap feel you normally associate with budget combos.  The reel appears to be made of some sort of composite (plastic?) and is strung up with floating line and backing.  All in all it has a nice balanced feel, but how does it cast?
     To test this I fished it for a few weeks on some of my favorite Madison ponds.  The rod loads predictably which is a good thing because my casting is anything but predictable.  However even with my limited casting skills I got reasonable distance with the Encounter rod.  Also my roll casts improved greatly since this is more of a moderate action rod.  This was my first time casting a rod like this since all of the other rods I own are fast action.  It helped me learn to wait for my back cast, instead of just using the rod to muscle the line around.  The deep bend and even loading of this rod made my roll casts reach greater distances than I was used too.  Sometimes this distance improved by as much 8-12 feet.  It handled streamers well and easily casted a full assortment of common bass patterns.  This is a great rod for the beginning warm water angler.  The Encounter combo performs pretty well, but I do have a few things I don't like about it.
     For starters the reel on this combo drives me absolutely crazy!!!  The drag is all over the place and is anything but consistent.  No matter how I adjusted it, or readjusted it, it never gave me the same pull.  Some people will tell you that all a fly reel does is hold the line, but I have come to expect more.  Living in Wisconsin I know that the big Great Lakes brown trout, bully smallmouth bass, and the mighty muskellunge, will make quick work of this drag and break me off.  Don't believe me, see for yourself.  Also the line is fine for a beginner, but it feels cheap.  After just a few outings the last 8 feet or so stopped floating and needed to be treated.  Not a deal breaker necessarily, just something that will irritate the hell out of the bass guys throwing top water flies.  The negatives don't outweigh the positives though, this is an all around well balanced setup.
      As you can see this a great combo for the beginner.  It will even serve as a good back up to your favorite rod and reel.  It has its issues, but most budget combos are going to be a compromise.  This combo has a nice rod with a basic reel and line.  In fact, the rod is so nice that as you progress as a fly angler it would be worth upgrading the reel and line to something of a better quality.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Orvis Encounter 8 wt combo to somebody looking for a descent starter package to get them on the water.  Just keep an eye on that drag setting.
      Tight Lines.





     

2015 Scout Fishing Derby

     This year marked my 5th year of hosting the scout fishing derby here in Madison, WI.  It has grown every year since it's inception and I have had an absolute blast with all the participants.  I always plan this event over the free fishing weekend to make it easy for families to try angling without the investment in a state fishing license.  The event was attended by boy scouts, cub scouts, and girl scouts,  and just about everybody landed a fish.  This years outing had a new scout winning a division (he was thrilled) as well as a rod and reel combo for smallest fish.  Instead of giving you a play by play of the event as I have in years past I am just gonna share some of the photos.
A nice bluegill pulled from the pond.
Team work, you catch it, I'll hold it.
First time angler wins the cub scout category.
Bluegills were the prize fighters of the event.
My daughter and personal cheerleader, always representing the brand.
Congratulations to all the winners!!!
     A big thank you to all the scouts that attended this years event.  I am extremely lucky to have the opportunity to regularly introduce children to fishing.  If you get the chance, invite a neighborhood kid and their parents out fishing sometime.  Your interest in the outdoors could be the spark that lights the fire.
     Tight Lines.

Madison Musky Addict Guide Service

     It's finally happened, John started his guide service!!!  For those that haven't been in the loop, John (JJ) is one of the best musky anglers in the Madison area.  He is the one that got me started on my musky fishing journey.  With his early instruction, knowledge of the area, and dedication to the sport, he put me on the fish.  All I had to do was get them to eat the lure.
He put me on my personal best and helped insure a healthy release.
     The reason I say finally is that JJ has taken his time starting his guide service.  He wanted to make sure that he was doing everything right.  He is insured, has all the necessary gear, and has fair prices for your time out on the water.  I love the fact that he allows you to drink coffee on his boat!!!  The biggest thing that has stopped me from booking trips with other local guides is that they don't allow you to have coffee on the boat.  Seriously?  How hard is it to run a steam cleaner over the carpet on an off day (sorry for the rant).
Spring, Summer, or Fall, he can put you on the fish.
     Long story short, JJ will provide you with a great day on the water.  His rates are pay by the hour so if you're on the fish you can add time as you go.  No fixed hours or having to leave good fishing because your time is up.  To book a trip with John check out his site at MadisonMuskyAddict.com, you won't be disappointed!
JJ will make sure you learn the basics correctly.  Casting, Figure 8's, Netting, and CPR.
     Tight Lines.


Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Tournament Series Part 2

     My alarm went off at 2:15am, "This is way to early" I thought to myself.  I poured some coffee and wandered out the door to my loaded truck.  A quick check of the straps on my Native Slayer and I was on the road.  On this stop of the Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Tournament Series we would be chasing bass.  Largemouth, smallmouth, white, yellow, it didn't really matter as long as I had four fish by the 1pm cutoff time.  Arriving in Ottawa, IL I swung by the registration table to check in.  Waiting for the captains meeting to begin I couldn't help but notice the amount of Hobies that were pulling into the parking lot.  It soon became apparent that I was gonna be the lone Native owner on the water today.
The only Native Watercraft in a river of Hobies.
     After the meeting I unloaded my kayak and headed for the launch.  This would be my first time fishing the Slayer in a river environment.  Looking at the Garmin display as I pedaled along showed that the marina was pretty featureless.  It averaged about 8 feet deep, and the only structure was the occasional rock pile.  The bass would be up against the wall and pitching jigs was gonna be my game plan, or at least that's what I thought I was gonna do.
     It turns out that I wouldn't be jig fishing this tournament.  I left my jig tackle tray at home on the table.  All I had was some random crank baits, my Echotails, and a bunch of plastic worms.  "Rookie mistake" I said, "Can you tell this is my first year competing in tournaments" I joked with another angler fishing nearby.  I paddled down and around every dock in that marina skipping Texas rigged worms to all the likely bass holding spots.  Nothing, I didn't see a single fish for the first 3 hours of the morning.  Needing to try my luck somewhere else, I started scrolling around the map of the river on my IPhone.  I noticed a little bay down river and started making way out of the marina and into the river channel.
       Passing some other competitors, it quickly became clear that the fishing was tough.  Everybody was struggling to get a limit of bass, I really needed to land something soon.  I casted a pink Echotail as I made my way down the shoreline to the backwater bay.  Rounding the corner I finally had a tug on the other end of my line.  I set the hook and brought a scrappy little largemouth to the side of my boat.  While I was struggling to get the Hawg Trough into position so I could get a measurement, the little booger got off the hook.  I was crushed, in all the years I have been fishing I have rarely needed a net to land a fish.  Now I see why all the other anglers in attendance had one.  I am pretty sure I wouldn't have lost that little guy if I had had one in my kayak.  The rest of the day was a wash, I didn't encounter another fish for the remainder of the tournament.  It was a day full of hard lessons about what it takes to be a competitive tournament angler.
     I may have struggled that day, but hometown angler Ron Koch sure didn't.  He brought in a 4 fish limit of smallmouths and took home the win and the prize for biggest fish (over $600 in cash and prizes).  It was a great event and I had a lot of fun, even if my poor planning left me at a slight disadvantage.  A big thank you goes out to Quest Watersports for hosting the event and to all the organizers and the series sponsors.  The next event is July 18th and the target species is catfish.  I am already working up a strategy and plan to get out locally for some channel cats in preparation.  If you own a kayak and live in the Midwest you should check out this tournament series and plan to make the last couple of events.  You can check out the tournament series and get yourself signed up here.
     Tight Lines.
      

Ulterior Motives

     It all started with a simple request, "Dad on Sunday can we go to the zoo?"  My daughter was asking, but I already had plans to do a bit of fly fishing.  "I can fish with you" she said, "I can even help you catch the flies!"  I chuckled a bit at the last statement and explained to her that I already had the flies.  She honestly had no idea what fly fishing was or how it differed from the kind of fishing she had done with me in the past.  All she wanted to do was visit the zoo and dad was her best chance of getting there.
     When we arrived at the parking lot I went about setting up the rods.  I tried to explain how the gear works, but she had no interest.  She could hear the lions roaring in the distance.  I showed her how the 5 weight St Croix rod went together.  Explained the differences in lines, tippets, knots, and flies.  Occasionally she even looked over at me while I was talking, but it's hard to focus when you can see the zoos carousel.  When I had everything ready to go we made our way down the worn dirt path in front of the lake.  I was carefully scanning the water, she wanted to know if I thought we could get some ice cream.  
The two handed whip cast.
     I picked a promising spot and asked her if she wanted to make the first cast.  "Sure, I guess...how?" It finally occurred to her that the rod she was holding wasn't like the other poles she had fished with before.  I did my best to explain, again, how the whole fly fishing thing worked.  It took her a little bit to get the hang of casting.  She kept trying to "Snap the Whip" with the rod.  "Easy, this is a delicate kind of fishing" I told her.  "Every time you smack that line against the water a poor little fish has a heart attack."  She thought that was pretty funny and started to make an effort to slow down.  I didn't worry her with the specifics anglers like to use to over complicate fly fishing.  I just showed her how to watch her back cast and let her loose on the bluegills in the shallows.
One of Lake Wingras finest little fighters.
     She was having fun casting that little Pepto fly (thanks Tristan) when all of a sudden the rod loaded up.  The look on her face will forever be burned into my memory.  "I got one!" she yelled, "I watched him eat it!"  True to form she mocked me a bit as she reeled yelling "Fish On, Fish On" in River Monsters fashion.  She was ecstatic, and I was sure proud of my little lady.  Finally getting the bluegill to the bank she triumphantly raised it in the air and said, "I'm not taking this thing off the hook."  She stared me right me in the eye as she said it, so I jumped up and promptly removed the fish.  It turned out to be a great afternoon full of little fish, big laughs, and the occasional tangled leader.
It is always fun to ride the carousel.
     I rarely get the opportunity to fish with my children.  Unfortunately, I burned them out at a young age by making them go fishing with me.  Every once in awhile though, they ask if they can come.  I absolutely live for these little moments with them.  Even if they might have had other reasons for initially wanting to tag along.
     Tight Lines.