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Kayak V. Jon Boat: a Florida lake, the ultimate contest of the car-toppers.

What do a cellular telephone, a kayak and my buddy Jack have in common?

Answer: Individually, they're harmless. This brings me to the sad fact that all my spare time this past year has been not spare. Not spare and not fair, it got mutilated renovating the house. A practical man such as me who grants the need of a salvage operation can set his jaw and tolerate the work, even find satisfaction in the rare moments of success. Unless his fishing buddy has recently been bornagain into a kayak.

Back at the house I'm hanging out with my new pals, Tape Measurer, Framing Hammer and Circular Saw; thinking about what I'm doing, not what I'm not doing. That used to be possible because nobody ever phoned me from the middle of a lake, much less in a kayak. Up to now I thought cell phones simply were the time-wasting hallmark of a mass catapult into utter stupidity; but over this period of incarceration Jack has demonstrated their true diabolical potential, the ability to conduct business over the phone placing him relentlessly on the water.

Surely you too have a selfless friend who shares the joys of living when they lie beyond your reach. Lest I mercifully forget there's a world somewhere out there sorely missing me, I receive about twenty reminders a day replete with a detailed account of the stunning scenery, what he's casting to and how comfortable is his confounded kayak. This will wear down even the firmest resolve.

"You know you're not an Eskimo, don't you?" I needled.

"Semi-tropical one. They call me Bananuk of the South."

You can't argue with a fanatic. You just have to break out for a day and go fishing with him. Like any religious zealot, Jack proselytizes, trying to bring along others on his new ride. An essential part of his vision is insulting the ten-foot Sears jonboat I got for graduating high school. There's not a vessel I'd rather fish out of including the most jumped up, decked out and preciously-colored kayak.

It was on.

Kayak versus jon boat.

A kayak, says Jack, is;

EASIER TO TRANSPORT: I'll give him his first point. Kayaks are indeed lighter and therefore the better choice for fishermen too weak to load an aluminum jon boat.

FASTER: On the assertion of speed, I can relate only what happened, without prejudice. We beat dawn to my favorite lake--pitch black water supporting cypress tree reflections to make you wonder which way is up. We plowed across a mile of this stuff to the hot spot and the guy pulling oars made first contact. Jon boat to Gryffindor.

FARTHER: Fishing most of a summer day, we both made it to most corners of the lake so we'll call it even.

BETTER WITH PLANTS: On his kayak Jack ice skates across dense hydrilla while motor boaters are rolling a pickle down the street with their nose. With their four-year old on their back squealing, "Giddyup, Daddy." During Mardi Gras. This gets him to water that motor boaters don't even know about and lack the stealth to take full advantage of if they did. And he finds lots of unmolested fish.

The jon boat can acquire this target also but it requires the advanced rowing technique of pointing oars straight back to let the 10-pound biomass slide off the blades before initiating the backstroke. And you're hoping you've got momentum sufficient to carry you that critical boat-length per pull with the flat bottom scraping along the weeds. If you stop, you're done.

Rowing a jon boat through water hyacinths is as effective as rowing It across a parking lot. Conversely, the pointy little kayak cuts through the fiendish flowers like Rick Scott through an education budget.

For negotiating weeds, kayak takes it, proof that this comparison is unbiased.

ROD HOLDERS: They're called hands. And if you need more than two, fill up your jon boat with rods.

QUIETER: Only when I forget the oar pin oil or Jack stops yakking, either one highly unlikely. And I'm pretty sure fish can't hear squeaking oars anyway. But kayaks are stealthy. You know you're sneaking up on the fish when instead of spooking, you bump them.

EASIER ANCHORING: Okay, I drop my anchor and then start looking for someplace to tie it off, often my big toe. The "anchor trolley" common to fishing kayaks is pretty sweet, enabling you to drop anchor at either end, determining how the wind faces you.

MORE COMFORTABLE: Like many modern people, Jack has back problems. When he first tried his kayak, It was disappointingly uncomfortable. So he bought a special seat. With this he is good for the whole day. Once he gets himself a catheter he'll never even have to get out.

