By Kent Johnsen
I love it when things just work, nice and smoothly, the way they’re supposed to, without leaving much to be desired. My latest W kayaking voyage was definitely one of those times. It wasn’t much of a voyage, or anything to brag about fishing-wise, yet overall, for what it was, it was close to perfect.
I’d been itching to fish a dry fly on some still, wild trout-containing water, which is something I hadn’t done in over a year. So a few days ago I just said NO to my usual afternoon routines in town, and headed for the hills, with some dusty fishing gear, and a gleaming yellow W kayak strapped to the top of my van. My destination was Laurance Lake.
Since the “disappearance” of my beloved Northwestern Lake, just across the border in Washington (due to the removal of the Condit dam) the closest sizable lake to me is Laurance, in the northern foothills of Mount Hood. Laurance is actually a reservoir, but it lacks nothing in alpine charm, lying within a deep, old-growth forested glacial canyon, a fair distance from civilization. I’ve never seen it crowded, or heard any noise there, except for weather and birds, since motorized boats aren’t allowed. Additional pluses are that it’s being managed for the preservation of several species of wild trout, rather than just the harvest of hatchery “fryers”. I’d never boated on this lake before; it’s not an easy place to pull a trailer into, and the free-use area doesn’t offer convenient access for most types of boats. But this time I had my W-kayak, which changed everything.
The area had been getting hit with thunder showers, which are normally quite rare around here, so I knew before I committed to the drive that this wasn’t going to be an ideal day to fish, but I was long overdue for this excursion so I had to go for it.
Luckily, an hour after I arrived, the weather calmed down – no telling how long it would last – and the water started to look a lot more the way I wanted it to; smooth and calm. As I pushed off from shore, it occurred to me that this lake very likely had never before seen a boat quite like the one I was using.
Afloat for the first time here, I couldn’t resist heading straight for the upper end of the lake, which had only been distant and mysterious on previous visits. This is exactly the kind of thing I had in mind when the W-kayak first got my attention; the freedom to move around on the water gracefully, stealthily, in comfort and with minimal effort, and to put myself in places not otherwise conveniently accessible.
What I found was more interesting and enchanting than I’d imagined: a surreal scene of old black stumps, of large trees that had been cut years ago when the lake was formed. Under threatening clouds and occasional sunbeams, these stumps stood against a background of lush green, which is the valley leading up toward the mountain. Through the quiet, I listened to ospreys conversing from a half-mile apart. This was the shallow end of the lake, and not the best place to be looking for fish on a day like this, but dammit, I was here to fish a dry fly, whether any fish noticed it or not, and I liked it just fine where I was, so I stayed put and picked up the fly rod.
At first, my casting coordination with this poor, neglected little five-weight rig was pretty crappy (I was glad no one seemed to be around to see me) but the W kayak made it very easy to stand up and concentrate on my timing, and on tightening up the loop, and landing the line and fly gently on the water. Before long, it was all working very smoothly, which was extremely satisfying and relaxing; my leader was turning over as straight as ever, the stiff-hackled black-and-gray “whatchamacallit” stood high and dry above the surface (much like I was doing) and I could see everything just fine. Honestly, it was pretty much everything I could hope for, except, perhaps, for the direct participation of a fish or two. I did see a few nice-sized risers within easy casting distance, but they definitely weren’t taking anything that was visible above the surface, including the tiny bundle of fuzz and feather I was offering. I got a couple of strong tugs on the fly when it happened to be a few inches below the surface, but that simply wasn’t the way I felt like fishing at the moment. Besides, this particular dry fly was floating exceptionally well most of the time, so who was I to deliberately sink it, or take it out of service and replace it with a humble soft-hackle?
Yes, it’s slightly embarrassing to admit to striking-out that day, as far as the “catching fish” thing is concerned. However, I still consider the outing a great success, overall. I wasn’t there to fish blind, or by feel, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it simply wasn’t part of my mission at the moment. I like flinging spinners as much as anyone, but sometimes I just want to keep things light and up on top, where I can see everything. I had come specifically to fish a dry fly on the surface, for wild trout, on a mountain lake, from my favorite boat, whether I caught anything or not. And that’s exactly what I did, in style.
Click images to enlarge
Even though I had only a couple of hours on the water, I had a wonderful time, and my W kayak deserves a lot of the credit. I didn’t capture any fish, but I did capture two hours worth of the kind of moments I mostly only daydream about. This boat took me exactly where I wanted to be, in exactly the way I wanted, and once I was there it enabled me to fish in exactly the way I felt like doing it, in optimal comfort. It allowed me to relax and concentrate on my surroundings, and on fishing, by staying out of my way and doing exactly what I needed it to do. Standing and casting from it, it felt like I was on my own little floating dock. At times I had the feeling I was standing on a little island! I was simply having a lot of fun, and getting more relaxed by the minute, thanks to the fact that everything was working together (almost) perfectly.
