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Black Marlin in Panama

My buddy Craig Miller gets on one of the biggest fish we have ever hooked from our kayaks while down in Panama last year. This was one of the strangest fights ever, particularly for such a big fish.

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Big Tuna from my kayak in Panama

I have so much blogging to catch up on, still need to get up the photos and reports from our trips to Georgia, Florida and Mazatlan. On the road so much just not enough time to get everything I need done, but I will get on it ASAP.
In the mean time I hope you enjoy this video of my catch of a 120 pound yellowfin Tuna while kayak fishing in Panama. This was the toughest fight I have ever had from my kayak.

Kayak Fishing The Petawawa River

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Jim keeping warm in his ExOfficio Travel Gear under the Parliament Building

There is something disturbing about emerging from a backcountry trip after 6 days. An uncomfortable ‘birthing’ back in to the land of the living and urban sprawl. An opposite feeling to that revelation of ease and comfort you have as you realize that you have escaped your life, job, cell phones, smelly people, cubicle, desk chair spackled existence.

Les Boys

On day two of this trip, producer Ken Whiting turned to us and tried to explain a feeling he had just felt. “During that hike, I had this sudden sensation that I belonged here.” Those words rang true to my very core. It was the same feeling I had been having, the same weird warmth that I was having so much trouble trying to explain soon after the packing ended and the paddling had begun.

We talk about it a lot around here. How the average person’s world seems increasingly farther and farther away from the wilderness. Forests are getting smaller and more controlled. People fear things like bugs and fish, and the simple skill of lighting a fire seems beyond far too many peoples grasp. It takes only a short while in the woods to realize that you are perfectly safe and at home out in the wilds. There will be work, pain and hardships, but your body was designed to take it, your body needs it. Your body needs to get out of the office and be set free on nature to feel whole again. A feeling many of us will never ever get to feel as we grow more and more urban, and are less apt to send our kids outdoors. Lucky for, Jim, Ken, Lisa, Jamie, and myself, we have a job that forces us outside and keeps us there. This time it lead us to the banks of the Petawawa river.

Now let me talk a bit about equipment…before I tell ya all about what happened, lets talk about how we did it.

The Camp

In order to make this adventure possible, safe, and filmable… we needed some special gear. Drybags were our first priority, we needed dry clothes. NRS made bags that were perfect for us, from big bags to hold all our tents, to small bags that would fit in to the gunnels of the Trident 13 kayaks. The bags worked perfect, and everyones gear was kept perfectly dry, on a very wet trip. If you paddle a lot, get some NRS bags, these things are super tough and totally waterproof. Also, on the topic of Kayaks. The Ocean Kayaks we took on this trip served us perfect. In our opinion, no other fishing kayak coulda handled the beating.

Second, we needed to be able to recharge our batteries. We had the chance to test out Brunton’s big solar panel and battery combo. No special gear required, we just folded out the panel and it juiced up a battery that we could plug our cameras directly in to.. just like a wall socket. Worked like a charm and kept Lisa and I shooting for a whole week without a plug.

Now for safety. Jim and I aren’t whitewater ‘yakkers, se we needed a couple of helmets to keep our noggins from getting bonked. Sweet Protection’s helmets were the go to choice, as they are rugged, and still manage to look cool.

As for camping, our tents were all from Mountain Hardwear, and these babies rock. They are super lightweight and the poles can totally take the beating we put them thru running the rapids.

petfishing-3793Coffeeeeeeee

Last, we needed to be fed. We went with dried pre packaged camp food from Backpackers Pantry. Mostly because the food is super tasty and filling.. but as an added benefit, it packs well and is super light. I recommend the cheesecake. It rocks. Done.

Jamie's Musky

The Petawawa River was amazing. Our first two days were spent on lake Traverse with none other than musky fishing legend, Jamie Pistilli. Jamie camped out with us for the first night and made sure we knew where the musky were. (as you can read in his last post) All three boys caught Musky that day. Proving that Jamie is one heck of a guide.

