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Devils Lake Journal - Devils Lake, ND
  • Peter Costa: Learning the ups and downs of kayaking

  • I have been working on improving my kayaking skills this summer. I haven’t tipped over once, nor shipped water, nor been forced to shore by North Atlantic-like waves cast out by giant twin-engine power boats.

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  • I have been working on improving my kayaking skills this summer. I haven’t tipped over once, nor shipped water, nor been forced to shore by North Atlantic-like waves cast out by giant twin-engine power boats.
    Of course, it helps to kayak at 5 a.m. when the lake is as flat as a phonograph record and the only other marine traffic is a team of ducks making silent ripples with their swiveling feet. But, seriously, even at 3 p.m. on a Saturday, I have managed to guide my kayak from one end of the lake to the other without scaring people watching from the shore.
    I credit my newfound success with being able to manipulate the twin-bladed paddle with as little tilt as possible. I have discovered the true center of gravity of the craft and know how to pull on the paddle just until the kayak starts to yaw. When I reach that point, I switch to the other end of the paddle and draw it back with just the right number of ergs to keep the keel flat.
    For oncoming turbulence, the safest thing to do is to head directly into the wake left by the power boats. But even with this clever, small-boat procedure, the waves can be so large that they can cause the kayak to start to “pitch pole.” This is a rather frightening experience illustrated in the climax of the film, “The Perfect Storm,” when the boat goes end over end, stern over bow, bow over stern.
    So far, I haven’t pitch poled, but I have ridden a roller-coaster sine wave through one cycle. The thing to do here is stay calm, stay low, play possum and maybe the big, bad wave will go away.
    It often does. If it does not and you find yourself upside down, you can show off your kayak roll in which you roll the craft over in one motion so that you have righted yourself. I recommend doing the roll after a few seconds, otherwise one risks getting separated from the boat and swimming with the fishes.
    With my new boating skills, I thought I would advance to fishing from the kayak. This is challenging. It requires balance, hand-eye coordination and temper control. Spin casting from a kayak takes some getting used to.
    It proves that, indeed, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Cast a mighty arc to the shore and the kayak pushes backward rather fast. Also, because of the extremely small friction footprint of a kayak - that’s what makes it so easy to paddle – slight winds can cause you to drift pretty quickly away from your fishing area.
    But the worst instance of being out of control can be caused by simply hooking a robust fish. I was casting when I got a strike and the fish sounded to the bottom. The kayak swerved 90 degrees and tilted precariously. It slowly righted itself as the fish pulled away. The kayak followed effortlessly as if being towed by a great white. I knew I had to put down the fishing rod and pick up the10-pound mushroom anchor I carried on board and deploy it over the side.
    Page 2 of 2 - I hoped I wasn’t in water deeper than 20 feet. Luckily, the anchor caught the mud bottom and set. The kayak came to an abrupt halt, catapulting my fishing rod onto the deck, just a few inches from my reach. For the next few anxious moments, I tried to catch the rod with the paddle. Finally, I managed to drag it back into the kayak. The line had gone slack and the fish had gotten away. I was delighted.
    I could not imagine juggling paddle and rod, landing the fish, holding it by its lip and untangling the hook, all the time bobbing up and down to the blasts from the ski boats. I secured the rod under the bungee cord of the deck and paddled slowly, but steadily toward home. I had dreamed of tying a giant large-mouth bass to the side of the kayak à la the old man in Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea,” but was happy enough now with just resembling the story line of “Little Toot,” the little tug that could, by being brave, work with the big boys.
    Peter Costa is a columnist for GateHouse Media. His latest collection of humor columns, “Outrageous CostaLiving,” is available at amazon.com.
     
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