Kayak Fishing Partners

The Essence of Kayak Fishing Partners | Thoughts from Mike Cheatham

  I was asked to put together an article on “selecting on-the-water kayak fishing partners.” To be honest, I have been struggling.  

Not because I am unaware of what I like in people or because I have no kayaking buddies, but because I have not found a single friend since deciding to kayak — I found a family of kayak fishing partners.

From the first time I met Ryan Martin at Caney Fork Outdoors, to the chance meeting of Greg Phipps at the Clarksville Marina, to helping Jay Minor take a kayak out of my garage two days ago so someone could use it… I have done nothing but build an extremely large circle of kayaking buddies. I have been trying to decide if there are any that I wouldn’t enjoy fishing with, or spending time on the water with. I am not finding a single name.

Kayak Fishing Partners: What I Didn’t Know When I Bought My First Kayak

How easy it is to find someone to fish with, someone to help you learn the “how and where” to fish for bass out of a kayak. A quick search on Facebook will find some local kayakers, no matter what region of the country you call home.

In Tennessee alone, there are ten solid clubs (listed here) that when compiled create KAST, Kayak Angler’s Society of Tennessee. Each club has anglers who will help you demo boats – bringing a spare if you don’t have one, show you how and where to fish, introduce you to an ever-widening circle of other anglers to accommodate your style and skill level of fishing. If you cannot find someone to share some water with, you haven’t looked up yet.

I personally love the quiet and solitude of bass fishing from a kayak.

Paddling or pedaling across the water makes you feel closer to nature. You have to physically battle conditions while searching for a bite. Fighting the weather, rising or falling water, and yourself is a large part of the appeal to me. There are a lot of days I go out alone to recharge or re-center.  

At the same time, I have learned to enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie that is prevalent in the kayak community. Tournaments make it “you against nature” and the 20 (or hundreds) of strangers who will quickly become friends.

The first time I fished a tournament, I had no idea how it all worked and had never fished with anyone out of my kayak. I still remember pulling into the parking lot at the Busy Bee store in Cumberland City, then considering driving off as a herd of strangers looked in my direction; parking, putting my truck back in drive… putting it in park… then forcing myself to walk into the crowd of folks and say “hi.”

Just between us …

Before I make it sound too simple, understand something about me:  All of the personality tests that I have taken since high school for college or work labeled me as a more introverted person. I have accepted that the label, as much as I hate labels, is fairly accurate.   

I Googled “introvert” to help me give y’all a fair definition: a shy, reticent person; then I had to Google “reticent” ‘cause I just didn’t exactly know what it meant; “not revealing one’s thoughts or feelings readily”… then I got lost down a rabbit hole about Carl Jung for an hour or two, realized I am a nerd in the truest sense then remembered why I had gone down that path…. anyway… to continue…

So, don’t feel like you are alone when that fear creeps over you during your first event or connection with a fellow kayaker. We have all felt it, and for some of us it can be almost crippling, but worth the effort in the end. Someone will talk to you and drag you into the family if you get close enough to hear them.  

One Thing to Consider In Kayak Fishing Partners

Before you pick kayak fishing partners, if you plan to cover miles and days to attend events, remember the reality of competitive kayak fishing: most of us have day jobs.  

There are a lot of Fridays where we carry our boats to work then head off to drive 8-12 hours, sleep on a ramp for a few minutes, then fish the event before driving back home that night. 

Add two-day tournaments, you are forced to leave late Sunday to get back to work on Monday morning after driving all night. Having a friend along allows sharing of the driving time and gives some nap time for all, in addition to helping with expenses along the way.

 Kayak Fishing partners(1)

Josh Stewart and Anthony Shingler

If you are planning to sleep on a ramp, you better make sure you can tolerate the level of snoring (or snuggling) that might come from your kayak fishing partners.

I can promise you that if you are a light sleeper and are in a Walmart parking lot, or a dark ramp with Anthony Shingler (not a quiet sleeper)… you are in trouble. If you share a cabin or hotel room there are lights, televisions, eating and drinking habits to consider. I stayed with some guys in Guntersville and feel certain that I will never be the same again — ever. As I get older, I am not as adaptable to sleeping with just anyone, so I usually travel with my wife who somehow tolerates all of my bad habits and keeps me out of trouble.

