So often, we head out on the water looking to catch a personal best or coveted fish species. Many times, our myopic focus on a trophy fish blinds us to great angling opportunities for less popular adversary. When Jason Catania and Pete Gelesko couldn’t find steelhead trout on Lake Michigan, they turned their attention to an uglier but friendlier fish—freshwater drum.
I am an opportunistic angler. When I see a chance to get a fish on my line, I take it. On a hot day last summer, Pete and I headed out looking for steelhead. Unfortunately, high water temperature turned off the target species.
After hours without a bite, we decided to shift our attention to a species always looking for a fight. Freshwater drum are ugly, slimy and they make a rude sound, but they are easy to find and always hungry. We had never targeted drum before, so we didn’t know where to start.
We left the swift St. Joseph River and headed to the deep, calm water at the confluence with Lake Michigan. Trolling body baits in search of a bite, it didn’t take long to hook up.
To our surprise, the big drum were aggressive and strong, putting up a fight to satisfy any angler. Weighing between five and 15 pounds, freshwater drum are thick and broad with a broom-like tail giving them muscle and mass for a line-screaming and kayak-dragging battle.
After my first experience, I was hooked. Now, I would put freshwater drum near the top of my list of favorite ways to spend a day on the water.
Old Guy Hacks
Paddling, pedaling and casting take a toll on body and mind. Last issue, we asked long-time pros, Kevin Whitley, Chad Hoover and Dennis Spike to share tips for padding into our golden years.
On our social media feed, readers added their own advice for a lifetime on the water. First to chime in, famous Nebraska kayak guide Marty Hughes suggested yoga and living in the moment.
He posts on Facebook, “After 21 years paddling, I’m 60 years old and never enjoyed kayak fishing more.” Elder statesman, Joseph Lopata has a one-word solution for old age: “Pilates.” Sixty-eight-year-old Chet Ragsdale keeps up with the kids.
“Surrounding myself with young people improved my attitude and fortitude,” he says. “Never stop moving,” adds John Skarie, recommending old guys and gals, “paddle, pedal, ski, walk, whatever.”
“Grandpa is dead,” quips Michael Sherer at Fishing’s Future, a nonprofit dedicated to introducing people to the sport. The old scenario of grandpa teaching the kids how to fish has given way to nontraditional family structures.
To learn more about how readers first connected to fishing, we reached out on social media to ask for their backstories. On Facebook, Bill Johnson told us he found an abandoned kayak and bought a cheap paddle. “I caught more the first day than I had all year from the bank,” he jokes.
Like many anglers, Jim Brinks found fishing as an escape from a painful injury. “Kayak fishing makes it possible for me to fish again,” he reports. Recovering from another type of pain, veteran Justin Queary has trouble dealing with large groups of people. He shares, “I have the freedom to fish where I want. Kayak fishing has changed my life.” Some anglers came back to fishing through the kayak.
Cricket Cobin grew up on the water, then returned to the simple pleasure of paddle fishing. After raising his kids and selling his motorboat he says, “I’m realizing my love for fishing, again.” Shawn Roche went from a homemade kayak to a 50-foot commercial gill net boat, now he again fishes from a kayak. “I’ve come full circle!” he writes.
Dave York blames his better half. “My wife told me to get a real fishing kayak,” he says. Sarah Burton and her son started kayak fishing together. “Soon my husband and younger son caught the kayak fishing bug and we now have seven kayaks.”
Ugly but friendly. Feature Photo: Pete Gelesko