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Bending Branches

"Bait and Sea"

By Jerry White

I mentioned a few months ago that my paddling career is on hold until I get some work done on an ailing paw. But, where there's a will, there's a way, especially when it comes to fishing. The doctors are taking a "wait and see" attitude, because they can't figure out what's wrong. In the meantime, I'm taking a "bait and sea" attitude. Lures are simply too painful to toss all day long, so live bait is my weapon of choice for a while. Spring has sprung, evidenced by pollen all over my truck. But spring here in Florida means piscatorial Hades is about to break loose. Even someone in my diminished capacity has to get out there and get in on the early action.

So how does this even remotely relate to paddle fishing? Many of us use the vessel as transportation, to get from launch point A to fishing points B through Z. Once at these points, we either get out and wade, or stroll the bank. So, here I stand, at the same place as you, only my boat is at home. So, now let's concentrate on how to make the best of this boatless situation, with a few accommodations for my malady. Always remember: The secret to success (in fishing, and in life) is not how well you "do", but how well you "recover".

SHOES:
Yes, we'll start at the very bottom. Normally, if I plan to be paddling all day, I'll just grab a pair of flip flops for my brief shore visits. However, if you plan to wade or amble the bank, you need some worthy shoes. Ankle high flats boots are a good solution, but I opt for some knock-off hiking shoes with slots for water to drain from. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step - wear good shoes.

THE QUEST FOR BAIT:
I own one of every lure known to man. Well, I don't have a Banjo Minnow, but I'd use it if I had one. But I can't cast all day long - simply put, casting hurts. But, I'll deal with a few casts, I just have to make them count. The legendary blues guitarist B.B. King was once asked why he didn't play chords, and played very few (but expressive) notes. He replied something along the lines of "notes are like money ... spend only what you need and save the rest for later". Since I'm forced into being frugal with my casts, the best return on my efforts comes by way of using bait, preferably live.

So for a recent outing, I stopped and bought some live shrimp. There, I said it I bought bait. I bought bait because I wasn't sure *if* I'd be able to use a cast net, and I also wasn't sure that bait would be within reach. Good news is that I could toss the net, and better news is that I was able to catch something in it. Bad news is that my trusty 5 gallon bucket and aerator were on the shore. That meant I was constantly walking back to reload. Now, had I reached my destination via kayak, there would have been no worries. I simply would have placed the bucket in the tank well. It may seem like overkill, but the next time I go fishing, I'll have my kayak with me, if for no other reason than storage.

MAKING EVERY CAST COUNT:
As a lure fisherman, I'm all about the twitch_twitch_pause, sweep_pause, lift_pause, and walk_the_dog. I use spinning reels with a traditional left hand retrieve. That leaves all that twitching and walking to be done by my right hand, which for many practical purposes, has left the building for now. The solution? Change the reel to right hand retrieve. I still use 2 hands to cast, and that smarts. But reeling in is less painful in this configuration. Learning to invoke all of those twitches is a challenge with my left hand, so I stick to natural offerings and play the "bait and wait" game. When I hook a fish, I do what I should have been doing all along. And that is, lift the fish with my left hand (doesn't hurt), then reel down slack as I lower the rod (doesn't hurt much).

THE 12 FOOT FLATS CADDY:
On my latest trip not only was it difficult to keep walking back to my bait bucket, but there was no where to place my rod, nowhere to put a cooler, and man was it a pain to move what little gear I did have from point B to point C. I think as paddlers we forget how useful our vessel is as an angling tool, even after we get out of it. It would have been grand to have my boat there, simply to make my wading experience nearly perfect.

THE EASY CHAIR:
On that trip I stood in knee to waist deep water for probably 6 hours. Keyword being "stood". By the end of the day, my back was singing in unison with my right hand. It would have been so nice to simply be able to sit down and fish, or eat a sandwich, or bait a hook, or simply do nothing but sit. Our boats are often referred to as "SIT inside" or "SIT on top". You see a pattern developing here? I missed my boat.

STEALTH:
This term gets beat to death in the paddle angling community. It's a fact of our sport, and it's also one of our greatest advantages. As I'm writing this article I'm watching a TV show where 2 guys jump out of a $60,000 flats boat to go wade - go figure. Wading builds upon the inherent stealth of our transportation. Add to that, the undisputable advantage of a natural bait, and this is a very effective process.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE:
Obviously, stealth translates to quiet, and in these hurried times, quiet is hard to find. Since I'm unable to perform my cast_cast_cast ritual, I'm forced to slow down and take it all in for a change. There you have it, the "up" side to my condition. Last weekend, I found myself looking up into the sky and giving a double thumbs up.

Sometime we must make compromises in order to do the things we enjoy. Common sense, mind over matter, and moderation. The main thing is to just figure out a way to get out there.


See you out on the water... regardless of what it takes!


"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after"
~ Henry David Thoreau


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