When I was 10 years old, my family moved to “Lakeland” Florida. It is called Lakeland because of the incredible number of ponds and lakes that are in that town, mostly from old phosphate mines.
My dad had a new friend from work, Tom Schreiner, who was an avid fisherman, both salt and fresh water. Tom taught my dad to use baitcasters, topwater lures, and showed him some great fishing spots. The rest of the family (my mom, and sister, and I) moved down with him about a month later. My dad, Tom, and I went fishing every weekend. I started fishing every day. I got quite proficient at casting, choosing lures, picking my spots for different times of day, and finding new lakes to fish from. I had a best friend my age that was equally addicted to fishing, Bill Calleah. Between the two of us we probably fished around 40 hours/week about 8 months/year for the 4 years I lived there. I designed my own rubber worm, made my own mold, as well as some balsa lures. We did tons of fishing contests and I was even on a few TV shows. We moved to New Hampshire where I became a whitewater kayaker instead of a fisherman. Then Drew Gregory came into my life with the idea of a river fishing kayak… “I can be a fisherman and run rivers at the same time?!!!” I am now fishing again and I am addicted again!
I have had the Cuda prototype and the Coosa up on the Ottawa River this summer and enough tackle to keep me happy. I am back in fishing gear, with three baitcasters, and have a host of good old fashioned 1970’s lures, as well as some newer ones. Topwater is my first love, and the Hula Popper, Zara Spook, and Buzz Bait are the primary lures I reach for. When I can’t fish topwater, I get out a big spinner bait. I am getting kind of fond of putting a perch swimbait on now, when I want to fish fast and not worry about my retrieval.
My personality is addictive and obsessive. This means that I fish hard and don’t know when it is time to stop. I cast, cast, cast, and cast again. I have two or three rods ready at all times, and can’t believe when I cast in a good spot and don’t get a hit. I hit the spot again with a different lure, go slower, go faster, go deeper. How can it be that I didn’t get a hit? My daughter, Emily, and wife, Kristine are also both unable to tear themselves away and have to cast one more time. They are not experienced fishermen yet, but are getting better each time out.
I just finished fishing the Ottawa River, in the valley way upstream of the city of Ottawa, in the last free flowing section, where the big rapids are. The are massive flatwater sections in between the rapids, as well as offshoots, bays, small volume channels, and other interesting areas for fishing. If you are in the mood for catching a fish on almost every cast, but smaller fish (.5- 1.5 pounds) mostly small mouth bass, some walleye, some chubs then the eddies among or below the rapids serve up a ridiculous amount of fish. If you are in the mood for catching big fish, then it is out to the slack waters in the bays, big eddies, secret offshoots that can only be reached by kayak and dragging over sanbars and rocks, and flatwater in between the rapids where you find the big fish. The Ottawa fish are aggressive and like big lures. There are large mouth and small mouth bass, Northern Pike, Walleye, Perch, Chubs, Catfish, and Musky in these waters. I go after everything but Muskie at this point.
