Black Friday, 2011, was a life-changing day for then-15-year-old Cameron Simot of Fruitport, Michigan. That’s the day he bought his first kayak (on sale of course) and started fishing with it.
“I always loved fishing, but never had a boat—a kayak was all I could afford,” Cameron told me via Facebook, the medium for an interview last week.
I’d met the lad at a kayak tournament I’d helped Gull Lake Marine put together in late October on the 2,030-acre lake of the same name. Cold, rainy weather kept a lot of would-be participants in their warm homes, but Cameron was among the 21 anglers who made the trip to the lake between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo and paid their $25 entry fee. Although it was his first tournament and he faced a field of mostly older and more experienced kayak anglers, the high school junior finished second, winning $157.50. It was a catch-photo-release contest, and Cameron’s total inches for the two pike, a bass, and a bluegill he registered fell just 2.5 inches short of first place.
When we talked last week, Michigan’s Lower Peninsula had experienced its first blast of snow, but Cameron was still in the midst of his kayak fishing season. During Thanksgiving vacation, he said, he planned to either fish for lake trout in the depths of Maceday Lake on the east side of the state near Pontiac, or head into Lake Erie to fish the warm waters around the Fermi Nuclear Plant near Monroe. This weekend he planned to go after steelhead in one of the Michigan rivers where they’ve begun their fall runs. He said the kayak provides a great fishing platform the whole year ’round, but that he’d probably take a little time off this winter, “when the ice gets here, and my eyes turn to slaying some perch on Muskegon Lake. But when the ice is even partially gone, I’ll be back out there in the kayak!”
He especially likes fishing Muskegon Lake in September when the four-year-old king salmon return to the Muskegon River. They stage in the first deep water the lake offers, providing an excellent opportunity for anglers who vertically jig spoons. Kayaks provide a fine fishing platform, says Cameron—with the added bonus of delivering a sleigh ride when the angler hooks a big king.
Cameron earns the money to pay for kayak gear and travel to fishing spots around Michigan by working as a lifeguard at his high school pool. Like a typical high school junior, he spends time hanging out with friends, eating a lot, and has a girlfriend.
“She likes to fish, too, so that’s good,” he says.
His little red Malibu is rigged to the hilt, featuring a Humminbird depth finder and custom tracks that hold rod holders and allow them to move forward or back. To record his fishing adventures, he has mounted a Kodak Playsport to capture video (check out some of them here).
He says his parents, who don’t fish, weren’t initially keen on his desire to get into kayak fishing, especially during the colder months, but have since changed their opinions and often take him in his mother’s minivan, kayak loaded on top, to fishing venues around Michigan.
“I always wear a PFD [personal flotation device],” he said. His cold-weather kayak clothing includes waders and an NRS Powerhouse Jacket, custom made for kayakers to make paddling easy, and to provide a waterproof suit should the wearer go for a dip. Cameron said he plans to check that feature in warmer water next summer. He’s already simulated capsize situations and getting back into the kayak to teach himself the technique before an emergency situation occurs.
He also said that fishing with a friend or two in their own kayaks provides some security should one get in trouble. In large part, Cameron says, safety means not doing anything stupid, such as going out in bad weather or big waves.
He said that he feels kayak angling has helped him take several steps towards maturity. Not only has it taught him to take care of his gear and plan trips, but it also has helped him talk to adults as an adult while on the water.
“When I’m out on the water and talking to other anglers, I have to look like a good guy, and not some ignorant child out on the water,” he said.
Although he has distant dreams of owning a bigwater salmon trolling boat, he plans to stick with kayak fishing for the long run, with no desire to own a regular boat any time soon.
“I just like the stealth of a kayak, being able to go where most other boats can’t,” he said. After high school, he hopes to become a conservation officer, but still “kayak fish as much as possible.”
Images courtesy Cameron Simot