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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.

Coosa-FD-1-2

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

beergear

Tomorrow is the annual Beer & Gear event over at Pack & Paddle.  This is always a great event to see the latest in outdoor recreation gear.  The craft beer from across the US is a plus too.  It brings two of my favorite things together so I’m hoping I can slip away and head across the Atchafalaya Spillway.  It’s from 5-8pm so if you’re anywhere near Lafayette tomorrow evening, be sure to head over because you don’t want to miss it.  I hear the big raffle this year is Steve Lessard’s kayak from the 2016 Hobie Fishing Worlds event!

With Beer & Gear tomorrow, that also means it is the start of demo season.  On Saturday Pack & Paddle will be doing a kayak demo from 10am – 2pm over at Vermilionville.  Acadiana residents – head over there if you’re interested in trying out the latest kayaks.  Also on Saturday, if you’re around New Orleans, Massey’s will be holding their first demo day of the year at Bayou St. John, which will be from 10am – 3pm.  The location is across from Cabrini High School, 1405 Moss St.

It’s that time of year, there’s no excuse if you’re in the market for a new kayak or have been wanting to try out the new models not to head out to a demo.  They are free and are the best way to try out as many different makes and models as possible to see what will fit you best.  Whenever someone asks for some good advice in picking a new kayak, the best thing anyone can tell them is “demo, demo, demo”.  I’ve found it really important to try as many different boats as you can before making a purchase because sometimes which one is your favorite will surprise you.

The next two days were spent fishing and filming in Grand Isle.  Along with Brooks and Jameson from JK Media House I also had the pleasure of getting back on the water with Josh Tidwell, who runs a kayak outfitter near Gadsden called Big Wills Outfitters.  Josh is a good dude, I’ve known him for a long time; well since that one year I lived in Alabama post-college.  He’s the man to see if you want a Jackson Kayak in Northeast Alabama.  After seeing bull reds caught the last two days, my hopes were high that we’d be able to net a few more, only this time on camera.

We were fishing out of the new Cuda HDs, which is the reason Brooks and Jameson were down in Louisiana, to get some good footage of the new boats.  We started the day off throwing topwater at points and around rock piles getting blow ups from small trout.  Hook ups were infrequent though and we moved on toward the marsh.  I knew these guys came down to catch redfish, not load up on small trout, but it’s hard to pass up likely trout spots, you never where that 24″+ gator trout is laid up.  After coming around a big point and through a big bay I got to a bayou that runs through some marsh and saw a familiar site of shrimp popping along the grass where a red was attacking bait.  After a decent cast it was fish on!

 

It was a nice mid-slot red, Jameson was there to film a little of it, I was happy to get on the board and even more excited that they were feeding.  I started making my way further up the bayou and then Jameson gets a call that Brooks has a fish on and it’s a big one – right off that big point I just passed.  I worked the area before moving through, but just like James the day before, I passed the area a little too early and missed a shot at a big fish.  Got to be in the right place at the right time.

img_0302(Jameson Redding – JK Media House)

It was awesome to hear that a bull red was caught and Jameson was able to paddle back and take some pics. While they were busy over there, I had stumbled into a pile of little trout in the bayou and was picking through the throwbacks.  Mixed in were a few rat reds as well.  It was a nice little flurry of activity, but eventually the action tapered off.  Soon the rest of the gang caught back up to me and we fished the interior marsh off that bayou until it was getting late.   We headed back as the sun was setting, stopping to fish those trout spots, ya know, just in case.

img_0303(Brooks Beatty – JK Media House)

After a late night, with some uncoordinated Onewheel action, we bid farewell the next day to Josh and the rest of the Alabama crew, but welcomed Bart Swab from St. Augustine, Florida.  Bart operates a kayak charter business over there called Action Kayak Adventures, they do fishing trips and eco-tours.  Bart was pretty stoked to be down in redfish country and was looking forward to catching a few on the fly.  This would be the best weather day of the trip so I thought he’d have a great opportunity of doing just that.  I was able to stick around for the morning and fish, but I’d be leaving early in the day to head back to Baton Rouge.  This was my last opportunity at bull red glory.

