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Finding balance

Local kayak fishing enthusiasts cast around for new club members

NORTH LIBERTY– If you think you couldn’t reel in a 25-pound catfish in a kayak, Scott Shrader would prove you wrong.
Shrader, of North Liberty, has always been a fisherman. As a child, he went bass fishing with his father and competed in fishing tournaments as he got older.
He bought a kayak because he also loved paddling around on the water, and a kayak offered something a little different.
“Kayaking a relaxing sport, and you don’t have to deal with the gas and maintenance and expense of having a motor boat,” said Shrader.
It was a natural thing for him to put the two sports together, and five years ago Shrader bought his first kayak that he could also take fishing. About two years ago, Shrader learned that there is a big movement in other states to promote competitive kayak fishing tournaments, and he dived in feet first. His first tournament was on a cold Halloween morning two years ago at the Spooky Bass Tournament on Lake Wanahoo near Omaha.
“At that point, I realized I was hooked,” Shrader said.
In tournaments, fish are judged on length rather than weight. When Shrader competed in his second bass tournament, his catch was big enough to qualify him to compete in the Tournament of Champions in Lake Fork, Texas. There, he finished 22nd out of 58 competitors.
“People are getting more aware of the kayak fishing industry,” said Shrader. Cable television now airs programs specific to the sport; Shrader said he watched one fisherman land a 1,000-pound marlin in a kayak.
Fishing kayaks are designed differently than those that traditionally enclose the passenger. With top-side seats, anchor systems, open cabins and storage hatches for gear, they are also built with a flatter hull and wider body for increased stability. Their weight capacity is greater– usually between 350 and 500 pounds.
“You can even stand up in them just like a bass boat,” Shrader said.
Cory Holland works at Fin & Feather in Iowa City, and he personally attests to the stability of fishing kayaks.
“Last summer, I had an Iowa (Hawkeye) offensive lineman standing up in my kayak,” Holland said. “The only drawback of their design is it makes them a little slower.”
Shrader and Holland are working together to create more interest in the sport locally. Shrader founded the Iowa Kayak Anglers club via a Facebook page of the same name, encouraging online conversations and inviting others to join him in kayak fishing.
“I realized there is nothing for competitions in this area,” said Shrader. “Everything seems to be a five- or six-hour drive or more. And I thought, we could do this, we have great lakes around here.”
Several years ago, Shrader said, it was harder to find kayaking equipment in the area. Now, Seatasea Watersports Center in Cedar Rapids, Fin & Feather in Iowa City and Scheels in Coralville all carry kayaks, and most kayak manufacturers offer models designed for fishing. Some even make tandem kayaks for two passengers. Shrader has become a pro-staff member for Wilderness Systems kayaks, Anchor Wizard and Golden Baits lures; the companies sponsor his activities, and in turn, he introduces the sport of kayak fishing to people in the Midwest. Since November, the Iowa Kayak Anglers’ Facebook page has garnered at least 100 inquiries, and a few of the members have held initial meetings to brainstorm more ideas about how to grow the sport.
The Iowa Kayak Anglers club is organizing the first-ever kayak bass fishing tournament on Lake Macbride scheduled for this May; it will also be a qualifying tournament for competing in the Tournament of Champions in Texas.
But you don’t have to be a competitor to enjoy kayak fishing. Holland said it is the perfect way for even beginners to get out on the water and do some fishing.
“You can enter the sport at whatever your budget allows,” Holland said. He advises beginners to look for something with a lot of stability, and to consider the bodies of water they will be paddling. Ten- to 12-foot kayaks are nice for rivers and lakes, while longer boats do better on coastal waters, like the Gulf of Mississippi, where Holland was raised. Many kayaks are self draining, so if it does flip it while in the water, they are easy to right and easy to drain. Holland’s wife even swims from hers, he said, and is able to easily get back into the craft by herself.
Shrader also noted the conveniences of kayaks over motor boats.
“It’s a fairly inexpensive sport. You don’t have to have a huge bank account to get started,” he said. “You can get a fully out-rigged kayak for $500, or you can go above and beyond that if you want to.” Shrader’s kayak is equipped with a fish finder, mounted rod holders and a sliding track-based system that keeps gear in place with bungee-like cords, among other amenities that make it easy for him to carry enough equipment to pack for a five-day camping and paddling trip. But fancy accessories aren’t necessary, he said, especially for beginners.
Further, kayaks are quite portable, even for one person.
“You don’t necessarily need a boat ramp; you can drag this to the bank, and you can’t do with a $20,000 bass boat,” said Shrader. “If you only have a couple hours to fish it’s easy to get in and out. You don’t have a ton of gear, you don’t have to license kayaks under the 12-foot limit, and you don’t need a trailer. You can put them on top of an SUV; I’ve even seen one on top of an Escort wagon.”
And no boat storage is required; a garage will do. Shrader also said unlike a boat, kayaks are covered under most homeowner’s insurance without a separate rider.
Holland encourages anyone interested to visit the outdoor expansion of the Iowa City sporting good store, Fin & Feather H2O, located on Sand Lake at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. Watercrafts of all sorts are available to rent, but there are also paddle demonstration days where people can just try out the kayaks, canoes or paddle boards.
Sharder said he also would be pleased to introduce anyone to the sport of kayak fishing.
“We are more than happy to take anybody out. I have several kayaks people are welcome to try,” Shrader said. “It’s relaxing, it’s easy and it’s a lot of fun.”
Holland especially likes the way kayaks bring a paddler closer to nature.
“You really get in tune with the water,” said Holland. “You can get to a lot of nooks and crannies boats can’t access, even in flooded timber. You can be completely secluded, or get a little sun and get a little wet. It’s absolutely a blast.”
Find Iowa Kayak Anglers on Facebook, or email Shrader at shrades@outlook.com.