One of my favorite parts of fishing is the casting. I love the challenge of picking your spot and trying to nail it on the first cast, exactly where you want it, with the right lure. I like it so much that I’ll cast into a spot more than once just to see if I can get a tad closer to the exact spot I want. I am usually accurate to about a 24” radius with most lures at close to full distance. I go off target my fair share as well, and still get the occasional backlash when I am getting greedy on distance and not paying attention. The Ottawa offers great casting challenges. The shallow weedbeds that disappear into deeper water, with the break in the surface weeds offering perfect spots for big fish make for great targets to hit and drag top water lures across through the breaks in the weeds. I have yet to catch a fish with weeds on my hooks. Buzz baits are perfect for cheating when you want to go deeper in the weeds as are spoons, but I always get the feeling I am leaving bass behind when I pull the spoons out here. Pike go nuts on them, but the bass numbers drop about 50% as soon as you start throwing spoons. This brings me to a good point about fishing the Ottawa. Pike or Bass? It is not worth choosing on this river, always fish for both on the onset. I pick lures that are good for both. One day I think I have the ultimate bay, full of large and smallmouth bass, and don’t catch a pike in it. A few days later, I am catching 100% pike in the same locations. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that equation by throwing spoons when the bass are there, or throwing Hula Poppers when the pike are in full force. On the Ottawa, the best dual purpose lures are buzzbaits and spinner baits which are awesome for pike and bass alike. Expect to miss some hits with the single hook baits with the pike, however, but also expect them to keep coming for it. They seem to be about as accurate of a hunter as Yosemite Sam after Bugs Bunny. However, when using Buzz Baits it can be quite a heart stopping experience when a big pike is after the lure and takes a few tries to get it, usually not until close to the kayak. For surface lures, the Pike like the Zara Spook better than any other, I find. Fish it just like you are fishing for bass- Drop it in the sweet spot or on the other side of a point and let it sit for a few seconds (for the big bass to nail it), and then walk the dog back at a medium pace. Unlike the Spinner and buzzbaits you will normally hook up with both the bass and the pike on the first hit due to the double set of treble hooks.
The other lure that is unbeatable for getting hits by big bass and pike on the Ottawa is the Storm Perch swimbait. It has a big single hook on the top and a treble hook on the bottom and creates incredibly aggressive hits by both fish. It is also good for the current and eddies for the smaller bass, but they have a tendency to bite the tail off and that can get expensive on these lures.
James McBeath found a new spot on the Ottawa this year in his Coosa that became the location of a couple of overnighters on perfect sandy beaches and not a soul to be found. You paddle down the river in between two big rapids (McCoys and Iron Ring) and take a bay off to the right just before Iron Ring. That bay seems to dead end into a shallow sandy bottom creek that requires getting out of your Coosa or Cuda and pulling it along for a while. Another 15 minutes of getting in and out along this creek and you dead end at a rockpile that you drag the boat over into a secluded pond that has three main weed-beds in. I always have a Hula Popper, a Storm Perch swimbait, and a Spinner bait/Zara Spook, or Buzz bait on. The Hula Popper has produced some big bass, and big pike. Yes, you occasionally catch pike on them, but don’t use them if that is what you are fishing for (at least how I fish them) This pond is good for at least two hours of hard fishing before you are ready to move on. It is also great for camping. I took my entire family, plus Max and Courtney to it last week for an overnighter. Kristine made individual aluminum foil wrapped veggies for throwing on the fire, and trusted me to bring home the fish. I brought home two bass and one pike that fed seven of us with left overs. The one smallmouth bass was over 6 pounds by my guestimate, and the pike over 10. Another 4 pound bass or so and we had some fat fillets. The weather has been dry so some dead branches off of a pine tree and the wood from a fallen tree and a single match made the camp fire easy.
This fishing/camping trip we left at 3:30pm from the bottom of McCoys rapid with Kristine and KC in the Cuda, and I had my two Dalmatians in my Coosa. We packed three tents, a big cooler, several dry bags, fishing stuff, camping stuff, cooking stuff, all in the Coosa/Cuda and a Rogue. All of that gear, plus two dogs in mine and I was still good to go. It took until 4:30 pm to get to the “secret lake” which is on the “Middle to Main” channel of the Ottawa that only flows at high water. That channel is cut off from the main river at summer flows. We set up camp and got a fire going by 5:30pm. By 7pm Nick and I had caught a bunch of fish. I caught the three we kept for dinner and had them cleaned and ready to cook by 7pm. Kristine was already cooking the veggies and had corn on the cob roasting in the husks in the sand by the fire as well. Some bota box wine, and beer for the adults (Kristine, Nick, Emily, and I) and 4 lawn chairs and the elite seas from the Coosa and Cuda and we were comfortable and enjoying the sunset and cooking. Right before dark I took a single cast from the beach into the middle of the lake with a Hula Popper and caught a nice 2 pound bass right at my feet before I pulled the lure out. I retired to the fire for the night. The fish was wrapped in aluminum foil since we didn’t bring a frying pan and put on the fire with lemon, salt/pepper. Perfect. It was my 3 year old’s first camping trip.