Special seat or not, jon boat is more comfortable. Jon boat with special seat, though admittedly overkill, would be pure Heaven with a biscuit. And here's the clincher: Jack's kayak has minimal freeboard and he won't stand on it. For me an elevated viewpoint is easily gained from which to answer nature any time she calls.

There's a reason six-year-olds don't fly fish: they're too short. Jack fly fishing from his kayak is the same as the six-year-old standing on it. Any fly fisherman-kayak shopper should consider the more stable ones, easily stood on.

In fishing emergencies such as schoolies suddenly appearing to his right,

Jack's kayak paddle must be dropped into lap before fishing can begin, where it is likely to obstruct something (paddle holding accessory is available and easily attached). The rower, however, simply lifts his blades and drops them Into the boat, instantly secure and ready for action.

Jon boat wins!

Now that that's been determined, there's no denying the recent purchase of a kayak has liberated my buddy in a life affirming way. He can toss it on the roof of his tiny car and no body of freshwater is safe from him. Kayaks make great weather vanes and this is his only vexation. To combat wind he has developed a system.

A. Ironically, owning a kayak has made him dependent on the internet. A man who once laughed defiantly at the weather, was voted most likely to get washed off the jetty and/ or hit by lightning now lives and dies by His first love was but he claims the government oracle far more likely to be accurate.

B. Go fishing in a sheltered location: trees or lee side.

Jack monitors the weather site like a mother hen over her clutch, starting a week out, identifying the promising days of the future and then nursing them along up to the moment of escape. Having availed himself of as much technology as he can stand, Jack zooms to his chosen destination well before dawn, hopeful of calm. If the fish he conquers are surprised to meet a human that way, imagine what they might think about their ultimate destination--completing his experience on Facebutt.

There is a webfooted problem beyond solving by any website. Jumbo size alligators are attracted to Bananuk. I'm guessing they perceive a soft stumpy morsel propped on a floating log, flailing about helplessly; easily snatched off and enjoyed. He has been stalked twice and made good use of his speed, one time retreating through water hyacinths like a mad harvester.

My jon boat would have been trapped by the hyacinths and I forced to deal with ignorant beings unwilling to leave me on top of the food chain. On the other hand, I can stand and present a less appetizing image.

Who knows what it all means but I suspect it boils down to a matter of preference and these days a lot of people do prefer kayaks. With the fishing-friendly products available now, this is their Golden Age.

Parting Thoughts

A good rule of thumb concerning one -man-powered craft in the modern era is: The easier it is to arrive with, the less effective it is on the water. So a person has to balance the tradeoff in deciding which way to jump. Once on the water you can't beat a good old aluminum jon boat. With a station wagon, pickup, van or horse it's trouble-free transport but carrying cartop requires wide racks and possibly two people to put it up there. Taking convenience one step beyond kayak is the most limited vessel of them all, the float tube. But keeping it in the trunk with an electric pump that clips to the car battery lends wonderful spontaneity to life. On a hot summer day, float tube may be my first choice to fish out of. I'd trade range for the sheer, unadulterated luxury of fishing while immersed. It might even beat most jon boats but mine leaks enough to provide a comparable experience. Put a sombrero on my head and I never have to come in.

Enjoying the summer swelter is a major challenge for those without float tube. Jon boat and kayak are both easy to swim from, the key trick of course, getting back in. To re-enter a jon boat, just slide in over the front end like an otter. My highly innovative friend Tom Cary has embraced the transition from airboat to kayak. To combat the heat, he has added to his other self-made features a large beach umbrella. Now in midday he fishes deep in comfort.

There is something about a kayak that makes the owner identify with it and outfit it like a kid does with his bicycle. Both are clearly escape vehicles and half the fun seems to be making them ready for anything. They come in a lot of sizes and styles, one person, two person, sit-upon, sit in, equipped like a 747, bare bones, Democrat, Republican, you can spend a little or a lot. Best to spend time investigating before you spend money purchasing. Or if you prefer to dive into a situation and make the best of it instead of sweating the details, get out your dart board. You really can't go wrong. All modern kayaks are a marvelous addition to any fisherman's life. I've been known on occasion to drive one myself.
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Author:Levine, Tom
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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