Kayak Fishing the San Marcos River, a Personal Best

Ryan, assistant manager at ACK San Marcos, headed out for a day of bass fishing with Grant on the San Marcos River. Little did he know it would turn into a personal best!

Start to the day
Cold start to the day – 28 degrees at launch!

Grant and I started things off planning our trip based on the forecast. We typically like to be on the water at or before sunrise but this time decided to launch at 8:30. The reason being was that it was supposed to be partly cloudy until about 10 am, when the wind was supposed to shift to the North East and the sun was supposed to come out. The sun was the key. Leading up to the trip, it had been very cold, very windy and cloudy. After not seeing the sun for days I knew those river bass would be hungry!

Statistically in Texas all of the biggest bass are caught in the month of January and I knew this beforehand so we decided to forego the fly rods and bring out the conventional tackle. We were targeting river bass of all species but it seemed like all of the Lunker Large Mouths were in a feeding frenzy.  Less than ten minutes after launching I landed the first fish, a 13 inch large mouth. I had a feeling it was going to be a good day.

About a half mile downstream I hooked into something good and she took off. I fought her for about two minutes before going airborne and spitting my lure right back in my face. She was easily a four pound largemouth that I had lost! I was already kicking myself at losing my one opportunity at a big river bass. It seemed to be a reoccurring theme for my trips. Little did I know this was not going to be my only opportunity… not by a long shot.

Ryan with his personal best large mouth bass.
Ryan with his personal best large mouth bass.

I was still beating myself up after losing the last fish as we were approaching the first section of water that is shallow and swift moving. I casted to a spot behind a rock that was in less than three feet of water and in a nice sunny spot and it was no more than 12 feet away from my boat. I tried to move my bait and thought I was hung on the rock so I paddled a little bit closer. As I did so the so called “rock” I had hooked took off with blazing speed. Instinctively I ripped my rod back at the right angle and set the hook.  Seconds later the biggest bass I have ever laid eyes on in person surfaced and jumped almost completely out of the water trying to throw my hook and she was less than three feet from my kayak! I knew this fish would be a new personal best for me so I HAD to land it! Normally when I hook into a fish of this caliber and I know I have a good hook set I just sit back and hold on. Some people refer to this as a sleigh ride but I like to put my own twist on it and call it a Central Texas Sleigh Ride.

Where I hooked up with this Lunker was going to take much more finesse than just holding on. I hooked her in moving water, in a large Eddy that was about 10 feet long by 10 feet wide, just big enough to fit my Moken 10.  The rock she was hiding behind and another rock approximately 7 feet down river formed this Eddy and immediately after the farther rock the river gets real shallow, I am talking 8 inches at most. So I knew if I did not keep her in the Eddy that she would get so beat up on the rocks going down river she might not make it. Over half the battle was keeping her in the eddy, when she would try to break out I would use my weight and the weight of the boat to keep her inside. During the whole fight we did not move more than six feet from where I hooked up because every time I brought her back into the Eddy she would hit that Eddy line and we would go in a circle. It seemed like she spun me around 10 times or so but in reality it was probably closer to 3 or 4 times.  Finally landed her and let out a yell of triumph! Needless to say Grant and I were in awe of this Behemoth of a River Large Mouth! She was 7 pounds on the nose and just under 25 inches in length.  We took lots of pictures and released her safely to keep those Big Bass genes in the River.

Ryan with his second big bass of the day of kayak fishing the San Marcos River.
Ryan with his second big bass of the day of kayak fishing the San Marcos River.

After that I felt like I was done for the day and we were not even a 1/3 of the way through our trip! Pretty hard to top your personal best! Feeling rather accomplished with my feat I began to fish much more lazily and was trying to put Grant on a nice fish because I fish the San Marcos much more than he does. Just over an hour after catching my personal best I hooked into another nice one.

I yelled over to Grant, “Got a good one on, it’s at least 4 pounds.” Just as I finished my sentence she jumped and I saw a gaping mouth wide open facing me. I remember saying “Well, Grant its way bigger than four,” to which his responded, “You have got to be kidding me!” I hooked this one in open water so she towed me around 40 yards or so and then I landed her! 6 pounds on the nose after quickly measuring with my Boga Grips! Two of the three biggest river bass I have ever caught in one day!  I remember asking Grant over and over “was that real?” “Did I really just catch a 7 pound bass out of the river….and then an hour later catch a 6 pounder?” I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming! At the very end of the trip I hooked up with a 5 pounder but lost it after short fight but I could not complain!

After it was all said and done I had caught over 20 pounds of bass by myself including three different species: Large mouth, Small Mouth, and Guadalupe. It was the best day I have had on the River yet!

