Another Epic Journey in the Long Life of my Orion 25…
I am hoping that my life is remembered as one of adventure, daring, and breaking new ground, while doing well for others and cutting new paths for others to follow. There are also things I am bringing with me on my life journey that are becoming part of the story. My wife, my kids, my kayak brand, and now my Coolers. We have a saying that came from Rolex, “you don’t own an Orion Cooler, you just keep it for the next generation.” While we can’t prove that our coolers will last forever, they certainly are built that way and I am expecting mine to. What is happening to me now is that I am finding so many different adventures that I have used my cooler to be a part of, that they are becoming part of the overall story.
The latest chapter in this Orion 25 – Blaze, is one where it is strapped to the back of my Coosa HD fishing kayak on a whitewater kayaking expedition down the Ottawa River through the biggest rapids. The Orion is there to hold my food and beer for the trip which would last a couple of days. The concept of my trip was to run rapids to get to areas of the river that had side creeks, OxBows, and backwaters that held big fish.
The trip started off by putting in where the whitewater rafters put-in on the High Adventure trips at places like Wilderness Tours. I loaded my Coosa HD for a three-day trip. The equipment for the trip was spread out to trim out my kayak for the whitewater. My Big Agnes tent, pad, and sleeping bag were put in the front hatch because they were lightweight but took up a lot of room. If the bow of the kayak is floating high it will go over the waves better instead of through or under them.
My 4 fishing rods were stored in the rod tip protectors and strapped along side of the boat when running rapids. The double bungee system on the side of the Coosa HD secures them well and I wasn’t worried about losing anything if I tipped over. My Plano Guide boxes were stored in the seat pocket and were not going anywhere and were out of the way when I put the Seat in the low position.
My only change of clothes, a Dickies sweatshirt and jeans, went in my dry bag that hangs on the back of the seat and would only be needed once it got cold at night and in the morning.
The cooler was strapped on with a cam strap through the tie down slots. The front strap secured it to the gear track metal bar and was likely all I needed to keep it in place. I added a second strap, however, to the back and ran that strap under the rear hatch and even the worst whitewater beating would not be able to steal my cooler and food away from me.
Heading down the calm, quiet lead-in to the river provides a surreal feeling. You are in your comfort zone, the river is like a lake, there isn’t a breath of wind in the morning, and it is like a picture from “on golden pond”. However, the river is about to explode into chaos and it goes from flat to massive all at once and the first rapid is a long one.
Peter Holcombe paddled his whitewater kayak down and met me at the first rapid to take some photos, and I think he was hoping that I would provide him more action than I did. My line at “Phil’s Hole” was straight through the middle of it and while my sit on top Kayak was completely swamped and didn’t drain as fast as the big waves were filling it, it still maneuvered well enough for me to paddle around the corner and out of the rapids without flipping. Four more rapids waited for me downstream, but not before I was able to do some exploring.
The exploring was about following side creeks up and away from the main river. Pulling my boat over beaver dam after beaver dam, I was able to get to crystal clear waters, filled with smallmouth bass, walleye, and pike for my first side trip. Not sure how far I was going to go, or how long I would be there, I kept my boat loaded, and kept my cooler with me.
Day 1 lunch was salami, cheese, ham, and pita bread with hummus. I didn’t drink any beer during the day as I didn’t know what was in store for me yet.
The fishing was epic. I was primarily throwing the Rage Swimmer 3.25 on a jig head that David Dudley’s kids made for me. I was pretty committed to catching fish on a wake bait as well but it didn’t produce as many bites and even though there were more exciting, I wanted to catch lots of fish. I think I hit 100 fish by 1pm that day. Epic fishing is a great way to describe it. Nothing huge, but a few 3 pounders, and some 5 pound pike.
I had to pull my boat all of the way back down that first creek, over all of the beaver dams and then out to the main river again, through a muddy creek that was too low to float my boat. My legs were muddy up to my knees.
My next side trip was on the other side of the river downstream a ways and this would prove to be the highlight of the trip for fishing and camping. A small channel of the main river broke off and then back into the main river again. At the backside of that channel looked like a dead end, but it was a sand bar that had a little winding channel in it. I was able to drag my boat over a couple of shallow areas and then paddle the 5’ wide sandy bottom creek for about 1/2 mile. Two more carries over rocks and I got to a corner where the whole thing opened up to a hidden lake. The far side of this 60 acre lake has a circular sandy beach; perfect for camping. This time I decided to make camp and get my gear out of the kayak. My Orion Cooler was put on the beach, while the beer became my beverage of choice for my evening of fishing. I set up my tent and collected enough wood for the night so that once the sun was setting I wouldn’t have to rush. Mostly I could pick up dead wood from the top of the island, but a stump that was just rotted enough for me to break big pieces off of was my wood of choice.
