ON RICE LAKE — Noah Jahr noticed a twitch of his rod tip, stopped pedaling for a moment, calmly lifted the rod out of the holder and gave it a snap.
“Just another pike,’’ he said as he reeled in yet another small northern on this fish-filled lake just outside Duluth.
But hey, pike are fun "and this stretch right here, if I ever need to take my nephews out or other kids out to catch a bunch of fish, it’s just loaded with pike.”
Wait, he stopped pedaling?
Yep. Jahr, 22, an avid angler ever since his dad could get him to sit still in a boat as a kid, has become a fanatic for fishing out of a kayak. But not just any kayak. He has an Old Town Predator pedal kayak, propelled by a propeller that’s powered by his pedaling. It’s 13 feet long, weights about 180 pounds plus gear, and is about three feet wide.
Jahr, a lifelong Duluthian, has a traditional Minnesota 16-foot aluminium fishing boat with an outboard motor. But now his favorite way to fish is out of his kayak. It started on a trip to Florida a few years ago when he was saltwater fishing.
“The first fish I ever caught out of a kayak was a 160-pound nurse shark,’’ Jahr said as he cast a Rapala X-Rap plug out behind his kayak. “That took two-and-a-half hours to land… And I learned the hard way that don’t bring a shark into a kayak. They don't have bones. They sort of flex all over the place.”
Jahr said he couldn’t make it in to work the next day. His arms were too tired from fighting the shark. But he was hooked on kayak angling.
“You can go into so many places you can’t go with a boat,’’ he noted, including the many shallow, rocky and weedy areas of Rice Lake. “That’s the real advantage of kayaks for fishing. It gives you a lot of freedom to roam.”
But there’s plenty of other advantages, too. Like the feeling of being truly on the water. Exercise. Quiet. And it’s just fun.
“The only bad experience I had was being out on Lake Superior when the wind just came up out of nowhere. I was out there in six-foot waves. And I shouldn’t have been. Now I know, never go out on Lake Superior alone,’’ he said. Jahr knew he likely couldn’t make it back to Brighton Beach, where he had launched, without capsizing. But he managed to beach his boat safely by running it up into Chester Creek, an emergency landing that may have prevented a catastrophe.
Of course you can fish out of any kayak. But it’s hard to fish with purpose and paddle at the same time. That’s where the hands-free aspects of pedal power come in handy. If pedaling isn’t for you, there are similar, propeller-driven kayak models powered by an electric trolling motor — no work required at all.
“Those are nice,’’ Jahr said while watching a bobber that was floating over a night crawler. “But electric motors die on occasion… With this, the worst thing that can go wrong is your legs get tired.”
In both cases you steer using a rudder controlled by levers at each side.
His fishing pace is moderate, fast enough to keep a plug wobbling but never getting out of his pedaling cadence. Still, Jahr can cover a remarkable amount of water in an evening.
“If you really get booking you can do 6 mph,’’ Jahr noted. “The farthest I’ve ever done in a day was from McQuade Harbor to the Lift Bridge and back (about 22 miles round-trip). It was fine until I tried to stand up and walk on land.”
Jahr has had some marquee days fishing out of his kayak the last few years, including a day with huge smallmouth bass and a 47-inch musky out of one secret hole in the St. Louis River. It was the same day his buddy reacted badly to horsefly bites — his face and body started to swell — and when Jahr cut a gash into his leg.
“I knew it needed stitches. But we were almost to our secret spot… So I cut off a piece of my pants and wrapped it up and we went fishing,’’ he said. “We survived and it was the best fishing day ever. Sometimes the stuff that goes bad kind of makes your day.”
From his kayak he’s caught limits of coho on Lake Superior, crappies on Rice Lake and walleye on Boulder Lake, his favorite in the Duluth area.
“That’s where I grew up fishing. That’s where my dad took me as a kid all the time,’’ Jahr noted.
I first met Jahr on the Thursday before opening day of walleye season, at Chalstroms Bait, where his tricked-out kayak was sticking out of the box of his pickup truck, laden with a sleeping bag and other camping gear. He had a buddy stake out an island camping spot on Rice Lake and, despite some chilly temperatures, had incredible fishing for walleyes and crappies.
On a warm, sun-drenched and even bug-free evening last week, Jahr was fishing as relaxed as one could be.
“The great thing is that you are always at your own pace in the kayak,’’ said Jahr, whose day job is installing insulation in homes. He gets into a rhythm and can “just forget about everything else.”
On this night he left his Bluetooth speaker and music silent and instead listened as red-winged blackbirds, Canada geese and ducks provided the evening’s soundtrack. Maybe a dozen boats were spread out on the shallow, rock-strewn lake that has been a hotspot of late for panfish, crappies, walleye and jumbo perch despite a reputation as being weed-choked by the Fourth of July.
“By next month there won’t be a boat out here, after the weeds come up,’’ Jahr said. “But this lake is loaded with fish.”
We had made a loose plan to head in by sunset. But after he caught a plump, 17-inch walleye and a nice, fat bluegill, Jahr decided he’d stay out just a bit longer. He was hoping for a few more panfish to make a meal of fish tacos.
As the newspaper crew aimed their canoe back to the boat landing, Jahr was pedaling back toward where he had landed the bluegill.
“Maybe just a few more minutes,’’ he said. “It’s just so nice out here right now.”
A quick check of the internet found pedal-powered fishing kayaks for as little as $1,999 for an 11-foot model to $2,599 for a 13-footer similar to Jahr’s. His kayak is about three feet wide and very stable.
“I can stand up in it,’’ he said, and he did.
Duluth’s Marine General, where Jahr once worked selling kayaks, has a 12-foot Old Town pedal kayak for sale for $2,199. A 13-foot Old Town 12-volt motor-powered kayak sells for $3,999.
Of course you can fish out of any kayak, it’s just harder to fish and paddle at the same time. Stable, fishing-focused paddle kayaks go from $500 to $1,900.
There’s also a pedal-style kayak brand called Hobie, which, instead of a propeller, moves forward with alternating foot-powered paddles. They range from $2,995 to more than $4,000 at various online outlets.
Don’t forget a life jacket, rod holders, a paddle, an anchor and rope, depth finder/fish locator, Bluetooth speaker for tunes off your phone, a landing net, marker buoy, tackle boxes, stringer, pliers/hook extractor, fishing license and license on the boat.