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I finally got the chance to take my first trip in the new Cruise FD from Jackson Kayak.  The fishing was not that great, but it was a good chance to put in a full day in the new boat.

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I fished BCKFC’s Minimalist Challenge, the first tournament of their annual tournament series.  My drive to compete in tournaments has all but disappeared, however, they do provide great opportunities to see old friends and force me to get out on the water.  It’s not that I don’t like to fish any more, it’s just that my priorities have shifted now.  Thus, the lack of posts you see here.  I’m still documenting my trips, but I take far fewer trips than I use to.

Back to the tournament – it has been a bitterly cold winter for our part of the country.  Leading up to the tournament we had a few consecutive days below freezing with snow/ice on the ground, which is unheard of down here.  While the air temps rebounded by tourney time, the water temps did not, so finding fish was going to be a chore, especially for someone as stubborn as myself who refuses to run a depth finder.

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It was a chilly, but beautiful start to the day.  I’ve mentioned it in previous years, but the Minimalist Challenge is a pretty unique tournament in that it is a shotgun launch where every competitor receives the same bag of baits to use and launches at the same time.  The tournament this year, as in years past, was based out of the public launch in Leeville, a launch I’ve had mixed results fishing from.

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With patchy skies and cold water, sight fishing was going to be spotty at best, but that’s how I like to fish so I stubbornly continued my ill-fated pursuit.  The north winds of the strong cold front the week leading up to the tournament combined with the low tide had the tide way out, like 1.5 feet below normal, which meant lots of shallow areas that normally weren’t shallow.  If water temps had been normal this would have been awesome for me and put lots of fish on the flats, but it was the opposite, fish were huddled together in the deepest, warmest water they could find.  I tried to fish some deep spots, but without luck.  My only hope was for the sun to pop out and hopefully some fish would return to the flats during the warmest part of the day.

I enjoyed the new Cruise FD that morning, pedaling provided a whole new dimension to kayak angling.  I covered ground a lot quicker than I had previously, which expanded my range.  The boat was fast and nimble and I put the flex drive to the test running up on a lot of shallow flats.  Somewhere along the way I snapped off a fin on my propeller.  I really don’t know when it happened, I just noticed a different pitch while pedaling so I pulled it up to take a look and there were only two fins.

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Thankfully, it really didn’t seem to slow the boat down any, I was surprised at how well the boat moved on 2/3 prop power.  I need to be a little more cognizant of the drive, the thing is not bomb-proof.  It wasn’t kicking up as readily in the soft mud so I was often pedaling until I realized I wasn’t moving, which may have been a contributing factor to the break.  I’m not used to having a moving prop in the water below me, I’m still very much a newb with a pedal drive so I’m sure the prop break was more user error than anything.

After speaking with a few folks at Jackson the propeller fins were designed to be the first things to break when the drive is stressed, thus protecting the internal gears and allowing for a cheap and easy fix to the unit rather than a super expensive one.  This is the first time I’ve had to go through the warranty process on Jackson’s website, but it was a quick and easy online form.  I had a new fin at my door later that week and it took all of five minutes to pop out the old one and put the new one on.

Back to fishing – activity was very minimal that day.  I didn’t see a ton of bait or fish movement at all.  I tried deep holes in bayous, drifted flats in big bays and everything in between.  I pedaled over and spooked a small school of reds staged in front of a cut and was never able to get a bite out of them.

Later I was drifting a flat in front of a cut that another angler, Nick, was fishing in.  He actually hooked up with a red as I was passing.  He told me he saw another and told me to come try to catch it.  I was a little hesitant with it being a tournament, then he told me that was his third red on the day (we could weigh a max of three reds for the tourney) and I felt a little better about crowding his spot.  Sure enough eventually we spotted the big red who seemed to be holding in the deepest part of a tiny marsh cut, he would spook, but then circle back around.  He was probably stuck in there because of the shallowness at the mouth of the cut.  I made a few casts to him to no avail, then put one right under his chin, saw a little movement, felt a little weight and set the hook.  A short while into the fight it was evident I wouldn’t be weighing him in the tournament because he was too big.

