Kolbert kayak

Outdoors writer Chris Kolbert used a kayak as he fished for walleyes and smallmouth bass on a recent trip to the Grand Rapids area.

The kayak rocked violently as I drifted across a submerged plateau on a northern Minnesota lake. The south wind created waves that were stout enough for me to tighten my life jacket and use extra care to keep my small craft from taking on water.

Yet, it still served its purpose, which was to push me over some of the best walleye and smallmouth bass structure on the lake.

After completing a pass, I paddled back to the head of the plateau and dropped a Lindy rig tipped with a leech into 15 feet of water. As it reached the bottom, I felt a solid hit on the other end of the line.

I set the hook and the graphite fishing rod bent over as the tip thrust down into the water. Whatever it was, it certainly had some shoulders on it.

I pulled up on the rod and flipped open the back-reel lever in case the fish had more strong runs left in its body. Moments later, I got a glimpse as a rotund smallmouth bass leaped high into the air and crashed back into the water.

Then it dug deep for the bottom again as I maintained pressure to wear it down. After several more jumps, the bronzeback finally slowed and I guided it into a net.

A pontoon full of people motored by me as I photographed the big bass and slipped it back into the water. As they passed, I overheard someone say, “That’s a big smallmouth!”

Teaming up with friends

My son Jason and I had joined my buddy Mike and his son Luke for a short fishing trip near Grand Rapids. After arriving at our rented cabin late at night, we had just enough time to settle in and get some sleep before hitting the water the next morning.

We started out by scouting the lake in an 18-foot boat, trolling and drifting across likely sections of the lake that appeared “fishy” on the lake map. It didn’t take long for the boys to start catching largemouth and smallmouth bass, while Mike and I were left twiddling our thumbs.

Both boys hooked and released some dandy bass that would make even the most dedicated fishermen take note.

Well — at least their fathers certainly did.

After we had learned some of the better-looking spots to fish, we switched it up, alternating between the kayaks and the boat.

On our first kayak run, Mike hooked into a 22-inch walleye that towed him for several yards before he was able to land it. The boys continued their streak with the bass while I was mildly successful with a few small bass and sunfish.

I was happy to see the boys catching fish.

A trip to the north woods is almost always a lot of fun, but it’s even better when you’re catching a few fish.

Eventually, even my luck began to change.

The next morning, I drifted in the kayak over a weed bed and hooked into a couple of northern pike that inhaled the leeches I was dragging. Occasionally, I’d pick up a largemouth bass or a panfish.

That evening, the wind began to pick up.

Calmer waters

As the wind continued to accelerate, I decided it was time to move into calmer water. I paddled back into a sheltered bay and noticed a narrow submerged shelf on the fish finder that ranged from 15 to 19 feet deep.

I slowly paddled along the shelf, dragging a leech just off the bottom. As I paused on a turn, the line tightened and I set the hook into a decent walleye.

There’s something about a big walleye that reminds me of Minnesota fishing, whether it is the iridescent eyes, the deeply colored flanks, or the jagged toothy mouth. To this day, it is a sight that continues to inspire me.

As if on cue, the boys paddled up soon afterward. They had been casting for bass in a secluded bay, and when that didn’t yield any fish, they decided to join me. The three of us trolled, drifted, and jigged along the shelf. As I finished a drift, Jason signaled for me to paddle over to him. When I arrived, he pulled a beautiful green and gold walleye — his first from a kayak — out of the water.

“I was wondering if I should keep this,” he asked with a wry grin on his face.

Thus far, most of the fish we caught had gone back into the lake. Still, I let him decide which fish to keep and release.

“It’s your call,” I responded, “but yes, you can keep the fish.”

After all, you don’t catch a walleye from a kayak every day.

Chris Kolbert is a freelance outdoors writer from St. Charles.

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