Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bayou Kayaking at Caddo Lake in Texas


Caddo Lake in Uncertain Texas

If you have ever visited our Kayak Texas page then you know I have long wanted to visit Caddo Lake. Caddo is an old, natural lake that is more like an elaborate river system than a lake. It flows down from the Big Cypress Bayou in a series of interconnected fish laden, tree-lined canals, ditches, ponds and shallow lakes. This lake offers more shade than any other body of water I have ever seen. We just got back from a two night stay on Caddo Lake. We did a little bit of fishing, a whole lot of kayaking and we even shelled out the doe for a guided boat tour. If you enjoy the Cypress trees on the Lower Mountain Fork River in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, visit Caddo Lake soon. This shade-tree paddler was in flatwater heaven.

Guided Boat Tour

Normally, Dianne and I won't consider spending our outdoor time enduring the noise and odor of a motor boat. It is one thing to watch them pass by, but being out the water without hearing the birds holds little charm for me. However, Caddo Lake is vast and varied and our time was short. We decided to take the one-hour lake tour at the last minute. To my shock, Billy Carter's Go-Devil® Tours was the highlight of our trip to Caddo Lake. I wish we had taken it earlier in our trip and I will definitely take the tour again upon our return to Caddo Lake. The river guide was able to show us the oldest most scenic areas in this ancient flooded forest.

Caddo Lake is an ancient flooded forest of Bald Cypress trees. The huge water trees are 'curtained' with thick garlands of Spanish Moss that capture moisture from the early morning air. As the moisture evaporates, it has a cooling effect. The tea-colored waters are teaming with unusually large Catfish, Bass, Sunfish and Crappie. Lily pads abound on the Caddo. Lovely white water lilies and bright yellow Lotus border small tree lines in some places and fill lakes in other area. On Caddo Lake you can paddle your kayak into a 'field' of thousands of water lily blooms. Caddo Lake is paradise for fishermen and photographers.

Caddo Lake Lodge

We spent our two fabulous nights at Caddo Lake Lodge, in the small town of Uncertain Texas. The Wells family was nice enough to offer us a discounted 'press' rate to facilitate of first trip to this paddler's paradise. The lodge offered plenty of room for Dianne and I plus our son Dylan and Dianne's mother. The house has ceiling fans everywhere, cold A/C, a large, deep, soaking tub, spacious deck and other luxuries. The large dining room was great at mealtime. The Caddo Lake Lodge website has pictures of the rooms, but my favorite feature was the private canoe launch and fishing docks. The height of luxury in the perfect location. The dock is located on a narrow section of Caddo Lake called Clinton's Chute. We paddled our kayaks a short ways down to an even more narrow and shady branch called Clinton's Ditch. This part is too narrow and shallow to appeal to the speeding Bass boats.

Photopaddling on Caddo Lake

The mix of land and water on Caddo Lake is unusual. It allows you to slip silently through the forest in your kayak. Paddle quietly and you are sure to sneak right up on a wide assortment of interesting wildlife. Such a wealth of trees is of course ideal for Dianne because she loves to set and run limb lines for Catfish and Bass. For the photopaddler, Caddo Lake offers filtered light on the brightest of days, loads of reflections and a unique blend of light and shadow that is like nothing I have ever seen before. Taking the guided tour earlier in our trip would have improved my photopaddling success as the guide took us to see several more ditches through the bayou. On future trips I hope to launch from a few different boat ramps to see more sections of this amazing lake.

I expected the swampy bayous of Caddo Lake to be stinky and crawling with snakes. I surprised to find neither was the case. I only saw one snake the entire time I was in the area and it was being carried away by a hawk at the time! The smell of Caddo Lake was lovely during the hot, muggy season we visited. I have never spent so much time on the water and still avoided sunburn. Dianne and I both bought short-term fishing licenses, but as usual Dianne did all of the fishing, I was too busy exploring the boat lanes, duck blinds and 'bayou architecture'. It is like the Lower Mountain Fork River, but with much larger Cypress and much flatter water.


