I can remember it clear as a blue bird day, standing in the bow of my father's canoe, holding on to the gunnels to keep my balance. I couldn't have been more than three. I remember the dip of that bow as each stroke of the paddle pushed the boat along through the waters of the Ozark streams of my youth. By the age of seven I had graduated to paddling the front, by ten I was on the back at times. We paddled those pool and riffle mountain streams through all seasons, rain or snow. The serenity I felt then I carry with me wherever I go.
Time gets away from us. Like falling leaves or an ever changing stream it moves beneath our feet. I fell away from paddling for a couple of years. The stress of college and the call of the sea were undeniable forces. I moved to the Gulf Coast of South Texas right after school and left those beautiful Midwest mountains behind. I had an infatuation with sailing that grew during those days although I didn't have any money. My daydreaming also led me to the realization that I was at my core a fisherman and that would have to be considered into the equation.
Over those years of pining over sail boats, trawlers, and flats skiffs I learned something. Those fiberglass giants were just a means to an end. I wanted to be on the water but boat maintenance often kept me from it. I purchased a small bay skiff and eventually got my Coast Guard merchant marine license so I could run charter boats. I plied the water for several years. My salvation was just ahead. There was a growing interest in kayaking I had heard about, polystyrene boats built for one. I was interested but not sold immediately.
A good friend of mine and colleague charter captain introduced me to his kayaks, we mother shipped them into the bay of the Laguna Madre and paddled waters that were difficult to fish in any larger vessel. The stealth, seaworthiness, and ease of use were immediately apparent. My mind regressed with the first few strokes to the paddling days of my childhood. As I slipped my way through those mangrove lined back bays a change was taking place though I don't think I knew it. Gone was the hum of the two stroke or the vibration of the trolling motor. It was replaced by sounds I hadn't heard before. Flocks of Roseate Spoonbills flew so low over head that all I heard was the rush of their wings through the air. They took no notice of the guy just below them in the low profile plastic boat.
It wasn't long till I was on my first tailing redfish that day. That fish grabbed my topwater spook not more that ten yards from the boat in mere inches of water. It streaked around me and pulled my kayak away from the shoreline. It has been many years since that first day. I have brought many species of fish in to these vessels since then. I've caught tarpon and snook, sharks and cobia, brown trout, rainbows, and small mouth, and I feel like I am just getting started. I paddled at least ten different rivers and lakes this past year as well as spent more than a hundred days in the Gulf of Mexico and I hope to do at least that this year too, branching out even further. I keep a kayak on top of the truck most days of the year and it goes with me everywhere. You can't just pull a big bay boat around just in case you get the urge!
Once a paddler, always a paddler I know now. I just had to work my way back around to it. I have since sold all of my power boats and their paraphernalia. My dreams now are all about kayaks and the multitude of remote places I can reach with them. The minimalism is sweet perfection to me, a sleek vessel, a good paddle, and just enough gear for the expedition ahead.