A Weekend of Exploration

Since it snowed quite a lot and covered the roads with snow last week, my school system was closed. Buses just can’t go in snow. Once the roads cleared enough that my husband James and I felt safe enough to travel any distance away from our house, we had to get out. Being stuck in the house for days on end had quickly become a stagnant existence for us. There are only so many M*A*S*H reruns I can tolerate.

With adventure in mind, James and I loaded up our Land Cruiser with some snacks and some extra warm clothes (just in case), and we headed to Fall Creek Falls State Park. The park is an hour from our home, and the ride was just what we needed to get out of the house and see some fresh scenery.

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Fall Creek Falls is located in Van Buren County in Tennessee. The park totals over 26,000 acres and is centered on the Upper Cane Creek Gorge. The parks namesake is the 256 ft Fall Creek Falls, the highest free-fall waterfall east of the Mississippi River. James and I frequent the park as we enjoy walking some of the trails. The trail to the base of Fall Creek Falls is one of my long-time favorites. Hiking to the bottom of the Falls and looking up is definitely an exhilarating feeling. During this visit, the Falls was still mostly frozen and brilliant in all of its sparkly glory.

Adjacent to the Falls overlook, you will find a short trail that leads to the park Nature Center. This is a leisurely hike which takes you across a suspended wooden bridge. Below the “swinging bridge” is Cane Creek Falls. If you do decide to hike to the Nature Center, pay attention to the trail markings and stay on the beaten path. Years ago (think ages ago when I was a teenager) a friend and I managed to get off the trail and quickly became lost in the woods. We walked all day and were very lucky to emerge in a campground within the park. We were not prepared for a hike of that length that day. I believe I had blisters on my feet for a week after that incident.

On our Home Turf

Still shaking off the winter blues, James and I decided to get the kayaks out once the snow melted. We made a quick trip on the Barren Fork River, which gave us the chance to fish.

The weather was still cool, so we dressed in layers. I couldn’t find my bibs, so I borrowed a pair from James and off we went to hunt for Musky and Bass.

The Muskellunge is a species of large, uncommon freshwater fish native to North America. The Musky is the largest member of the Pike family and is prevalent in the waters we typically fish in the middle Tennessee area. After hooking one last fall only to have it break my line at the kayak, I have found myself on a mission to find yet another “fish of ten thousand casts.”

I gave it my best, but came up empty handed…this time. There will definitely be other opportunities to find that elusive second Musky. Here in Tennessee, in order to keep a Muskellunge that you catch, it must be a minimum of 50″ and there is a 1 fish limit.

My kayak of choice for running the Barren Fork is the Jackson Coosa. It’s rockered hull allows for quick adjustments when encountering the mild to moderate rapids we frequently experience on our fishing trips. I also like the lighter weight of the Coosa. Weighing in sans seat at only 65 lbs., I can manage to drag my Coosa most anywhere. The lighter weight makes it easy to portage and the sporty handling gets me to spots that I would never be able to get to by boat.

Check out the Coosa on the Jackson Kayak website for a full product description.

Georgia on my Mind

In October of 2017, James and I left our home in Tennessee and drove to the Golden Isles of Georgia. It had been years since I had vacationed there, and James had never been. I wanted to show him the beauty of the area and take advantage of some marsh fishing while we were there for the week.

The first night, James and I stopped in Savannah, Georgia. We had been driving all day. Weather conditions had not been the best, and we were ready to eat dinner and turn in for the evening. We stopped at the Hotel Indigo on Bay Street and instantly loved the hotel. We were able to find some really good food in the Tap Room. If you find yourself there, the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich plate is something to try. It hit a home run with me.

After we woke up the next morning, we walked around Savannah and saw some historical sights before we packed up the Land Cruiser and headed on toward Jekyll Island. It was approximately an hour and a half drive before we found ourselves smack in the middle of the Golden Isles. James had never seen the marshland of Georgia, and at first, I was not sure how he would like it. The marsh definitely has it’s own uniquely dank smell that permeated through the cabin air filter in the Land Cruiser. We forged on, and soon enough arrived at the Westin Jekyll Island. Despite its small size, the Westin did not disappoint. It truly rivals some larger five star hotels we have stayed at in larger cities. We were given a room on the top floor which looked straight out at the ocean.

James and I knew we wanted to fish while on vacation. The first thing we decided to do was fish at the Jekyll Island Fishing Center. It’s a diamond in the rough for sure, but the staff is super accommodating and thoughtful. James and I purchased some Mullet and away we went to the pier.

We spent a few hours casting from the pier and James was able to catch a fish known as a Sheepshead. Pier fishing is quite a lot different than fishing from a kayak. Reeling in a fish takes a bit longer since the pier is obviously a lot higher up than a kayak in relation to the water line. James lost a couple fish off his hook fairly quickly. My hook got robbed several times and pretty soon we moved over to a small bridge that crossed over some marsh.

We were more successful fishing from the bridge. The tide was coming in and so were the fish. My husband caught another Sheepshead at this location. I wasn’t fast enough and I ended up loosing most of my Mullet. I like to think I was just feeding some otherwise starving fish.

All in all, our trip to Jekyll Island was really good. James and I got to spend time together and we had a lot of fun. We found several Sand Dollars and spent most of our evenings eating dinner in an Irish Pub near the hotel and then walking on the beach.