First thing in the morning Nick, Emily, Dane, Courtney, Max and I went fishing. I was out at first light and enjoying the fish disturbing the fog on the water when going for my Zara Spook. A breeze took it away quickly though and the sun came up.
One of my favorite things about fishing in the Coosa or Cuda is standing up and really getting a great view into the shallow waters, seeing the weedlines and structures underwater and the fish going after the lures. It is more fun for casting, easier to cast and just plain fun to be able to stand up in the kayak and fish. The Coosa is light and turns easy enough that I use my lures like a trolling motor, especially my ¾ oz spinner baits. I cast in the direction I want to go and as I retrieve the lure it pulls me that way. My next cast is perfectly in the next place I want to be another 20 feet or so further along the bank. You can use your rod angle to turn the boat and keep the Coosa pointed in the direction you want it to be. Even in the wind it seems to work well as the Coosa doesn’t get turned around in the wind. It is the most windproof boat I know of in terms of being “neutral” in the wind. Some boats get turned into or away from the wind, but not the Coosa.
Many people use leaders for pike. I have lost two big pike to broken lines, but I am not the most diligent about making sure my lines are in good shape. I only get my self to check my line after it breaks. I love to change lures depending on where I am fishing (coming off of a strong current and going underwater, to hitting a bay and wanting multiple top water lures, for example) and prefer to use swivels. The pike do have sharp teeth and can often abrade the line. However, I find that using braided spiderwire line that is 20-30 pound test works great for all of the lures I am throwing and handles the fish I am fighting fine. The leaders make the Zara Spook, in particular, useless. The swivel, however, is an issue for the spinner and buzz baits. Most of them don’t twist the wire where you hook them on and when catching big fish the swivel goes up to the spinner and sometimes breaks the spinner off the wire and you lose big fish. I can’t believe anyone would consider putting a lure on the market with such a big flaw. If you twist it yourself, you risk the wire breaking due to being stressed after some use. It is too annoying for me to tie the lures on each time to bother, so I just take my chances. About 1 out of 10 casts the swivel moves up to the spinner on the cast, usually when you try to let it drop a little deeper before retrieving.
I do recommend having needle nosed pliers for pike, as you will find your hands deep inside their teethy mouths otherwise and one bad shake and you’ll regret it. I don’t use a clamp to pick them up and find the small ones easy to hold behind the gills and the big ones in the gills.
If you haven’t fished in Canada- check out Google maps and see how much water there is for how many people there are . It is ridiculous. Combine that with the Coosa or Cuda and you can go to all of the places where you can’t put a motor boat in the water, and those places are likely to be virgin fishing spots. Being a whitewater kayaker, I am used to going where few people get to. I am very used to going where no fishermen have been. Our fishing kayaks truly open up fishing spots that the pros will never see and make fishing way more fun. You will catch more fish, bigger fish, and get to places that are more secluded and enjoyable to spend your time. You don’t have to go to another country to find these places. I am heading home to TN where my own river, the Caney Fork, has a wonderful gorge in between the Powerhouse and Center Hill Lake that my Coosa takes me. The fishing there is incredible as well and only the occasional motivated fisherman will get into that gorge to fish this part of the river. It is there I expect to catch my first Muskie as well. Only after starting my second fishing career did I realize that I had one of the best Muskie fishing rivers in my backyard. Crazy.
There is one kayak I am anxiously awaiting for us to finish up that will complete my package for myself, family, and friends. The Big Tuna. This is a tandem fishing kayak that will allow me to bring one kayak for two people. Now that my wife and kids are getting into fishing as well, it will be getting a ton of use. Next season and it will be ready .
See you on the river- fishing and kayaking. Here is a short video I made…
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