Kayak Fishing San Marcos with Assistant Store Manager Ryan Schaper

Written by San Marcos Assistant Manager Ryan Schaper

All loaded up for a great day of kayak fishing!
All loaded up for a great day of kayak fishing!

Having the opportunity to work at an outdoor retailer like ACK gives us, the employees, many awesome opportunities to learn about and use products so that we can better understand how they work and relay that information to you, the customer. One of the biggest opportunities is what’s called a Go Play day, where we get to leave the store, office or warehouse for the day and pick up a paddle (or whatever other outdoor gear we most feel like ‘playing’ with).

For my first ever Go Play day, I decided to take a typical kayak fishing day trip down the beautiful, clear, spring-fed San Marcos River, approximately 5 ½ miles of paddling. My target species, bass. The neat thing about river bassin is you can catch 4 species of bass in one water body including: large mouth, small mouth, Guadalupe, and the occasional rock bass.

The boat that I own and use way too much is a Moken 10 standard. Not the fastest of boats but very stable, so stable in fact I stand close to 90% of the time I am fishing on it. The reason I like to stand is I can see much better, cast much farther, and, with the lures I am typically using, the hook set ratio goes way up while standing.  Other than my kayak, there are many things that I use every time I go kayak fishing but the three things I would like to showcase and are arguably the most important are my Boga grips, paddle and sunglasses.

The Boga Grips in action.
The Boga Grips in action.

Boga grips are an amazing pair of fish grips that simultaneously double as a very accurate scale. Once you get your fish on the Bogas, it will not be coming off until you hit the release. As you can see from the picture they are safer for both you and the fish. They allow you to safely handle the fish and you can easily pull it through the water, allowing the fish to regain oxygen and lost strength from your fight. Once the fish has recovered hit the release and it will swim on it way.

My paddle is also very important to me and is something I most definitely never leave home without. I own a fiberglass Shuna paddle from Werner Hooked which I choose because it has a wider blade and with the Moken being so wide it allows me to move more water, especially while standing because I am not able to get the blade as deep.  Compared to my old cheap paddle the Werner makes a world of a difference. I hear the argument often from guys stating that they would rather have a cheaper heavier paddle because they want to get more of a “workout.” That is not necessarily true; a higher end paddle makes you more efficient on the water and allows a higher cadence which provides a better workout. My Shuna has bailed me out more times than I can count. For example fishing a river you are always dealing with current and I tend to catch my bigger fish either in or very close to heavy current.  With my Werner paddle I can get in sometimes 2 to 3 more casts than I could previously with my low end paddle because I know with 2-3 swift strokes of the Shuna I can easily change the direction of my boat in preparation for going down or getting sucked into a heavy rapid.

One of my bass for the day!
One of my bass for the day!

The final pieces of equipment that I NEVER leave home without on any day of the week are my Costa Del Mar Sunglasses. I cannot stress enough the importance of good sunglasses.  I own the Black Fin frames with the 580 G green lenses.  I have the green lenses because I am predominantly fishing clear water but they are many lenses options for different water bodies.  These glasses reduce glare off the water dramatically and even allow you to see through the water! Depending on conditions I can sometimes see more than 8 feet under the water! This helps drastically because I can determine varying depths in the water and occasionally even see the fish and sight cast to them.  The biggest bass pictured here was one that I actually saw his tail sticking out from under a rock ledge 4 feet under the water, casted to him and the fight was on! The fish was over 19 inches and over 3 lbs on the Boga grips!

When the day was over I had caught and released over a dozen bass ranging from 10 to 19 inches in length and 3 different species. Overall was a great fishing day on the San Marcos River!

The Rail Deal

No matter how many installs I do while working for ACK, it is always a bit nerve-racking to drill into someone’s boat. In the best-case scenario, the customer has been paddling for a while and knows exactly where he/she would like the item mounted. Even still, there is the process of finding which mount will work best for that specific location, for that specific piece of gear. It isn’t a huge leap in logic to see that a maneuverable mounting system can save loads of headaches.

There are three major things to think about when installing accessories on a Canoe or Kayak:

The YakAttack Gear Trac

Deck Space – Boat manufacturers have varying ideas about cockpit and deck layouts. There are some designs that designate spots for specific bases but lots of times we are improvising to make a mount fit where it is functional. Even with several companies to choose from, it is sometimes hard to find a base with just the right size or shape needed for an install. With limited deck space on streamlined models like Hobie’s Revolution or Necky’s Vector, a thin rail like Yak Attack’s GT90 Gear Trac makes otherwise impossible installs a reality.