We headed back to the same spot and the weather today let us fish a new pond that was getting hammered by wind the day before.  As soon as we hit that pond I saw a big, bright, orange pumpkin float to the surface, but after reaching for a rod he submarined and I was left fan casting the area just hoping he’d see my bait.  I came up empty there, but it didn’t take long for Bart to find a little school of reds and as he hooked up he hollered over to me to come catch another one and this time my cast was true and we were doubled up!

 

img_0299(Brooks Beatty – JK Media House)

It was very cool to get that double, which was the start to a pretty good week for Bart, as he’d move with the guys the next day from Grand Isle to Point-aux-Chenes where the weather and fish continued to cooperate from what I understand.  I pushed on sight fishing the big pond and eventually did see another good bull red.  This time I was able to make a good cast, then another good cast, and finally a third good cast, the fish just didn’t eat.  I couldn’t believe that I finally had a great opportunity to catch a bull and the damn fish didn’t want to eat!  Jameson on the other hand had hung around that area I saw that first bull red and saw the fish again, this time he was able to get it to eat and for the fifth time in four days someone I was fishing with had landed a bull red.

img_0304(Brooks Beatty – JK Media House)

bulls

Five bull reds, four different fishing partners – I was turning into quite the guide.  It was getting to be that time when I was needing to head out, so I bid everyone adieu and before I hit the big open water, I made one last stop to a flat to see if anyone was home.  Lucky for me a few fish were home and a junior bull was my consolation prize.  Of course it came when the professional cameras weren’t around, but I was happy to at least catch one over-slot fish in Grand Isle.

The Cuda HD is another winner from Jackson Kayak.  The hull is fantastic, it’s a very stable boat that tracks well and is fairly quick.  It’s not Kraken fast, but that’s not what the Cuda HD is designed to do.  This is an inshore boat and it’s going to be a great one.  The redesigned front hatch is very nice and simple to use and there is no shortage of built-in rod storage options.  It’s a tad on the heavy side for a 13′ boat at 85 lbs, so cartopping just means you’ll have to lift one end at a time.

The past four days were a blast!  Fishing was very productive for the Alabama crew and it was just starting to heat up for the Jackson guys.  I had a great time fishing with so many different people, but maybe had more fun just hanging out with everyone at night, just shooting the shit under the camp.  It’s trips and tournaments like this that make kayak fishing so special.

 

I picked up a new boat from Massey’s the other day – the Jackson Kraken 13.5.  This is a brand new boat for 2016, a shorter version of their original Kraken, a boat designed with help from Jim Sammons that has been really popular with offshore kayak anglers since it’s debut.

I don’t intend to use it much offshore, but I liked the design and think it will be a great fit for inshore fishing down here in Louisiana.  Jackson really didn’t have a dedicated kayak fishing boat in the 13 foot range that wasn’t a tandem, so this one piqued my interest when I heard about it’s release.

I’m hoping a boat in this size will hit a sweet spot for me between speed, stability, and weight.  I picked up the Elite version which comes with it’s own color coordinating K-Krate.  Not sure if it will take the place of the tried-and-true milk crate, but we shall see.

I got a chance to take it out this past weekend in less-than-spectacular conditions.  I caught some trout, the boat performed well.  I’ll hold off on a full review, but suffice it to say I am pretty excited about the new ride.

For more info on the new Kraken 13.5, check out these articles:

Had a chance to get out and fish on Monday thanks to the Labor Day holiday.  The weather ended up being very nice; light winds in the morning, picking up throughout the day, partly cloudy skies.  It was hot, but it’s always hot down here in summer so you get used to it.  Conditions would have been ideal for sight fishing had water clarity been a bit improved.  The closer I got to the Gulf though, the better the water looked.  The tide fell throughout the day and by the time I picked up it was too low to paddle in some spots.

It couldn’t have been better timing to finally get back on the water as I had just received the new Power-Pole Micro battery pack in the mail this past week.  I have been stubbornly waiting on this battery pack to come out for probably around two years now.  That’s about how long the Power-Pole Micro has been sitting on a shelf in my garage.  I’m not big on electronics in kayaks as I’ve never needed to run them or wanted to fool with batteries or wires, so I initially passed on the Micro.  It looked like it would be a great tool for my style of fishing though and was something that could make things a bit easier for me on the water so when I was told that a battery pack was in development for the Micro, I jumped on the opportunity to get one.  Little did I know that the folks at Power-Pole still had a lot of hurdles to jump before they could distribute their battery pack.