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After leaving Jamie behind to run home and celebrate his son’s birthday (which co-incidentally also marked the anniversary of his gong show of a musky catch in Game On 1) we began a rambling row into a wonderland of Canadian fall beauty. The leaves literally changed before our eyes, from green to bright orange, to flaming red. The first day offered little in the way of musky, of which Jamie had given our anglers a burning hunger for the previous day. As we left Traverse behind, the river narrowed and the trees grew tight around us. The bitter cold of the night before finally seeped from our bones as the paddling loosened up our muscles. Jim caught another small Musky, but the big ones would just blow up and spit out our lures, leaving the anglers frustrated.

Our first campsite lay just beyond a small rapid, nestled in the elbow of the river… simply, perfect. There was an awesome little drop pool just in front of camp. In that pool lay a plethora of catfish, you could catch as many as you had soft plastic grubs. Each one was over 6 pounds, and had a fun fight to haul them up. All three of us immediately grabbed rods and jig heads and began hauling them up until our arms tired. This is what we were looking for. No one fished here, so the fishing was easy. Catfish may not be a 45 inch musky, but it sure was fun, and as long as our rods were bent, there were smiles on our faces.

petfishing-4263Early to rise on day two and a short row to ‘crooked shoot’, with a few fish along the way (mainly bass and a bunch of musky blow ups, nothing big landed).This was the only technical whitewater on our route, and we knew that the raft wasn’t gonna take the beating. So we broke down our equipment and prepared to portage it to safety on the far side of the rapids. This was fine for our packs and barrels, but there was no way the four of us could haul the raft through the kilometre long trail. While ken ran the kayaks with painstaking perfection through the complicated pools of rushing water, we brainstormed a solution. It would be rough, but we could do it. We had to haul the raft over a rocky outcrop, and down through and old logging chute. It took us most of the day to finally get back in the water. Ken had the stamina to keep fishing (which amazed me since he had to run the rapid twice, do a 1 k portage, and help line and haul the raft), Lisa and I needed to jump in the lake to clean off the stink of sun beaten labor, and Jim simply passed out in happy exhaustion with a glass of wine and a book.

Third day started sluggish, but offered the first real signs of musky. Ken called us over as he had stalked a musky in to a corner and felt like it was gonna strike.  As we got the cameras rolling that fish exploded to the surface and finally stuck on a hopping frog. This began the ultimate musky fishing trip ever.

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Musky are a tough fish to catch. Trust me, I have sat and watched the best try and fail for hours on end. That’s the way musky are. A frustrating fish, but when you catch one you will be willing to spend days trying to get the next monster. In pressured waters like the Madawaska River, we have sat for days with only one musky even bothering to bite a line. In Jim’s words, “You gotta be really patient, or a bit nuts to wanna catch one of these fish.” The Petawawa was different. Here, the musky were plentiful, powerful, and hungry for lures.

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Ken had it dialed in for the next two days. The weather turned a little rainy and that only seemed to help the bite. Four big musky in 6 hours became the new record of the day as the veteran kayaker hauled in monster after monster. The trick was to hit the pools just before the rapids and just after with big Sebile Lures.

Sebile meets musky

Sebile meets musky

The musky were hungry for the little bass in the pools and the Sebiles were the perfect treat. This was the special day when lady luck shone down on our producer. This was Kens ultimate fishing day.

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Jim was getting  frustrated. He caught the only walleye of the trip and lots of little ‘skis but so far, no monster musky. The walleye made for a nice dinner, but his arm was getting sore from casting and no fish. His eyes were on the prize as our final day loomed on the horizon.

petfishing-4893On the morning of the sixth day, there was fish for the great Sammons. First he conquered the bite, as finally a massive 38 incher stuck to his big silver Sebile. The rest of the day was followed by fish. Many fish. In three hours Jim caught 3 monsters. Bringing our count  to 15 musky in 6 days. That many in a year would be a respectable amount. That many in just a few days is insane. Perfectly, wonderfully, Insane.

