Idaho Sturgeon: The one that got away... (Part 1)

My buddy and Jackson Kayak teammate Steve Carroll caught on video an 8ft sturgeon jumping out of the water, right next to a kayak, while trying to wrangle the beast. The video ended up going viral earlier this year and was shared through-out the fishing community and in national spotlight through news organizations and other entities. This was a massive fish to say the least and was a near miss for the kayaker attempting to control this gentle giant. In the end the fish was landed and estimated at approx 300-350 lbs. 

 

As soon as I saw the video I messaged Steve which was followed up with a call from him. We spoke of the accomplishment and how cool it was. Steve then invited me out to come fish for these huge prehistoric fish and I couldn't say no. We quickly nailed down some dates a few months in advance and before we knew it, it was time. I hopped on my flight and was in Boise, Idaho in a short time. By air the flight was 3.5 hours from Chicago.

 

My flight lands on time and as soon as I walk out the airport terminals doors I am in Steve's car with Jameson Redding following close behind to the 1st spot. It's pretty warm out and the temp is starting to rise. Boise is a very arid location that has a lot of highland desert and not a lot of moisture. As we leave Boise the landscape really starts to open up with views of the mountains in the far distance. It's always fascinated me how close the mountains look to be when in fact they are not. The land is vast and there are tumbleweeds scattered about along the roads edge. There are little rodents running around that the locals call whistle pigs because they make whistle noises. They kind of look like prairie dogs to me but they are simply called ground squirrels. There was no shortage of those little buggers along the road side throughout our drive to our first destination.

 

We reached the Swan Falls dam on the Snake River and 3 of the gates are open and the water is flowing pretty good above what normally Steve would fish. This is a hydroelectric dam that provides electricity to the surrounding areas and is apparently operating to its design. Since we're here for a limited timed we launch knowing that the water might become sporty if we get into a fish and it decides to take us for a ride down the river commonly referred to as a "sleigh ride". We cast some baits out and let them soak for a bit. We get some bites but nothing that looks like a sturgeon bite and quite possibly could be a trout or catfish. After coming up empty we moved down stream to another hole that has produced in the past. Again we soak some baits for a while baking in the sun only to come up empty once more. We end up going back up river which was a chore to say the least. Given the higher water levels and flow, the under currents are so strong that when your pedaling to the left all of a sudden the kayak turns the other direction and you need to react quickly so to stay straight. There was a section that was almost impassible but if you pedaled really hard you could get through it. Right after I made it though I had to park in some slow water to catch my breath. I was like, "Is this it Lord? Right here I am going to die...lol". After a short break we pedaled up the 1st spot again to see if the bite had improved. The bite is proving to be very finicky but Steve has some other spots to hit in the next 2 days so we headed back to the launch planning the next couple days of attack.

 

The next day we head to a nice spot off some private land that Steve has access to. We set up and headed out to a couple holes that produce in this location. As soon as we put in we see sturgeons jumping which means they are active and feeding. We were all very excited and couldn't wait to catch one. We set up at the 1st hole and cast out our lines. Again we were met with a lot of nibbles but nothing that would indicate a sturgeon was on the other end. We moved to another spot a bit more upstream and set up once again. It seemed like we were repeating the events of earlier and needed to find a bite. We then went down stream to another hole just past the launch spot. We threw our best baits out and waited. During our free time in between bites we discussed some current events and possible videos of inspiration to further drive our devotion to land a trophy. Unfortunately, our day ends empty handed but the time spent with good friends was priceless. 

 