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The bait wasn’t even in his mouth when I brought him in the boat, I hooked him right under the chin.  Fair hooked or not he went 30.5″, which is par for the course for me during Minimalist Challenge – I never do well in this tournament.  I was happy to at least boat a fish on a day when it seemed like I was destined for a skunk.  I thanked Nick for letting me catch that red then moved on, letting him have that little cut to himself.

I tried to find a similar cut holding fish, but didn’t run into any the rest of the day that were holding fish.  I did hook one other fish while drifting a flat when I threw my bait on top of a black drum foul hooking him.  Thankfully he pulled free before I was able to land him.

Fishing had been tough and I had covered a ton water, so I headed back to the launch with nothing to weigh, but at least feeling accomplished for having explored some new water thanks to the new Cruise FD.

 

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I was not planning on fishing this past weekend, there was way too much going on for me to even consider it, but it’s funny how plans change.

We took a family trip to Disney last week and I assumed that the long road trip back would have eliminated the desire to pack for a fishing trip and drive down to the coast.  I underestimated the power of social media though.

The Bama group was down in Grand Isle this past weekend and it seemed whenever I had a little down time to glance at my phone all I saw were fish pics and good times.  It was during the drive back on Friday that I happened to check the weather.  Near-perfect conditions meant that I had to try to make it happen, even if it was for just a day.

We made it back to Baton Rouge around noon on Saturday after having spent the night in Mobile.  What should be a 10-11 hour drive turns into a 14 hour one when you have two small kids.  I unloaded our vehicle then packed my stuff and took off hoping to squeeze in a little time to fish that evening.

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I made it down to Leeville, pulled off the side of the road and squeezed in about an hour and a half of missed topwater strikes, wind knots, and otherwise dumb mishaps that hurried anglers make.  I did catch the smallest rat red in the world to eliminate the skunk, but I really probably would have been better off just holding off until Sunday.

Shortly after the last light of day dwindled on me I met up with the group at the camp and had a great time catching up with everyone.  This year brought a fresh batch of new faces mixed in with the old and all the talk was about how nice it was to not have to fight Mother Nature.

Since the weather looked fortuitous on Sunday I pitched the idea to some of the guys to try and hit some water that really required good weather like in the forecast to access it and found a few brave souls interested in the adventure.

Armed with our fly rods, James, Bjorn, Drew, and myself, headed out on Sunday hoping to find some big reds in shallow water.  It didn’t take long to find the shallow water and run into the reds, but they all seemed to be the same 18-22″ size.

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The reds were roaming the marsh in small packs of 3-5 fish and were terrorizing the massive amount of bait that was holding tight to the banks.  After landing 5 mid-slot clones I began sightcasting the outside waters hoping to run into a bull red.  I saw a few bulls, but was never in any position to make a cast at them, usually seeing them too late.

I posted up on a shell island to get out and stretch my legs.  It had a good bit of current running around it from an incoming tide and I ended up catching a few decent trout tight lining a Matrix shad across a hard sand/shell flat.

The tide was very low at the start of the day and it rose throughout the day, allowing access into areas that were previously inaccessible.  With that incoming water though the clarity decreased and spotting the fish before they spotted you was becoming more of a challenge.  We headed back to the launch shortly after satisfied with a pretty successful day on the water.

 

 

 

After the success of their last Louisiana trip Jameson and Brooks with JK Media House made a return trip to Louisiana this past weekend for another round of fishing and filming.  This time they brought with them the all new Coosa FD, Jackson Kayak’s first pedal drive boat, for some pre-production testing in our Louisiana marsh.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try out the new flex drive system and of course hang out with my good friends so I joined them for a day and a half worth of fishing down in Pointe-aux-Chenes.

I haven’t talked much about the FD here as I wanted to wait until this boat was actually in production before I got all excited about it, but after about a year’s worth of speculation the time has finally come.

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It’s no secret that the more time your bait spends in the water the better your chances are at catching fish and having a pedal drive system is a great way to keep that line in the water.  What sets the flex drive apart from other pedal drive systems is it’s flexibility – it’s right there in the name.  The flex drive moves up and over underwater obstructions, protecting the prop and other moving parts from damage.  I got to experience this firsthand the last couple of days and it works as advertised – oyster beds are no problem for the FD.

