Backyard adventure


Hunter Shyrock, 49th, 20-3
James Overstreet

The tournament season is over, but that doesn’t end the stress that comes with being a professional bass angler. There are sponsor obligations, baits and tackle to organize for the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series tour and research that must be done on next year’s tournament waters.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I live for this. But it is a demanding sport that pulls you in many different directions.

Now that I’m home there are countless things to attend to that were neglected during the tournament season. It feels like the first Elite Series event of 2019 will be here tomorrow.

I got a welcome break in late October when my friend, Justin Stoffer, suggested that we float the Tuscarawas River in kayaks. The Tuscarawas flows around Newcomerstown in eastern Ohio. We grew up in Newcomerstown and still live there. We’ve been buddies as long as I can remember.

It was a spontaneous, spur of the moment thing, and I was all in. We both have economical Pelican kayaks that you maneuver with a double-ended paddle. I bought mine from Dick’s Sporting Goods with a gift certificate my dad gave to me for Christmas a few years ago. I used the kayak once when I got it and hadn’t put it in the water since.

Justin is more of an all-around outdoorsman and not the fishing fanatic I am. He was content just to float the river. I wasn’t about go without fishing. The Tuscarawas has smallmouth bass, but I’d never really fished for them. Our kayaks have holders behind the seat that hold two rods upright. I intended to make use of them.

We loaded up the kayaks, some of my light action spinning rods, some soft plastic baits and we were off to the river.

This was all new to me. I struggled to get into the kayak without tipping it over. The swift current pushing against the kayak didn’t help. It was if the river was urging me on.

The instant I was finally seated in the kayak the river carried me downstream like an empty pop can going around in circles. The life force of the river had taken control.

As we floated downstream, the river widened and narrowed and was never more than two casts across. I could easily see the rocky bottom in the gin clear water when we floated over shallow riffles.

I had cut a Berkley General stickbait in half and rigged one of the pieces on a 1/8-ounce jig, kind of like a Ned rig. I let the current drag it over the bottom in holes that were 4 to 6 feet deep. The bass were holding on the upstream edge of the holes close to the current.

I caught a 12–inch smallie right off the bat. That encouraged Justin to start fishing. It was hard to navigate the kayak and fish at the same time. We only got one cast at the sweet spots before the current swept us downstream. We couldn’t hold in one spot, so it was like shooting at moving targets.

At every hole we would miss a bite, hook a bass and lose it or catch one. Most of the bass were only 8 to 10 inches, but it was loads of fun. The biggest bass of the day, a 14-incher, spun my kayak around while I was battling it.

At one point I was so focused on fishing that I didn’t realize I was floating right toward a logjam at the point of a small island. Justin yelled at me to look out, but it was too late. I managed to steer the boat to the side of the logjam where I could float under a log.

I reached back and snatched the spare rod from the holder so it wouldn’t break off moments before ramming through a maze of branches under the log. It was hilarious. I haven’t laughed that hard in quite awhile.

We floated about four miles that afternoon, and it was a true adventure within walking distance of my door. It helped to keep my fishing fun and fresh.

The next time we float the river, we’ll figure a way to anchor so we can hold on those deep holes and catch multiple smallmouth from one spot.