My kayak bobbed around on a wake that pushed me a little closer to the rip rap than I wanted =, diverting my attention from the rod tip I’d been staring down.
Wake is one of the hazards of paddling a small craft on Lake Sharpe between Pierre and Fort Pierre. It can be pretty bad on weekends. Late evening on a Sunday in July, though, isn’t too terrible and when there’s no wind, a wake is pretty easy to manage. Still, pleasure boaters can be annoying when you’re fighting a strong current with nothing but a paddle and trying to catch a couple fish.
I’d been working my way slowly up the channel on the Fort Pierre side of the river letting bottom bouncer trailing a night crawler do it’s thing. The plan was to paddle up to Marion’s Garden and drift back downstream with the current. I’d gotten to within a few yards of the first highway bridge pylon when the wake hit and knocked me out of the current seam I’d been trying to keep my bottom bouncer in.
Digging the left-hand blade of my paddle deep and pulling hard against the current pointed my bow back toward the seam I wanted to be in. I was a few short paddle strokes from being back in position when my rod tip started dancing.
My right hand reached back and in a single, fluid motion pulled the fishing rod out of the rod holder and set the hook. My left hand placed my paddle safely in its cradle so I could fight the fish. There wasn’t much of a fight. Walleyes are fairly tame compared to my preferred quarry, the smallmouth bass. It would make a decent meal though.
With the first fish of the night safely clipped onto my stringer, I continued on my way upstream. It took the better part of an hour to get to the rail bridge, having taken things slow both for the bottom bouncer and my arms. Things really started to get interesting on the drift downstream.
The bottom bouncer stayed down. But I had a second rod too. On this one, I tied a heavy jighead and tipped it with a soft plastic minnow billed as a bait that’ll catch you 45 percent more fish. The plan was to cast the jig and minnow against the rip rap and bounce it along the bottom as I floated by on the current.
My first cast got stuck on a rock. My second resulted in a pile of weeds being drug up from the bottom. My third cast found its mark. I’d hooked into another nice, eater walleye. This one was hanging out about five feet off the rip rap. I hauled the fish in, clipped it to my stringer and quickly got back to casting.
I floated under the highway bridge and past Drifters, focusing on the task at hand. One of my casts landed in front of a drainage culvert and was picked up immediately. The hook pulled loose before I could land whatever it was. I made quick second cast back toward the culvert.
My jighead bounced once on the bottom and was nearly swallowed before I could bounce it again. My light rod bent double as I hauled a solid 19-inch walleye up to the kayak. Soon it too was clipped to my stringer.
The sun had dipped below the horizon by then. It was late and while I have a headlamp and a flashlight clipped to my lifevest, I don’t relish the thought of being run over by an inattentive boater. Still, I figured I had just enough time to paddle back up the culvert and give it another cast or two.
My first cast plopped into the water three feet off the culvert’s mouth. I bounced it once and felt the sudden stop followed by hearty headshake that can only mean another fish just took the bait. This fish though, knew what it was about. It took off on a run. My drag started to squeal. And I cracked a smile. This was no walleye.
I made up some ground on the fish only to lose it a second later during another run. I played the fish carefully trying to prevent my light line from snapping under the pressure. Slowly but surely i coaxed the fish closer to my kayak. It began to tire and after a dangerous near-boat run was able to pinch it’s lip and bring an angry 15-inch smallmouth bass aboard. I clipped it to my stringer too, dreaming of bass seared in butter with some thyme.