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Regulars (Sporting Life by Dennis Doyle)

A partnership of late dinners

It was getting dark. Exhausted and stinking of menhaden, I fingered a reel, feeding more line into the dwindling tidal current. I had fished since morning and caught at least three or four rockfish mere inches short of the 35-inch minimum, so calling it quits without a keeper was difficult.
    Earlier in the day, I had warned my wife I was intending to fish well into the afternoon.
    “That means you’ll be out there until after nine or so, right?”
    “No. I hope to be home at seven, certainly by eight.”
    At half past eight, I was still fishing and at least an hour from home. Deb, I knew, would not be upset or even surprised, even if I was a good deal later.
    My spouse understands this sort of thing. She is a sculptor. When we first met, I feared the extreme behavior of an artist would fatally complicate our relationship. Instead, it seems to have inured us to each other’s excesses.
    Back in those days, Deborah might be incommunicable for days, pulling endless all-nighters to get ready for a show, despite the slight chance of financial reward.
    She didn’t find it maddening that I spent all my vacation time, and not a little money, flying with our two German shorthairs clear across the country to chase chukar partridge, valley quail or some equally obscure game bird along ridges and mountainsides so steep and remote that many questioned my sanity.
    In our different pursuits, we were almost identically compulsive. We both intrinsically understood the irrationality of our efforts but accepted them in each other.
    Later, as she found success and became even busier, devoting countless hours in her studio, I had expanded mine to pursuing bonefish in the Bahamas, Mexico and eventually down into the Caribbean.
    To further complicate, in the middle of all this we had three sons. That put limits on our scope of adventure. Though much more home-bound, we still followed our passions. I mostly limited mine to hunting and fishing around the Chesapeake. Deb began to teach, restricting her shows to one or two a year, while we raised the boys.
    Our sons are now adults, two in businesses in Florida and the third a sculptor living and working in Baltimore. Outside teaching hours, Deborah has created a loyal following of collectors who occupy her with their constant demand for her work. I’m still a fervent, outdoor enthusiast.
    Which brings me back to the dwindling light as the last of the sun outlined ripples in the current. On a similar night just a few years ago I enjoyed an insanely intense bite of stripers at near midnight not too far from this spot.
    Then I picked up one of the four rods trailing aft. Cranking in line, I unhooked the chunk of menhaden bait and tossed it into the current. Securing the hook and racking the rod, I did the same to the other three outfits. I was packing it in and going home.
    Sitting down to a late dinner and conversation with my wife seemed like a reasonable alternative to spending another few hours trying to seduce a big rockfish. The idea, however, was a little startling. Was I getting old? Or finally growing up?

Why today’s forbidden fish are legal tomorrow

The rockfish bite had been steady. We’d already caught and released a number of undersized fish when a big one hit Moe’s bait hard. The drag hummed as the fish ran, then turned to the side and — before I could clear the other rigs streaming aft — fouled two of the other lines. Dragging the accompanying baits and sinkers, the powerful fish continued to resist. Eventually Moe battled it to the boat and I netted it.
    That fish would have made a great morning if only it had bit after May 16, the start of the second spring season. We were just a few days shy, so the 31-inch fish went back over the side to go about its business while we sorted out the snarled mess left in its wake. All day we would not get a fish over the 35-inch minimum.
    To avoid harvesting fish carrying eggs, Maryland’s trophy rockfish season is timed by Department of Natural Resources to follow the bulk of the rockfish spawn. This year opening day (always the third Saturday in April) appears to be quite correct, for the vast majority of big females harvested this season have been empty of roe.
    Monday, May 16 begins the second phase of the spring season, when the minimum size drops from 35 to 20 inches and the possession limit increases from one fish to two, only one of which may be greater than 28 inches.
    This second phase of the spring season takes into account a couple of things. Migratory females leave the Bay for the ocean soon after spawning. Males, both resident and migratory, generally remain in the headwaters until the females stop arriving.
    That means that we’ll start seeing large (and smaller) males descending the rivers and the Bay in the next few weeks. Migratory males aren’t as big as the females, but there will still be some substantial fish in the mix. The regulatory provision for one fish over 28 inches allows anglers to bag a big striper without wearing too hard on the overall population of the fish.
    Phase two also targets our resident fish (minimum 20 inches). Rockfish born in the Chesapeake remain here for several years before becoming migratory; they are now also descending the tributaries to feed and school up in the main stem of the Bay. Their numbers are considerable and will constitute the bulk of the fish harvested by recreational and commercial anglers throughout the rest of the year.
    The last part of the rockfish season, the summer/fall season, starts June 1, when all of the tributaries are finally opened for rockfish. Creeks, streams and rivers stay off limits until June to protect both resident fish that continue to spawn through May and migratory fish that show up late (there are always a few). Rockfish season in the Chesapeake will then remain open this year through December 20.
    We caught no trophy-sized fish that May morning, but we had many encounters with lively stripers. Using large cut baits (to target big fish and avoid hooking smaller fish), we had lots of runs that resulted only in excitement. Rockfish, however, have large mouths as well as large appetites, and more than a few of the undersized fish managed to get hooked. We promptly released them, hoping at least some would grow up to be trophies.

