I felt like a bull rider in a Wild West rodeo, carefully and gingerly straddling the beast and hoping they couldn’t get the gate open and release that critter into the arena. But my friend John Vinson Euton opened the gate by gently pushing me off from shore and into the waters of Spy Run pool on Kinniconick Creek.
Prior to that maiden voyage I had not so much as touched a kayak, much less tried to ride one.
“Steady, boy, steady,” I muttered under my breath as I took a couple of practice strokes with the double-bladed paddle.
“You’ll be OK,” Vinson said. “Just don’t make any sudden, quick moves. And if it should happen to roll over on you, push out of your seat backwards and forget about everything else.”
THE GEAR OR ME
I thought of my new Pflueger rod and reel nestled between my knees, and the plastic box filled with some of my favorite lures resting beneath my legs.
Well, if it came down to them or me, I knew it would be an easy call.
As John Vinson pushed off in his kayak (I was using one belonging to his son, Aaron) I laid the paddle across the kayak and cast a crankbait up along the edge of a weed bed on the right-hand shoreline. On my fourth or fifth cast, something nailed the lure, hard.
When he leaped out of the water and tail-walked across the surface, I knew I had hooked one of Kinni’s famed smallmouth.
As Vinson rooted for me, I eventually brought the fish into the boat. Sunlight glistened off his bronze sides as I held him up by the lower lip to admire him.
He was only 14 inches long, but he had fought like a 3-pounder as I held on, thinking any minute I would tip over.
I removed the hook from the corner of his mouth and released him.
Slowly we made ourselves upstream in the slow-moving pool, which was about 100 yards long.
Soon we came to a shallow riffle tumbling down from the next pool up. If we could make it up that swift riffle, we could fish the next pool.
I paddled the kayak forward until its bottom was scraping the rock bottom. To make it any farther would have required climbing out of the boat and dragging it along. I was not about to try that. I was not climbing out of that boat.
Vinson, working the far side of the riffle, managed to skim across a sunken log and paddle his way all the way up into that pool.
All he got for his effort was a close-up view of two deer drinking from the stream and eventually boating a couple of bluegill. There were other sections of the creek we wanted to fish, so we paddled back to our put-in point to take out.
Getting out of the craft is a big test for a first-time kayaker. Vinson instructed me to paddle hard for the shore, then lean back in my seat as far as possible, thus allowing the bow to slide as far up onto the shore as possible.
Using the paddle as a staff, I stepped out into ankle-deep water. I had passed my first kayak test without getting anything other than my feet wet.
We loaded the kayaks into Vinson’s pickup. We drove up along the stream until we came to State Route 59. We turned right, toward Vanceburg. At Route 344, we turned left and there on our right was the historic Kinniconick Hotel.
The once commercial venture was now the home of Sam and Marjorie McEldowney. Sam died several years ago at age 86, but we found Marjorie still going strong at 93.
We stopped and enjoyed a visit with her and her daughter, Judy, as well as Judy’s husband, John Giattino. The two came to live with Marjorie just after the death of Sam.
A POPULAR PLACE
In the days before the Civil War, fishermen came by steamboat, train, and horse and buggy over the mountain from the Vanceburg landing to the hotel. They came from Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and even from New York. They stayed at the hotel for a week or more and went out in small boats hoping to hook one of the stream’s fighting muskies, the fish the creek had become famous for.
A POPULAR CRAFT
More and more these days the streams and lakes of the region are seeing people in kayaks, either out sightseeing or going fishing. Some hardy anglers have landed muskies from a kayak, a feat I don’t believe I would want to try.
The kayak can be easily loaded or unloaded by a lone fisherman; one reason they have become so popular.
The traditional kayak has a covered deck and one or two cockpits, each seating one paddler.
Kayaks were originally developed by the Eskimos, who used them to hunt on inland lakes, rivers and coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean, the North Pacific Ocean, and the Bearing Sea.
Those first kayaks were constructed from stitched seal or other animal skins stretched over a wood or whalebone frame.
Now the Eskimos probably order a new fiberglass kayak from Amazon, or one of the numerous sporting goods stores that feature them.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at email@example.com or (66) 932-3619.