Kayaking is often associated with fast-moving mountain streams and thrill-seeking paddlers dodging through rock rapids, almost a polar opposite experience compared to that of three fishermen who floated down North Dakota’s Sheyenne River one calm evening last summer.
They did encounter one slight riffle that required a few seconds of concentration, but the real thrill they sought on this effort would come from the formidable tug of one of the Sheyenne’s mostly unpestered game fish species at the end of a fishing line.
In this part of the country, kayaks have become more popular as recreational watercraft, taking away some of the market-share occupied by canoes for decades. And any craft that transports a person away from shore and out onto the water has the potential as a platform for fishing.
Much like boats that are specifically designed for pulling water-skiers, fishing, or transporting large floating social outings, kayaks aren’t all the same. While most people associate kayaks with sleek, water-hugging vessels that you sit in to paddle, fishing kayaks are made to sit on. They are typically a much more stable platform than, say, a canoe. And because an angler sits on top, some of that hollow space inside is available for storing gear instead of legs.
That’s what the anglers who pushed and pulled their kayaks down the bank at Faust Park on the Sheyenne north of Valley City were using. The group consisted of Chris Carlisle of Aneta, North Dakota; Matt Nelson, Fargo; and Ron Strauss, Roseville, Minnesota.
Chris Carlisle has fished the Sheyenne and many other destinations frequently since he purchased a kayak about five years ago.
Carlisle is vice president, and Straus is president, of the Minnesota Kayak Fishing Association, a regional club for kayak anglers, and the Sheyenne is a popular destination for member outings.
Carlisle bought his first kayak about five years ago. “I was an avid angler without a boat,” he said.
The turning point came while shore-fishing along the Red River in Fargo with a friend. “We decided it’d be really nice to be able to get out to some of those places we couldn’t walk to,” Carlisle remembered. “We solved the problem with a kayak.”
Obviously, kayaks have limitations that boats don’t. Like, most people aren’t going to paddle a kayak a couple of miles out to a productive sunken island when the wind is stirring up a good walleye chop.
On the other hand, Carlisle says, “We get out into little streams and places that boats can’t get to, you get left alone for the most part … and we catch a lot of fish. Bass, pike, perch walleye, you name it, we catch it.”
The Sheyenne, from the tailrace of Baldhill Dam which backs up Lake Ashtabula, to its joining with the Red River north of Fargo, is one of those places that large boats mostly can’t get too. It has a couple of boat ramps on its winding route, but canoes or kayaks have more potential access.
To validate that point, on that evening last July, on several miles of the Sheyenne from Faust Park down to the take-out at the Valley City National Fish Hatchery, the only anglers on or along the river were kayakers.
Matt Nelson, Fargo, admires a Sheyenne smallmouth before releasing it. Walleye and northern pike are also possible catches on stretches of the state’s longest river.
While fishing activity was noticeably light on that ideal summer night, it wasn’t because of the potential for catching fish.
“Parts of the Sheyenne are awfully good for smallmouth bass,” says Gene Van Eeckhout, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s southeast district fisheries manager.
In addition, the Sheyenne also has walleye, often caught below the lowhead dams, and northern pike at times when they run up from the Red, Van Eeckhout said.
Carlisle fishes the Sheyenne frequently, as it’s fairly close to home, and it’s always accessible, no matter how hard the prairie wind is blowing. On open water lakes, however, wind can be an issue.
“We go out to enjoy ourselves,” Carlisle says, “and you can’t enjoy it as much when it’s windy … but if you’re only going to go out when the wind is 5 miles per hour and the sky is clear, you’re not going to go out much.”
The group’s periodic outings have run the gamut from small rivers like the Sheyenne and Red rivers, to Devils Lake to the Mississippi River.
“There’s just something about that kayak,” Carlisle says. “There’s pretty much no place I won’t take it.”
On the Web: The Minnesota Kayak Fishing Association is for anyone in the Midwest to learn more about kayak fishing and regional outings for kayak anglers. Website address is: www.mnkayakfishingassociation.org.
A video adaptation of this story is on the Web at www.vimeo.com/71250041.