Evening focus on fishing: I didn’t have my Raymarine Dragonfly, and wish I did. This was a more complex bottom than I thought with water as deep as 40’, sandbars, rock piles, some wood, some deep grass, clams, etc.. However, I was very excited to explore this piece of water with my lures as I knew it would be full of great fish.
I started shallow with my Strike King Wake Shad and was able to get some bites from some 2 pound bass but I knew I was missing something. After following a sand bar out I found a steep drop off with grass on the edge and hit a school of walleye. The first one I caught was a good 4 pounder and I was sure I had a nice pike. I was getting bit every cast with my Rage Swimmer 3.25 with a 3/8 oz jig head down at about 15’. The pike were hunkered down deep as well and I started pulling some of them up too! It was a great “soul night” with me just taking my time around the pond and finding what I could find. The sweet spot that night was around a sand island about the size of a car with grass and drop offs on both two sides. The fish of all types were stacked up there. I was shocked at how I could throw my Rage Swimmer and let it sink to the bottom at 5’ and then slowly drag it over the tops of the short grass and down the drop off to about 15’. Somewhere in there a big pike, walleye, or bass would pick it up. The bigger pike were hunkered down in the deeper cool water and would just tap the bait, but the hook-up was almost automatic. Once the fight was on they really didn’t want to be landed. The walleye were fun to catch in that they were far from automatic. They would to a quick tap of the lure and you had to have the quick hook set or they would be gone. The good news is that either the same one, or another one would hit it on the same cast if you missed the first one, most of the time. I was working on my walleye quick draw hook set all night and it kept me busy! The smallmouth were also mixed in with the other fish down there. Their bite was more of what I am used to and the fight was easy to recognize as well. They tried for about 5 seconds to stay deep and when that didn’t work they rocketed up for some big jumps. I lost a few of them on the first jump as I wasn’t really trying to keep them underwater. Once I was getting near the 200 fish mark for the day it was more about getting the kind of bites I wanted then landing every fish.
The sun got low and I was ready to make a fire, hang out, and eat dinner. The stars out here are amazing with zero light pollution, and crystal clear skies. Doing nothing but watching the stars is enough for me as an evening wrap up; especially with a full stomach and a beer in hand.
I used my Werner Hooked Shuna fishing paddle as a shovel and made a big hole in the sand for my fire. Kindling was plentiful so the fire started quickly and I was able to have a nice mix of beans, pasta, and bacon in the cast iron “Lodge”.
The dew here in Ontario is amazingly thick, but every time you camp here it is tempting to sleep under the stars because the weather seems perfect for it. I have learned my lesson on this one before and set up my tent and rain fly as well. By morning the rainfly will be soaked and dripping and everything will be as wet as if it rained an inch. I turned my Coosa HD seat upside down, brought all clothes in the tent or kept it in bags, and put bags on top of my Orion 25 so I would have a dry pad in the morning to sit on.
My mind can focus on bigger picture things in these scenarios. I alternate between living in the moment, just taking care of what I am doing, and imagining the future, taking inventory of the present, and remembering the past. I think many of my best ideas come in times where I get away from everything and the noise is reduced to frogs and bugs, the visuals are a fire and stars, and the only questions I have to answer are the ones I ask myself.
The mornings are wet, but with zero wind and just a light fog on the water it is hard to not want to hit the fishing straight away. The deep hole in the sand keeps the coals from last night’s fire centered and deep and it only takes a moment to get the fire going again. I left that burning for a welcoming back after the morning fishing. A few paddle strokes off of the bank and I am already in the target zone for some topwater action. First casts of each of my reels sprays the dew off of the line and makes the first ripples in the water. I can’t hold back a smile of pure relaxed joy and peace. Catching a fish will be nice, but there is nothing troubling my mind at that moment. An Osprey takes flight from her nest, a snake warms itself in the water, and fish are feeding along the banks. I forget that my bait is floating in the water, until the splash and sudden yank on my rod that brings me back into the moment as I suddenly go into tournament mode…crank it in, try to keep it from jumping, and land it fast without losing it. First fish of the day is a 3 pound smallmouth, didn’t seem to care that my Strike King Wake Shad had been stationary for a full minute or so.