Kayak Fishing in the Bayou

Neither Dianne nor I have ever found a spot that was so ideal for limb lining. The large amount of cover on Caddo Lake allows the fish the time to grow enormous and there is always a handy limb to set a hook. The trees are often surrounded by very deep water, which is excellent for fishing or very shallow water which is excellent for catching bait. Catching limb line bait just takes a Minnow Trap, Seine or a few minutes with the casting net. You can also buy bait at a number of places like: Jonhson's Ranch, Crip's Camp and other fine local establishments. Dianne had no trouble catching a whopper Bass at Caddo Lake, but it takes a mighty big one to get the record...over 16lbs the last I heard!

Uncertain, Texas is a very economical travel destination for any Oklahoma paddler who is eager to explore water trails that have more in common with a rain forest than with the Great Plains. Check out Caddo Lake photoset on Flickr to see more of our pictures from this great road trip.

I can't wait to go back!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Catfish and Mayflies on the Deep Fork River

Early Summer is a great time for fishing in the Deep Fork River. Dianne and I met up with our friend Greg for some excellent kayak fishing action this weekend. Dianne and Greg ran the limb lines with strong results from Friday evening through Sunday. I chased them around with my camera and tried to stay in the shade as best I could.

Limb lining is one of the most effective ways to catch catfish using a kayak. They like to lay in deep muddy holes in the riverbanks on Deep Fork, but they will come out of their holes for a small perch or goldfish dangling seductively from a tree limb. Blue catfish, Channel Cats and Flatheads grow very large in the Deep Fork River, so choose your hooks accordingly. You can also expect to see quite a bit of action from Aligator Gar, a toothy prehistoric fish that is best handled with fish handling gloves and much caution.

This weekend the fish and birds were very active due to large clouds of Mayflies in the air and covering nearly every leaf on many trees. Once mayflies have molted, they usually gather in swarms over the river to mate. The Mayfly (AKA Ephemeroptera) is considered to be among the first group of organisms to have ever taken flight. That is no surprise to me, since the Mayfly normally only lives for one day...it requires the extra speed of air travel.

It was an epic weekend, we even stapped the lights on our kayaks and did some night kayak fishing. I heartily reccomend it if you like the taste of insects. Dianne and Greg both caught the biggest catfish they had ever hauled into their kayaks...several times. I got some great pictures and had a ball watching the action. You can check out a few of the pictures that I felt were not too bloody to upload on my Flickr page at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/freewine.

Remind me to give you Dianne's fantastic recipe for pan-fried catfish fillets sometime. See you on the water!
Update 6-19-2010 - Check out the new Kayak Fishing page at OklahomaRoadTrips.com for all the details on limblining for Catfish in the Deep Fork River.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Kayak Fishing and Fathers Day

With Father's Day Weekend right around the corner, Oklahoma's Summer heatwave has kicked in right on time. Float trips on the Illinois River, The Elk River and other area waterways are way up. Fishing season is in full swing whether you are pursuing Bass, Catfish or Crappie. Dianne is catching fish everywhere she wets a line these days. My kayak fisherman friend Scott reports that the Gar are up on Spavinaw. I am glad Summer is here!

The Father's Day holiday has long been a favorite of mine since it usually means Dianne will agree to going paddling in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. I haven't taken a trip down the Lower Mountain Fork River in far too long! Since we have a Texas kayaking trip to Caddo Lake planned this Summer, I may not be able to get a 'haul-pass' to the LMF anytime soon. BTW, I just added a new outfitter for the LMF River page: Broken Bow Canoes (that name sounds a bit grim, eh?). Check them out sometime and let me know what you think: www.brokenbowcanoes.com.

In Northeastern Oklahoma, The Spring River levels have been looking quite good lately. Of course, there are no outfitters working on Oklahoma's Spring River, so plan to self-shuttle if you make the trip. I think it is a lovely river offering an easy Class I paddle from Baxter Springs KS down to Quapaw, OK.

FYI - Fleet Feet Sports in Tulsa, Oklahoma is seeking kayaker volunteers for The Tulsa Triathlon on Skiatook Lake (out in the water in case a swimmer falters). Sunday June 13, 2010 at 7 am.