Feel Free Uni-Trac Mount

Paddle Stroke – The biggest placement issue in a canoe or kayak is paddle clearance. You might not realize it, but accessories could get in the way of your paddling stroke, so plan ahead! The manufacturers that do factory-installed rod holders tend to leave at least 32’’ of clearance in front, and 6” behind the seat for a paddle stroke. When I can, though, I like to have the customer sit in a cockpit with a paddle to get a feel for where a mount would work the best for them. Even so, there is not always a space for one in the “sweet spot”, so having the ability to move an accessory closer to you when using it, and away from you when paddling, can be a huge boon.

Functionality – Besides paddle-ability, there are other factors that can determine the placement of accessories. Fish-ability is a key point for a lot of people, so whether a person is right or left-handed or if they mostly use a spincast/baitcast can factor into the placement. Also in the case of fish finders and other electronics, it is nice to have them within reach.

Groove track from Native Watercraft

Last but not least, is the question of weight distribution. A heavy surf or trolling rod can put a lot of stress on the plastic when installed on a smaller mount. A rail, however, would disperse the tension throughout a larger area.

The RAM Screwball

With all the benefits of these accessories, it is no wonder that most kayak companies are embracing them. Wilderness Systems, as in lots of areas, was ahead of the curve in this regard. They included the Slide Trax rail into all of their Sit-On-Top boats starting in 2010.  Native was not far behind with their Groove Track, and now  Feel Free is including the Uni-Track on the Moken 12 and 14. Furthermore, third party companies are introducing new ways to become part of the rail world. RAM’s Screwball and Scotty’s Gear Track Adaptor now make it possible to bypass the mounting plates and dashboards that used to be conventional wisdom, although sometimes they still make more sense.

With the ever-evolving systems, there are lots of things coming on line to help with the search for the “Holy Rail” – good luck! If you ever need assistance with mount placement or suggestions, please let us know, we are always happy to help.

Randy @ACK San Marcos

ACK at Troutfest 2013

Getting some fly instruction at Troutfest 2013

On February 15th and 16th, I had the opportunity to attend Trout Fest which was held at the Rio Raft Resort and put on by the Guadalupe River Chapter of Trout Unlimited. I am fairly new to ACK so this was a great opportunity to interact with a lot of our fantastic customers and meet several people that are very influential to our sport.

Lefty Kreh, who is considered a legend in the fly fishing world and has over 60 years of instruction under his belt, drew a huge crowd for both days of the festival (he had some really good jokes too!). Wanda Taylor, the 1st woman to become a master certified casting instructor by the International Federation of Fly Fishers, was also there to offer both group and 1-on-1 casting demos for any ladies interested in getting into the sport.

Kayaks from ACK and Diablo for demo

It was a great event for people of all ages with a BB-Gun shooting range and small fishing pond to keep the kiddos occupied. There was plenty of tasty grub to go around and I know that Grant from ACK San Marcos walked out with some killer deals on lots of flys and other new gear. Thomas and Megan from Diablo Paddlesports were there with me to show off the Chupacabra and Adios and how great of a fly-fishing platform these can be. I am fairly confident that we turned several kayak fishing skeptics into believers that just about anyone can easily stand up and fish or paddle from one of these. All in all, it was a great weekend and we could not have asked for more beautiful weather or a better venue for the event, and I most defiantly look forward to next year! If you were one of the unlucky ones who didn’t make it this year, you really should make it a point to stop by next time! 

Andy @ACK

Rythym of Drum and Bass

Natural rhythm needs a good drum.

Rhythm permeates everything in nature.  Especially when there is a human involved. It was Bill Monroe in this case, while drifting along a line of lily pads on a pond in Independence, Texas that synchronized the landscape with my easy cadence of cast and tug. I have been to places where the drums drown out any other sound in the vicinity, as well as to clubs where the bass is so loud it shakes the worms up from the ground (not a bad idea to test before heading to the bait shop). But on this day it was my mental stereo that was blaring the fiddle tune to which I tried to imagine my swim bait was dancing. It was not long before senior bass joined in the dance, imparting his own accent to the line, backed by the falsetto of my reel drag. I like to think of myself on such occasions as a mufician, a sweeter tune I do not know.

Besides (and pardon) the inevitable puns, I think the idea could be a beneficial one to an angler with two left feet. Changing rhythms during your presentation is a good way to locate the depth and mood of the fish you are after – I heard that from Mr. Bill Dance, who ought to know a thing or two about musical environments.

And don’t forget the bass!

