Gronaw: Kayaking made simple and fun

Big, skittish red ear sunfish can be easy targets when pursued with a kayak approach.
Big, skittish red ear sunfish can be easy targets when pursued with a kayak approach. (Jim Gronaw photo)

My experience/love affair/complex relationship with kayaking has taken a new turn this season. Where as, in the past I was always up for new and innovative things and gadgets that would put me “on the fish," I now seek to simplify, simplify, simplify!

That’s right! Oh, sure ... I could haul off and upgrade with dual-purpose sonar options that would also serve for ice fishing. I could invest in a pedal-drive unit from one of the big companies. Or, perhaps, I could buy one of those kayak-specific trolling rigs that could propel me from one end of the lake to the other without having made a single paddle stroke. And indeed, I could justify all these bells and whistles based strictly on my age.


Throw in my current physical condition, mental state and emotional inconsistencies and these options appear to be almost mandatory.

However, I could be wrong, but I do believe kayaking comes under the realm of “paddling sports," where by one actually uses a paddle to physically propel one’s craft through the water and currents in quest of fish, game or wildlife observation.


But I’m not. So, with that, I had sought during the off season to improve my upper body strength so I could paddle far and haul the smaller yaks around to our local waters that don’t see too much activity.

The people are scarce, fishing is good, and the surroundings are tranquil. Now, to me, that’s kayaking!

I’ve been out just three times this year, haven’t caught anything big but have probably caught 200 fish in total. The bulk of those came on one insanely active angling day to a small, under the radar public venue in southern Pennsylvania where bluegills, bass and crappies wouldn’t leave my hair jigs alone. Top end fish were 8-inch bluegills, 11-inch crappies and I think the biggest bass might have been a nice 17-inch class fish that spun my simple kayak in a circle as if he were a big fish.

It was early June and nothing was on beds, but a variety of fish were equally scattered throughout shoreline brush, fallen trees and along docks and logs within the water. Hardly a breathe of air was about. It was wonderful.


Before I amble on, I must confess that my paddling skills are highly average, at best. As a self-taught paddler, I scanned a few YouTube channels for paddling prep, then boldly ventured to the smallest, quietest mini-venue I could find. Catching a fish was secondary, as getting in, and out, of the darn thing was the main goal of the day.

That day was about 10 years ago, and I have since graduated to a few trips to bigger lakes and small rivers as I gained confidence. During the heat of the summer, “getting wet” is not only an implied occurrence, but actually a planned event to help cool off.

It doesn't take much to enjoy the kayak gig, starting with a simple SOT yak and some basic paddling skills.
It doesn't take much to enjoy the kayak gig, starting with a simple SOT yak and some basic paddling skills. (Jim Gronaw photo)

As time, and a few years wore on, catching fish from the yak became something that I took great pride in doing. I didn’t have a motor, I didn’t have a sonar (not that they wouldn’t have helped), but I did have the ability to slip up on fish and wildlife that I could have otherwise never even gotten close to. Long casts were no longer necessary. Polaroid glasses were.

I wore camo instead of aqua-blue. Blending in with the environment was essential in this world of greens and browns and occasional yellows. Overcast skies were my friend, gusty winds were not.

On more than one occasion I found myself drifting into overhanging shoreline brush and trees that would tangle my gear and create an issue. Twice I hooked fairly large bass that escaped my grasp after towing me around a bit. On one occasion I rolled a double-wide, 15-inch class crappie right below the yak, only to watch it swim lazily away when I babied the hookset.

I have had many jigs and bobbers find permanent homes in overhanging willows and cedars. I have squirmed and scurried often when a gyrating bluegill got loose and did the dance in the bottom of my yak.

I have swatted, and missed, many deer flies that knew exactly when to say “ahh” and drain me of a little blood.

I have received a few doses of sunburn and once rolled the vessel in the shallows, becoming almost totally soaked. Yes, I love kayaking.

Somewhere along the line, I’ve probably pulled a muscle or two, but at this stage of the game I’ll just chalk it up to senior citizenship. As if those upper body workouts made any difference, right? And those time when nature seemed to call only when you are out in the middle of the lake and time is of the essence.

Yeah, simple kayaking.

But I have to admit that the solitude, joy, quietness, and success rate of fishing in the kayak is unmatched from any other kind of fishing that I do. A little work, but well worth it. Whether it’s my cheapo sit-on-top or my cheapo sit-in kayak (I have both), I love the experience of simple kayaking, small waters and the occasional big panfish.

The bluegills, bass, crappies, and red ear sunfish make it all worthwhile.

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