Free meal and tons of good karma for helping post watch on the water in your kayak, just in case a swimmer falters and needs some help. This is the 28th anniversary of the Tulsa Triathlon, an International distance triathlon on a moderately challenging course. To volunteer, contact Drew Barton at 918) 492-3338. www.fleetfeettulsa.com

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Hobie Mirage Kayaks in Wichita Kansas


Test Paddling the Hobie Mirage Kayaks

We test paddled two Hobie Mirage kayaks at Santa Fe Lake near Wichita, Kansas on Memorial Day weekend this year. My son Dylan paddled the inflatable version: the Hobie Mirage i12s and my wife and I both paddled the hardshell version: the Hobie Mirage Outback SUV. Both kayaks were rented from Brooks Canoe and Kayak in Augusta, Kansas.


To my knowledge, Brooks is the only kayak outfitter in the region that is offering the Hobie kayaks for rent. The kayaks are quite costly and require some special handling to avoid damaging the cool pedal propulsion system that makes these particular Sit-On-Top kayaks so different from others. That being said, these are lake kayaking boats that just might change your whole attitude about what kayaking can be. We were stoked to find someone to rent them to us!


Hobie Mirage i12s Specs:
Length: 12'/ 3.66m
Width: 36"/ 0.91m
Weight: 53 lbs./ 24.04 kg
Mirage Drive Weight: 6.6 lbs. / 3 kg
Capacity: 500 lbs./ 227 kg

Hobie Mirage Outback Specs:
Length: 12' 1"/ 3.68m
Width: 33"/ 0.84m
Weight: 62 lbs./ 28.12 kg
Mirage Drive Weight: 6.6 lbs. / 3 kg
Capacity: 400 lbs./ 181 kg

Steering the Hobie Mirage is handled by a small lever near the handrest. A lever one one side operates the rudder and I found it quite intuitive and easier to use than most. The lever on the opposite side is used to stow or deploy the rudder. The rudder combined with the pedaling makes it turn pretty fast for such a wide and stable SOT kayak. Both versions of the kayak performed well, even in lots of boat wake like we were enjoying on Santa Fe Lake. We used narrow docks to launch and land the kayaks, rather than sliding off a muddy riverbank as is my custom. This is a good idea for protecting the pedal drive system.

The Mirage Drive - Hobie's Patented Pedaling System

Hobie kayaks offer an innovative pedal-driven kayak propulsion system. It uses flippers under the hull to move your kayak forward much like a penguin swims. It moves the kayak much more quickly and quietly through the water than paddling a normal SOT kayak. This means you can travel much farther across the lake to reach that special fishing spot. It also leaves your hands free for fishing and photography. You still carry a paddle stowed on the side of the kayak, but it usually only comes out for movement through shallow water OR if you want to go in reverse. This is a good thing because I really didn't care for the Hobie paddle...too much flex.

Tons of Optional Features

Ever want to try kayak sailing or add an electric motor to your kayak? Hobie makes it easy to add those features to their Mirage kayaks. Hobie offers tons of great kayak and fishing accessories. Heck, you can even get a Hobie Bimini Sun Shade and carry your shade anywhere you paddle!

If you have the scratch, Hobie makes some amazing lake kayaks. I'm not convinced the system is rugged enough for river use, but it is removable, so you don't have to risk your Mirage-drive bouncing down the Lower Mt. Fork River.

What About Kayak Pedaling in Oklahoma?

My wife tells me that Dave Lindo at OKC Kayaks has a couple of pedal-powered kayaks made by Native Watercraft. So, there is another handy excuse for heading to Oklahoma City to visit with our state's newest outfitter. Much like Brooks Canoe & Kayak, OKC Kayak offers a suprisingly vast selection of kayaks to rent. Renting is the best way to find the perfect kayak for your needs and it is a whole lot of fun.

Know your needs, know your budget and know how you are going to transport your kayak to the water...before you buy. If you want all of the gory details of our Wichita, Kansas Hobie pedaling trip just visit our new Kansas Kayaking page at OklahomaRoadTrips.com.
Happy Paddling!