June 20, 2023
The early June day was absolutely perfect. You just don’t get many like that: high skies, 80 degrees, nearly flat calm, and the bass were a special kind of hungry as the spawn was winding down. Conditions were ideal for a kayak fishing for largemouth bass—or so we hoped. It was to be an exceptional day based on company alone; my son Tommy, who has become quite the hammer on bass waters, was in tow, along with my two friends Alex Sherbinow from Old Town and renowned Yooper photographer Scott Niska, who was pulling double duty with the camera and rod and reel.
The goal was to conduct a road launch with a fleet of Old Town Sportsman kayaks on a beautiful lake that didn’t offer a modern public ramp. Both Alex and Scott are fully capable anglers, and they were certainly impressed by the abundant bass habitat in the small lake before we even pushed the kayaks back. In fact, while we were still launching, Alex hooked up on a nice fish mere yards from the drop point. Of course, that initiated the trash talk that would last the entire day.
Right off the bat, we found a few topwater biters, caught some on crankbaits and got a couple on a Texas rig. The grand slam proved to be flipping reeds with a 1/2-ounce Strike King Denny Brauer Structure Jig dressed with a Rage Craw, green pumpkin across the board. The fish were shallow and feeding heavily on crawfish in pencil reeds wherever the pea gravel met larger chunk rock. We were literally calling our shots.
One of my favorite moments was watching my son pin down the pattern for himself. He backed out of the section of reeds we were fishing together and moved down the shoreline to an area we hadn’t hit yet. He nosed his kayak to the edge of the vegetation, confidently stood up, and on the first flip lowered his rod tip and set the hook with gusto. He managed to keep his center of gravity while fighting the fish to the boat, unhooking a fine 3-pound Minnesota green bass.
There’s nothing like untouched largemouths in a healthy fishery. Not only was the lake full of lush weeds and ideal habitat for spawning bass, but it also set up right for the kayaks. Small, untouched waters like this offer excellent proving grounds for a developing angler or anyone looking for a great day of fishing.
AVOID THE CROWDS
I love where I live. There are countless farm ponds, small to medium lakes and even some renowned large lakes where the bass fishing is as good as anywhere on the continent. The Upper Midwest offers dedicated bass-angling kayakers more places to find and catch largemouths and smallmouths than they could possibly fish in a lifetime.
The truly best options, however, often require research by evaluating maps, navigating private-land access or utilizing road launches, and in my experience the fishing can be life-changing. As a kayaker, I relish the added adventure that comes with accessing hard-to-reach waters. The extra effort adds an element of satisfaction much like that of a DIY project seen through to fruition. This isn’t unique to the chunk of country I call home, of course. Kayaking lesser-known waters for bass is a rewarding option anywhere the fish swim.
I won’t pretend that catching fish isn’t a huge part of why we go, but most kayak anglers likely enjoy the process as much as anything. The size and quantity of fish caught is certainly of value, but the part of the story most often relived during post-experience cold ones is how the kayaks were launched. The level of accomplishment directly correlates to the degree of difficulty in slipping a kayak into the drink.
Customizing a kayak to your unique specifications then hauling and launching it is certainly vindicated by successful fishing—especially when getting there takes extra effort. Nothing proves the value of a kayak more than when you’ve located the right body of water that seems impossible to get to; you just know it’s full of unpressured fish. I got into kayaks by accident but quickly realized that no matter how simple or extravagant the rigging, they provide a platform to fish water that most larger boats simply can’t access.
MANAGE THE LAUNCH
Bass fishing from kayaks in backwoods lakes—or simply small waters without ramps—often requires hiking to the water. Some of the best lakes don’t have ramps, and they demand creativity. Launching in these waters certainly takes more work, but some planning will make your off-grid experience more manageable.
