Last Friday I was reminded of how quickly a beautiful morning can go all wrong. I met a friend from work at the kayak launch at Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton, Virginia. We had 5 dozen minnows, packages of maribou jigs and slip bobbers ready to go hit the boat docks. On two previous occasions I’d fished the docks and had good luck without minnows, this time I was armed with crappie candy.
Loaded and ready to go, I took the bulk of the minnows with me in my 5 gallon bucket w/aerator attached and gave my buddy the trolling bucket with a couple dozen of his own. The weather forecast had it getting to about 60 deg so we were layered appropriately for the temps. In the water the kayaks went and off we paddled.
We arrived at the first set of boat docks, I looked at my buddy and told him to set his slip bobber to about 6-7’ throw a minnow on and cast it at the docks. I turned around and started to get mine rigged up. That is when it happened. I heard a splash and knew something was drastically wrong. I immediately turned around and saw the bottom of the Acsend FS12T pointing skyward. I immediately dropped my rod and paddled over to where my buddy was floating and holding onto his kayak.
Mistake number 1 of the day was 100% my fault. I often take for granted how stable my kayak is and the experience I have on a kayak and forget that I have someone new with me or on a less stable platform. So, I hold myself 100% to blame for any and all mistakes that happened. I had tied the minnow bucket off to the kayak with a long length of nylon rope which quickly wrapped around my buddy when he fell out. It took him a minute or so to get the rope unwrapped from around his body. Once freed up, he got his kayak righted. I paddled along the opposite side to counter his weight as he climbed up. One he was on I release the kayak and started drifting away.
Mistake number 2 was that even though we’d been out several times when the water was warm during the summer, we’d talked about, but never followed through with recovering from a turtle. With never doing it before, he was prepared for the momentum and promptly went right over the other side when he was finally up.
Mistake number 3, or success number 2 (Success number 1 which I didn’t mention was the fact he was actually wearing his PFD), happened as he rolled over the far side of the kayak. Instinct told him to grab what he could. Where was I? You guessed it, right there in arms reach. When someone is assisting you, never reach out for their kayak. Fortunately this wasn’t my first rodeo and I knew it was coming so I shifted my weight slightly so when his hand grabbed the side of my kayak I had the counterweight already applied to compensate for his grab. I did not get wet.
Back in the water again, I decided to not have him risk anything else and to take the assistance offered by a bass boat that was fishing nearby. They used the trolling motor and pulled up near him and assisted him onto the boat and graciously offered to drag his kayak back to the launch and let him off. We quickly policed up all his floating equipment, the only thing he lost was a fishing pole. They fired up the motor and headed ¼ mile back to the launch.
With a dry set of clothes in his car he quickly changed into dry clothes, loaded up and headed home. So lets analyze what we did and didn’t do right. Some of these I’ve mentioned already some I haven’t. First, we’d never attempted deep water re-entry, much less cold water re-entry. The water were were in was about 15’ deep and about 48 deg and the air temp was still about 40. Next we dressed for the air temperatures and not the water temps that day. Neither of us were wearing any gear to help if we hit the water. Finally, he was wearing is PFD, if there is no other lesson learned from this whole event we can both take home that his PFD saved his life.
Now, onto the Crappie part of the day. Knowing he was safely back at the launch, in dry clothes and heading home in a car with a heater, I could focus on catching some slabs. I grabbed my 7’ ugly stick lite and adjusted my bobber stop to about 7’, tipped the chartreuse crappie jig with a minnow and tossed it at the dock. Nibble nibble nibble, the bobber kept diving but nothing was hooking up. I fished like this on several docks for a few hours with only a couple ok sized crappie and a bunch of bluegills and sunfish to show.
Frustrated by the lack of fish, especially since I was using crappie candy (ie minnows) I remembered my trip two weeks prior when I was catching nice slabs on 1” gulp minnows on a straight green/white painted jighead. I decided to change tactics and lose the maribou jig and bingo, I started catching some nice crappie.
The bite was on and off. It seemed the fish were moving from one side of a boat to the other. Once I started seeing the telltale bluegill nibble I knew It was time to move on. All I would have to do was move to the opposite side of the boat and the crappie would be on the line again.
Running low on minnows and with nothing but small bluegills tearing them up I noticed two guys, Phil and Bill fishing from about a 14’ flat bottomed boat started catching crappies from the middle of the channel in between the boat docks. I changed my target and started fishing further out from the boats and I started catching fish again. I very quickly ran out of minnows and had to resort to 1” Chartreuse Shad Gulp! minnows. Again, Gulp! did not disappoint. I managed to put two or 3 more in my cooler for dinner before calling it a day.