I met up with the guys at PAC Kayak Rental where Eddie and Lisa Mullen operate the finest kayak launch around.  They were incredibly gracious hosts to the Jackson team back in December and were a big reason that they decided to head back down to Louisiana again here in June.  The excellent fishing has a little something to do with it too, but excellent customer service goes a very long way – something the folks across the canal from Eddie and Lisa never learned.

We got on the water in the hottest part of the afternoon and I got my first taste of pedaling, rather than paddling, a kayak.

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Jameson was very quick to point out that the boat I was in was still a pre-production model, meaning we were essentially beta testing the new boat and providing feedback before a production model is actually produced.  More specifically the flex drive system was still in pre-production and could still be tweaked before production models actually went out – I’m pretty sure the hull was already in production as change to that are a lot harder to make.

Regardless I was excited to be on the water in Jackson’s new pedal drive boat.  I’ve got to admit, my whole kayak fishing experience has been from a boat you paddle, the pedaling thing was very awkward at first for me.  It took me a little while to find the right distance to sit away from the pedals and comfortably pedal – luckily on the FD the seat trims fore and aft on a track system and it was very easy do while on the water.

Rudder controls are found on either side of you on the FD and these control how well you track in the boat.  While at speed it didn’t take much of an adjustment on the rudder control to steer the boat left or right.  It took me a while to get use to that as well.  I kept wanting to make big adjustments of the rudder and in doing so my track looked more S-shaped than it really should have been.  I’m chalking that up to user error since by the end of the trip I was pedaling straight and true.  Being in a new boat for the first time there is always an adjustment period and for me being in a pedal boat for the first time that adjustment period took a little longer.

The fishing was not on fire that afternoon for me, but eventually I found some redfish right as the weather was beginning to look scary.  I got into a natural bayou that connected the canal with a pond and began to hear redfish attacking fiddler crabs on the bank – one of my favorite sounds.  That’s why sight fishing is not just about seeing fish, but it’s also about hearing them and when that happens you’ve got to locate those fish as best you can based on where you hear them and then patiently wait until they surface again or you see them cruising.  Shrimp popping out of the water along the grass line are a dead giveaway and that’s how I caught my first red.  I pitched a Matrix Shad in front of the popping shrimp and it got hammered by a nice mid slot red.

I was able to catch that one and another before the thunderhead released it’s down draft and made us evacuate the area.  Jameson and I took shelter in “tetanus city” under an old dilapidated camp that may have had more metal on the ground than in the air.  We never actually got rained on, but the wind was enough to move us off the water, after it was all over we headed back to the launch – hunger overtaking the desire to catch fish.

On that pedal back I actually paddled, which gave me a chance to see how much of a bear the boat was to paddle.  Surprisingly it actually paddled pretty well.  With the drive system up it tracked well and paddled at a decent speed compared to Jameson’s pedaling.  Now I wouldn’t want to paddle it all day, but if I had to I could and that’s all that matters in an emergency situation.

The next morning we got to do a mothership trip which is offered by Eddie at PAC Kayak Rental.  He ferried our kayaks 8 miles south into pristine marsh that rarely sees a kayak or even a boat.

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It was a very pleasant boat ride in protected water the whole way.  When we arrived at our destination we still had cell phone coverage so should we have needed anything from Eddie he was just a phone call away.  The marsh was beautiful in what Eddie called the “Promised Land”.

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After spending a half day on the FD yesterday I was far more comfortable in the boat today.  One of the really nice things about the boat is it’s incredible stability.  Standing up and sightfishing from this boat is no problem – there is amazingly little rock from side to side.  It’s like fishing from a floating dock when you’re standing in it, reminds me of the Big Rig in that regard.  Another FD perk, while you’re standing and poling, the flex drive system makes a great rod rest!  It was a much shorter distance to grab my rod when I did see a fish than in my paddle boats.

It was a beautiful morning out on the water, winds were pretty calm and the sun was shining.  Conditions however weren’t perfect for sightfishing.  The water was a bit high in the marsh and had a slight stain to it so I opted to work the points and cuts with a topwater.  Trout were still in the marsh here and I found them mostly on those points and cuts where the water was moving.  No matter the size they were pretty aggressive striking at the She Dog.