We even managed to walk away without lodging any hooks in our hands…

The most serene and wonderful camping trip of all time, complete with great food (from Backpackers Pantry) and great friends. The Petawawa river was an adventure of a lifetime. Amazing that it could be so close to home. Proves that sometimes, in order to find great adventure, you don’t need a lot of money, you just need to look a few miles from your own back door.

A quick thanks to the folks at ExOfficio, Ocean KayakNRS, Backpackers Pantry, Sweet Protection, Brunton and Mountain Hardwear for making this trip possible. Please give these guys a visit, and keep your eyes on the blog, as soon we will be telling you all about our crazy adventure in San Diego and northern Baja. We are hooking up with out old friends Paul Lebowitz and Matt Moyer for some more big game adventures

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See you all in San Diego!

Will

(Photos provided by Lisa Utronki and June Veenstra)

Ocean Kayak ‘Torque’ Hits Montana

We finally got a chance this past week in Montana to put the latest addition to the Ocean Kayak‘s rack to the test. Oh man, am I ever excited!

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The reality is that there are situations where paddling is huge hindrance, such as people who just don’t have the upper body strength, or when you absolutely need to troll for certain species of fish at a controlled speed… or if you are a photographer or videographer, shooting 5 guys fishing spread out across a lake and need to zoom from one to the other while never putting your camera down. This is when a pedal powered or motorized kayak is a handy thing. As a camera man I admit to staring at the guys that could zoom across the water with their hands free with a whole lot of lust. If I had something like that, I could keep the camera rolling instead of burning valuable time trying to get to my subjects… who inevitably catch a fish as far away from the camera as possible. Trust Ocean Kayak to come up with the ultimate solution. As soon as the Torque was announced I saw the possibilities.

One of the very first Torques off the production line was sent to Jim for us to try out in Montana. I thought we were gonna be in a bit of trouble when he told me he was bringing an electric kayak with him. The rivers in Montana are extremely shallow. Perfect kayak fishing waters, but absolutly no good for something with a motor. The local anglers all row down the river in specially designed drift boats, not a motor in sight. A motor would only hang up on the rocks and dense weed beds. On the lakes it would be fine… but we had 4 anglers, and two crew… and Jim only had room for 6 kayaks… someone was gonna be banging that motor down the river.

Jim laughed at me, and pulled out the Minn Kota motor and the battery and replaced it with a fitted keel piece that comes with every Torque… In skinny water the torque wouldn’t be a problem. It quickly converted back in to a standard kayak, just as lightweight as any Ocean Kayak Prowler. Consider my skepticism squashed.

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Jim ran the Madison River for the first 4 days in the Unmotored Torque. Nothing much to say there, without the motor it paddled just like any other Kayak. He eventually took out the removable keel to let him get in even skinnier waters, and that made it a bit harder to paddle, as without it, the currents would push up in to the open hole and swing him around from time to time. Thats his fault for wanting to be able to get closer to shore than everyone else.. not the kayaks fault. (it paid off… he caught a ton of fish)

Finally… we got out on Ennis Lake for a real trout fishing fiasco. It was time to put this baby thru her paces. We swapped in the motor and the battery in less than one minute. The hook up was super simple. Jim got in, and proceeded to zoom accross the three miles to the fishing hole… while the rest of us slogged out the paddle. He arrived first.. and was fishing long before we got there.

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A storm rolled in at about 2. It had been raining all day so we didn’t think much of it… until the first lighting strike. We needed to get back to the put in, and fast. A three mile paddle. Enter ‘Super Torque.’ Jim’s son, Randy, was having trouble fighting the wind and rain and was falling behind. Jim quickly rigged a paddle leash as a bow line and hooked Randy up to his kayak. The damn little Minn Kota never slowed down for a second… he pulled both of them to shore (and safety)… once again beating the pack. (Narrowly beaten by CG and Kendal, who wanted to beat the motor on principle)

The Next day it was my turn. I had a theory about being able to do sweet pans and fly by shots using the motor on the lake. It took some begging… but Jim finally gave in. So on the 6th day, Will got his wish, and was now motor powered.

