By Eric Jackson
Camping is something that kids remember. Think back to when you were a kid. I remember my first camping trip on Pine Creek in PA, at age 6 out of a Grumman Canoe with my Dad like it was yesterday. It was a memory of a lifetime. I truly believe that, as a parent, any time you can create such a memory for your child, you are giving them a foundation of love and family that will help them be a better person forever. I know that I always aspire to provide my own children with such memories and it was based on my favorite memories as a child. Canoeing, kayaking, camping are big parts of that.
James McBeath and his two kids, Sam and Emily met up with KC and I here at the put-in of the Ottawa River and we paddled downriver for 1 hour and then found an off-shoot of the ottawa, that is a full fledged channel at high water, but is barely paddle able at this level and dumps you into a sweet lake out in the middle of nowhere.
The equipment we used was perfect. We loaded a SUPerFISHAL with gear in dry bags, a big cooler, and KC. That was my “barge” that I towed behind my Cuda 12. My Cuda 12 had food, clothes, fishing gear, drinks, etc.. James had his Big Rig loaded with some gear, Sam had his Cuda 12 and Emily had the Ibis, both with some gear of their own. We said goodbye to Kristine at the Put-in and she had that grin of “yea- EJ is taking KC for the night, I can sleep-in and hang out and relax!” KC had that, “uh… where are you taking me?” semi-excited, semi-nervous that he doesn’t have an iPad, toys, or any other typical “fun” thing to do and we seem to be going away for a while.
The paddle downriver took about 1.5 hours to get from the Put-in down the first small rapid and then a portage around the big rapid at “little picky”. KC did well and our “barge” handled the rapids well. A few more little rapids and a big water peel- with no issues and we were floating downstream in class 1 water with nothing but flatwater all of the way to camp. I was anxious to get to camp and set up on the beach and fish the lake there. Really Big smallmouth bass, lots of pike and walleye were waiting. Also KC would enjoy hanging at the beach, swimming, etc..with Sam and Emily.
Part of getting there is a long windy sandy bottom creek that you bottom out a few times (including getting over a small beaver dam) and have to get out to pull the boats over. Finally, after a bit of effort, I could see the lake and there was one small pool before the lake. I paddled into it and could see a big bass swimming away scared of my Cuda which was only 20 feet from it. I cast my Banjo minnow and it couldn’t resist, Destroying it like there was no tomorrow. KC was so fired up! “Big Fish! Let me see!”
We paddled across the pond to the best beach area and unpacked in sun, set up tents, organized a fire pit, and generally prepared for camping at 3pm. It stays light until almost 10pm up here and the full moon would keep it light all night long if it stayed clear. KC keeps his life jacket on as he is not a strong swimmer without it yet. He can swim, but not that well. He turns 6 years old next month. James and I immediately headed out to fish, while the kids stayed on the beach and played. The lake is small and we could see the kids at all times.
The fishing was incredible. In typical fashion, James focused on Pike and I on Bass. We both catch both, but James uses spoons typically, and I was using the Banjo Minnow, and a spoon but only throw the spoon periodically. I caught several Bass pushing 5 pounds (big for small mouth). Out in the middle at a submerged weed bed, I hooked up with a big bass that was running my line out, and was in the 7-8 pound range. I yelled at James who came to watch me fight it and it launched like a Polaris missile on its first jump, only 10 feet from me and through the hook. It was massive! I laughed out loud, and so did James, because it was a ridiculous sight, so big, and such and impressive escape. We are doing Catch and Release fishing as James brought a full Pork loin for the fire. (poor pig, but lucky fish on this trip…:))
James and I settled back into camp and the quest for wood was next. We used the Superfishal as a barge to carry wood from the shore to the island and staged up lots of wood. James and I used our super human will power to bring a log over that was too big, and too heavy, but after lots of grunting and groaning, we pulled it off and it became the centerpiece of the fire that we built around. KC, Sam, and Emily were happy to help us build the fire, as most kids are.