The final day we get going and arrive to a premium spot on some more private land that Steve has access to. The river was easy to access form a couple locations along the river, That was a more shallow section of the river and should produce some great photo opportunities once the sturgeon jump out of the water be it that given the shallow depth the fish are more likely to jump. A little while in we're seeing bite after bite but nothing is committing. All of a sudden Steve yells" FISH ON! FISH ON!!!". The rod tip is bouncing in his hands and is showing some strength that is a lot more noticeable than my usual opponent, the large mouth bass. He quickly hands the rod to me and all I can feel is weight like I've never felt before on the end of a freshwater rod. The line is ripping out and shows no sign of slowing down. Steve quickly runs over the other side of me and grabs the pole that was on my Jackson Kayak Coosa FD courtesy of Alpenglow Mountainsport. I scooted forward a little in the yak so the fish can take me out into the main current of the river. As I get into the main current the drag starts to increase in speed and I can't even keep up with the fish. I'm basically not reeling in any line at this point. I pull up on the rod and it feels like I hooked into the bottom. No give what so ever. It was amazing to feel the power of this fish. Steve had estimated that from the initial hook set it felt like a 7ft+ fish that could weight in excess of 200 lbs. I know...you really have to experience this to get a true gauge of the strength and power that this fish possesses. I soon find that the current is starting to turn my kayak bow down stream and the fish is still running upstream. You always want to be sitting straight over your seat with your rod tip straight out over the bow of your kayak. I work to fast track my repositioning while the fish is still taking drag at an increased speed and then all of a sudden.....silence. I quickly check the weight on the rod and look at the tip of the rod to see if there's still something going on. I start to reel in as fast as I can to see if maybe the fish changed direction and started to swim back in my direction. I get the line to the boat and all I can think is, "please don't jump this close to my kayak". I pull up the line and see that I have lost the one and only big fish that weekend. I am still pumped from the fight and I don't seem fazed. I think that there will be another one but as it turns out that was the biggest fish of the day and I lost it. I was not happy with myself and knew that I could have caught it if I hadn't done a couple things and reacted in a quicker fashion. I know this is my 1st time hooking into these beasts but I still felt like I should have been able to capitalize on this incredible hook up that ended in defeat. We did hook some fish though so it wasn't a complete wash. I landed a 16 inch trout and Steve brought in 2 smaller sturgeon, one about 2 ft long and another about 3 ft long. It was cool to see these fish close up in a smaller scale to get the best view of these little giants in detail. 

 

Unfortunately, I had to be back at the airport by 3 PM and we were running out of time. We loaded up the trailer and off we went. During the ride back to the airport I was reflecting on the past weekend and all I had learned. I am very grateful that Steve took the time to take me out to his spots and try to get me into a giant fish. As far as I'm concerned he did just that. I just couldn't deliver but I'm going back in November 2018, for a rematch, to get my giant.

 Special thanks to Steve Carroll and his wife for showing a flat-lander some western hospitality. Jameson Redding was an awesome addition to the adventure. I really enjoyed getting to know both of these guys more.

 

 

By Jay Randall

How the Outside Won

These days you’ll find that kids are more apt and happy to sit inside on a nice day and play computer and video games rather than experience the outdoors. It’s astounding how normal this has become these days (my kids included). Sure they still may go outside once in a while and go for a bike ride or something but from my own experience, they’re usually inside playing Fortnite or some other popular game online. It’s a bit disheartening to realize because I have skills that I want to pass on to them but they don’t seem genuinely interested the least bit. I can’t force them because that will not resonate well and they may have an adverse reaction to the teachings.

Well there’s hope just yet. While my girlfriend is away at school for her doctorate program I am watching her 15yr old son. The other day I was working from home and I asked him if he wanted to get out of the house. He said sure and I gave him two options. Go mountain biking or go kayak fishing? He quickly replied kayak fishing. I was like, really? He’s one of the computer kids and he surprised me with this sudden interest. He’s been around me for some time now and knows that I fish a lot but never asked me to go with. I’ve just learned that you have to wait for a kid to be genuinely interested and then the conversation can begin. We got the gear together and then we grabbed a kayak. This time out I wasn’t sure how he’d like the experience of fishing while kayaking because it can be quite daunting for some just due to the coordinated effort of managing the kayak while you cast and retrieve. It can really be a chore 1st time out and some, including adults, believe it to be too complicated and then refer to their old ways of getting on fish and end up going back to what they know and are more comfortable with. I put him in one of the cheaper kayaks we have that you can buy at a big box store. It’s actually a nice $150 sit in kayak and I’ve used it in the past but more importantly I knew it would be stable and easy to manage for a kid.

