I’m a fisherman first and paddler second, I’ve been doing both for about ten years and it has become a huge part of my life. I like the sound of a paddle hitting the water and then the stroke, a sound heard by adventurers for hundreds of years. It lets me know that I’m headed to a place off the beaten path, a place that is usually beautiful and wild. I doubt I’ll ever stop paddling but recently I got a chance to try out a pedal driven kayak for the first time. I spent four long days fishing out of the new Jackson Coosa FD and to be totally honest…going into it, I didn’t want to like it.
I take pride in the evolution I’ve had figuring out how to fish and paddle at the same time, fighting wind and current, using both to my advantage when possible and making up paddle strokes to get the job done along the way. For example, there’s the “fishing rod in one hand, paddle shaft on opposite knee backstroke” or the “paddle shaft under the armpit backstroke”…heck I’ve used my chin to leverage a one handed paddle stroke all for the sake of keeping my lure in the water longer or while fighting a fish. With mad skills like that, who needs a pedal drive kayak, right?
I climb into a Mahi colored Coosa FD Tuesday morning, it’s going to be a river trip and I’m very skeptical about how this thing is going to handle current, shallow water and other river related obstacles. The FD stands for “Flex Drive”, the prop is attached to the drive by a flexible shaft and the keel that the prop is attached to will “flex” up during a collision with any obstacle like logs, rocks or sand bars. I’m ready to try this boat out so I sit down, put my feet on the pedals and I’m in a very uncomfortable position. I loosen the lock bolts on the seat base and slide it back, tighten them up and get back in position. I still felt awkward so I adjust the seat back by pulling on the side straps and discover a very comfortable position. Up the river we go and for the first hour I was busy getting adjusted to steering with the rudder and getting a manageable pedal pace. After the “adjustment stage” I was cruising. The further up river the stiffer the current became and the wind picked up but honestly I barely noticed having to exert any extra effort to maintain my speed. The hull design of the boat is just as important as the flex drive design. The hull glides very well and if need be, it’s a great paddling hull too. I could not make the prop achieve cavitation no matter how hard I pedaled, it just moved forward. While going upstream I suddenly noticed that the pedal drive felt sluggish so I simply raised the prop with the high/low lever to where the lower drive is in the highest position, opened the inspection door and discovered a cluster of green sycamore leaves attached to a small limb had wrapped around the propeller. I easily pulled it off and discarded it in a matter of seconds then continued on our up river run.
The area we ended up at was truly remarkable, full of beauty and some very nice small mouth bass. Fishing out of the Coosa FD wasn’t a problem at all, the beauty of it was that I could run a hundred yards of shoreline virtually hands free which allowed me to “run and gun”, a technique I haven’t been able to do while paddling my current kayak in the bass tournaments that I compete in. Another great advantage is the ability to hold your spot in current or wind by simply hitting a couple of forward or backward pedal strokes when needed. Both of those boat positioning needs would require your hands in a traditional paddle kayak and because of the FD ‘s pedal drive I kept my lure in the water more which increases your chance to catch more fish.
The next location we tried the Coosa FD was in a lake. While this boat handled exceptionally well in the river, the lake is where I give it it’s highest marks. I had no idea how efficient I could be while bass fishing out of a kayak until I tried her on flat water. We encountered our greatest nemesis as kayak fishermen….wind, and lots of it. The boat sliced right through it as I eased down the banks casting my lure and after a while of catching only small fish I decided to ease out over a deeper section of a point. I found a break line on the bottom between rock and grass in 15 to 18 foot of water and tossed a large Shaky head with a 9” trick worm attached. Working that bait very slowly on bottom, while using my feet to keep me in one position and the slack out of my line normally caused by wind drift I felt a big bite. I set the hook and the fight was on. The fish ran towards the starboard side first then straight off the bow so I used the same skills I would normally use in my traditional paddle kayak by utilizing my fishing rod to turn and steer the boat while the fish pulled. Then the big fish made a “B” line straight at me, normally I would reel as fast as I could to take up the slack line and hope the fish wouldn’t escape. I had been hoping to be put in this sort of predicament so I could use the pedal drive as a tool to remove the slack. By pedaling backwards I was able to maintain pressure on the fish and wear it out even faster. I landed the bass and weighed her, exactly seven and a half pounds. I was happy with the fish but I think I was even happier about the boat being an integral component in not just landing the fish but also in setting up on the area where I caught it. To top it off, on my way back to the ramp I tossed a square bill out and trolled it off the side just for the fun of it. Surprisingly I landed two decent bass in just several hundred yards. Once at the ramp I knew I had to have myself a new Jackson Coosa FD.
I started the week as a skeptic of pedal dives and I think that is the fairest route for me to take when trying anything for the first time. I looked for every possible problem and I didn’t give it any slack. I treated it like it was mine, I pedaled it hard and looked for any disadvantage that the boat may give me and found none…is it perfect, absolutely not. It’s not a river boat where you would want to tackle a day’s worth of numerous shallow rocky shoals. It is at home on flat water and deeper rivers, it will put your lure in the water more, allow you to rig rods and bait with your hands while going from point “A” point “B”, it’s extremely stable and allowed me at 230 pounds to stand, cast and land fish from it. I believe, as a tournament fisherman that the “FD” will add a level of speed and efficiency that I’ve only wished for and as an avid “camp n paddler” will definitely make long distances under most conditions much easier to travel. Although, I will still paddle my trusty Jackson Big Rig when necessary, I can see where the Coosa FD will have the starting spot in many situations.
See more of Jim’s stories at www.rivergoat.blogspot.com