In my experience, most things don’t go completely smoothly, most of the time, and that includes fishing trips. However, I’m finding that my W kayak is the magic new ingredient that makes every moment on the water better, and helps make those elusive perfect moments happen more easily. Unfortunately I can’t just drop everything and go fishing wherever I want to, whenever I feel like it, but it’s sure nice to have such a well-designed, well-suited tool, that gives me a huge advantage in pursuing those moments. It really helps make the most of a very limited recreation/relaxation budget.
Headed out at 5:45 AM, hoping to beat the expected 108 degree temperatures.
We are fishing the Norfork River, a small but storied tailwater beginning at the base of the Norfork Dam and ending four and one half miles later at the confluence with the White at the little town of Norfork, Arkansas. The dam’s two generators are shut down, and the river is extremely low, gin clear but cool. These conditions require a specialized floatation tool, the Wavewalk, very thin tippets, and long casts with pinhead size flies, size 18 and 20.
The fish are easily spooked, and getting to them requires traversing eight shoal areas, that dissect the stream and limit access. Without a craft capable of moving well through skinny water, light enough to be manhandled, and tough enough to be dragged through rocky terrain, one simply fishes the public areas, does a lot of wading on slippery rocks, or fishes somewhere else.
My “Personal Trout Assault Vehicle” allowed such a trip and it paid off handsomely with many fine rainbow, aggressive browns, and resplendent cutthroat trout being brought to hand during our six hour day.
My paddling skills are improving, and my ability to read the fast water allowed me to have to exit the vessel less frequently, remembering that I test the recommended single occupancy of our vessel. My much lighter companion rarely if ever had to push off, but did manage to nail a large rock in a swift shoal and stick. He jumped out, the boat eased off, and he reentered, hardly deterred.
This kayak gives me access to water that before would have not been available to me. That’s why I fish in a kayak, my trout assault vehicle.
Boating has always been in my blood, and it still is. Sailed several oceans, fished a whole lot of rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico on all kinds and sizes of boats.
Found a new way to enjoy my family, and still not have them dependent on me to start the boat, work the oars, or even tote the cold beer. We go kayaking on crystal clear, 60 degree water on near 100 degree days.
Was joined today by a new W kayak owner. He boarded from the dock, worked on a few practice strokes and maneuvers, practiced starting and stopping, stood up and balanced the boat, then headed out up river, all the while whacking the heck out of some nice rainbows.
We watched him lift the rod time after time, resting the paddle on his knees, then gently releasing his briefly captured bows to return home. He was all grins, heading for a nap, and vowing to head back out this afternoon.
My wife showed off, jumping onto her boat, paddling a mile upstream standing up, and then slowly drifting the river, fly rod in hand.
A big pack of sit on fisherman passed going downstream as we paddled upstream. They stared, careened, and finally paddled over to ask what the heck those were. “Those look pretty stable”, one said, so I stood up, all 6’4 275 pounds of me…
Well, thanks to the north east winds we had some unscheduled flood tides this weekend.
I could see that the evening high tide would flood one of my favorite spots though it would be after dark.
I decided to go just before sunset and see if the winds were bringing the waters up faster and as luck would have it the flood was in early.
After hustling to the first flat I only saw one tail and got a couple of unsuccessful shots at it.
With the sun setting fast I poled to another flat and was about to give up when some tails popped up but not for long. Fortunately, the water was shallow enough that I could follow the wakes. I missed the first one but stuck the second one I saw. It was a solid 24″ and put up a nice fight.
When I got that one landed and unhooked the sun had set and I figured the show was over. I scanned the flat and could still see some fish feeding as the light was fading. I got another nice shot at a cruising wake and the fish inhaled the fly. This one fought a lot harder and longer, laying out at 26.”
I was hoping to get a crack at another fish as the dark settled in but they pretty much disappeared by the time I got the fish unhooked.
There were still fish there, just not tailing as the lights went out. I ran over a few while poling back home in the dark but didn’t see any tails. I noticed the same thing a few weeks ago with the evening flood and full moon when I was hoping to fish the flat in the moon light. As soon as darkness settled in, the tailing stopped and fish activity decreased, even with the light of the full moon. Poling home off the flats in the dark is a hoot and almost as enjoyable as the fishing.
I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end Father’s Day.