Before leaving the house I had asked him what kind of poles he liked to use and his answer was “the push button kind”. Well we all know that’s the typical newbie rod and reel combo of the closed face kind similar to a Zebco 202. We all started there and I was more than happy to dig out some of the kid poles for him to use. Since he was obviously a novice and he would be using bait on a bobber I tried to think what we had in the house that could be used as bait. We had nothing for the most part so I grabbed some ham for him. Looking back I probably should have grabbed the bread as well but I digress. We made it to the lake and I got him all set up. I was in my Jackson Kayak BigRig FD and he was in the cheaper kayak. I threw a few casts but was watching him most of the time. I saw that he was using too big of a bait (ham) and we downsized it quite a bit to fit on his small hook. I continued to watch him and saw the bluegill tearing at his hook as the bobber danced on the surface never completely submerging. I saw him miss a bunch of fish but I think the fish were small and the hook was too big. This continued for a while and I was already finding fish with the good ole wacky rig. I yelled over to him, “Do you want to try using my setup?” I kind of knew that his answer would be yes because he saw me land a couple bass already. He came over to my kayak and I gave him an impromptu spinning reel / wacky rig 101 lesson. He practiced out in the deeper water and them moved closer towards the shore and started casting. He had some struggles at first but quickly became acclimated and told me he was starting to get it. I was coaching him on where he should cast. I saw some sunken timber and knew there was grass ahead of it and I told him to cast right by the lumber. He made a pretty close cast and was dealing with some slack line as the Crabby Bass Whacker worm sank. I was talking to him watching his line and I said, “Hey, your line is going out. You have a fish. Reel in the slack and then lift up and load up the tip of the rod”. He listened and did exactly what I said. I watched him fumble through the awkwardness of learning how to reel on a foreign rod/reel set up with a fish on the end of the line. I then saw the rod bending quite a bit and he was excited but didn’t know how to land the fish. I pedaled over there and helped to guide him in his actions and so I wouldn’t end up with a hook in my hand. We landed the fish which turned out to be a 17in bass which looked to be full of eggs still. It’s the beginning of the spawn up here in the North so this is when the big girls are out. I gave him the fish to hold and explained how to hold it. We go a few pics of him and he was so happy. He was literally hooked from this point on. We fished some more and he ended up catching another decent sized bass and was happy with himself. He told me what his process was and what he did to work the area. It was impressive to hear a young mind wrap his head around the idea of the sport that I love so much. I felt great of course because I put him on the fish and he truly appreciated it. He’s even talking about the next trip that were going on to Michigan and already asked if he can fish there too. That is exactly the reaction that I was looking for and I will definitely be putting this kid on some more fish. It really is an amazing thing to see the pure enjoyment that came from this experience in his face.

 

Outdoors – 1 / Video Games - 0

 

By Jay Randall

Ice Fishing with Hot Dogs for Northern Pike

Upon arriving to Brian's house, the night before, I was eager to hit the ice and try out this technique that was catching big pike. I had read a few articles about this presentation and after seeing some of the pics that accompanied the articles and I was impressed. I mean sure I was questioning the technique just because most of us know that you can use a hot dog for a few species of fish but Northern Pike? Really? So Brian and I prepared for the next mornings adventure on the ice on his home lake located in Northern Illinois.


The next morning we were stoked. We got all the gear loaded up and head to the local grocery store for some hot dogs and snacks. I already knew I wanted to get some Vienna Beef hot dogs ($5.63/pack) because they tend to be a greasier type hot dog and I thought since the pike love Alewife and Smelt due to their oily scent and taste this was the right choice. I also wanted to get some cheaper hot dogs that were of the bargain bin variety as well to see if there was a contrast between the 2 different types come game time. I ended up getting some turkey hot dogs ($1.67/pack) and almost considered getting a cheese center brand but decided against that in the end and bought the Vienna Beef and cheap turkey hot dogs. We loaded up and headed to the launch.


We arrived at the launch in anticipation and unloaded rather quickly and parked the truck. Brian headed out 1st to drill a couple holes to check the ice for our walk to the potential spots on the lake. After reviewing the ice and seeing that the ice is at least 6 inches thick we headed in the direction of the spots that we were looking to hit first. There was some variance for the most part from 6 to 8 inches but the ice seemed alright. There was some slush on the top of the ice in spots that were a bit disconcerting at times when you encountered them since it would give you a feeling that your foot was going through the ice but that was just the top layer. In some spots you would actually feel your heart stop for a quick second until the hard surface of the top sheet of ice came in contact with your boot. Luckily we were both wearing waterproof boots and from the looks of the weather forecast it would get worse as the day went on reaching into the 40's(f). Of course warm weather makes for a comfortable experience when ice fishing but works against you since when ice melts it becomes water and can be unsafe at times. Moving on...Brian had drilled a bunch of holes around this point that had a depth of about 5-7 ft. We already knew that there was some grass beneath us and that was a good place to start for pike. Brian was fishing for crappie and bluegills to fry up later. I on the other hand was hell bent on getting a pike on a hot dog. I quickly set up a tip-up near one of the points at the farthest position in about 5 feet setting the hot dog about a foot off the bottom. I set my other tip-up about 50 yards to the left off the point where it gets a bit deeper in about 7 feet of water at about a foot off the bottom. Brian headed out a lot further to a spot that was about 20ft deep. I could hear him yelling out, "Fish!" at a steady rate after a while so I decided it would be a good idea to move the tip ups. I worked my way towards where Brian was since he obviously has located the schools and I'm sure there are pike following them. I set up in a spot not too far from the ice shanty and sat with the gear for a while and them moseyed on over to the ice shanty to hang out with Brian since it was bit warmer in the ice shanty. I kept my eye on the tip-ups form where I was through this 4in x 4in screen for air to circulate and of a sudden I saw my rod in the hook set position and I ran quickly to the tip-up. I carefully removed the rod from the tip and made sure that there was still weight on the line and there was. I tightened the drag and swiftly set the hook and the fight was on. At first it was easy to bring the pike up but once it saw the hole it took some drag and boy did it. The pike took a couple runs and I could feel that this was a good size fish. I got it up to the hole and finally saw it and was excited. It was a 26in pike that had some weight and looked like it was gorging on the smaller schools of bait fish. I was excited that the hot dog actually worked and we could have pike tacos for dinner. It kinda reminded me of being a kid again. These are the moments that I chase as I search for species in the depths. I'm always willing to try different techniques and when one of them works its a great experience. Hot dogs will indeed catch pike on the ice.