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Like many folks, when I fish, I want to paddle. It lets me tell my wife that I am “Not just fishing… I am getting exercise!”  Which in turn gets me out fishing more. As a camera person, I hate paddling. I am always having to stop rolling because I have drifted away from my subject, or need to paddle like a maniac to get to a hooked up angler. The Torque is perfect for me. I can paddle it on fishing days, or swap out the motor for those long musky trolls… ahem… I mean days where I need to film people… yeah…

For those worried about Motor noise, fear not… the thing is very quiet, (no louder than a frustrated angler muttering curse words on the water) I got some awesome fly by shots, and was able to, for the first time ever, get Jim hook to release on a trout while moving. No time lost. I was able to zoom in tight from a long way away… and there was little to no camera shake. This is the ultimate shooting platform. Kendal just drooled as I zoomed in to position for the shot.

We got a good chance to put the battery time thru the paces. It will run about 2.5 hours at top speed. We also tested it’s pulling capacity. It can tow about 5 other kayaks without losing significant speed. Thats pretty amazing when you think about it. If you have a long way to go to your fishing hole, and lots of kayak fishing buddies… one Torque might be the solution.

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Jim and I both loved the Torque. I can’t wait to get one of my own for all shoots. Go out and give one a spin, I think you will be a convert.

I will leave you with a shot of Jim rolling down the river. Oh Montana… how did ya get so darn pretty.

Will

Operation Panama

The time is almost here, and the intense prep work before we head in to the great unknown begins. 

img_3922Whenever we travel to any location there are a few things we need to do before we leave. People often ask what I do as a documentary film director to get myself and the crew ready for the adventure… here is the answer to that burning question.

The first step happens pretty early on. We choose the location.

Since we started making these movies, we have been flooded with suggestions for places to go. Seems like everyone wants the crew to come out and muck around in their favorite fishing hole. From going to “Egypt for Nile perch” to hitting the “pond behind my cottage”, we get a lot of great ideas from a lot of great anglers… so first we need to narrow it down.

A great fishing seg has to have a few things to make it really sing. 

  1. Great Personalities: What would fishing in Virginia have been without Kevin Whitley? How would Texas have gone off without Birdsnest Herman? The people we fish with are a huge part of the pie, without them we would be just a bunch of guys floggin’ the water. (Panama has all the folks at Pesca Panama and we are bringing in veteran angler/writer/photographer Paul Lebowitz to join the crew.. tada.. personality)
  2. Adventure: The standard rule is “Is there a way we can (almost) kill Jim while we are there? This seems a bit extreme, but that IS the kind of flick we are making. We want people to say “Holy Crap! Those guys are nuts!!” The trip needs some sort of adventure. (Panama is rife with adventure. We are offshore, and the possibility of hooking a 600 pound black marlin is very real… on top of that… we are gonna be right near one of the coolest nature reserves in the world)
  3. Fish: Most people think that this is the most important element. It is and it isn’t. There needs to be fish, thats a given. However, it can’t just be one kind of fish. The biggest mistake/lesson learned last season was that going to a place and only fishing for one thing most often leads to catching nothing at all. So a great location needs TONS of different fish, and we need to be smack dab in the middle of the best season for the most fish possible. (Panama literally means “many fish’ in the native tongue, and we are going there in the best season… there are over 30 species to catch, and weather permiting.. we gonna try to catch em all on film)

img_5115If a location has all those things, then it is booked and we set a date. Often there is a ton of prep work that goes on for the next few months before we leave. From setting up plane rides to film from, to getting kayaks shipped to the location (that can take months depending on how far out the spot is)

A week before is when my job as the director really ramps up. I need to know as much as I can about where we are going and who we are shooting with before I go. So I settle down for a few days and start mining the internet for every bit of info I can find. I collect everything I find in to one big document and it becomes my almanac during my trip. 