Obviously song choice is a matter of personal taste, but I also think that certain settings call for different tunes. Water temperature and depth is the overt factor to think about when deciding the speed of a jig, but I think there is more to it. Red Drum up in the flats are partial to the staccato tail twitch of Ledhead Zeppelin, while Bass along the Colorado might prefer a good slow Muddy Waters tune.

Paddling definitely has its own rhythms and cadences, imagine Ben Hur’s crew attaining ramming speed without the help of a big kettle drum.  If one is not careful, a big plastic kayak can turn into a pretty effective tom, but most of the time it is futile to think about scupper noise and the occasional paddle hit.  I have caught plenty of fish while blasting a portable speaker, which are so easy to take along these days.  I usually have one on hand just in case a band aid or box of goldfish triggers a particularly annoying mental  song loop. Mostly, though I like to make sure and end the drive out with a song that will set a good tone for the day, and go from there.

Cheers, and happy fishing,

Randy @ACK San Marcos

Sharing The River Life w/ Family

One of the most fulfilling things about a life spent on the water is introducing family and friends to the joys of watersports. For my recent ACK employee perk of “Go Play For A Day,” I took my 13 year old niece on a kayak trip on the San Marcos River. My niece has a busy life consumed with school and sports so it was a great opportunity to let her sit back and enjoy herself for a few hours.

We put in at the very cool and historic Zedler Mill Park in Luling, Texas. This is not only a great put in for going upstream on the San Marcos River, but also offers the convenience of a boat ramp and plenty of space and facilities for a BBQ. On a lazy day, it is a great spot to paddle a short distance upstream and see what you can catch. However for this particular adventure, me, my niece and our canine companion Dexter paddled about three miles until we reached what I like to call ‘turtle alley.’ This stretch of river is home to more sunbathing turtles than you can count.

It was great to see my niece truly enjoying herself on the river while trying to overcome her fear of bugs and other river creatures. The weather was unseasonably warm so we had some snacks, let the dog swim and watched the turtles before heading back to the truck.

It is the simple days like this that remind me of why I have built my life around rivers. There is no equivalent experience to the memories and friendships that are built from a day on the water.

Our boats for the day were the Ocean Kayak Prowler Big Game which I love for its’ stability and carrying capacity. My niece, who has very limited experience, had no problem handling the Feelfree Moken 10.

What a great day it was, it couldn’t have been any better!

Luke @ACK

Mud and Mosquitos

As a kayaker, I am fortunate when I see new water but it never seems to come often enough. When you do find yourself somewhere new, it forces, and teaches, you to focus on finding a new technique or a different rhythm to the way you kayak or more importantly the way you fish. This is one of the reasons even a bad day of paddling or fishing is better than a good day at work. Trust me, I’ve had just as many unproductive days as I’ve had good ones. Being in the industry I hear so many people saying “you have to do this” or “there aren’t any fish there”. I personally find this completely wrong. There are different methods to productive fishing and it’s all different for each of us. It takes the ability to seek out those different places that allows you to learn new things.

I was able to tear out of town right after eating turkey on Thanksgiving to fish with a friend of mine, Jeremy Chavez, around the Houston area. After listing to so many tall tales about the fish around that area I had to see it for myself. Despite the endless cloud of mosquitoes and bottomless pit of mud, it was by far the most ridiculous area I had ever seen. Being so much closer to the Coastal Bend area, I’m used to fishing completely different water and having the opportunity to see such a different place is what makes kayaking so unique.

Anyway, check out these pictures (courtesy of Jeremy Chavez), I know you’ll enjoy!

Grant @ACK San Marcos

Highland Lakes VS Downstream Farmers — Colorado River, Texas

Anyone who has paddled on the Colorado River below Lake Austin in the summertime knows about the frequent changes in the level and flow. Longhorn dam has historically been the last stopping point between the lake water and its trip to the Matagorda Bay system, visiting the many rice fields along the way during their growing season. This year that system will be disrupted, according to representatives from the LCRA. After last minute discussions, which were more like arguments, between farmers and people with interest in the Highland Lakes, it was decided that for the first time since 1913, no “rice water” will be released this season.

Google Maps screenshot of the Colorado River southwest of central Texas

The LCRA has a long track record of mitigating water ownership disputes. This year’s decision, though, sets a precedent in regards to dam releases. By no means is this a cut and dry case. The farmers claim that the lakes were originally created as a holding system for their irrigation water. But that doesn’t dispel the fact that a whole infrastructure has built up around the recreational and local use of lake water. Last year, the dams released more than three times the amount that the city of Austin uses in a year1.  In years with normal rainfall, this figure wouldn’t be quite as overwhelming, but it seems there is an indirect relationship to dam release and the amount of rainfall. In years with heavy rainfall, the farmers can subside on water that falls downstream of the lakes. During dry years, however, they rely more heavily on dam release, which in turn take their toll on the Highland Lakes’ water levels.