The sun came up and poked through the patchy clouds and quickly warmed everything up. Breakfast cooked over a fire, my tent dries, and it is time to find another adventure downstream. More big rapids, different types of water, bays, and fish.
Packing is much easier the second time as everything I had on that island was going in my boat. No decisions to make on what to bring. I washed the cooking stuff in the water, using the sand to clean it. Covered the fire pit with sand and there was zero trace of my being there other than my footprints that will be washed away in the next rain. It was still a good 1/2 mile back to the river, pulling across rocks, over sand bars, and winding through the long shallow sandy creek.
Getting to the river was just as exciting as getting to the hidden lake. The excitement of the river comes from the rapids that were just around the corner. My Orion cooler was a little lighter as I drank most of the beer, ate much of the food, and emptied all of the water that was in it. This made the rapids easier, and the portages easier. I had one rapid that I wasn’t going to run in my boat, Garvins. Perhaps if I fashioned some kind of thigh straps to hold me in the boat so I can crash through the big hole at the bottom and keep the boat right side up. I didn’t do that this time. I will come back and completing this rapid will be my next mission. I have been running it everyday in my Jackson Kayak Rockstar (whitewater kayak). Portaging isn’t that hard as it is straight down the rocky cliff and the only real challenge is not getting run over by your own boat. Immediately at the bottom of the rapid you are in a special place in the river where the fish are stuck and can’t go up river anymore. There are fish stacked in that eddy, making fishing there like fishing in an aquarium. I never found anything too big, but there were “chubs”, walleye, bass, and pike all wondering what was upstream of that waterfall, or perhaps they were just waiting to see what washes over it.
Lunch on the river is easy when your Orion Cooler is strapped on the kayak. The Lid opens and closes without removing any straps, a feature that makes all of the difference for convenience and keeping the cooler functional when tied down in trucks, on boats, or wherever. A local deli in Pembroke, Ontario, Ulrichs, makes the best salami, cheese, etc.. I had a brown bag full of linked salamis that kept me fed all day. Cold water to rehydrate after an evening of beers, cheese, pita bread and hummus for the flavor mostly made for a good 15 minute break, while sitting on a beaver dam looking at what should be another epic fishing bay.
My RV is parked riverside just downstream of the main rapids of the Ottawa River at a place called “River Run”. Three more rapids to get there and one bay that isn’t too far off the main river that I have fished before and where I caught my only largemouth bass on this river. No largemouth this time, but a huge pike that broke my line in the lilly pads that completely destroyed my Strike King “Rage Swimmer” that I was fishing weedless and weightless on top of the water and lilly pads. I didn’t tie another one one as the last mile of my trip would be fast water and I would stick with my spinnerbait.
Another 10 fish or so on eddy lines just to assure my thumbs were well roughed up. Floating down the swift current is an easy way to travel. No motor, no pedaling, no paddling, just the liquid conveyor belt that goes to the ocean eventually after dumping into the St. Lawrence Seaway in Montreal. The entire length of it would be fun to fish. Perhaps that is a trip I’ll do one day.
For now, I am content to beach my kayak and load it in the back of my Nissan Titan and drive it up the hill to my RV. I am back with my family and my kids want to go whitewater kayaking, yet my daughter announces to me that she lost a big fish on my rod that was at the RV. I see a future in her fishing as she is about as compulsive about it as I am. She also announces that she wants to go camping with the entire family on the river. I unpack from my trip, but leave everything ready to go, replacing my 2 person Big Agnes tent with a 4 person Big Agnes tent. I move my stuff to a 45 quart special edition Team Jackson Kayak Orion Cooler. It looks like we are doing a turn around trip! We won’t paddle the rapids with the family, but instead we’ll find a put-in below the first rapid, and paddle the flatwater to a good camping spot, and paddle back the next day. Emily’s in-laws, Rick and Paula will come, and it will be a different trip full of games, stories, and likely lots of wine.
My Jackson Kayak, and my Orion Cooler are both staples that make for awesome adventures. Just add a little sense of adventure, a little planning, some effort, and the rewards are memories of a lifetime.
What’s Your Adventure? I want to hear about it!