Kayak Fishing Partners: A Quick Story

Here’s one that you will find me repeating again and again if you decide to tournament fish from a kayak.  This is why I tell you writing about selecting one instead of multiple kayak fishing partners is hard, because no matter where you go, you find someone else you would love to spend time on the water with.

I hadn’t found fish and was seriously considering heading home from the KBF Championship held in La Crosse when Jimmy Mcclurken called and said he had found them.

The issue: I would have to pedal a mile and a half with the current, then a mile and a half against a light current.

The trip back, I had to pedal against the Mississippi River, well above flood level. Normally nothing for me — I pedal miles every weekend — so it would just be another day on the water, except for the fact that I had become acutely aware that I couldn’t feel my feet and the stabbing pain in my calves was not going away. 

I knew back surgery was in my future, though not yet on my calendar.  

On day one, Jimmy and I joined up with a guy we didn’t know from Pennsylvania, Ryan Matylewicz. We all left the ramp together, getting to know each other along the long trip down the Mississippi River. Almost to the spot, I bent a fin on my drive. Then I spent an hour repairing it because I knew I was going to have to make the trip back. 

Ryan stopped fishing to come over and check on me – to see if he could help. In the early morning during a big KBF event, he wanted to make sure a virtual stranger was OK.

The three of us spent the day sharing what was working, how we were fishing, what lures we use, fish stories from other events. It was one of those days we all talk about when we say kayaking community. After what was usually a thirty-minute ride that took almost two hours, we were back at the ramp.

Kayak Fishing partners(2)

Ryan Matylewicz and Kelsey Sands at the Championship Captain’s meeting in La Crosse.

We talked at the captain’s meeting and learned by looking at maps that we could cross public land.

We could put in without making the long pedal. The problem was that we had to carry/drag/roll our kayaks almost three-quarters of a mile down a path to put in.

I knew that I could never make it alone.

I could barely walk by day two; my back was failing me and I should have already given in.  

Jimmy called later and said he had bought a dolly made to move furniture. I had a Hobie cart. The next morning, we shared both with each other and then Ryan to make the journey along the path. We made it, fished the tourney, and the two of them helped me pull my kayak onto the path because I couldn’t walk up the hill. 

We pulled all of our gear back down the path and stood talking about our day with Ryan and his girlfriend Kelsey for an hour; friends Jimmy and I did not have when we left Tennessee, but friends we will have going forward.

Kayak Fishing partners(3)

Jimmy at the KBF event on Lake Lanier (9th place) with Scott Beutjer.  George Nemeth and Rus Snyders in the background.

I wanted to share this story because Jimmy and I had met during the last year at our local (CAKFG) events, knew of each other, but had never actually fished together. We had been within sight of each other during a club event and fished a couple of KBF events at the same time, but we were not guys who went out together, until then. We had to talk through Facebook to even exchange phone numbers.

Kayak Fishing Partners: Final Thoughts

I guess all that rambling leads me to this: I have never chosen just one on-the-water kayak buddy, which is why I have struggled to write this. I personally struggle to make initial introductions because of my personality, but that hasn’t hindered me from finding people I enjoy on the kayak trails; it is such a great bunch to hang out with on the water. I have fished with a lot of people and hope to fish with them again in the future. I have a double handful that I will meet up with when I am not traveling somewhere, but it seems in our community that we just naturally gravitate to each other regardless of where we live.  

Maybe just a series of serendipitous meetings that slowly tie us together into a community that I now consider my second family?  Maybe.

Who knows, it may just be a bunch of folks who love kayak fishing and share such passion for the sport that we are all just friends who haven’t met yet?  Either way it will not take you long to have a group to spend time with on the water.

This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

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Mike Cheatham


May 2016, sat in my first kayak. October 2016, skunked in my first tournament. Spring of 2017, placed 11th in the KBF Open and have chased the addiction since. Fishing is the one place my mind gets quiet, the place I have always found peace. To do it competitively with a great bunch of folks is just a bonus. To have an opportunity to combine my love for fishing with writing...I feel like I have finally found a place in this world! I do have the support of a wonderful woman who understands my need to be on the water; she supports my dreams fully....life is truly good.

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