Rookie Kayak Fishing Middle Tennessee in July
I wanted to try kayak fishing, but wasn’t sure I’d like it. So I bought a (nice) inflatable kayak and have loved the experience. Thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far.
I’ll also just include my experience fishing in late July on the Defeated Creek section of the Cordell Hull Reservoir (part of the Cumberland River).
I don’t have a waterproof camera, so only have limited 1st person iPhone shots of my kayak experience. But here’s a couple:
I bought an Intex Explorer K2 kayak. It’s a “2 person” kayak, but I’m 6’ tall, and only my kids could fit in the front. I really only use it myself.
I’ve been fishing the Cordell Hull Reservoir outside Carthage, TN. It’s a dammed section of the Cumberland River. Since it’s managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, there are no docks outside of the few marinas on the lake. I love it.
In particular, I fish the Defeated Creek area. I do love that Defeated, TN is just south of Difficult, TN. Mostly around 2 and 8 on the map.
My wife works remotely for a company in Carthage, so we started coming out here for her work and me to chill with the kids outside from time to time. Now I like coming here for any vacation because I know the waters. Also I know the local restaurants well enough that folks recognize us and we’re not “outsiders” anymore for the most part.
That’s both a nice feeling, as well as a good way to get inside info on fishing 😄.
My First Week, Late Spring/Early Summer
I’d never paddled a kayak before I got in. I’ve spent months in canoes with river trips and 2 week long lake trips in Canada, portaging from lake to lake. Really since I was 8 or 9. I wasn’t worried, but wasn’t 100% sure it would come naturally to me. It really did. I can scoot around in that thing with ease and practically spin in place.
I immediately fell in love. I do a lot of shore fishing, so it gets me all the angles and distance I wish I could have. Versus a “real” boat, it’s dead silent, easy to maneuver, and I can go way shallower. And it just feels so natural and peaceful.
I’d bring 2-3 prerigged rods with me, a dry bag with essentials, and a water bottle. Gotta hydrate.
Catching even a 3 lb bass on the thing is so much fun. It’ll actually pull the boat as you reel it in. I get a mix of the joys of lake fishing and fly fishing.
The boat is not tippy and I never felt insecure. I do wear a life jacket, though. Otherwise my wife would kill me. It is a “fishing” life jacket, so does not get in the way of casting and has some handy pockets.
Paddling against the wind isn’t bad, but once you set the paddle down, it’s a sail. I had to stick to coves and the little deltas formed by creeks. Even then, I wouldn’t be able to hang in a spot. I’d fish an area, paddle back, fish it again, and repeat.
The kayak gives you super human casting abilities. I joke, but I seriously cast 1.5-2x as far as I do from the shore even though I’m sitting on the water. It takes some getting used to.
Getting snagged on rocks is not a problem. Just let the line out, move around and tug. The mobility is awesome there. Sometimes I’ll intentionally land a lure on a rock outcrop and pull it into the water. It’s a good way to draw the fish out of a gap near the shore or from under the outcrop.
I got to come back again this week with the lessons from last under my belt.
I’m nearsighted and wear glasses all the time. I’ve used a variety of clip on and blueblocker-style sunglass things that cover my glasses and they’re all obnoxious. I finally got a nice pair of polarized sunglasses a couple years back. When I forget them, it’s terrible. It’s bad enough being just off the water. Without them, I’m almost blind below the surface if there is any wind at all.
Just start casting out to open water before you start playing with the shoreline. Do this for every rod and lure weight as you roll through. Rocks aren’t a problem, but getting snagged in trees sucks.
This is a deathtrap until you have you have a handle on things.
First, I bought a 3.5 lb anchor. I wanted to be able to park and fan cast an area. The anchor was a great buy and let me fish after the wind kicked up. I’d even just let out all the rope so I could adjust but not worry about drifting far.
This is the one I got on Amazon Prime Day. Probably any of them are fine. “Gradient Fitness” must be some Chinese brand, because it makes 0 sense for the product.
It is a grappling hook-style anchor. So when I do pull it up, I usually have to jig it up and down a bit to get it loose. That’s not an issue to me.
The one difficulty with the anchor is that you really need to attach it to the back handle of the kayak and it’s difficult to reach back when you want to pull it in. I did end up attaching it to the back of my seat and running it back through the handle. That helped a bit. I don’t have a good solution here. I want it coming out straight back, so it’s not pulling me cockeyed. Being inflatable does make this more difficult, I imagine.
For positioning, I try to move the rear seat as far forward as I can. I tried using the front Velcro to go all the way back, but it sits me too far forward. It’s unfortunate that the front has a long stretch to adjust, but the rear is really made to be in a fixed position.
