Boat Wake and the Importance of a Paddle
By Courtney Bennett
I started out kayaking in shallow rivers which had zero boat traffic. Over the years, my kayak fishing style changed, and I started venturing out on larger bodies of water. Even when I went out and launched my kayak on deeper water, I stayed away from boat traffic. It’s a practice I still keep today. I venture out on the edges of deeper water, where I can find the shallow areas. Fortunately, I hadn’t had any major incidents with boaters. Until recently.
My husband, James and I had driven to Fall Creek Falls State Park near Spencer, Tennessee one weekend to check out kayak fishing on the lake. Fall Creek Falls is a beautiful area situated in rural Van Buren County. Approximately 1 hour South of Cookeville, Tennessee, Fall Creek Falls is home to a 256’ sheer drop waterfall. The waterfall is the tallest east of the Mississippi River. The 1994 film, The Junglebook, was also filmed at Fall Creek Falls State Park.
James and I were both enjoying our time fishing on the lake when suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt my kayak suddenly begin to rock. I had been fishing with my back turned and had not noticed a large pontoon boat pass behind us. I actually never heard the pontoon either for that matter. James had caught a glimpse of the pontoon, but was too far away to warn me. No personal, motor driven boats are allowed on the lake at Fall Creek Falls, but park workers give pontoon boat tours to park visitors for a fee.
Once the pontoon wake hit my kayak, I rocked back and forth violently for several uncomfortable seconds. Being in a pedal driven kayak, the first thing I did was reach for my Bending Branches Angler Ace paddle. I remembered how it was important to keep forward motion while encountering wake, but in my case, I was being pushed toward the bank as the wake had hit me from behind, essentially blindsiding me. I pushed my feet into position to flatten my pedal drive fins and maintained control of my kayak with my paddle. James paddled to me within a matter of seconds (although it felt much longer). He and I decided we were ok, and no damage was done to my kayak so we sat for a few minutes talking about the wake we had encountered off the pontoon.
We felt lucky we hadn’t been dumped off our kayaks or lost any of our gear, and after a few minutes and a few nervous laughs, we decided to move on up the edge of the lake and continue fishing while keeping a more vigilant eye out for pontoons.
Soon enough, we spotted another pontoon headed across our path. The second time, we were ready! We both grabbed our paddles and braced for the wake by pointing the keel of our kayaks toward the approaching wake. We paddled through the wake and soon enough, the water settled.
I can’t stress the importance of never letting your guard down while on the water. That’s the number one suggestion I have. But also, learn how to handle wake by meeting it with forward propulsion. Sure, we could have used our pedal drives to have maintained forward movement, but the paddle actually served as a means to better balance in the kayak seat and ride out the wake.
After all of the time James and I have spent on the water, a great fitting PFD, and a Bending Branches paddle have been the things we know we must have in order to enjoy our time on the water in a safe manner.