A kayak is made to quietly slip through small waters

ColumnistMarch 9, 2017 

Here are two good questions for master naturalist this week: How many species of cedar trees are growing in the tri-state region of eastern Kansas, northern Arkansas and southern Missouri? If that is too easy, how about this multiple choice question:

Of the hawks found in our area, which one is generally known to nest earliest in the spring: the Cooper’s hawk, the red-shouldered hawk, the sharp-shinned hawk or the woodland gossett?

You’ll find the answers at the end of this column.

I believe that a kayak is best considered a water-toy, as you might consider a plastic air mattress found in a swimming pool. My Uncle Norten, upon seeing one years ago, commented that he would rather fish from an inner-tube in a farm pond.

I have often used one of the best kayaks you can buy. I own seven different kinds of fishing and hunting boats and three kayaks.

I have two different-length kayaks made specifically for sportsmen, one 12-footer, and one 10. I camouflaged them with brown, black and green paint, and the 10-footer makes a heck of a good lay-out boat for duck hunting.

I don’t get out in that thing in the dead of winter and paddle it to a remote spot where I wish to hunt ducks.

I put it in my 18-foot War-Eagle boat and take off across lakes or waters like Stockton, Truman or Bull Shoals, to duck hunt out of it. In the big boat I carry my shells, shotgun, camo-material, Labrador and decoys. The little kayak won’t hold half of that, but when I get the decoys set, and my Lab comfortably in place and hidden along the shore, I can set the kayak out against a log or tree and cover it, settle down flat in the bottom of it and be fairly low, comfortable and hidden.

Yes, I have hunted ducks on small streams with the longer one because it can easily be made into a floating blind, but I do not use it on bigger streams because I much prefer a 16-foot metal johnboat called a Lowe Paddle-Jon, made on the order of my grandfather’s wooden johnboats.

Remembering back several decades, those wooden johnboats he made were better than anything I have ever used on a stream because they floated high, they were quiet and they were so stable you could walk along the top of the sideboards without tipping them much at all. The square-sterned canoes above 18-feet in length are fairly stable, too. I have a 19-foot square-sterned canoe, and if you float rivers in it, you have to be a real greenhorn to tip it.

If you fill any of the river floating craft I use with water, they won’t sink. Those aluminum canoes and johnboats have Styrofoam floatation in the ends and under any enclosed seats.

Kayaks won’t sink, either. If they fill with water, you just get wet, but you can still windmill them to the bank.

I do not call it paddling: It is “windmilling,” using great long shafts with a blade on each end and I am sure you have seen the way they are maneuvered. That’s what is so objectionable to me. The young people who get them to fish from are windmillers.

They cannot quietly and unobtrusively go along any waterway because of that. And when I am floating along some small stream and a caravan of them come by in red and yellow kayaks, I just paddle to the side and let them pass until they can’t be heard and the river is peaceful again.

A kayak isn’t made for big waters and should never be used on the larger Ozark lakes. My daughter, Christy, with all the different types of fishing boats I have, still goes out in that larger kayak and fishes a local lake in the summer. I tell her that it is not made for that kind of use, that larger motor-powered lake boats do not and should not have to watch for her; it is her responsibility to avoid putting that thing where they operate.

She stays in a small area along the bank and seems to enjoy fishing from it, but I instruct her to not give her last name when she talks to someone out there, as it would cast a shadow on the whole Dablemont clan if someone knew we have a kayaker among us.

I am progressive enough to use those kayaks of mine where they make sense, and give me a good option, but I do not use those windmill paddles and never will. I have made myself a seat at the back of mine and ballast in the bow, and I use my sassafras paddle to slip along quietly in small waters.

I can hunt squirrels, ducks, deer and turkey from it, but only on little streams, never from a large one or lower reaches of any main river. Why do I never fish from one? Because I have never seen the time that a kayak gives me a better advantage as a fisherman.

Kayaks and canoes are also expensive.

You’d be wise to look into used boats. My Grumman canoe has been used hard and often, but still it would last a new owner a lifetime. If you are looking for a kayak, get a used one, and camouflage it so you don’t look like part of a carnival coming down the river.

I grew up slipping along the Big Piney in my dark gray or green wooden johnboat, trying to just blend in and be a part of the river. I have floated past wood ducks, deer and mink that didn’t know I was there.

Many times, kingfishers would alight on the blind attached to the bow when I was hunting. Rivermen paddled a boat from one side, and could float for the whole day without taking the blade from the water. You don’t see that anymore; it has become the day of bright colors, banging aluminum and windmill paddlers hurrying down the river as if they were fleeing from something.

It would be great if they could all have been taught how to do it right, and to have reverence for that stream instead of seeing it as some sort of natural waterslide where yelling and hollering is part of the ride, and banging paddles are just made to make you go faster.

The answers to the master naturalist questions: There are no cedars here. Our red cedars are actually junipers.

The earliest nesting hawk, generally speaking, is the red-shouldered hawk. I made up the woodland gossett. It sounds good, though.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email lightninridge@windstream.net

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