Monday, May 21, 2012

Persistent Perch: Fishing with some pretty strange bait!

I was kayaking and swimming in a local lake in the National Capital Region of Canada on a hot May day that peaked in the 80s (30 Celsius) and made a new underwater friend unexpectedly.

He has pointy teeth, fins, and was about a foot and a half long.

I decided to paddle wearing the same gear as almost everyone else on the lake: a swimsuit! It was so hot. But unlike many others I added a PFD and paddle shoes.

I thought I would be able to swim for a few minutes in the cold water and do a Cowboy Scramble up my Boreal Baffin.

Even under dressed for the water temperatures, I was pretty sure I could do at least one Cowboy Scramble. I wanted to see what would happen to someone who fell in.

But I had trouble convincing myself to get into the deeper, colder lake water from the warmer shallow waters along the shoreline. Even in May it was still freezing cold. I stood there for awhile with the water only up to my knees.

"Wow. Without a wet suit, it's a big shock!" No way was I going to practice jumping into the water from my boat or dump myself over wearing only a swim suit.

Then I looked down at my feet.
A large fish had wandered over. The benefits of standing still for awhile and not going into cold water improperly dressed, I thought.
The fish kept coming closer to my paddle booties until he was only two inches away.

He would swim away a little, then charge forward. His mouth was open. I saw his teeth.
"What's he doing? Does he think I'm food? Is he defending his hunting grounds, or is he just a big, curious fish?"

Then I remembered a paddle buddy who reported a hungry fish striking her bare toes while on a swim one year in this lake and taking away a little skin. She recommended swimming with paddle booties. It was hard to believe. But I suddenly became a believer.

And I was about to go for a swim wearing very little gear in one of her favourite swimming spots. "Hey, are you that fish!?"

My paddle partner came over to take a look: "That is a big fish. He's not shy either. The fish are really hungry in spring. Too bad I didn't bring my fishing gear."

Me: "I don't think we need it. Look, he likes my feet!"

I was ready to throw myself into the cold water wearing only my swimsuit and a kayak PFD to see how well I'd fare. But now, I was a little scared of the fish! I know it sounds stupid, but you didn't see his teeth.

We threw rocks into the water nearby to scare the fish away.

Before the water cleared, he came back.
I jumped forward anyway into deeper water. "Uh, uh, uh, OH MAMMA!" 

Immediately, I could feel a light squeezing pressure in my chest. That's the heart and lungs complaining and warning you that the sudden shock of cold water is not a good thing. The mouth comes gaping open. It's a gasp reflex and that's how you can suck in cold water when you should be keeping your mouth closed. But my head didn't go underwater and I was only inches from solid footing.

Then, I got out of the cold water, put on my wet suit and PFD for safety, and went for a nice 10-15 minute swim with the fish.
He didn't bite. And neither did the cold water when I was properly dressed for the water temperatures. It was nice!

At the end of the day, I paddled back to the boat launch wearing my long sleeve wet suit top. I paddled past scores of people in kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards wearing only t-shirts and shorts, 50% of them had no PFD.

Wow, I thought, if only you knew what you risk. Too bad that the only time you find out may be your last. But seeing little kids in boats dressed like that with their parents is difficult for me to watch.

I feel there isn't enough media to inform people about the dangers of hypothermia and what the general water temperatures are in spring, summer and fall. I think there should be warning signs at boat launches and public beaches. 

When I paddled the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior from Bayfield, Wisconsin in the U.S., there were warning signs at most boat launches, warning people about the dangers of cold water and to "Respect the lake. The Lake is the BOSS!" The water is always cold there and the wind is serious. It certainly made me think twice and take extra precautions when paddling there.

People don't seem to be as cautious when paddling close to home on local rivers and smaller lakes. 

Too many stores today are selling small recreational paddle craft and gear, like hardware stores and general stores. A lot of them just sell stuff. They don't sell the most important item: knowledge of the sport and its dangers. Anyone can buy a boat and hop onto all kinds of waterways without any knowledge or skill. Paddling is becoming a more and more popular sport and this is becoming a more and more important topic.

Stay warm. Play safe.

Test your gear in a safe way or bother to purchase some! A swim suit is not cold water paddling gear. Spring waters in Canada are cold. Some water is too cold to swim in or fall into without a wet suit or dry suit year round.

