Kayak Fishing In Quiet Waters

Not every bass seeks summer and winter refuges on deep, main-lake points. Some stay in shallow tributaries all year.

Shaye Baker | November 3, 2019

Kayak fishing is the new craze. If you’re on the lake, it’s hard to find a stretch of docks without at least a half-dozen small plastic boats stored away. Walk into a department store that sells anything remotely outdoorsy, and you’ll soon find yourself standing in the shadow of a kayak or two. 

Kayaks are now everywhere. But perhaps the place they’re most at home is on small hidden tributaries. 

“One of my favorite things about kayak fishing is being able to go places where the big boats can’t go,” said Scott Beutjer, Georgia native and avid kayaker. 

Scott and a small circle of his buddies like to seek out the smallest, most hidden and hard-to-get-to streams and creeks that they can find.

“A lot of the bigger kayak trails go to big water,” said Scott. “Like the 2020 KBF National Championship is going to Guntersville, the same place they’re holding the Bassmaster Classic this year. And that makes sense because there will be 800 to 1,000 kayaks in that tournament.

“But that’s why I love fishing these small tributaries and these little riverbeds. We’re going where most guys won’t go. And all we’re doing is crawling under an overpass that you may have been driving over for 20 years and just didn’t realize there could even be fish in there. A lot of times, that’s where you’ll find a pig.”

Whether you’re fishing big wide rivers like the Chattahoochee, the Flint or the Etowah, or you’re fishing little tributaries that feed into West Point or Lanier, many people don’t realize that the creeks and streams that feed into these major bodies of water hold fish all the time. 

“When it’s hot, the fish like to go up in them where it’s cooler,” said Scott. “When it’s cold, they’ll chase bait up into them. So a lot of times you can go find fish in a kayak that a hundred thousand dollar Ranger can’t go find.”

Packing light is key, since getting in and out of many of these fisheries can be a little tricky. 

“We regularly repel our boats down from some of these bridges with a strap or have to slide them down an embankment, so I’ll pack as little as one or two rods and one little Plano box full of tackle and then spend a full day in these little rivers,” said Scott.

“The kayaks are the best way to get you from one spot to the other, but a lot of times these fisheries are shallow enough you can walk through them. There are some spots that are deeper than others, and that’s where we’ll use the kayaks, but then we’ll get out and fish.”

This sort of fishing does require some extra effort in order to be successful. 

Kayak angler Scott Beutjer says, “The kayaks are the best way to get you from one spot to the other, but a lot of times these fisheries are shallow enough you can walk through them. There are some spots that are deeper than others, and that’s where we’ll use the kayaks, but then we’ll get out and fish.”

“It does take a little more work,” said Scott. “But that’s one of the things that the kayak world prides itself on. For me, it’s a little bit more of a prize when I put in the extra work for it. For the avid hunters reading this, getting in these spots and doing these things in a kayak is a lot like taking my bow and hiking out to climb a tree.

“Yeah I could pull my .338 Lapua out of the truck and pretty much drop whatever I want to. That’s more like the bass boat. But my kayak is like my bow. To me there’s just a lot more pride that comes with that trophy when I put that extra work into it. Not that you’re not putting in the work with a Lapua or a Ranger. I don’t know, there’s just something special about these little plastic boats.”

Kayaking these small, remote waters often leads to camping when point A and point B are more than a day’s journey apart. But with anything you do from a kayak, a minimalist attitude is key. 

“We’ll sleep on the islands on some of these bigger rivers,” said Scott. “You learn to pack light. Packing and having the right setup for that is important. Camping from a kayak is similar to hiking a mountain with nothing but a backpack to camp. You have to pack that way.

“Most of us sleep in hammocks and carry super lightweight, quick-dry blankets, if we carry blankets at all. A lot of times I’ll sleep in my rain gear. That way I don’t have to put up a tarp. Anybody who has ever camped knows if you don’t have something on or over you, you’ll wake up cold and wet from the dew. But my rain gear keeps me warm, and I always carry it in the front of my kayak anyway. So a lot of times I’ll throw on a hoodie and my rain gear and sleep without a tarp above me.”

When spending time in these remote stretches of water, especially overnight, Scott carries an 18-inch flip-out bow saw with him.

“When we go to a place we’ve never been through or haven’t been to in a long time, we’re going to run into some trees across the water,” said Scott. “So we always try to allot time for that when we’re planning a trip.

“A lot of times we’ll end up portaging around a tree or sliding the kayaks over a trunk,” said Scott. “But again for me, that’s part of it, getting to those places where you can almost guarantee nobody else has been.”

Scott usually carries two rods ready to fish when kayak fishing.

“That’s just my personal preference,” said Scott. “I fish fast, so I like to have a follow-up bait in case I miss one on a hookset. I’ll also carry a backup rod down in the hull of my boat a lot of times, just in a rod sleeve with no reel on it. A lot of these boats now are built where you have that storage advantage.

