Words and photos by Jeff Little
I had found them. The pool was part of my milk run in that section of river, and on two of the first four casts, I landed 18.5- and 19.25-inch smallmouth. They were bunched up at the head of the pool and they were feeding. The problem was that the pool was about to get crowded in a different way.
I could hear the whine of a jet boat motor from a mile and a half away, getting louder as it approached. At the base of the pool, I could hear the boat’s hull crash into a shallow gravel bar, the motor gunning to push up and over the obstruction. A wave of water from that boat’s wake shook me loose from the wedged position where I had caught three more nice sized smallmouth since the first two.
I didn’t even bother paddling back to my rock. I just slinked away. The bass did too. With the trolling motor lowered into the shallow water, the boat and it’s three boisterous occupants motored past the spot where I had caught them. The trolling motor propeller ground the rocky bottom as the bass boat’s captain yanked on the cord to save some life in his blades. The ensuing sputtering of the motor head being pulled up through the water surface was deafening. I thought to myself, “Do they actually catch fish after doing all of that?!”
I watched from a distance a while longer, and got my answer: “Nope!” I was soon joined by two buddies in kayaks. One paddled close and asked in hushed voice, “You gettin’ ’em?” I nodded, then shook my head no, explaining that my productive pool had just been trashed by a jet boat full of people who don’t understand stealth.
We let the pool calm down for an hour, then moved back in. No fish had returned. We moved on, checking back on the spot every hour or so. We caught one fish here or there, but they were small. My teeth clenched each time I heard that jet boat motor whine progressively louder and trash the pool again.
I moved back into the pool, and teased a 16-incher onto my line. I glanced over my shoulder, saw the boat approaching again and stopped fighting it. I actually shook the fish off without landing it, and again let the current carry me out through the bottom of the pool. As the boat passed me at a distance of a cast and a half, one of the occupants shouted, “That one get off?” I smiled meekly and nodded.
They hit it three more times, each for less than twenty minutes. They employed a run and gun tactic of straining water with spinnerbaits. This can be a productive approach when the river is high, masking all the fish spooking signals they send out: the noisy sputtering and grinding of the trolling motor, the loud voices and the big wake. But the river was low and clear. Even long casts on thin diameter braided line couldn’t out run that noise.
In the meantime, my buddies had found a different pod of actively feeding fish. I joined them on the opposite side of an island where the jet boat didn’t have a direct line of sight on us. We caught fish, but they weren’t of the caliber of the first five I caught early that morning at the top of that pool. It occurred to me at some point that my friends were never followed in their camo colored kayaks. I was in a bright yellow kayak. I was conspicuous. I choose to be, for safety reasons. A power boater will never come up on my kayak, not seeing it until it’s too late. That will never change.
But it has me thinking – how conspicuous am I when I catch a fish? Do I draw attention, high sticking, yelling in excitement, and letting everyone within ear shot know that I’ve hooked a pig? I certainly have done all of those things, but in light of that boat trashing that spot, I had purposefully acted as though the fishing was slow. I didn’t want the company.
The frequent return of that boat subsided. Several hours had passed. I had about 20 minutes until I had to be off the water, so we gave it one more shot. On the first long cast with a crankbait, I set the hook on a 20.25-inch bronze rocket of a smallmouth. It jumped three times. So much for not being conspicuous! My friend echoed my catch with another 20-incher almost immediately. I put my fish on a Boga Grip and lowered it into the water to rest while my friend paddled over to take pictures. Before he got there, I fired off two more casts, the second hooking a thick 19.5-incher. The difference wasn’t power boat versus kayak. The difference was an understanding of stealth.
Jeff Little is a Regional Pro Staff Director for Wilderness Systems Kayaks and produces instructional fishing video for his Tight Line Junkie’s Journal Pivotshare channel.