Kansas City fisherman Glen Woods is largely
responsible for the fact that I'm a fly fisher.
I'm sure he never imagined things would go quite
this far; all he suggested that I do, ten years
ago, was try crappie fishing his way - using a
fly rod outfitted with an ultralight open face
spinning reel. During the spring spawn, this is
Glen's go-to rig when he fishes near-shore areas
from his bass boat.
Glen knots a 1/16 or 1/32-oz. leadhead jig to 6-lb.
test monofilament and uses his fly rod like a cane
pole to vertical fish the area inside a 9-ft. radius
of his boat. He lowers the jig straight down until
it bumps bottom, lifts it a few inches then slowly
swims the jig from side to side. According to Glen,
if any crappies are down there they have a hard time
saying no, especially when the jig is lowered through
dense brush and appears right in front of their noses.
His method sounded too cool to pass up, so I gave
it a try using an 8-ft. 5/6-wt. graphite fly rod
I'd bought a couple of years earlier and used in
the conventional fashion for one summer before
giving up fly fishing entirely. To say Glen's
way works is an understatement. Sometimes it
caught crappies like they were going out of style.
And that success got me wondering, "What would
happen if I cast a weedless fly into this same
cover? With longer lateral passes, would I do
as well or maybe better than with jigs?"
I spent a couple of years mulling how to use my
fly rod the "right way" in shoreline cover. The
sticking point was always the same: I hate losing
gear to snags. So based on my assumption that
weedless flies are not commercially available, I
decided not to attempt traditional fly fishing
methods. Just stick with bumping jigs off the
bottom and be happy with that.
Not once did I explore the issue by visiting with
a fly shop employee. How come? Well, I also assumed
there were no fly tackle shops anywhere within 500
miles of Lawrence, KS. Had I checked the Kansas
City phone book, though, I'd have found
Flyfishers and learned that, yes, weedless flies
are indeed available. For example, there is a
Clouser's Minnow variant that comes equipped with
a mono loop weed guard. That little puppy would
have changed my crappie fishing lifestyle years
ago. Ah...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
After only two spawning seasons, I quit using
Glen's fly rod & jig method. Unlike Glen in
his heavy bass boat, my fishing boat is a 52-lb.
solo canoe and despite my best efforts I could
not keep my boat stationary once I located a
school of fish. The lightest breath of wind
would push my boat around, usually away from
the sweet spot. Or if no wind was blowing,
the struggle put up by even a small crappie
would pull my canoe into the place where the
fish was hooked, spooking the other crappies
Naturally, I tried using an anchor to prevent
this unwanted movement. But when lowering my
10-lb. steel anchor over the side, more often
than not it would bang loudly against the hull.
Goodbye crappies. Strike one.
If I succeeded in anchoring quietly, I then had
to tie off the anchor line at a point near my
paddling station (thwart bar, sliding tractor
seat rack, or around my waist). You might not
think that a canoe anchored amidships is a
problem. Think again: now the wind hits the
canoe broadside. The canoe begins kiting on
its tether, and the yawing motion is unpredictable
and sometimes severe. My canoe would cast shadows
or pass directly over places I wanted to probe.
So I stopped carrying an anchor altogether and
attempted to hold my canoe in place using
figure-8 sculling strokes - paddle in one hand,
fly rod in the other. Once a crappie was hooked,
though, I needed both hands to land the fish.
With no paddle in the water during the fight,
the crappie usually pulled me into the hot spot.
And when sculling with one hand and working my
rod with the other, I often lost control of the
paddle and clanked it loudly against the canoe's
hull. Strike three, batter retired.
In breezy Kansas, at some point in the day every
crappie trip deteriorated into a mentally and
physically exhausting ordeal. Wind and water
currents, wave action, hooked fish - these forces
kept moving my boat into places I didn't want it
to go. All this grief was being caused by a
fundamental shortcoming: my inability to hold
position once I located a good spot.
If I wanted to pursue crappie fishing seriously,
it made sense to use a boat. The big federal,
state and county lakes in Kansas are largely
inaccessible to shoreline fishing (which arguably
is a good thing; as a recreational group, fishermen
are the worst litterbugs on the planet). I enjoy
the solitude that comes from separating myself
from a crowd, so I wanted to solve my anchoring
problem and take full advantage of my canoe's
The only solution I could imagine was to anchor
both ends of my canoe, because no matter where
it was tied off, a single anchor alone would
never keep my boat from swinging in wide arcs.