Abundance is the rule on the Argentina Plains

The first bird to approach our floating decoy spread was massive. Its seven-foot wingspread and three-foot beak were also signals that the the creature was not among our intended species. Our guide, Federico, emphasized the situation by whispering, “No tiro, est un jabiru.”
    I stumbled with my Spanish, so our guide tried his English. “No shoot, is the bird that brings the babies.”
    It was a stork. And big enough to carry quintuplets.
    Just after sunrise with temps only a bit above freezing, we were crouched in a waterfowl blind within a large natural drainage system in the La Pampa Province of the Argentina Plains. Because of the earth’s tilt on its axis in relation to the sun, the Southern Hemisphere’s seasons are opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. Our Northern spring is when their Southern duck seasons begins.
    My longtime friend and sporting partner Mike Kelly and I were in one hide, my two elder sons were in another, and Mike’s traveling companions, Jeff and Suzie Boot from the Isle of Man, were in a third.
    La Pampa is a vast, scarcely populated agricultural area with massive acreages devoted to corn, soybeans, sorghum, rice, barley, sunflowers, cattle and sheep. It greatly resembles our Midwestern Plains but with a distinction. It is more like the Midwest of a hundred years ago.
    The ecological systems of freshwater drainage ponds and lakes that in America were leveled and plowed under during the last century remain untouched in Argentina. Those two differences, fewer people and unspoiled terrain, provide vast fertile areas for birds and waterfowl. It is a bird and bird lovers’ paradise.
    We hunted (and observed) for about three hours that morning, and harvested a colorful bag of ducks that eventually included rosy-billed pochards; white-faced and fulvous whistlers; yellow-billed and white-cheeked pintails; cappuccino, speckled, cinnamon and Brazilian teals; and Chiloe widgeon. The fowl were as delicious as they were beautiful.
    The afternoons in La Pampa were devoted to dove shooting, a specialty of the Argentina Plains. A number of dove species exist there, especially the eared dove, and because of their fecundity and the mildness of the long breeding season, their populations maintain well over 100 million. One pair of doves lays only two eggs, but the fledglings emerge in little over two weeks, reach maturity quickly and produce a number of hatches themselves within the same season. That can mean hundreds of eventual offspring from the original grain-eating pair each year. To help control their numbers and alleviate pressure on agriculture, the dove-hunting season in Argentina is open year-round.
    These small birds are as delicious as the ducks. Any birds or waterfowl not consumed by our hunting party were intended for delivery to local social services by our outfitters.
    It was great to adventure in an ecological system so abundant that our activities had no discernable effect.