By Jay Randall

You Should Always Scare Yourself

In all my adventures and accomplishments throughout the years, there was always something that involved public speaking or some kind of a public presentation. Whether it was in school when I gave speeches, addressing youth/apprentice snowboard instructors as a lead snowboard instructor, presenting to clients in my professional life or being on stage singing and playing music in the Chicago scene. I always seemed to feel comfortable once I was in the situation but nervous and reluctant before. Like many people and even professionals who are on the public forums day in and day out, it can be nerve wrecking for them as well. That butterflies in the stomach feeling is very common to them as much as it for me even to this very day. In a way though it reminds me this is a good thing because it alerts all your senses to the situation that is before you. Some might call this being scared but it's a positive reaction in my opinion and drives me to accomplish more so to feel this time and time again. One of these days I'd actually like to do an open mic at a club and do some comedy and let me tell you, I am scared out of my whits to even try but I know I must at some point to get over that hurdle and experience it. You see I believe you should always scare yourself whenever possible and I truly live by this creed that I believe to be my own. What that really means is that you should always challenge yourself whenever possible which brings me to the story at hand. 


Brian had reached out to me via phone call and wanted to chat as we usually do every 1 or 2 days. We started talking about the fact that Scott Olson (former co-host of the podcast) wanted to step back for a while due to personal and professional reasons. Brian then asked me if I wanted to join as the new co-host on the podcast. So many thoughts ran through my mind and I was surprised mainly because I didn't see that coming but before I continue let me give you some background on how all this came about. 


Scott is a great guy and my introduction to Brian is because of Scott. Scott had come to a local kayak demo run by Rocktown Adventures out of Aurora, IL (They have a store in Rockford, IL as well) looking for a new fishing kayak. I was more than willing to oblige. What's great about this is that Scott was able to choose a bunch of yaks to try out on the water since the shop is location across the street from the Fox River. During the on the water part of the demo Scott and I hit it off right off the bat and at the end of the demo I exchanged info with Scott in case he had anymore questions or wanted to hit the water together. Low and behold Scott emailed me and wanted me to join as their 1st guest on the podcast that Brian and Scott had started called "Paddle N' Fin Podcast". I was like sure I'd love to. I remember right before going on I was nervous because this was new territory for me and if anyone knows anything about the internet, "The internet is forever" meaning once it's out there, it's out there forever. As I thought more about it I became very aware that I will be speaking on a global scale of sorts and I didn't want to sound like a moron. I also realized that I would need to filter my normal self and speak in an appropriate manner lol. So much was weighing on my mind. It meant a lot to me to be afforded such an opportunity and I wanted to come across as my genuine self without stifling my normal course of conversation I have with my friends and family. I mean who wouldn't be right? So the day came when I was to be on the podcast and I remember before we stared Brian and Scott had a pre-talk with me and calmed me a bit. I had explained that I was a bit nervous and didn't want to sound like a dork. They quickly dispelled that and before I knew it we were recording the very 1st podcast I had ever been on. The experience was really nice and I was on a few more times after that.


Getting back to the question, Brian had just asked me if I wanted to join the podcast as his co-host. I remember pausing for a moment and so many thoughts ran through my mind much the same that had ran through my mind before coming on as a guest for the first time. My instincts were pushing me to run but I knew that if this is scaring me I should probably do it and that is exactly what I said to Brian in my response. "Yes I'll do it.", I said. I knew this was going to be the start of a new chapter for me and I couldn't let this get away. This was another avenue to expand into the kayak fishing industry and meet some more great people in and out of the sport. There are many over lapping aspects of the outdoor experience that contribute to the ever growing sport of kayak fishing. My love resides in the experience and adventure that comes with the new friendships that are forged in my drive for the sport. I am grateful for all the people that have helped me to get to this point and continue to support me as I move forward. My goal is to one day be able to make a living in this industry and share it but most importantly, have fun and enjoy each and every experience because if you love your job...it's not really a job at that point.