Rapid Transit: A Salty Kayak Angler’s First Taste of River Fishing – Wild musky, crashing rapids and wide open scenery on Tennessee’s Caney Fork River

Wild musky, crashing rapids and wide open scenery on Tennessee’s Caney Fork River

Fresh rip - a salty kayak angler's initiation to the Caney Fork River rapids. Photo Jarrod McGehee.

Rapid Transit: A Salty Kayak Angler’s First Taste of River Fishing
Wild musky, crashing rapids and wide open scenery on Tennessee's Caney Fork River
By Jarrod McGehee

We start by dragging our kayaks a hundred yards down steep, rocky terrain with downed trees and crumbling stones itching to make us slip. Once there, we still have to make it down the slope. Buddying up, we carry our kayaks across the face of a cliff, carefully lower them into the water while balancing with one foot and maybe a couple fingers. We made it! Just don't forget about those rapids.

This isn't anything like pulling my truck onto the beach and launching through a few waves like back home in San Diego, California. No, this is what they call river fishin’! Drew Gregory, founder of River Bassin,' fellow Jackson Kayak teammate, and goose love interest, is running this initiation for a few friends and me.

We are fishing Tennessee's Caney Fork River. The scenery is truly incredible: high-flowing waterfalls and lush trees with leaves showing their fall colors, those cliff faces we scaled, the shining sun and sweet-singing birds.

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River bass brought us here but we want to test the rapids. We are giddy with excitement but also that feeling of apprehension. It rumbles deep in the gut any time you might roll with fishing gear on board. We pack accordingly, bringing only one or two setups and some tackle.

After plucking some bass out of the rocks we continue downstream to the first set of rapids. Make it! Although small, these are my first. I decide they are fun.

Farther downstream we are granted more stunning scenery. However beautiful, this is also where the goose bumps show up again.

From up ahead we hear the sound of rushing water crashing on rocks. A fine mist fills the air. This is no lazy river. We better get ready to rock n' roll.

We pull up onto the rocky bank to scope the scene and plan our attack. The GoPros are ready and our fishing gear, unloaded, waits safely on shore. Sean starts – he flips. I go – same result. Drew tries a different approach. He nearly flies out of his Coosa – twice – but holds on. Now we know how to do it. I want to try again.

Following Drew's line I charge my kayak straight into the rapid. Paddling hard, I maneuver around rocks, struggling to hang on. Inching closer to calmer water, I can taste success. One more whoop and I'm through. I throw my arms in the air and scream in excitement. I did it!

We get back to fishing. We're throwing crankbaits, spinners and Zara Spook topwaters. Drew shouts from up ahead. He's hooked up and needs help! He battles around the rocks and dodges five other kayaks as his fish jumps wildly. Finally he reels in a 42-inch musky. We snap photos and videos for proof – otherwise they'd never believe us back at camp. The beautiful fish swims off safely to fight another day.

My first taste of river fishing leaves me hungry for more. I'm yearning to chase down the next rapid, and tangle with the feisty bass and muskie that grow strong bucking the current.

42 inches of river musky makes for a wild ride. Photo Jarrod McGehee.
42 inches of river muskie makes for a wild ride.