How this decision will affect us as paddlers and anglers also depends on our location up or downstream. Anglers on Lake Travis and LBJ might have noticed fish stacking up in bottlenecks making for easy picking. Where fish would normally run into feeder creeks and rivers to spawn, they now are stopped short at waterfalls created by the lowering water level. Despite the good fun while catching them, it doesn’t bode well for species like white bass that rely on shallow, moving water for their eggs to hatch.

Below Longhorn Dam, the absence of flood-like flows everyday might not be such a bad thing for fishing and paddling. Overnight campers especially will appreciate the lack of water rise at night, when the releases were historically most prevalent.  A majority of the bass from Austin to Bastrop are hybridized Guadalupe, smallmouth and spotted bass which don’t mind moving water. Finding the fish in the exaggerated current conditions created by the rice water however made fishing on the Colorado pretty challenging. Fishing the river under “normal flows” will be an enticing prospect to many anglers this summer.

In the bay systems, the water may be sorely missed. The fresh water brought in by the rivers fuels the algae, grass and baitfish populations that allow game fish to thrive. Besides that, the salinity of the water encourages different species to come closer, or go further from shore. Although it isn’t the deciding factor of coastal angling, it is yet to be seen how the decreased flow will affect Matagorda.

That said, what’s your opinion?

Randy Lucas @ACK San Marcos Store

1. http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2012/03/02/how-rice-farming-in-texas-could-still-have-a-future/

 

From Sailors to Kayakers – A Short Story of a Journey Gone Awry

We had a customer come in and tell us a crazy story about sailing off the coast of Florida. It was a mother, father and two teenage kids that had flown to Florida to purchase a sail boat and were planning on sailing it back to Texas. When they got to Florida they took the boat out for a test run on what they thought would be a 4 hour test…turns out they hit a massive storm which knocked out their electronics (GPS) and disoriented them. Ten days later, they saw a large ship out in the ocean that rescued them. They had enough food for 4 days and no map, they were relying solely on the GPS system and they didn’t tell anybody where they were going so there were no rescue crews searching for them.

Needless to say they ended up selling the boat in Florida and did not make the journey to Texas in their sailboat. Now they are kayakers who love to fish off the Texas coast.

Moral of the story, whether boating, paddling or hiking, don’t rely solely on electronics as your only source of navigation. It’s always a good idea to take a map of the area with you along with a compass as a backup and always tell somebody where you are going and when you plan on arriving there. – Luke @ACK San Marcos

Paddling Long Distances Can Go a Long Way

Grant and his buddy showing off thier catch of the day.

Every once and a while a perfect, or close to perfect day comes along and the opportunity for success shows up knocking on your door, you know you cannot pass it up and you go for it. It’s days like these that make any sport worthwhile. For me it was a day when the wind was low, tides were good and the fishing was going to be perfect — I hoped.

I called a buddy up that I had been wanting to take kayak fishing for a while, I told him we were going to head down to the Texas coast and paddle a long way to catch a lot of fish. Naturally, as any sportsman does, he agreed. We launched as the sun was rising, paddled hard for a few miles to our first destination and we were greeted with a sea of tails. On my first cast I answered the tails with one that resulted in a broken eye on my rod…but I didn’t let it stop me. Soon thereafter we were on the bite, sight casting for fish after fish, throwing back the majority but keeping a few. With the wind in our favor I made the decision to make the journey further east, way east.

By now we were paddling past the motorboats that had passed us in the morning. We were headed to a large mud flat with a little grass that I felt would produce well for us. Once again we were greeted well. There was another kayaker who had taken his kayak out with his boat and was calling it a day when he yelled at me “there are about 50 redfish headed your way” — usually I would be thrilled but he was a few hundred yards away and there was no way for me to see what he was seeing. Not 2 minutes after his warning the water turned slick as glass, allowing us to see what our fellow angler had alerted us to. It was fish on, the top water bite was strong but nothing is more fun to me than sight casting so I stuck with that and came out on top with a solid limit of redfish. With the sun beginning to set and a 6 mile paddle back to complete our 12 mile day we made our way back catching fish along the way.

Arriving back at the boat ramp we proceeded with loading up the truck with our boats and gear, and as we began the task of cleaning the fish, we were applauded by a group of fishermen who had seen us out on the water and were amazed at not only how well we did but also how far we had gone. A great day was won, we had fish to show for it and my friend had made a paddle that a lot of paddlers would have never made even under the same conditions. It is days like these that make this sport well worth effort.

Grant @ACK San Marcos