Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Year with a Rivergoat

This year, 2014 has been one hell of an adventure. The year started with the theft of my kayak the week before a paddle trip over to Little Tybee island. Luckily I have a dear friend who didn't hesitate to loan me his. Three days on the island in January sleeping in my hammock, paddling, fishing, eating fresh clams and oysters set the tone for the most adventurous year I've ever had. When I returned from the Georgia coast I set about searching for my next yak. I researched many models and after laying eyes on the Jackson Big Rig at Cohutta fish Co. I was in love. This kayak is a mean fishing machine, the guys that designed it knew what a hardcore angler needs. The big rig makes fishing better. Simple as that and that's the goal in any plan for specific tool isn't it...to make the task easier and more efficient. The Jackson guys nailed it! The first time on the water I knew I was going to spend a lot of time in this thing. I work a crazy swing shift schedule, average a 60hr work week and only have one weekend a month off. Despite the work I still have managed 3-4 days a week or about 150 days kayak fishing. The magical thing is I've caught fish on every single trip! February 28th I took my new kayak to Blue Ridge Ga for a trip on a tail race river for trout. That day, my first trout was my largest ever...a 24" 4.5lb Brown trout. I knew then I was in for something special. In March I spent a lot of time on the Coosa river in Rome Ga fishing for white bass. That month I caught stripe, white, yellow, spotted and largemouth bass, walleye, Freshwater Drum, White and Black crappie and Smallmouth Buffalo. On a Kayak trip to lake seed I caught chain pickerel and yellow perch. I was very pleased with my purchase of the Big Rig but only when one of my best friends asked how many different species I had caught that month did I realize what exact adventure quest I was on. I had caught 12 and I was going for more...Thanks Chris for the idea! I fish alone most of the time but my close childhood friend Sherill spent many days with me this year fishing, camping and riding many miles around this great state. We never had a cross word and he was as eager to hit the road as I. He has been a great partner and I am grateful for him and his little blue Jackson Coosa. We fished the Toccoa river several times adding brook and rainbow trout and a neat little fish in the "River Chubb." We decided to go after shoal bass on the chattahoochee. Our target area was below Morgan falls dam in Roswell but when we arrived they were generating so we quickly hatched a plan to trout fish above the dam, contacted a rafting company for a shuttle and in an hour we were fishing. That day we lost count of the rainbow and Brown trout we caught but 40+ is a safe estimate. Our next kayak fishing trip was to Carter's lake in Chatsworth Ga. On that trip was a swimming squirrel that hitched a ride on the bow of my Big Rig but we caught several fish including a new species for the list. While throwing a shad rap around some rocks in hopes of the legendary spotted bass the lake holds a large flathead catfish hit like a train and after a long fight he was landed then released. When the weather started to warm we started fishing the Etowah river for striped bass. We managed quite a few nice fish over the next few months and added a couple new fish to the list, channel and blue catfish both which hit a glass shad rap. In May I decided to fish my first ever tournament, the CRBI/Cohutta Fish co. 3 rivers fishing tournament. The conditions were against us with super clear low water and sweltering heat but I, yes I managed the win with a mixture of white bass and spots. This win added something that has made my paddling more efficient. Grand prize was a Bending Branches pro angler, super light and powerful. Sherrill and I had developed an obsession with the Shoal Bass and over the summer we planned a trip to the Chattahoochee, this time we'd be floating above Lake Lanier. This stretch of river holds a healthy population of these hard fighting fish but it also is home to several class II+ rapids. We caught our share of Shoal Bass and our boats handled these rapids easier than expected. This will be a definite return trip because of it's beauty and wildness. Another trip that was memorable was a night float on the Toccoa River tailrace. Two of my closest friends Chris and Keelan joined me and we launched at 9pm. Our hopes were to catch the trophy Brown trout that feed at night and after 14 hours picking our way through the dense fog created by the cold water meeting the warm air we reached our take out. Overall a successful yet risky trip, Keelan caught a nice kyped 21" male brown. Throughout summer I bass fished the Etowah, Coosa, Big Cedar and Brushy Branch area with lots of success with largemouth, Striped and Spotted bass but as fall arrived and the weather cooled some I started to concentrate on catching a Smallmouth bass. The best area is only an 1.5hr drive and I've spent 6 days so far camping and fishing Lake Blueridge with no luck yet with a bronzeback. I've had two on but they've thrown the hook before I could land them. In October my close friend Mike and I headed for the coast. We camped at Cape San Blas and had very good luck fishing St. Joe's bay for redfish, trout and flounder. We had a couple of incidental sharks on and had great opportunities seeing sea turtles, rays and sharks. Through late fall I tried my luck at catching a lake sturgeon in the Coosa with no takers and did a bit of deer hunting to change things a bit and reflect. By the end of November I was ready to hit the water again. Chris joined me a day the first week of December for a trout fishing trip in our kayaks. The river we floated had been excellent in the past and that day was our best day ever...8 rainbows from 17"-20"...we decided to head back the next week knowing there was no way it could be better, we were dead wrong. We had a world class trip, although it was cold and dreary we caught 21 rainbow trout ranging from 18"-21". I must say that God smiled upon us that day and I'll never forget it. I just returned from my first trip of 2015. I invited a young friend, Chase, to go along with me for a return trip to Little Tybee Island. We left out on a Thursday, arrived on Tybee Island after lunch and loaded our kayaks down with enough food and equipment for 4 days. The fish weren't cooperating but we dug enough clams for 10 and ate like kings. I was honored to get to show this young man the beautiful Georgia coast and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the island and tidal creeks with him. I first thank God for my health, my parents for their loose reigns while I was growing up and my wife for understanding my love for adventure, nature and fishing...lastly for my buddies, I thank you for the time we've shared, for the adventures, for the mutual trust in our skills and capabilities and most of all the innocence of youth we still harbor in our aging bodies. I think we all relate to this quote, "I refuse to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death." To date I've caught 28 different species of freshwater fish from Georgia waters out of my kayak. I plan to continue chasing the smallmouth and lake sturgeon and if I'm lucky the rare Suwannee bass from south Georgia. But...I have to admit, this past year has been a blessing to me and with 28 or 30 species it makes no difference it has been great. Peace. Note: on 15 Jan 2015 I traveled back to Lake Blueridge, the air temp was in the 30's and the water was 45-47 degrees. I marked bait in 25' of water next to a creek channel. I dropped my flexit jig down to the bottom, twitched my rod tip a few times and got bit. After nice fight I netted my Smallmouth bass. 19.5" and about 4+ lbs. This fish is my proudest catch of the year. It was the fish I had almost given up on. She makes 29 species and I plan on finishing my black bass slam later this month with a Suwannee bass and make it a total of 30 January 31 2014- My friend Sherill traveled to the Santa Fe river in N. Fla. On my 5th cast I caught my Suwannee bass, a 14" chunk that is eligible for a Florida Big Fish award...Mission accomplished. What a year...I may try for a lake sturgeon, 31.