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Most of the trout were in the 14-16″ range but I did get one hammer.  I was in a natural bayou fishing a point, catching dinks on the She Dog, having a good time watching the trout blow up my topwater lure.  Jameson and Brooks soon joined me as they were trying to film some of the blow ups.  I could hear some commotion behind me in front of a cut where there was obviously something attacking some balled up bait.  I drifted back and worked my lure through the area and missed a huge strike.  It was a fish that was obviously bigger than the others and we all knew it.  I threw back in and thankfully connected this time, albeit a bit closer to the boat.  It was a nice trout, 21″ on the tape, I was really thrilled to get him in the net as it has been a while since I’ve caught a solid trout from the kayak.

I had done pretty well catching trout, but everyone else was fooling around with the black drum.  The oyster flats were littered with big black drum and every once in a while you’d catch a glimpse of one as he waved that big tail at you, then disappeared under the surface.  Brooks and Jameson both got on a couple stud drum and as Jameson was fighting his I hooked up with one of my own.  The funny thing was mine came on topwater!  I’ve never seen a black drum hit a topwater before, but I guess now I can say that I have.  He didn’t smash it like a redfish will do.  It was more like a cutthroat trout sipping a dry fly.  He came up and sipped my plug then gave me a few nice runs.

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He wasn’t the biggest drum caught on the day, that distinction belonged to Eric, another Jackson teamer from North Carolina, but it was a fun catch.

Things kind of slowed down after that as the winds began to pick up.  It wasn’t until after we got off the water that we heard there was a Tropical Storm forming in the Gulf and making it’s way toward Louisiana.  We pressed on despite the wind and it gave me an opportunity to see just how effective pedaling into the wind was as compared to paddling.  My legs are undoubtedly stronger than my upper body thanks to a life of playing soccer and they definitely take longer to fatigue than my upper body.  That being said with paddling I have always found it to be more of a core workout than an upper body one and if done properly you rarely feel that fatigue in your arms, but tired paddling does lead to poor form which leads to more fatigue.

As things slowed down we spread out and I got lucky and made my way into a cut that was leading from the main bayou into a large lake.  It was super shallow, but protected from the wind and I began running into redfish that were cruising the shoreline, much like they were yesterday.

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I caught one little guy on a topwater plug on my way into the lake.  I threw that plug right on a point in some grass and he came after it and blasted it as I pulled it out.  Once I got to the lake I found a shell/sand bar where I could get out and stretch my legs and wade fish a bit.  These are usually pretty good places to fish and often times trout will stack up around them.  I didn’t find any trout this time, but I did catch a nice 27″ red while out there.

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Another fish that hit the She Dog.  I saw her working the shoreline behind me in the pic and had to make a long cast over to get her.  I didn’t quite get it there, but it made enough noise to get her attention and she hit it on a beeline.

I worked the area over a bit more, but came up empty and headed back up the cut toward the others.  Of course on the way I got sidetracked by a couple more redfish that were cruising the shoreline.  They didn’t fall victim to the the She Dog, but rather the more subtle Matrix Shad.  That’s my go-to sightfishing bait, I can cast it with accuracy and I’ve got a lot of confidence in it, which is what matters more than trying pick out the perfect lure.  As I released the second redfish I could see Eddie pulling up in the skiff and figured that was a pretty good way to end the day.

One thing I forgot to touch on about the FD was the deck layout.  This boat is built for fishermen.  It is a lot like the Coosa HD, which is a boat I always liked, but never had a place for in my floatilla.  It is a great design with some pretty cool features.  Gear tracks in all the right places.  A cushioned foot pad for comfortable standing.  The new hatch system is very easy to use and a big improvement over previous hatches.  The integrated rod tube storage is a really cool feature too.  The tankwell is a bit smaller than I’m used to and I know my extra long milk crate won’t fit back there, a regular sized one will work just fine.  I used a JKrate for the first time the past two days and liked it, so I may go that direction with my tackle storage.

I was very impressed with the FD after using it the last day and a half.  The flex drive system is so easy to use too.  You can move it up or down with the flick of a toe while steering left or right can be controlled with either hand.  When launching and loading the boat the drive system doesn’t even have to come out, you just put it in the up position and treat the boat as if nothing is there which is a bonus for guys hard on gear or prone to forgetfulness – it’s a very well thought out design.  I’ve had one on pre-order for a while and am happy I made that decision.  I can’t wait for the production model to get here.