Summertime Kayak Fishing On The Upper St. Joseph River
Floating From St. Patrick's County Park to St. Joseph River Park
|Put in – Kayak access point||St. Patrick’s County Park|
|Take out – Kayak access point||St. Joseph River Park|
|Float time (while fishing)||5 hours|
|Fish species caught||Large Mouth Bass, Small Mouth Bass, Northern Pike|
|Fishing Habitat||Sandy river bottom, lilly pads, fallen trees, weed beds, floating docks|
To begin with… I’ve never really consider myself a highly skilled bass fisherman. Growing up as a kid, I’d fish for them almost every morning by walking the shoreline at our cottage sight fishing schools of bass in between the neighborhood piers. My weapon of choice back then was my ultralight rod and a live minnow on a gold eagle claw hook. As I got older I started using crank baits and spinner baits, but I always missed being able to sight cast a live minnow to a school of hungry bass cruising the shoreline. I had never learned much about bass fishing beyond these simple approaches until earlier this summer when I had to shoot some lifestyle images of the Sun Dolphin Sportsman 10 bass boats for work. I brought along my friend Dan from the office who happens to be an excellent bass fisherman as he fishes bass tournaments almost every weekend that he can. I spent about 4 hours taking pictures (and asking questions) while he fished and I learned a lot from watching him switch techniques throughout the day.
On two separate occasions this summer I arrived a day late to two very short Skamania runs on Lake Michigan. Outside of a few nice fresh water drum I caought while trying for those summer run steelhead, I hadn’t really caught any fish worth noting from my kayak in almost two months. Eager to try something new, I contacted my friend and fellow Evoke pro staff member Jared to see if he was up for a mid week trip and to see if he wanted to teach me a thing or two about fishing the upper St. Joseph river, a section of river I’d never been on before.
As someone who lives in the Niles, MI area, Jared has a lot of experience fishing this section of the river. During the summer months and usually with a fly rod in hand, he targets small mouth, large mouth and northern pike on this section of river. On this trip though, we decided to leave the fly rods behind due to the increased river flow courtesy of the previous day’s rain.
Our launch point for the day was St. Patrick’s park, which is just south of the Michigan\Indiana border. If you are from Michigan, keep in mind that unless you have both a Michigan and Indiana fishing license, you’ll need to drift down stream about 300 yards before entering Michigan waters.
Because of work schedules we didn’t hit the water until about 11 am that day. Not the ideal time to fish, but I was more interested in learning new waters and new ways to fish in the summer than I was in catching fish. Turns out I got to do all three on this trip.
On my drive to the launch point to meet Jared, I started to think about when the last time I caught a pike was. I came to the conclusion that it had been a long while… and at least 5 years had gone by since I last felt the tug of a pike on the end of my line. So with that in mind I started off the day with the mindset of specifically catching a northern pike on this trip.
After launching the kayaks, we began fishing as soon as we crossed into Michigan waters. I took one side of the river and he took the other with the goal of casting around and behind any structure that existed along the banks of the river (boats, piers, downed trees). I was using a perch colored 5″ rapala and Jerod was using his go-to Johnson weedless spoon dressed with a with and red skirt.
After about an hour into the trip, we had both landed several spirited 1lb+ small mouth bass, but no pike yet. At that point I figured that if the bass were going to be willing participants, then maybe I should work on some of the techniques that I learned from Dan a few weeks earlier. I ended up having really good success fishing a grey Gary Yamamoto senko worm. I fished it unweighted in both wacky rigged and weedless. I would cast it down stream of any structure and let is slowly sink and bounce along the bottom of the river as I drifted with it. Naturally, I found the weedless did a better job of avoiding small pieces of debris as it bounced along.
Since I could drift in my kayak along side of my rig, i was often able to let that worm bounce along the bottom for 50-75 yards at a time. Using this technique, I ended up landing around 15 small mouth bass over the course of the next two hours. I found it to be a very enjoyable way to spend the middle hours of a late summer day.
There were several side cuts areas on the river where the calm, shallow waters were home to large populations of lily pads. It was in one of these areas where I flipped my weedless senko on top of a small patch of lily pads, slowly twitching it till it gently fell off the edge of the pad that it was on. As I was standing in my kayak watching the worm slowly sink to the bottom, I was able to witness a beautiful large mouth as it moved out from the shadow of pads, inhaling my worm as it hit the bottom. It reminded me of my childhood days when I would watch several bass race toward my minnow seconds after it hit the water.
Shortly after this, we had to start paddling towards our pull out as Jared is a pastor at one of the local churches and he had a group meeting later that evening that he needed to be on time for. The trip that day ended up being great. Though I didn’t get a chance to catch a northern that day, I did land my biggest bass ever from a kayak and I did it using a new technique that I had never tried before. Jared ended up landing 3 pike on the day and we both ended up with a dozen + small mouth to keep us busy through out the day.
When things get hot and every thing else slows down this coming summer, I know that I’ll find my way back here a few times. There’s a pike out there that in the middle of the trip slammed my lure the moment it hit the water and sent it flying about 5 feet in the air… I’d like to have a talk with him face to face.