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Jim Gronaw: Kayaks can be a game-changer | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

In the world of fishing, few genres of angling have taken off like the popularity of kayak fishing, both in fresh and saltwater. There are many companies and outfits that boast not only high tech (and high dollar) kayaks and accessories, but the trend for customization is limitless.

Peddle drive, small electric motors, kayak specific sonar units and custom rod holders and storage setups are just a few of today’s options to “make it your own” in the realm of kayak fishing.

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All this is cool and can be purchased as the time goes on. But the obvious intent of fishing from a kayak is to simply just “get out there” and be able to fish in places where others can’t. I know that many anglers enjoy their bass boats and tri-hulls and the various crafts that can put them on the headline species such as bass, stripers, cobia, walleyes, and others.

But to a burnt-out bluegill fisherman, getting out there is often enough for me.

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Last year was very different for anglers with the COVID-19 crisis and early season restrictions on various fishing pursuits. Over the past several years, I have enjoyed using a 10-foot, sit-on-top kayak to put in places where I had previously not gone. Not only is this increased access rewarding from a fish-catching standpoint, but I get a chance to see and get close to wildlife in ways that I couldn’t have before.

For example, kayaks and bass fishing are a perfect combination for those seeking secluded areas on smaller water bodies that have limited, or even no ramp or boat launch facilities. Navigable small rivers and larger streams are now the targets for summertime smallmouth bass, channel catfish and monster carp from the Monocacy, Potomac, and various branches of the Susquehanna River. Smaller lakes and reservoirs and Eastern Shore mill ponds can often best be fished from a kayak, as well as medium and smaller tidal creeks. In Dorchester County and the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, the popularity of kayak fishing for the invasive northern snakehead has exploded into what may be the biggest draw in “fishing tourism” in the state.

My best "pandemic" largemouth bass was this freakshow specimen that was made possible by quiet paddling in my economical Sun Dolphin sit-on-top. Kayaks can change the game for many fishing adventures.
My best "pandemic" largemouth bass was this freakshow specimen that was made possible by quiet paddling in my economical Sun Dolphin sit-on-top. Kayaks can change the game for many fishing adventures. (Jim Gronaw Photo)

But for me and close kin, and friends, kayaking has led the way to better catches with a variety of species. Our largemouth bass tally has been exceptional (for us) last year with many fish in the 4- to 7-pound range that were taken as a direct result of “getting out there” and making the most of fish from small, economical vessels that allow us a quiet, stealthy approach.

For finesse fishing with plastics, it’s hard to beat.

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My good friend Barry Pierson slaughtered Monocacy River smallmouths last summer while dragging the shallows and seeking remote stretches of “Ole Muddy” where few venture simply because it’s too challenging to get there to begin with.

From my own, personal panfish standpoint, I have enjoyed banner catches of eater-sized bluegills and crappies the past several seasons along with some new personal best catches to boot. Yes, we have kept our paddling on primarily flatwater environs as we are not seasoned kayakers. It pays to know your skill level and limitations and to be honest with yourself as to what you can, and cannot, do. I have been in both SIN (sit-in) and SOT (sit-on-top) kayaks and feel that each has their advantages for certain conditions. I always wear my flotation vest and I try not to fish in winds that exceed 10 mph and limit my exposure time on bright, hot sunny days.

A bottle of water and a few snacks go a long way and if I need to stretch my legs, I’ll hit the shoreline and do so.

I remember the first “larger bass” of nearly 5 pounds that I caught from my humble, 44-pound kayak that towed me around as if I were sitting on top of a big bobber. Fun!

In time, I figured out a way to mount my action cameras on the vessel so the excitement could make it’s way to my YouTube channel, “Fishin’ With Jim Gronaw.” It’s enjoyable to review the action and see how things really happen, minus all the tricky editing and stuff that the experts do. Yup, my channel is “as it actually happens” with no exclusions of mess ups.

Word on the street has it that smaller, economical kayaks were getting harder and harder to come by during the pandemic. But suppliers seemed to have solved that shortcoming.

If you can experiment by renting one at a local park or borrow one for sampling, I would indeed encourage the effort and see if kayak fishing might be in your future. Go with a friend or an experienced paddler and do the flatwater gig before you make any decision to purchase. Kayak fishing, for me, has been a game changer.

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