To make a good movie, you need to know what story you want to tell. The story could be as simple as “Jim catches big fish with tiny boat”, but as I said before.. that doesn’t always happen… and does the world really want to sit around for an hour watching him do that over and over? The people and places are just as important to the story. So knowing who and where you are gonna shoot will lead you to the best shots, and coolest stories.

So that is where I am at today. Research. Here are some fun facts about Who, What , and Where we are going.

Blackfin tuna (Thunnus atlanticus) is the smallest tuna species in the Thunnus genus, generally growing to a maximum of 100cm (39 inches) in length and weighing 21kg (46 lbs). Blackfin have football shaped bodies, black backs with a slight yellow on the finlets, and have yellow on the sides of their body. Blackfin are only found in the western Atlantic from Cape Cod to Brazil.
This tuna does not consume as much fish in its diet than other tunas and will actually eat the tiny larvae of stomatopods (king shrimp or mantis shrimp), true shrimp, and crabs, as well as fish larvae. It does, of course, also eat juvenile and adult fish and squid. They are a short-lived, fast-growing species; a 5 year old fish would be considered old. They reach sexual maturity at two years old and spawn in the open sea during the summer. Blackfin tuna are a warmer-water fish, preferring water temperatures over 68°F (20°C). What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers and willingness to bite.
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  • Blackfin tuna (Thunnus atlanticus) is the smallest tuna species in the Thunnus genus, generally growing to a maximum of 100cm (39 inches) in length and weighing 21kg (46 lbs). Blackfin have football shaped bodies, black backs with a slight yellow on the finlets, and have yellow on the sides of their body. Blackfin are only found in the western Atlantic from Cape Cod to Brazil. This tuna does not consume as much fish in its diet than other tunas and will actually eat the tiny larvae of stomatopods (king shrimp or mantis shrimp), true shrimp, and crabs, as well as fish larvae. It does, of course, also eat juvenile and adult fish and squid. They are a short-lived, fast-growing species; a 5 year old fish would be considered old. They reach sexual maturity at two years old and spawn in the open sea during the summer. Blackfin tuna are a warmer-water fish, preferring water temperatures over 68°F (20°C). What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers and willingness to bite.
  • Coiba National Park, off the southwest coast of Panama, protects Coiba Island, 38 smaller islands and the surrounding marine areas within the Gulf of Chiriqui. Protected from the cold winds and effects of El Niño, Coiba’s Pacific tropical moist forest maintains exceptionally high levels of endemism of mammals, birds and plants due to the ongoing evolution of new species. It is also the last refuge for a number of threatened animals such as the crested eagle. The property is an outstanding natural laboratory for scientific research and provides a key ecological link to the Tropical Eastern Pacific for the transit and survival of pelagic fish and marine mammals.
  • Paul Lebowitz first started fishing: ” On a camping trip of course. I was maybe six years old when the family visited Big Sur. The river was too chilly to swim for too long, so we whiled away the time catching crawdads on bacon rinds and delicate little trout on gobs of honest to goodness cheddar cheese”
  • Paul loves kayak fishing because: “Kayaks are cheap! I can abuse them, leave them encrusted in mud and they don’t complain. A kayak is always up for a quickie – isn’t that any guy’s definition of perfect? But most of all, when I’m fishing from a kayak I fade into the natural world.”

 

Contents of the Drybag

Contents of the Drybag

Finally… a few days before we leave I have to lay out all my video gear and make sure it works. And give myself enough time to get stuff fixed. This is probubly the most important step. There is nothing worse than being 100 miles offshore in a faraway place and finding out you forgot your batteries.

What we have

 

  • 3 Cameras (Still, Waterproof HD, Big HD)
  • Tapes
  • Drybag
  • Otterbox to keep tapes in 
  • Tripod
  • Microphones (2 wireless lav mics)
  • Standard horizon waterproof radio
  • headphones
  • Rechargers
  • Spare batteries
  • Research and release forms

 

Thats just what I carry on the plane in my drybag. (That way if my luggage doesn’t show up, at least I can still make a movie!)

Till next time!

Will

Photos provided by Lisa Utronki