James discovered that we forgot the grill to put on the fire as well as any spices, or plates. Luckily he had a pan and everything we needed to make rice. James pan fried the pork, and made rice and we ate it cave man style. The kids were thrilled.
At dusk we set out for another fishing excursion and then roasted marshmallows, Emily sang us some songs, we generally hung out by the fire.. James had some whiskey and I brought “Whisper Cream” a Nashville local whiskey cream drink that we drank out of the bottle, in moderation, of course.
KC and I climbed into bed after Emily announced that she was ready for bed. We brought a tandem sleeping pad and KC gave me a big hug and a kiss and fell right to sleep. I was in heaven.
We both slept hard until 2am when I woke up thinking it was morning, but it was the full moon. I almost went out fishing again, but went back to sleep instead. It was cool out and I was not dressed for it. My next memory was waking up to a very light rain. The clouds moved in and things were getting wet. I went fishing anyhow, letting KC sleep. The fish were in the shallows against the shore and my Banjo Frog was like Gold. Casting into 3” of water and pulling it through the weeds the fish were attacking it like there was no tomorrow. Mostly pike and some of the most aggressive strikes I have ever seen. Water so shallow that they created a big “V” on the way in, sometimes the tail breaking the surface and splashing as it honed in on the frog. Then WHAM! I get goosebumps just writing about it! It was so exciting.
I figured I should restart the fire before everyone woke up and got on that project. The kids threw the remaining kindling in the first the night before, so I had to start over. I got it going but needed a big piece of wood. A big tree stump that was jagged from a lightning strike was close by and I gave it a try. Sure enough I was able to pull a huge piece of tree off and carry it back. a 100 pound piece of tree that would keep us warm and dry until it was time to leave.
It was getting wetter, versus drier, so we eventually began to pack- up- putting wet tents, sleeping bags, etc.. in bags and in the boats. KC had shorts and a tank top on and it would be a 2 hour paddle back, which I would be working hard, but he was just riding on the SUPerFISHAL so he would be cold very fast now that we left the fire. I gave him my Jackson Kayak Loki hoodie, wrapped him up in it and sat him down on the front of the board against the dry bags. It was a good paddle upriver- snaking around the shallow creek for 20 minutes to get out of the pond and back to the main river. The current is strong but there are great eddies to hop and attain up most of the way. The final two big moves required me to paddle hard, towing KC with a strap behind me and get momentum to attain up the drops. The last big one at McCoys I wasn’t sure if I could make it but it went well, but it jerked KC hard when his board hit the current and he almost fell in. I didn’t realize it at the moment, but he was asleep on the board and had been for some time, I think. We all pulled into “Little Picky” where we would get out and KC was still asleep. James portage up the last rapid and paddled back to the RV and got his car with the kayak trailer on it and was back in 15 minutes. KC was still asleep.
He woke up just in time as we finished carrying our gear to the car and I needed to carry the bags he was sleeping against up too. It stopped raining, but everyone and everything was wet. When we got back to the RV we unpacked and got KC into warm/dry clothes, and I made a big cup of coffee. KC was so excited to tell his mom all about the adventure. KC’s vocabulary is still quite minimal, so there were a lot of exclamatory remarks, hand gestures, and big smiles, with the words he knew mixed in. His message was clear, however, “I had an awesome time camping and want to do it again!”
Kayaks and our SUP boards can be used for so many things. This one will provide a memory that KC will take with him for his entire life, I believe, like my first overnighter with my dad in 1970 on Pine Creek. I caught a trout on a spinner, helped make the fire, was so excited to camp in the tent, and cook on the fire in the morning, too. It made me truly love my dad and know that he cared and felt like only he could provide such an amazing experience. In the end, I guess, to some degree, that is true. Who else is going to take a 5 year old away for a camping trip if not mom or dad? Thanks Dad for showing me how to create a lasting memory for a child!