Is it weird that I like fishing from a kayak during this cold, cruddy time of year as much as any other season?
But I do, and here’s why. It’s just a matter of putting up with cold, crummy weather. The fish are down there, and the weather doesn’t matter to them. They’re often easier to find this time of year and usually ready to feed.
And even if they’re not biting, I still manage somehow to enjoy a lousy weather day on the water. Especially in a kayak.
Case in point was last Sunday on the Grand River. The Topwater Tournament Trail put together a tournament and 23 guys signed up to fish it.
If you’ll recall, the wind on Sunday morning was strong. It blew hard enough to buffet my truck side-to-side on U.S. 31 as I headed north towards Grand Haven, my Old Town Predator PDL pedal power kayak hanging out of the truck bed. I was to meet my fishing buddy Jeff Gilliland and his Jackson Big Rig kayak at the Harbor Island Launch in the lower river.
We could have fished miles upstream, all the way to Plainfield, but we shared a gut feeling that not only would the lower river be full of bass, but it also would be devoid of other kayak anglers. Indeed, the only other anglers we saw were a couple of cormorants and a kingfisher.
So we were correct on the second part of that hunch. Problem was, the lower river almost to Lake Michigan also seemed to be devoid of fish.
You know you’re in a bad area when a single, little blue kingfisher comes up empty after diving out of a tree and into a river. He chattered his disgust as he flew off, presumably upriver where there had to have been more fish.
Actually there were, especially in Spring Lake, where 16-year-old Jaxton Orr of Fort Wayne, Indiana, caught a nice limit measuring 79 plus inches (just under a 16-inch average for five fish) and won the top prize of $350. Jaxton is one of those natural anglers. He won last year’s tournament on the same weekend over on Gun Lake. This year he caught all of his fish from weeds with a Z-Man Jack Hammer Chatterbait. It was a half-ouncer in the Green Pumpkin Shad pattern.
While he was catching all of those fish, Jeff and I were trying chatterbaits, lots of different crankbaits, Ned Rigs, jigs and blade baits among other lures. I’m pretty sure dynamite wouldn’t have worked and here’s why: Both of us have decent Humminbird sonars on our kayaks, yet neither one of us saw a single arch on the screen that signaled a fish below. Fish have to be there before you can illegally blow them out of the water.
Neither one of us even had a bite.
I have no explanation of why I got off the water after 5 1/2 fairly grueling hours of fighting wind and current and felt good about the day. I really wonder. Maybe it was being able to keep a positive attitude, “keeping my head in the game” as they say. I fished hard, tried stuff that should have worked and, with Jeff, covered a lot of water looking for fish.
We fished tight to the bank, across wide flats with scattered weeds, under bridges and in the deep part of the river channel itself. We probed rip rap, power company outflows and two different marinas. At one point amidst wind that was gusting up past 35 miles per hour, my gloveless hands got so cold I couldn’t immediately get them to work to answer my smart phone when Jeff called.
The west wind was so strong that swells from Lake Michigan rolled up the river. Although we were in no real danger of capsizing, it’s a bit unsettling when you’re heading upriver and a swell picks up the back of your kayak and moves it to one side or the other.
It was so rough in the river that Jeff felt like he might get seasick. While I avoided that malady, I felt like the floor of the bar in Allendale (where we had our awards ceremony) was moving.
Is kayak fishing an obsession? A sickness? Or is it just fun to do in almost any kind of weather? I think the answer to all three of those questions is “yes.”
Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at email@example.com.