Two anchors were needed, anchors I could lower
from both ends of my boat more or less
simultaneously by remote means while kneeling
at my paddling station. Trouble is, canoes are
not factory designed to enable such anchoring.
I'd seen "cat's paw" anchor outriggers advertised
in various canoeing catalogs, but was unsure
whether their designs were compatible with the
shape of my canoe ends. I began looking at
building customized outriggers (a daunting
prospect for a registered member of the Carpentry
Challenged). But even if I could build my own
cat's paws, I feared they'd get damaged when the
canoe was turned upside down and lifted onto my rack.
(Or they might gouge my truck's paint job.) Using
cat's paw outriggers meant that every trip I'd have
to mount them before putting my boat in the water,
then take them back off before racking my boat for
the trip home.
Also, with a cats paw outrigger the anchor line
runs over a pulley then down into the water.
Keeping the anchor line from jumping off the
pulley involves threading it through at least
one fairlead located adjacent to the pulley. This
task must be done prior to launch, and of course
the procedure is reversed at the end of the trip.
And even with a cat's paw outrigger there was still
the matter of securing the lines once both anchors
were down. This task in particular had better be
done right or else the anchors and their lines go
over the side and I lose the whole works in one shot.
Last, how do I carry my anchors when the canoe is
underway? This was no small issue. If they are
hanging from the boat ends, solid metal anchors
will clank like sledgehammers on a back alley trash
can every time the boat rolls and pitches, and those
sharp noises will scare off the fish before I even
get within casting range. And if the anchors are
carried on board, they must be stowed amidships
within easy reach, so that I can lower them by hand.
Many feet of anchor line are lying on the floor of
my canoe, which means that after I reach a fishing
spot there's a chance the anchor lines will get
tangled in other gear at the moment of anchor drop.
(Oops, there goes that $500 digital camera!)
There seemed no avoiding it: I would have to outfit
my canoe with a homemade anchoring system of my own
design. Well amigos, I can report to you that the
hardest part of inventing a nautical system is
simplifying the design so that it meets the fundamental
task requirement but does absolutely nothing else.
Henry D. Thoreau said it clean: "Simplify. Simplify."
Sounds easy, but I'm one of those people who can't
fix a leaking faucet without it taking six trips
to Ace Hardware to buy the right damn washer. And
on home projects, I have a bad habit of making the
simplest job more complex and expensive than it
needs to be.
For years I ran various outrigger designs through
my mind, rejecting them one after another. Eventually
I did outfit my canoe with a workable system, but
doubts and fears were running rampant the whole
time - no more so than when it came time to shell
out money for the components. Not until my modified
canoe went into action this spring could I confirm
that the system functions as designed. Here are
its main features:
My next story on this topic will include a materials
sheet, price and supplier's lists, plus some
generalized installation instructions in case anyone
is interested in a system like this for their canoe,
kayak, or other suitable small craft.
- To solve the "hard anchor hull-banging" problem,
I made soft anchors using small nylon stuff sacks
half-filled with lead bird shot. These soft anchors
make hardly a sound if they bump against the boat.
And because the bags don't have hard edges, they
don't snag on the bottom.
- To solve the "lost anchor" threat, I used braided
polypro river rescue rope. This type of rope floats
and is yellow in color - two characteristics that make
recovery easy should an anchor line accidentally slip
over the side.
- To solve the "knot tying" problem, I installed
micro cam cleats on my thwarts - one each for the bow
and stern anchor line. (You would want three cam cleats
if you own a tandem canoe.) Once an anchor touches
bottom, I pull its line down into the cam cleat and
release; the spring-loaded cams seize the line and
prevent it pulling back through. I don't tie knots
anymore, ever. And when the time comes to move to
a new fishing spot, I pull straight up on each anchor
line and it pops out of its cam cleat slick as a
- To make my anchor lines come away from the
exact ends of my canoe (optimum for pinpoint boat
positioning), I installed threaded U-bolts on my
end caps. These U-bolts serve as fairleads for
the anchor lines. No outriggers or pulleys are
involved; the anchor lines simply rub over the
hard plastic end caps then run down into the water.
In the ready position (while underway) the anchors
barely move because the bags are pulled tight against
the fairleads and held fast by the micro cam cleats.
Meantime, here's a photo of my 2-anchor system in
operation. No boat action is evident in the photo,
but that's the whole point. Hooked fish no longer
can pull my canoe toward their hideouts. Those days
are over. ~ Joe firstname.lastname@example.org
From Lawrence, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts
upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years
has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby
Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles
while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping
trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's
'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.
Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the
Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor
sports, writing and music have never earned him any money,
but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the