Many of the smaller bodies of water without hard ramps are often landlocked by private landowners, farm ponds especially. It’s critical to garner permission to cross someone’s property to access a lake or pond. I use the OnX app on my smartphone for locating a landowner to request hunting permission, but I’ve found it handy for kayak access, too. I’ve also found most property owners are usually willing to allow kayak access. Just do the right thing: knock on a few doors, be respectful and ask. The worst they can say is no. You might also find an opportunity to make new friends.
Unless you’re planning to launch from the road, a kayak cart of some sort will not only protect the hull during the haul, but also make it easier on your back. With today’s larger fishing kayaks, you need a sturdy cart, and it needs to be simple. The new Railblaza C-Tug R with Kiwi Wheels ($169.99; railblaza.com) fits the bill for many scenarios a kayaker might encounter. It’s highly adjustable, lightweight, breaks down and stows in seconds, and will support up to a 220-pound load. It’s an ideal cart for navigating a gravel road, someone’s yard or a maintained trail.
For the trail-blazing kayaker, the Wilderness Systems Heavy Duty Kayak Cart with no-flat or balloon-style wheels ($239.99 or $269.99; wildernesssystems.com) will help you get over rough and extra-soft terrain. This cart will support a loaded kayak up to 330 pounds. I’ve also seen anglers rig up a lightweight trailer that connects to a bicycle and run it a couple miles deep on a local bike trail to access a small creek that feeds into a nearly impenetrable lake (word was the bass fishing was second to none). No matter your objective, you must be able to cover some ground without dragging your kayak on it.
If you’re road launching, suitable parking may not be available. That may mean someone else might have to drop you off and pick you up. It takes some coordination, but if you plan ahead, it’s not hard. On the day I described earlier, we had to quickly drop off the kayaks at the launch site, drive the truck and trailer to the family cabin, and then get a ride back to the launch.
Bass anglers totally go overkill when it comes to being prepared—I carry well over 30 rods and just as many tackle trays in my bass boat. It takes asserted discipline to not overpack for a kayak trip. I’m still learning. I have a set-aside kayak tackle box that has one or two of everything I’m likely to need for the conditions, and maybe five or six Lew’s rods and reels at the most. The time of year and bite will determine the specific combos and gear I’ll pack. I’ve found that I fish smarter with fewer options. Make an educated decision before you leave. If it’s a primitive launch back in the woods, downsize even more and focus on two or three likely presentations. For a lighter load, my go-to baits include a jig and trailer, vibrating jig like a Strike King Thunder Cricket and Strike King Rage Swimmer, a mid-depth diving crankbait and a topwater option or two. That’s the bare minimum.
The final piece of advice I have is to not divulge your secret kayak honey holes. If you’ve found a magical place, keep the details under wraps and don’t overshare images or video that may reveal obvious landmarks on the social networks. Some things are best left to memory and imagination. I can attest to how frustrating it is to show up at your top-secret bass lake and find some other person there who didn’t put in the blood, sweat and tears that you did to find the place.
Finally, when you find amazing spots, don’t forget about conservation. In my neck of the woods, it doesn’t take much to damage a fishery, and it may take years to recover. I’ve worked diligently over many seasons to keep up to a dozen hard-to-reach lakes in rotation for launching the kayak. I’d rather not hit the same place more than two or three times a year. They stay good because of that. Be conscientious, and practice catch-and-release. Paddling or pedaling on pristine waters to catch piles of big bass from a ’yak is truly as good as it gets—especially on a place you have all to yourself.
- Kayaks ride easy on this trailer from Yakima.
A sturdy and reliable trailer is critical for getting your kayaks down the road safely and to the access point that leads to the water’s edge. Yakima has you covered with several options, but one version I especially like is the EasyRider.
The EasyRider ($3,399; yakima.com) can carry from one to three kayaks rigged with a number of additional Yakima accessories, or up to four bare kayaks total. Plus, the aluminum trailer is more than capable of long-distance, cross-country expeditions on paved and gravel roads, thanks in part to its shock absorbers. It features a 500-pound capacity, and the tongue folds for easy storage.