We will definitely be going back to Georgia again sooner than later.

The Jackson Kilroy

The Jackson Kilroy is a 12′ kayak based on the same hull as the Jackson Cuda 12. The two yaks are similar in handling and tracking. However, the Kilroy offers the added bonus of additional stability due to the seating position being essentially at water level. Speaking of the seat, the Kilroy incorporates the Jackson Elite Seat and offers the paddler the option of sitting in either the high or low position. My personal preference is to be seated in the low position for maximum stability, although sitting in the high position definitely lends to a better view of the water.

I have paddled the Kilroy through Class 1 and 2 rapids without a hitch. I actually made a bit of a paddling mistake the last time I took the Kilroy out. I didn’t see a log that was hiding just under the surface of the water. I didn’t have time to make any adjustment to avoid hitting the log, so I skimmed straight over the top of it. I knew that I would most likely flip as soon as I hit the log, but much to my surprise, the Kilroy stayed completely stable. I felt the log underneath me, but I cleared it with zero issues. My confidence in the Kilroy went up tremendously after that experience.

The Kilroy offers plenty of storage space, with under the bow storage as well as a storage hatch in the stern. Despite all the standard storage, I use a Jackson JKrate Low behind the seat of my Kilroy. It fits great and allows me to carry a stash of supplies. The JKrate comes equipped with GearTrac, which makes the mounting of my GoPro super easy.

One of the coolest features of the Kilroy is the tech deck that is removable. I use the tech deck to mount my depth finder. The easily accessible pre-installed YakAttack GearTrac is also an added bonus to the Kilroy. The GearTrac makes for easy mounting of rod holders or any other accessories that the kayak angler needs. Additionally, there are also four rod storage tubes inside the hull of the Kilroy. This makes packing along four of my favorite rods easy when transporting the kayak from place to place.

If I could only have one kayak, I would definitely give the Kilroy a solid look. It is a fantastic all-around yak on both flat water and moving water.

My current Kilroy is a 2017 model in the color Rockfish.

From Humble Beginnings

I started fishing with my grandfather when I was 8 years old. My parents had built a house on a 22 acre lake when I was in elementary school, so each day when I got home from school, my grandfather would bring his plethora of fishing poles and tackle to my house where we would sit on the bank and fish until dark or until my mother would call me in for supper.

My grandfather always out-fished me, but he was always quick to cheer me on when I caught a fish of my own. I caught many Bluegill under his watchful eye.

Time passed and I went on to college to become a teacher. I moved away from the lake house and left my grandfather to fish alone on the bank. He didn’t live to see me graduate or to become a teacher, nor did he ever get to see me go on to earn my doctorate and become a school principal. My grandfather valued education, so much so that when I was in high school, he wanted to check my report card when I would bring it home. When I brought home A’s, he would slip me some cash. He knew what was important to a teenager who always needed money for gas or clothes.

Twenty years passed before I picked up a fishing rod. My husband, James, a recently retired high school principal, decided we should go fishing. I wasn’t quite sure I could even cast after so many years of being out of practice. James and I packed up our fishing gear and headed to beautiful Rock Island State Park for our first fishing trip together. We stood on the bank that sunny summer day and caught nothing. We talked and laughed and ate Vienna Sausages and saltine crackers. I was suddenly back home.

While James and I were fishing that day, we saw a man in a bright yellow kayak casting a fly. The man looked so comfortable on his kayak and so peaceful. I stood speechless a few moments in awe of each perfect cast he made. “Lets get kayaks,” I exclaimed to James! He didn’t instantly agree with me or seem to share my sudden enthusiasm, but after a few seconds of thoughtful deliberation, he answered me. “Why not,” he said and smiled. It was the verbal go-ahead I needed to begin researching the best kayak options for us.

With our living so close to Sparta, Tennessee, James and I knew we wanted to look into the Jackson Kayak brand. Although the plant was geographically close to our home, the brand was a global kayak leader. James and I combed through the Jackson website, looking at both recreational and fishing kayaks. The fishing yaks appealed to us as they offered the platform we wanted for river fishing.

Living near the Barren Fork River meant we would need kayaks that were stable enough to get us through some mild rapids, but would also offer good tracking ability. After several hours of reading and research spread across a few days, James and I singled out the Jackson Cruise 10 Angler kayak as our beginning platform.

Five years later, our equipment and experience levels have evolved tremendously. We each use a Jackson Coosa now and we keep a Jackson Cuda 12 and a Jackson Kilroy in our fleet for flat water paddling.

Kayak fishing is so much more than simply floating down a river trying to catch a fish. It’s the about the friendships I have built along the way through meeting others who share the same passion. It’s the excitement of paddling through a decent rapid and the rush of excitement from landing a fish in a kayak while sitting in no more than 2 feet of water. It’s the absolute adrenaline rush of catching that first Musky that you never expected to latch on to your crankbait when you were targeting Bass. Quite simply, it’s about making memories to last a lifetime.

This year, I plan to document my experiences on the water through pictures, video, and text. I hope you join me in my adventures. I also plan to do some basic product reviews. Kayak fishing is certainly my hobby, but it’s more. It’s what excites me and gives me something to look forward to each season.

Here’s to tight lines, old friends, and new adventures in 2018!