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This year I really decided to dedicate some time to learning rivers and new bodies of water. In doing so I’ve found that simplicity is the best medicine when it comes to learning new water.

The first thing I needed to do was pick a kayak that was versatile. I found the perfect match in the Cruise 12. A boat that was both at home on rivers as well as bigger water, I found it to be stable enough to stand and flip brush piles and agile enough handle small swift rivers. My favorite thing about this kayak is it is a clean slate. With the open deck space you can customize it as much or as little as you’d like. I put it to the test on waters ranging from Lake Erie and Susquehanna River to small lakes and rivers like the Yough and Grand. This was the perfect boat for my simplified approach.

The next step was to adjust my habits. In the past I’ve been one to pack upwards of 6 rods and every piece of tackle in my garage. I’ve found that I spent more time rifling through gear than fishing. So this year I set a limit of 4 rods, 2 small Plano boxes, and a small binder for plastics. I also decided for most trips to leave my fish finder at home. There were certainly times I missed it but in the end it forced me to adjust and pay closer attention to conditions. 

At the beginning of the season tackle was where I had my hardest time. Before every trip I found myself going over boxes and boxes of lures, trying to justify reasons to carrying more gear. Now with the season winding down I’ve found some themes that I can use moving forward.


Plastics were the bulk of the gear I carried depending on type of water. On rivers I would carry a 412 Bait Co. Small  Jaw Craw, 412 Bait Co. 5 inch Free Minnow, 412 Bait Co. Stick Bait and a Ned rig. I can cover all water columns and activity levels with these 5 Baits from Texas rigged craws to weightless free minnows and wacky rigged stick baits. As far as colors go  95 % of the time I carried 3 colors -Green Pumpkin, Black and blue or JuneBug and Baby Bass.

Continuing with rivers I would usually carry a Squarebill like a Lucky Craft 1.5 in a Shad pattern, a 1/4 412 Bait Co phase IV spinner in Tenn Shad and Baby Bass. The last lure I would bring is a Z-Man Chatter bait in white and green pumpkin. As late summer heat arrived I swapped out the chatter bait for either a buzzbait or whopper plopper. These baits were a staple all season long and I didn’t have to deviate from them often throughout the season.

Lakes were a different story; I found that with this approach I needed to do my homework a little more. I spent most of my season fishing shallow and visible cover. If I found weedy or pad filled lakes I would take the 5 inch Free minnow and a beaver style bait like the 412 Bait Co Enigma. Colors stayed similar with Green Pumpkin, Black and Blue and Baby Bass.

Hard baits for weedy lakes were also easy fishing jigs and chatterbaits in black and blue and green pumpkin around pad fields and weed edges.

With clearer rocky lakes or lakes with standing timber Ned rig, wacky rig reigned in natural colors like Baby Bass and green Pumpkin. Hard baits consisted of jigs and squarebills in those same natural colors. I would also throw a few jerkbaits to cover water.

As you can see a pattern is really forming and with these couple colors and versatile style of baits I was able to consistently cover most conditions and activity levels of fish on a wide variety of water. I really enjoyed this little experiment and found during my trips I wasn’t spending time digging through boxes and constantly retying and spent more time fishing and enjoying time on the water.