I got to a familiar spot just before sun up and started to rig up.  The plan was to hit some familiar bull red and big trout water and hope for the best.  Every trip out is an opportunity to upgrade my fish in the year-long Massey’s Fish Pics tournament run through Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club so I wanted to hit some potential big fish water that would give me a good shot at an upgrade.  I caught a red fairly early on, in the first big pond I went in.  He was cruising a shoreline and I was able to intercept his path with a Matrix shad.  It is always a good feeling to get that first fish on the board.  I tagged him, took a pic, and then we parted ways.

While in that same pond I posted up by the outlet and began to fish a spot where the tide was pulling water out into a canal.  I noticed something yellow up under the mangroves not too far from where I anchored and after watching it for awhile I noticed it was alive and moving.  It was a small tripletail floating on his side!  They aren’t unheard of to be in the marsh, but it is pretty rare.  So I re-rigged my fly rod with a smaller shrimp imitation and tried my best to convince him to eat, only he wasn’t having it.  I finally got hung on the mangrove and he spooked as I tried to retrieve my fly.  A pretty neat experience though I was a little bummed to not catch him, but I pressed on.

As I said earlier the closer I got toward the Gulf the better the water looked and when I got out to some rocks I started working the Matrix shad and suspending baits looking for trout.  A few ladyfish and a catfish later I changed it up and started throwing the topwater.  Don’t let anyone tell you a topwater is only for first light.  I ended catching a handful of keeper trout and had a blast doing it.  Shoot, it was a hoot to watch the ladyfish blast the topwater out of the water.

I was really hoping to luck into a bull red on topwater, but unfortunately they weren’t anywhere to be found.  I headed back into the marsh after things slowed down and shifted my focus to sight fishing.  The falling tide was a pretty big one and it had the water clarity even worse than in the morning, so things were tough.  Plus the wind picked up and made things that much tougher.  Luckily for me there were still a fair amount of active reds patrolling the shoreline and I caught a few reds by sound more than sight.  They were crashing crabs around exposed oyster beds with reckless abandon and as long as you got your lure right in front of their face they would eat it.

I had made my way back to that first big pond I went in and decided to go see if that tripletail was still around.  Sure enough, I could spot that yellow fish from across the pond.  I tossed that same shrimp fly in his direction and he wasn’t interested.  Eventually I had floated close enough to where I just assume net him, so I grabbed my landing net, calmly slid it under him, then scooped up and just like that I had caught a tripletail.  He didn’t move much while in the water which had me thinking he wasn’t 100%, but once that net hit him he definitely livened up.

A bizarre way to land a fish, but it’s actually not the first time I’ve done it.  I caught a black drum like that once in the kayak.  Only when I went to net the drum he launched himself out of the water and onto the shore.  That’s what I love about kayaks, we can get right on top of these fish at times and they have no idea.

All in all it was a good trip, caught a few trout and a few reds and had an interesting tripletail experience to boot.  I wasn’t able to upgrade any fish for the Massey’s tournament, but that’s what is great about year-long tournaments, there is still plenty of time for that.

A quick word on the Micro after the first trip out.  It worked well, loved having the ability to press a button to drop anchor or pick up when I needed to.  It does take a little bit of time to get use to it while standing.  I found the extra weight on the back end of the kayak and the 8′ pole sticking in the air increased the wobble you feel when standing up  That wobble increased camera shake on the GoPro – which I actually used for the first time in a long time – but it also threw the boat’s stability off.  I was in the Cuda 14 – I’m interested to get it mounted on the Kilroy and see how it reacts.  With the Cuda 14 mount from YakAttack, it is actually the Micro is actually off to the side of the back end of the boat and not over center – that may have something to do with that increased wobble.  The Micro does come with a quick release mount, which is nice because it came in handy while sightfishing, but I really did not need it while I was fishing for trout.  With a boat like the Cuda the 8′ pole stores in the hull without a problem – so if I needed to I could have set it up while out on the water, parked on the shore.  I look forward to using it more and being able to give a better review of it down the road.