BY JEFF LITTLE
We don't always get to choose the days that we kayak fish. We do, however, get to choose our access points. Recently, I chose poorly. These things happen when you get creative with your access to productive waters--something I've always taken pride in. With a good topographical map and roadside spot to get all four wheels off the asphalt, I’m not afraid to bushwhack with my kayak in tow.
Although there were no bushes to whack, I recently completed the most difficult access to a fish spot that I've ever attempted. The motivation was just too strong. A friend who owns a powerboat took me to this particular spot last winter where I caught my personal best striped bass, a 44.5-incher. Since that trip, I’ve been studying Google Maps, pouring over PDFs of state park trail maps, and talking to local landowners who might be willing to let me cross their property.
I learned the value of local contact on a past attempt to find alternate access to the Chesapeake Bay near this new target location. Driving around a private community with my roof-racked kayak, two ladies walking their dogs spotted me. They knew what I was up to, waved me over and told me, almost laughing, “You look like your either lost, or need a place to put that kayak in the water.”
“Yes ma’am, but by the looks of all the No Parking and No Access signs, I won’t be doing it here," I replied.
One of them leaned in my open window and said, “Don’t tell anyone I said so, but do you see that house at the end of the road with the For Sale sign? I’d bet if you parked there, and pulled your kayak over those rocks, nobody would be the wiser. Go ahead!” I smiled, thanked them and enjoyed a short paddle down to the spot.
But an arrangement like that was an exception. So I kept researching until I resolved to try one completely legal, and completely distant, access point. My friend Jed joined me on a rainy Monday morning and we started with a two-hour, 20-minute drive to a state park, followed by a 1.8-mile trail to the water, plus a paddle that didn’t look too far on the map. Then again, no paddle on the Chesapeake looks far until you do it with the wind and tide working against you. It ended up taking us 80 minutes.
We both brought kayak carts to make the approach easier. I intentionally packed light because I knew that what I brought down that trail, I would have to bring back up at the end of the day. That being said, “packing light” still translated to around 110 pounds of boat, jig heads, soft plastics, camera equipment, food, water and other essential (like a paddle and a drybag full of clothing).
The first half-mile was simple enough. We rolled our carted kayaks across a wooden footbridge over a swampy area before descending down a gravel path through the woods. A quarter-mile past that, it got tricky: Big knobby tree roots, well worn from the foot traffic threw up roadblocks for our kayak cart tires.
Frustrated having to lift the kayaks every 30 yards or so, we decided to just hit the next one at ramming speed and hope that it would hop the 110-pound rolling torpedo over it. The tactic worked! I simply bounced over the roots. Then we came to another wooden footbridge over a creek. The leading edge of the planks was not level with the hard trampled path. Answer: ramming speed! The kayak bumped, dropped, leaned and bogged down hard. My arm felt as though it had been yanked an inch or two longer.
Reseating the cart aluminum arms into the kayak's scupper holes, I discovered that one of the arms had twisted completely off. Jed and I tried to engineer a repair for about 10 minutes before I gave up and started dragging: light-bulb moment for Jed.
“As long as you’re not using them, may I use your wheels?” he asked.
When I asked why, he lifted his stern to show an inflatable wheel that had chunked up under the weight of his load. “Your wheels are the solid ones, right?” I nodded, and we made one good cart out of two broken ones.
To be honest, my job got easier at that point. Dragging a kayak on a long lead actually requires less energy than wheeling it with no lead. I pulled out a 40-foot length of my anchor cord, wrapped it onto the zigzag cleat, then made a harness of sorts out of the strap that secured the cart to the kayak. It wasn’t much different than dragging a deer. The rod tips had to be pointed back, but otherwise, it was a sled that rode over those roots and fallen logs better than the wheels.
Once the 1.8-mile drag down was over, we paddled to the spot. The strong easterly winds kept us close to shore, where waves would build out of nowhere and threaten to topple us. It didn’t happen, but it was nerve-wracking at times. The paddle gobbled up almost an hour and a half of daylight.
We still fished for four and a half hours. Jed had the only bite--a hard slam that nearly ripped the rod away from his wet-handed grasp. It pulled drag for six seconds, tossed a big heavy head left, then right and was off. I never got bit. I knew going in that there were only a few fish around this spot, but if we connected, it would be big. At least Jed shook hands with one of the bigs.
Our return trip was of similar difficulty, but with a brief intermission of surfing a particularly aggressive rip. The fun I had pitching my kayak up and down a series of steep standing waves almost made up for not catching anything. It brought me back to a period in my kayak fishing career in my mid-20s when the river whitewater experience competed strongly with the push to catch big fish.
I needed that adrenaline and endorphin rush to carry through the long drag up to my vehicle. We were racing daylight and the threat of being behind a locked gate after the nebulous “sunset” closing time on a cold gray day when the sun never really rose. Jed was creative enough to chop off a quarter-mile by scouting a bog that we paddled through.
We ended the trip soaking wet, zeroed out on blood sugar, and having not caught a fish. Yet somehow that marathon of a day was one of the most intensely enjoyable trips of the year.