Tyler Thiede of Small Craft Fisherman and I have long wanted to do a multi-day kayak camping excursion on the MS river. This year, we had the opportunity to float a stretch on Pool 4 from Maiden Rock, WI to Pepin, WI.
After weeks of careful planning, mocking our kayaks for storage, and mapping out the float trip, we were ready to begin the journey. Tyler and I were not oblivious to the adventures of river floats. We have done many outings on local rivers and this multi-day float would be that next step in the kayaking experience.
Tyler and I arrived at Maiden Rock, WI, Point A, for the launch. Thank you to Tyler’s wife, Stacy, for being our transport and dropping Tyler’s car off at point B. The cool, dusk air has slowly faded as the day began to warm up. We launch off of our Feelfree Moken 12.5′ v2s and begin our journey down the Mighty Mississippi, aka Lake Pepin on this stretch. The wind was calm; we casted a few topwater and finesse across the open lake while getting our bums ready for the long float. There were no catches for the first one to two hours, but when one is out on a kayak camping adventures, the scenes of nature should also be caught and captured. Shad were swimming in school of dozens and the scattering of thousands of mayflies along the shoreline were breathtaking (and annoying). While floating down the river, we counted dozens of eagles from nearby and afar, both adolescents and mature.
For the first few miles of floating, it was just that: talking, observing nature while nature observed us.
Towards the later afternoon, we did a rest stop in Stockton, WI, thinking their campsite would be opened for camping (sadly, it was closed, potentially due to plumbing/water issues). Being the quick-wit that he was, Tyler announced plan B, which was camping along sandbars. This was a more adventurous option, and we did come out to venture so this fit our impromptu agenda. A few miles down from Stockton, we stopped by a quarter-mile long sandbar to have dinner and set up camp.
I fell into a deep sleep for a few hours, being massaged by the sand. Tyler stayed up for most of the night and was able to capture some scenic landscapes. By the time I woke up, the sun has set and the mayflies have begun to fly across the shoreline of the sandy beach. The sound of waves crashing and fishes splashing from feeding on the mayflies was enough to end the night.
I woke up to the condensation from the cool night dripping on my face. My tent on the inside and out were cool and wet, which was a great wake-up call because this was going to be one of the best mornings I’ve had this year (possibly ever). The lake was motionless, mayflies were out and about, ripples could be seen throughout the shoreline from the feeding frenzy, and temperature were cool enough where if I needed to warm up a bit, I’d dip my feet into the still-warm sandy waters. I observed the feeding frenzy and decided to toss a lure that would mimic a minnow. One regret ran through my mind, which was not bringing along my fly rod. Mayflies coming down to the water are instantly taken by the fish underneath. I rigged up an inline spinner onto my spinning combo and casted as far as I could, slowly reeling, waiting for that hit. After a few casts, I finally got a bump on my lure and pulled in an 11″ smallmouth bass. I wasn’t expecting anything big; the bites that I have been seeing across the shoreline were small. Nevertheless, this was a GREAT sign! The fish are going crazy! I continued to cast out the inline spinner and caught a few more smallies, including a 15.” I also caught a white bass, which was shocking to me because I really didn’t know what I’d catch on the riverbed.
As much as Tyler and I wanted to fish longer, it was time to move along if we wanted to hit our next destination: Pepin, WI. We packed up our camping and fishing gear and proceeded down the river. With the weather quickly warming up, we prepared for the paddle. Many boaters were already out in the morning and waves have started to emerge throughout the river. Thankfully, the Mokens were well-built to handle these types of waterways.
A few miles of floating later, we reached the harbor in Pepin, WI. This area was not kayak-friendly with all the boats and waves; but we were destined to land. It wasn’t a surprise that we were the only kayakers by the harbor; I don’t imagine any inexperienced or recreational kayakers wanting to partake in activities with these big boats.
We shored our Mokens and sat with our drinks and planned for the rest of the trip, whether to continue onward for the next few miles or cut the trip short. After much thought, we decided to end the trip a day early. As much as we wanted to continue he journey, there was a storm brewing up in the evening. Considering we were going to camp again on sandbars, the increased water level was a concern to us. Although the trip was cut short, the trip was one in the books and allowed me to better prepare for future multi-day floats.
What I’ve Learned…
Multi-day kayak camping takes on a whole new level to kayaking. The amount of energy one needs to use and conserve is significant. Balancing time to fish, float, paddle, and set up camp has to all be thoroughly planned for the entire trip. I’m glad Tyler was able to get this set for us. The most memorable part about the trip was the scenic view throughout the entire float. I thought I would be fishing most of the trip, but time was more spent on exploring new bodies of water.
I admit I was unprepared for the amount of water I would be covering. I bought 30 17-oz water bottles for the trip and I went through half of it the first day. Have we continued the trip, I would have had to drink river water (kidding!).
I was able to research and prepare for the entirety of the trip. After reflecting and taking into consideration what I used, needed, should have, here are a list of ESSENTIAL supplies I would bring with me for my next kayak fishing camping excursion:
- Paddle leash
- Life jacket
- Spare clothes
- Water (plan for 1-2 gallons a day; much of your energy will be consumed from paddling)
- Snacks (chips, beef sticks, sunflower)
- Food (I brought tortilla wraps, canned tuna, spinach)
- Working phone/communication device
- Chargers + batter packs for phone/communication devices
- Insect repellent
- Hand wipes
- Toilet paper
- Portable propane grill/stove
- Hi-vis pole/flag
Enjoy some more photos from the trip!
Photos contributed by Tyler Thiede