| It’s not very often that I add a piece of equipment to my little arsenal of outdoor gear. I still use the Mitchell 308 ultra-light fishing reel I bought back in the early 1960s, and I am still gutting deer, bear and moose with the Western Cutlery sheath knife I got for two books of S&H Green Stamps. Good stuff lasts and there’s no sensible reason to have more than what you need, as any good New Englander knows.
This year, however, I splurged and bought a short, fat, lightweight kayak for the sole purpose of poking around in shallow, wet places that my canoe won’t take me, and so far it’s made me glad I did.
This is not a river-running kayak or an ocean-going craft, and I’m long past wanting one that will help me execute better Eskimo Rolls; I just wanted a kayak that would get me into beaver flowages for trout, swamps and bogs for trapping and duck hunting, and maybe even help with getting a deer out of the woods via a small pond or lake rather than having to drag it the long way around.
The real catch, however, was that I wanted something I could leave in the woods all summer and fall and not be concerned about someone “borrowing” it. There was a day when we could leave canoes tethered to a convenient tree and still find it there when we came for it, just as we once could leave our camps and cottages unlocked and expect to find them all in once piece, used perhaps by wandering visitors, but not abused.
No more, I’m afraid. I’ve owned a couple of camps (constantly burglarized and vandalized), and know of many others with the same sad story. I can’t count the number of boats that have been stolen, and in fact there has been a rash of thievery where ground blinds, trail cameras and tree stands have been taken out of the woods. Sad times indeed, but at least with my kayak I found a way around that!
My kayak (obviously) floats, plus it has a nifty cockpit cover to keep water out (while whitewater cruising, I assume), so I came up with the novel idea of leaving it in the woods but not tied up on shore; instead, I leave mine tied to a bush or tree in knee-deep water well away from trails and paths. I also painted it a dreary combination of olive drab and dead-grass brown with streaks of black all over, more or less making it resemble the brush, twigs and leaves around it. It’s such a good match I often can’t find it myself at first!
The trick is that when I want to go out exploring, fishing, hunting or trapping, I don my trusty thigh-high fishing waders and head for the hidden kayak. I have to wade into the water and brush a few yards in order to reach the craft, but it’s worth the effort because every time I do I find the kayak, the paddle, the PFD and all right where I left them.
To be honest, I wanted a kayak for several years because there is one large, winding swamp near my home that is close to a mile away with no trails or roads leading to it. I found it while deer hunting one November when the sounds of ducks and geese on the water made it impossible to hear a whitetail if it came sneaking through the woods beside me.
I walked down to the water’s edge and discovered a huge area of flooded timber, obviously the work of industrious beavers, but there was no way to get out there except in a canoe or kayak. I considered float tubes or rubber rafts but I’ve used those before and found them to be intellectually feasible but practically useless. My canoe is a 17-foot aluminum square-ender that is probably the most valuable thing I own, and the thought of leaving it out there (or even lugging it out there!) seemed too risky.
The kayak idea worked perfectly. It is short (8 feet), lightweight (only 37 pounds), comfortable and stable, and it winds in and out of the swampy brush just like an otter. Even loaded with fishing or hunting gear it’s very stable and maneuverable. I got a good deal on it at a second-hand store so even if it were stolen I wouldn’t fret about it overmuch.
What makes me happiest of all is that it has worked out to be the perfect way for me to get into wet places I’d normally have to walk around or ignore. The water in some beaver flowages can be 10 feet deep or more, and even when walking along the edges of streams and bogs the footing varies from questionable to treacherous and downright dangerous. I have gone over the tops of my chest waders many times while trying to penetrate these areas and still didn’t get as far into them as I needed to go. It always seems as if the ducks, trout or muskrats are just 100 yards deeper into the swamp, and there comes a point where going after them on foot is simply impossible.
But, my kayak has turned out to be the best solution to the problem. I can paddle, turn and back through places my canoe would not like, and I’m low in the craft, making it more stable and me less visible to the waterfowl I’m trying to sneak up on. I can even set traps right from the kayak, which is a real time saver.
Before you go to the expense of buying a kayak, consider what its main purpose will be. My short, stubby model is ideal for traversing still water, swamps, bogs and flooded timber but I doubt it would be the ideal choice for open water, rivers or the coast. Kayaks come in all sizes, colors and configurations, so have some idea of what you want before you start shopping.
My kayak has turned out to be as useful to me on my outdoor treks as my first hunting knife, and that’s saying a lot!