Few experiences are more thrilling than the sound and feel of a powerful bass boat zipping across a lake, headed toward some favorite spot where largemouth are abundant. It is a scene that is common on most waters holding this favored fish and the practice produces. Anglers collect thousands of bass annually using a similar approach. But, the use of big boats on big waters is not the only method that brings results. In fact, some of the best fishing is not available to those who cling tenaciously to the outsized rumbling rigs. Some truly outstanding angling is afforded those who scale down the equipment and paddle among the quiet haunts of small waters.
Small waters are generally those diminutive lakes, farm ponds, sloughs, old channels, and winding streams so very common just about anywhere you go. They may appear nondescript, or unimpressive, but they, at least many of them, are havens for fish. These waters and the fish they hold too often go unnoticed. These locations should be explored and fished, for they can be quite grand.
I fished in and piddled around such streams as a youngster. But too many years of city life and absence from this activity allowed the thrill and wonderment to wane. I practically forgot those settings. That is until I moved back home to the country. It was then that I renewed an acquaintance of one who had never left, one who had maintained his ties with some of the finest fishing known. He invited me to join him.
“We’ll catch some Kentucky bass,” he said with conviction. I wanted to believe him, but the stream to which he referred was just a shallow trickle beneath a heavily-traveled highway. That is all I knew of it, he knew better. So one autumn morning he and I threw some fishing rigs into an aluminum canoe and pushed off.
We did catch Kentucky bass, more than I ever recalled catching before. We kept some for a fish fry and gently released the others. We dug out flyrods and collected sunfish of various persuasions. It was a superb outing, and it became a revival for me, and left me wanting more.
If there is a drawback to this type fishing, apart from access to private property to reach the waters, it is mobility. Many of the smaller waters, particularly streams, are cluttered with logs; many are also quite shallow along their route. This precludes any use of the bigger boats mentioned earlier. But, this doesn’t prevent the use of small craft such as canoes and kayaks. And there is also wading, a process that is almost sure to accompany floating. So equipped, an angler can cover those little streams and/or can drift silently into out-of-the-way nooks that lead away from some of the larger lakes. And fish are there.
A good choice in canoes is a 14- to 16-foot. It handles two people well, but one person can also manage it. The material from which the craft is constructed is of little consequence, all are functional. A keel is advisable since this helps the canoe track a bit better in still to gently flowing water.
The kayak has come on strong in recent years as a viable fishing vessel. The one to consider is not the tiny rig used on whitewater, but the longer unit that is promoted as a touring or sea kayak. These boats are built for one or two occupants, and they can be pure marvels.
One real plus for canoes or kayaks is weight. These rigs are usually light enough to portage, a feat that will be demanded on most small streams, and they are of shallow draft. This allows them to float in only a couple inches of water, an attribute in the streams and backwater.
Tackle? Keep it simple. A casting rig wearing 12-pound test will work for most of the larger fish, even when they must be coaxed from underwater clutter. An ultralight is handy for smaller fish, and with a 1/8-ounce bettlespin, these work magic on sunfish. If space allows, throw in a flyrod. Wading the edges and popping a bug to the bluegills is a thrill no one should miss.
So, don’t give up that big bass boat. But don’t remain so attached to it that you can’t get away for some good fishing in a much smaller arena. You just might be surprised at what you find there.