I’d like a longer paddle. I’m exactly 6’ tall and it makes me really dig more than cruise. But then I end up spending 1/2 the price of the kayak on a paddle. I’ll probably go for a “real” sit-on-top fishing kayak before I do that. The paddle shape, etc. is fine for me, and I can maneuver the boat really well.
Late Summer Bass in the Cordell Hull
I know hot/late summer is not thought of as “bass time”, but it’s actually probably the easiest to catch fish right now. Now, I don’t fish deep for pike and such that do exist. But you can hit largemouth and striped bass with some regularity.
Right now, shad pools are running high in the deeper water. Striped bass are tearing these up, but they pop up and disappear quickly. There are tons of larger minnows as well, and the largemouth are lurking around the rocky dropoffs between the shallow and deep water.
The Cordell Hull, being the dammed Cumberland River goes quickly from 5-10’, to ~ 30’, to crazy deep, especially in the old riverbed. Rock features and creek inlets are pretty great.
Spend a little time using your senses. Listen to the wind and watch the patterns on the water. Listen for splashes, big and little. For the latter, what’s coming from the shore (tree junk, bugs), what’s evidence that minnows or shad are being eaten up. Try to discern the topography underwater.
This is an example of the area. It’s hard to see in the photo, but whatever. There’s a very shallow 3’ or so patch, followed by 5-10’, then a big drop off to who knows how deep. Between at each drop, there’s great features for fish to hide in and snipe food.
In the deep water you can occasionally see schools of shad rushing the surface. They’ll usually be followed by a striped bass erupting out of the surface.
Don’t target the splash. It’s too late. You want to watch for the shad, cast past and reel through it when you can. You can kind of jerk the lure through to help draw attention. You won’t always hit, but when you do, hold on. It’s fun.
Fishing from a kayak, I’m a little modified from what you would think of as bass gear. Mostly a lot lighter weight. I bring a few rods with me, so I’m not having to juggle tackle as much.
I do use spinning reels because I find them most satisfying. Fishing for me is primarily about the experience. I like the tactile feeling of the line snapping off my finger as I cast. I like the way the rod balances in my hand. And I just don’t enjoy baitcasting unless I really have to.
I also believe in just using gear you like. Use what’s comfortable, what you can afford, and even what just looks and feels cool to you. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s a waste of money even if it is the “best.”
Rods and Reels
I’ve found I really like the Daiwa Regal reels. They’re not pricey at around $60, but cast and reel smoothly, have tough bails that don’t bend when I toss them in the car, etc.
I usually have two 2000 reels on medium action rods. I have an old Berkeley Lightning Rod that’s maybe 5.5’, and a 6’ Bass Pro somethingerather I use. I’m a convert to just getting Bass Pro rods. They’re well built and usually have one that matches my preferences. I do like the shorter rod for shore casting with brush, etc. nearby. The 6’ is nicer on the kayak.
Bass Pro does have the greatest pyramid in the world, in my home city of Memphis and that may contribute to my bias. Sure, there’s Giza and the Luxor, but they don’t have long-nosed gar in them, so the Bass Pro pyramid wins.
It also is the best use of the building that was the absolute worst concert venue I have ever been in and was terrible for basketball as well.
Second, I bring a long ultralight Bass Pro rod to be able to chuck 1/8oz lures. I bought it for trout, but I’ve caught 5-6lb bass on them without issue, they’re fun. I use a cheap KastKing reel I got off Amazon. I liked one I got for surf casting. I don’t get to do that a lot and didn’t want to drop bank. It’s better than a cheap store-bought reel or even a low-end Shimano, but I wouldn’t buy it again and will replace eventually with a 1000 Daiwa of some variety.
Lastly, I have a heavy action Daiwa “bass” rod, that I got because it was the only one available at the time. COVID jacked up fishing gear supply chain stuff bad a couple years ago. I have a Shimano Sahara 3000 on it that I kind of hate. It reverses a couple inches of line out and that drives me insane because you cannot keep a lure in the loop on the rod to save your life. Also, it has a tendency to birds nest and when it does, it’s tragic. I regret that purchase. I had a couple 2000 Sedonas that I replaced with the Daiwas because I could not keep the bails straight on them. I’ve given up on Shimano.
Sometimes I don’t bother bringing that one except boat or shore finishing. I do like it for catfish, but that’s another story.
Line and Usage
I use 6lb line on the mid/light action rods and 10-15 on the heavy. I like the more transparent line, usually Trilene, but I’m not super-picky. I tend to use polomar knots, having converted completely away from a traditional clinch knot. I use a Trilene when a polomar is too much of a pain to tie (like quickly switching to a multi-hook lure). I don’t know that choice matters that much, but I’ve snapped at the knot too many times setting the hook, dealing with a fish jump and shake, or landing a fish to ever use a clinch knot again.