A long-sleeved wet suit, paddle jacket, or a dry suit is also great protection from sunburn and from those biting bugs on the shore. Don't assume your big brown Labrador dog can swim to shore in cold water if he jumps out of your boat far from shore, especially not without a doggie life jacket.
Good paddlers are snappy dressers!
Happy paddle trails!
The BaffinPaddler

A follow up to this story:

A Meet up with Persistent Perch's babies in June


  1. That fish was a Largemouth Bass and it was probably a 'she', guarding her little baby fish eggs.

    Always dress for submersion!

  2. Thanks for identifying the fish and providing a logical explanation for her behaviour. I hadn't thought of that one. My paddle partner is the fisherman and thought it was a perch, but I had my doubts. We named "her" Persistent Perch. I guess I should rename this post to: Bossy Bass.

  3. Nice! I need to order a new rear hatch cover for my Vital and have had no luck finding any in Canada. I have sent an email to kajaksport and am still waiting on a reply. Any ideas?

  4. I'm wondering why you need a new hatch cover? I had to replace mine when I did a Cowboy Scramble up the back deck of my Vital 166 and my pointy plastic kayak knife sheath made a hole in it! It was too soft and flexible and not tough enough. Ottawa Paddle Shack ordered me a new rear hatch cover - cost about $80. You could contact them for information. They provide great service and are a knowledgeable resource for paddle stuff! That's where I bought both my kayaks. Cheers.

  5. Thanks, I will try them. I didn't realize that they sold kajaksport, that is good news! My rear hatch cover is loose and needs replacing. As rubber has a shelf life, this is normal. I am looking to replace all hatches with kajaksports' lightweight click-on hatch covers as they tend to fit more snuggly and resist implosion much better than the standard rubber covers.

  6. I'll betcha your rear hatch problem was a design or quality problem and is not normal. The Maelstrom kayaks have only been on the market for a couple of years - you should not have to replace them so soon. And hatches should not leak. My Vital had to go back for repairs on all hatch openings and is now leak free. Workmanship problems. Our awesome Maelstrom Vaag had no such problems and all our hatch covers are still good two years later. But I agree. The original soft rear hatch cover I had on Vital imploded easily if your knee hit it during a simple Cowboy Scramble, or it came off - it was too loose - and my plastic kayak knife sheath easily put a hole in it when Cowboy Scrambling up the back deck. I couldn't believe it. The rear hatch was replaced with a stiffer hatch cover that is more difficult to put on (a real pain) but it stays on!

  7. In my case the hatch cover is kind of warped/loose and that seems to be why is doesn't fit very well. I assume that Maelstrom used kajaksport hatch rims to fit the covers properly. Was this not the case, did your rims need replacing? Or were they just poorly fastened to the boat to begin with?

    I am located in Kuujjuaq, Quebec, so any modifications have to be done by me.

    I had no luck finding kajaksport covers in Canada, so I have ordered directly from Finland. Hopefully ordering the "click-on" covers will solve the problem and I won't need to modify the boat in any other way.

    Wish me luck!

  8. You can disregard the last post.
    Maelstrom got back to me, and replacing the original hatch should do the trick. My day hatch was already outfitted with one of the 'click-on' covers and it fits great.

  9. Hi Conor,

    I'm happy to hear that Maelstrom got back to you on how to solve your hatch problem.

  10. Hi,
    As it turns out there was never any problem with Maelstrom's construction. The fit/watertightness of the hatch is really determined by which cover is used. As Kajaksport makes a number of different covers, there are a number of choices. Originally they provided a more flexible cover that is easy to attach which was soon replaced by a stiffer cover that is much more impact resistant as well as watertight.

    Looking forward to my new covers!
    Happy paddling.....

  11. My Vital 166 needed to have all the seals redone around all hatch rims, and the rear hatch had to be replaced with a stiffer one. Then it was . . . good as new! No leaks. And the rear hatch stays on and I haven't knocked it off when I Cowboy Scramble.

    Just curious, what colour is your Vital? How's the paddling up there?


  12. Cool,

    I've got an orange decked/white hulled Vital and the paddling here is phenomenal......

    We have very big tides here and we are 50 km from the coast. It is a very dynamic environment to paddle in. The scenery and wildlife is pretty spectacular too.

  13. Awesome! If you have a blog, or if you start one, please send me the link? It would be great to hear about some of your paddling adventures up there and see some pics!

    Cheers from further south.