Upon closer inspection, the flanking vessels are planer boards, tied to the larger craft via fishing line extending from rods are spaced in rod holders attached to the sides and rear of the boat, giving the larger craft the appearance of a miniature trawler or perhaps a float in a parade.
The unusual scene is suddenly thrown into disarray when one of the planer boards abruptly jerks and begins moving in reverse, bending its tending rod into a bow. After breaking formation, the board begins skipping sideways and the bowing rod is joined by a screaming reel.
Hearing the melee, the angler turns sideways, brings the boat around in a tight circle, and begins battling the fish that had halted the parade.
Though unconventional by many standards, the scenario played out exactly as planned by the angler piloting the kayak, Brad Knight of Belton. Knight is a Hobie pro staffer who spends many hours catching both freshwater and saltwater fish from his kayak in unconventional ways. Pulling big baits behind planer boards for striped bass in Lake Hartwell is one of Knight's kayak-fishing favorite tactics in February, but he insists he has the advantage over power boats when it comes to tempting winter stripers.
"I've been right on top of 20-pounders in three to four feet of water that you could never get to in a power boat," Knight said. "A kayak is much quieter and not near the risk to spook fish."
With water temperatures at their coldest, Knight relies on two tactics for winter stripers on Hartwell. The first is to free-line big, live baits - gizzard shad are a favorite - behind a planer boards. The backs of many of Hartwell's tributary creeks, especially under low water-drought conditions, offer skinny water that warms more quickly than deeper water. His other tactic is to pull umbrella rigs behind his kayak to tempt striped bass in the frigid water.
"It's a pretty big challenge to troll an umbrella rig in a paddle kayak," he said. "Not so much for me, using the Mirage Drive on my Hobie, (which) allows me to pedal and leaves my hands free to deploy the rig."
Knight said it's not impossible while paddling to troll an umbrella rig, which can weigh upwards to a pound-and-a-half with it's multiple bucktail jigs and heavy wire arms. He suggests paddling anglers tighten the tension on the spool of a baitcasting reel and allow the reel to slowly free-spool as the paddler gets up to speed and lets out line.
"I only pull one rig at a time," he said. "With a fish on, there's no one else to reel in multiple lines and I've got my hands full fighting the fish."
Pulling baits is much easier, according to Knight, because there's no heavy weight threatening to snag the bottom. In fact, winter is a favorite time for trolling live baits because it's much easier to store bait in cooler weather.
"I can keep three or four big gizzards alive in a 5-gallon bucket and still have room for a dozen herring," Knight said. "All I use is a regular bucket with a battery-powered aerator."
Knight explains that winter kayaking presents other challenges that are easily overcome with some advance preparation. He carries a number of pre-rigged rods in a vertical-stowage system and uses rod holders in a track system for trolling. Even getting a line unhung from one of Hartwell's submerged trees is not as simple as it seems.
"Yanking and yanking on a stuck line can cause you to flip the boat," he said. "You haul back on the line, and it suddenly breaks, and you go over the other way. A kayak allows you to turn in a much-tighter circle, so you circle around and head straight back to the hook. With about 10 feet of slack, I push the rod down in the water and pedal fast as I can away from the snag."
Even launching requires some advance preparation. A kayak angler uses arm strength to propel the boat with the paddle. Wearing chest waders helps keep the angler warm and dry from continuous paddle drip. With his pedal drive, Knight finds chest waders overly cumbersome and opts for hip waders.
"In some areas, I may have to get in above the knees to get the boat in the water," he said. "Most of the time, I can get by with a pair of knee boots. The Mirage Drive does it's thing below the surface, under the boat, so there's no splash to worry about."