I set the drag about 3/4 tight and then adjust after hooking the fish. A larger fish can be like fly-fishing. You let them run, take what you can get, and repeat. Using light gear means you can’t just muscle, and full muscle on the kayak would be rough. You do have to have the drag tight enough to really set the hook at the outset. I lost a few fish at the beginning of this week to starting to light.
A rear drag reel would be nice here, but I haven’t seen/used one under about 4000-sized (including the only Shimano I own and like that’s probably 20 years old). I don’t have that much trouble dealing with the front-drag, though.
I think a lot of belief around lures are just pseudoscience. Drawing lines from anecdotal experience. I don’t like using live bait, because it’s a mess, I’m doing this for fun and not food, and I catch-and-release exclusively in fresh water.
A standby for me is just plain white/red eye Berkeley Powerbait Poly Shad. I keep them in 1/8oz and 1/4oz. It’s my “when in doubt” on the lake. I’ve caught large mouth and striped bass with them, and one time just blew up some Tennessee Tarpon/Skipjack/Giant Minnow things. I’ve tried similar non-Powerbait looking plastics without luck. I think it’s just the movement. I dunno.
I’ll vary the speed I pull them in, and sometimes do a jerk-reel-jerk. If I play around and they’re biting, I’ll find a pattern that works.
I almost always have 2 packs of the 1/8oz and 1 of the 1/4oz. The smaller get more fish, the bigger get bigger fish.
“Tennessee Tarpon” are fun as hell to catch, but are super oily and shed scales like crazy. The scales will tear up your hands pretty bad too. They’re “trash fish” that are usually just cut up for catfish bait around the dam, but I get a kick out of them fighting and jumping.
This time I found that the Rapala Ripstop something-9 is amazing in the particular coloring below. I tried other minnow patterns, different depth and coloring, but this was the one. The water can be murky so maybe something about the white and chartreuse?
They’re almost $10, and I always get weird about putting that much into 1 lure. I lost one in some underwater tree roots from a pontoon boat I couldn’t get shallow enough to recover it. This upset me more than it probably should have, but I did buy another.
I’ve tried the other Rapalas I mentioned, Rattle Traps, and more proper shad lures. I’ve tried varying depth and color without any real luck. You may be better than me at that.
I also use some spoons and variations. You can tell if they work within a few casts.
If you’re not catching fish and are just bored, you can do what my kids have found to work. My oldest daughter came up with this and will just yank up little bluegill every 5-10 mins when they’re active.
I let my kids use what they want and do what they want to do. My dad was kinda pushy and would ruin trips for me. I just want them to have fun. They pick all of their gear. I give them a 5 min lesson from time to time or point out where fish are. Otherwise, I only give advice when asked.
She will toss on a pink Trout Magnet with a gold jig head, just like the photo below. She’ll drag them across the rocks or kind of jig and swim them. Just do it near some rock cover and away from roots and wood.
This is the kind of area that works best. The rock outcrop hides bluegill which sneak out and eat minnows and bugs that fall in.
Maybe the way it swims? I dunno. She’s magic.
She found this fishing local park ponds outside Memphis, nailing Bluegill and Pumpkinseed. With the muddy bottoms there, she usually drags across or just above. At 5-7pm she’ll destroy them from 2-3in to 6in. She loves the coloring and taking her own fish off the hook and doesn’t care about the size.
My youngest finally found something to rival it on our last day. She picked out a chartreuse and pink straight tailed jig with a 1/16oz jig head (red hook, because red is cooler). She tore up the bluegill with them, got bored, and I pulled more out. Just dance it around off the bottom right by the shore. Could have just had them on a string on the end of a stick.
She enjoys the gear: helping me choose at the store or out of the tackle box. Or even just watching me rig poles. She gets disappointed if I reload reels with line without her. She’s got my fidgety genes and is my best helper with this stuff as well as things like electronics, building, and we rock the Legos.
This Week’s Scoreboard
I really like fishing. Catching fish is just bonus. Being by the quiet water, hearing nature, etc. That’s my sanctuary.
But the family likes superlatives. My youngest didn’t really participate this week. So here is is:
- Biggest Fish: Me! Actually a few of the largemouth I caught were the biggest. Cheating factor: I fished a lot more.
- Most fish in a day: My oldest daughter tore up the bluegill and caught more in an hour than I did in probably 4.
- Prettiest Fish: My wife caught a beautiful 4ish lb striped bass. Also first fish of the trip.
- Best Gear Finder: My youngest for both picking out the Rapala mentioned above as well as the new jig pattern.
I really do want a proper sit-on-top fishing kayak. It’s just hard to justify with so few locations I could fish local to my house. Local park lakes ban boats so there’s only one public lake within 30 mins of me.
And the investment is more than a boat. I’ll need other accessories like the better paddle I mentioned, a roof carrier, a cart since they’re heavier, etc.
But I want one. 😊