With the announcement in January that the Bassmaster Classic will be returning to South Carolina in 2015, a lot of anglers are gearing up for bass fishing. If we could convince Casey Ashley, Marty Robinson, Andy Montgomery and Davy Hite to grow beards, we could paste their photos and likeness on a ton of Walmart merchandise and have our own Bass Dynasty.
In the ranks of the plastic armada, bass fishing is far from a new thing. One might venture to say that bass — whether largemouth, smallmouth or spotted — rank as the No. 1 target for paddling anglers, given the widespread availability of the species and its popularity.
Bass fishing from a kayak is much different than chunkin’ and windin’ from a 5,000-pound bass boat powered by a 200-HP outboard, but the differences boil down to one thing — focus. Kayak anglers simply don’t have the range to accommodate one or two casts in one spot, then haul off across the lake. A kayak angler will focus more on a given area, trying three or four different approaches, baits and presentations to elicit a bite.
Another major difference — call it an advantage — between paddling anglers and powerboats is boat placement. On the one hand, you can launch a kayak in a farm pond or backwater area that would never accommodate a large boat, and you can do it at a much more subtle pace and approach. When they can get bedding areas to themselves, kayak anglers have a much better chance of slipping up on a spawning fish and figuring out what it’s going to take to get that ol’ girl to dance.
Another difference is boat positioning: advantage fiberglass. Wind, wave or even movement in the boat is only going to give the paddler one or two shots at a target before he or she has to put down the rod, pick up the paddle and work the boat back into position for the next cast. Kayakers learn to make each cast count, which requires advance planning during the approach to the target. Is this target worth anchoring or staking out? Where can I reach multiple targets? Try this from a different approach?
Extreme shallow water or shoal areas in moving water are a definite advantage for the kayak. The Broad River, South Carolina’s best smallmouth venue, stretches from Gaffney to Columbia and offers primitive launch sites that make anglers trailering boats cringe, while providing ample throw-in areas for car-top plastic boats. Even if you only want to target trophy sized largemouth bass, go where others can’t — culvert cut-offs, stumpy swamp fields, jungle grass backwaters.
While fishing open water in a major impoundment, the focus that drives an angler to fish from a plastic boat instead of a powerboat helps level the playing field. In January, we discussed paddle-boat electronics. The new, sealed lead-acid batteries that only weigh a couple of pounds pack enough juice to run the latest state-of-the-art, highest high-tech fish-finding gizmos all-day long; strapping one to a kayak is simpler than installing one in a powerboat.
Kayakers are also learning the art of fishing in the cone. That’s searching deep-water topography with sonar, locating fish and structure, setting up overhead and watching your bait on the screen as it works its magic in front of the fish’s face. Alton Jones won the 2008 Bassmaster Classic doing the exact same thing. He worked a jig ‘n’ pig in subtle, stump-lined ditches on the lower end of Lake Hartwell, watching the jig’s progress on sonar. Subtract the distraction of wanting to run all over the lake, focus on one single area, learn to fish in the cone. Advantage? It’s a toss-up. Jones was not dangling his legs over the side of the boat in the water while he was fishing.
Let’s not forget the reason most of us fish. It’s fun. You might get excited landing an 8-pound largemouth in a bass boat. You’ll never forget the day you did it from a kayak, because you were never sure, not until you hoisted the fish up into your lap, that you were going to actually get it in the boat. Ditto that 40-inch redfish, 25-pound striper, 50-pound catfish or 6-foot shark.