Paddling With a Group of Non-anglers Is Not a Good Idea
By Ken Schultz
Sports Afield was once a major national fishing and hunting magazine with a monthly paid circulation of at least 1.1 million at its peak. It has been around for over a century. A few decades ago a new publishing director decided that the magazine’s content should include such topics as cross-country skiing, mountain biking, board sailing, and the like.
After the first repurposed editions appeared, including a cover photo of a young woman on snow skis, endemic advertisers bolted and longtime readers cancelled or didn’t renew. The new format was a terrible failure. Sports Afield went downhill quickly, was sold to a succession of owners, and eventually settled as an exotic big-game hunting quarterly with a small five-figure circulation.
At the time that this occurred I worked for rival publication Field & Stream, and the lesson that I and my fellow editors learned was that, editorially, you cannot mix the hardcore fishing and hunting crowd with hardcore mountain bikers or “other outdoor sports” enthusiasts.
Similarly, fishing out of a kayak while paddling with people who do not fish is also a poor mix. I’ve tried. Every summer for nearly two decades my wife and I have participated in
the Delaware River Sojourn (http://www.delawareriversojourn.com). This is a weeklong 85- to 100-mile trip from near headwaters to tidewater. On any day there will be between 45 and 75 paddlers, nearly all solo kayakers.
There’s good trout and smallmouth bass fishing on this free-flowing tailwater river, especially in the upper reaches. But whenever I’ve fished while on the Sojourn, by the time I make a few casts, the whole group has passed by and then I have to paddle furiously to catch up, make a few more casts, then paddle furiously to catch up again.
This does not make for effective or enjoyable fishing. You inevitably retrieve lures too fast, you don’t spend adequate time in any area, fellow paddlers sometimes cruise right over the best lies, and - if you actually catch something - as soon as you unhook it you find that your companions are far away. Plus, your spouse gets mad that you’re lagging behind and/or holding the group up.
A few summers ago, I took a 9-mile paddle with a group of sixteen people in Chesapeake Bay. Three of us brought fishing rods. Less than a mile into the trip, we spotted a marsh drain where there was a nice outgoing tide flow. An 18-inch redfish was caught. Then two spotted seatrout. A short distance away was another drain. We fished that. Then another after that. Eventually I looked south and had to strain to find members of our flotilla. There was one pair of white paddle specks in the distance.
It took an hour of serious paddling – rod tucked away – to catch up to the group on a beach stopover. The other two anglers arrived a bit later. I didn’t bother to pick up my rod again after that.
So, a few weeks ago, when a friend called to discuss what tackle to bring on a group kayak-camping trip to the Keys, I discovered that he’d be with about a dozen others, and the only angler. Forget it, I advised. When he protested, I suggested that maybe he could make a few casts at lunchtime or at the end of the day. But that’s when he was planning on schmoozing.
If you really want to go fishing in your kayak, I said, don’t accompany non-fishing paddlers. Do you want to paddle, or fish?
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