Outdoors: Winter kayaking pays off for Gary resident

Paul Nicksic of Gary poses with his winning brown trout caught in Lake Michigan on Jan. 28.

There are plenty of places most folks would rather park their butt on a Saturday morning in January than in a kayak on Lake Michigan.

Then there is Paul Nicksic, a 60-something Gary resident, free spirit and devout yak-fishing fan.

"I was bundled up, had my (flotation) vest on," Nicksic said. "I wasn't going far out there. Besides there was a major feeding period (according to lunar tables) at midday."

I'll let the moon phase thing slide, although the words loony and lunar sound quite similar. But, for those who haven't fished from a kayak, be aware the seat is below the surface and there is something like 3/16 of an inch of plastic resin separating you and the surrounding water.

And this was Jan. 28, complete with sub-freezing air temps, barely-above freezing water and a knifing wind from the west.

"I put in at Michigan City about 11 a.m. and this big brown hits about 11:30," Nicksic said. "It was a good fight."

Indeed, any battle with any fish is a great one seated in a kayak. It is hand-to-fin fishing — you're practically in the water with the fish.

"I get him in, but don't have a stringer and there really isn't much room for both of us in my 12-foot Wilderness Systems (kayak)," Nicksic said. "So it was back to the ramp and off to Chief's (tackle shop)."

That is where the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders were holding the weigh in for one of their Coldest Day tournaments. Nicksic's fish registered nine pounds, four ounces. Easily the biggest brown trout on the day and the largest in many years of the club events.

It’s an impressive trout made more remarkable by being caught from a kayak in January.

Nicksic took winning in stride, mentioning he has caught bigger browns before, and pointing out kayaking is as much for exercise as fishing.

"My wife likes my body," Nicksic bragged.

Nicksic's brown bit a golden roach (large minnow) drifted behind the kayak with simple split-shot and hook.

Best steelhead for the Jan. 28 contest was 11 pounds, three ounces and caught by Josh Patton. Complete results are at www.nwisteelheaders.org. Note there is another Coldest Day tournament, which is free and open to the public, set for Feb. 18.

Back to kayaking, winter and Lake Michigan need to be left to the experts. No way around that.

Paddling does have a lot of positives, however. I've had visions of looking up at leaping Skamania, being towed in circles by powerful chinook or husky carp and finding hotspots inaccessible to power boats or anglers on foot.

A kayak offers a way to beat the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on the pier when the salmon or steelhead are in. Or, to slip in off the beach for a limit of perch. Or to access shallow-water bass and bluegill haunts others cannot.

It’s also great for birding and viewing wildlife — providing stealth and the capability to cover considerable distances.

As Nicksic mentions, it will also help keep you in shape. If there is such a thing as relaxing exercise — paddling might be it. Where better to get the arms and legs pumping than on the water in the great outdoors?

Best source of local kayaking information, and a great organization, is the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association. Check them out at www.nwipa.org.

• Outdoors notes: Feb. 18-19 is a free fishing weekend in Michigan. No license or trout/salmon stamp is required. Next weekend is also the Dunes Rifle and Pistol Club's annual Gun and Knife show at the Porter Co. Expo Center in Valparaiso. For more details, visit www.valpogunshow.com.

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