“Having the right kayak setup is key for this type of fishing, too. My sit-inside Bonafide EX123, which has kind of become my throw-and-go boat, weighs like 60 pounds, and I can literally throw it over my shoulder with two rods in my other hand and pick up and move with no help.

“Tim Perkins, who is a three-time River Bassin’ National Champion, he does a lot of fishing like this out of a Wilderness Kayaks Commander Series, and he literally does the same thing. And you’d be amazed how few fish he actually catches from the kayak. That boat is just a vessel that gets him to the next spot.”

Because of the unique structure of some kayak fishing tournaments, you can actually compete along these waterways if you so choose. 

“KBF (Kayak Bass Fishing) does a phenomenal job with their monthly Challenge Series,” said Scott. “It’s a completely online tournament where you use the TourneyX app to catch, photo and release fish throughout the month on any public water. You can fish on your time. So for the guys who do shift work or can’t fish tournaments on Saturdays, you can still have a little bit of that competition with these tournaments.”

The old adage safety in numbers certainly holds true in the kayak world, especially when it comes to these more remote locations. 

“I’m a big fan of the buddy system. I always like to go with someone,” said Scott. “You can also share your location on some phones with your fishing buddy or your spouse. It’s also a good idea to put together an actual itinerary of where you’re putting in and where you’re taking out and when you think you’ll be there, and then leave that with someone.

“A lot of these places won’t have cell signal. So I also carry Motorola radios, just the little 7-mile radius radios. I can carry up to six kayaks on my trailer so I keep six radios charged up and ready to go. Whether I’m fishing on Guntersville or one of these little creeks, we all take a radio. That way you can have a little conversation, and it’s a good safety measure.”

But numbers won’t protect against the cold. If you’re planning to fish from a kayak during the winter months, there are certain additional measures you should take. 

“I’m a big fan of NRS gear and their bibs and drysuits,” said Scott. “When you get really far up north, some guys definitely fish in drysuits. But you don’t have to go out and buy a $700 pair of bibs like I have, just be smart. Make sure you dress in layers, and taking a dry bag with a change of gear is a good idea.

“The rule of 120 is really important, too. It states that if the water temp and air temp don’t add up to at least 120 degrees, then you need to be prepared with safety gear to prevent hypothermia if you were to fall in. For example, if it’s 60 degrees out and the water temperature is 40, you can get hypothermia rather quickly.”

In the colder months, Scott always keep Vaseline, cotton balls and matches or a flint in a plastic peanut butter jar in his kayak. That petroleum is super flammable and will start a fire anywhere, no matter how wet conditions the conditions.

“A lot of the places we fish are these little no-name creeks,” said Scott. “Google Maps is a phenomenal reference. You can go in and find the bridges you drive over all the time and then scroll down it about a mile and you’ll be amazed at what you can see through that tree line. Alot of people don’t realize that you can actually go back to older maps in Google Maps and find an image from the winter months when there’s no foliage so you can really see the creek better.”

Although, you don’t have to look far to find one of these little waterways to fish once you really start looking. But you do have to be mindful of what is and isn’t legal. There’s a lot of supposed grey area, and the rule of thumb is that ‘navigable water’ is legal to fish. But the rule of thumb isn’t the law, and typically won’t hold up in court. 

“A lot of people hang their hat on the term of navigability,” said DNR Lt. Col. Johnny Johnson. “In our definition, the only place that that applies is in commercial shipping, which would be barges down on the Flint River. On all these other streams, back when the plats were drawn, the majority of them went to the center of the stream. So the landowners own to the middle of most of the streams, especially when you get mid-state on up.

“If one landowner on one side posts it, we don’t enforce it out to the center as long as someone doesn’t get out on the shoreline. But if the adjoining landowner on the opposite side posts it, then of course, we do enforce. Or if one landowner owns both sides, then they have control of the whole thing. You have to either have permission or it has to be a situation where the landowners just don’t care.” 

But where does a lake end and a tributary begin? 

“Usually we go by whoever the impoundment owner is. Whether it’s the Corps or Georgia Power or TVA, whoever the entity is that owns that land we usually go by their property lines,” said Johnson. “The plat usually shows where their property ends and it turns into private ownership. Bigger impoundments now at full pool will have an elevation line, and that’s where you consider the cutoff.”

There are still several options though. 

“The Chattahoochee River below the (Lanier) dam is fishable all the way to the city of Atlanta,” said Johnson. “And there are streams open to the public on U.S. Forest Service lands, but there are also special regulations on some water bodies, but not all of them. It’s a good thing that the government bought a lot of property way back or there wouldn’t be near the opportunities that there are now.”

If you’re an adventurous person or like a good challenge, small tributary fishing from a kayak is most likely for you. But you have to be smart about it and legal. Make sure you have permission from the landowner, or that you’re on public land. 

Also, you should plan ahead so that’ll you’ll be prepared in an emergency situation. Make sure someone knows your plan and roughly where you’ll be at any given time. Then go have fun. Embrace the grind. And relish in the reward when the hard work pays off. 

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