Whenever the weather lets you

When the reel spool began turning under my thumb, I knew it was no ordinary rockfish on the end of my line. Counting to seven, I threw the Abu reel into gear, and when the line came tight, set the hook. Then my rod bent over to the corks and a stiffly set drag howled as the fish really hit the gas. This one had to be trophy sized — if only I could get it to the boat.
    We were anchored up south of the Hackett’s can at the mouth of the Severn River in 35 feet of water on a morning that was glassy calm despite a small-craft warning from NOAA the day before. Not deterred, my fishing companion Ed Robinson checked another forecase, www.intellicast.com, which predicted light winds until almost noon.
    We agreed that if the winds were calm we would head out and fish until the weather turned. Launching my 17-foot skiff, we were on station by 8am. A half-hour later, our four rods were rigged and baited with large chunks of fresh menhaden.
 A chum bag over the stern was spewing small bits of ground fish into the falling tidal current as we guessed that we had only about three hours of ebb left before slack water.

    Then Ed had a run and landed a fat and healthy 23-incher, a good sign there were fish around.
    A few minutes later, my bruiser hit.

How to Fish Trophy Season
    Chumming during Trophy Rockfish Season is a long-odds affair. Because the big fish are spawning and moving alone or in small packs, it is impossible to determine patterns. They don’t stay in one place for very long, so catching reports are mostly useless. Locating legal fish is pretty much a matter of luck.
    With this year’s larger 35-inch minimum size, we guessed it would be even more difficult to find keepers by fishing bait.
    Trolling is the most productive technique during trophy season as you’re covering far more water and using big lures. But if you want to use light tackle you’ve got to fish bait.
    Our four outfits were medium-heavy, six-and-a-half-foot casting rods with Abu 5600 casting reels loaded with 150 yards of 20-pound fluoro-coated mono, with fish finder rigs, two-ounce sinkers and stout 9/0 hooks on 24-inch 30-pound fluoro leaders.

Reeling in a Runaway Train
    It was 20 minutes into the battle before I got a glimpse of the striper. It was definitely a good one. Calming myself and making sure not to force things, I eased it to the side of the boat. Ed got most of the fish into the net. It took both of us to lift it over the gunnel. The lunker’s big tail ran well past the deck-mounted 36-inch measuring tape, so we were sure it was legal. After a quick picture we eased the handsome giant into my fishbox and iced it down.
    Ed had pulled all of our rigs out of the water during the battle to avoid tangles, so it took another 20 minutes to get them cleared, baited and back in the water. After that we didn’t have long to wait.
    One of Ed’s rigs twitched, then the clicker on the reel started screaming as the fish picked up the bait and headed away at speed. It was another runaway train.
    The fight mirrored my own. Almost a twin of the first one, this burly rascal also hung half out of my net as we barely managed it up over the side. Two giants inside of half an hour.
    Done by 10am with two trophies in the box, their tails sticking out and the lid bulging open, we headed for the ramp grinning like fools. An hour later, a stiff north wind pushed up three-foot seas with shore-to-shore whitecaps.

Managed right, planer boards are great for catching trophy rockfish

Fish on! Fish on!     
    The call rang out from the bridge, and we rushed out from the cabin to the stern to determine which of the 18 rods had hooked a trophy rockfish. Seizing a stout trolling outfit that was bent down by an obviously big striper, my friend Mike began to fight the fish to the boat.
    Managing to avoid any disastrous tangles, my buddy finally got the fat and healthy 37-incher on deck. It was the first of a number of catches made possible by planer boards.

Increasing the Odds
    The thrill of trophy rockfish season is getting control of a big ocean-running fish. Trolling many rods at once increases the odds of success. The challenge is avoiding tangling the active line with the many others still in the water. Because of the other rigs, the boat cannot stop lest there be even more disastrous tangles. So the victor has to overcome not only the rockfish’s strength but also the boat’s continued speed.
    A set of connected angled boards towed to either side of a craft as far back as 150 feet, planer boards let you tow multiple lines at various distances and depths without getting them tangled. The result has been an exponential increase in big fish caught, particularly during the trophy season when trolling is by far the most effective technique.

Between Ocean and Bay
    Most of the big striped bass that cruise the Atlantic Coast from Maine to South Carolina are born in our Chesapeake Bay (where we call them rockfish). They only live in the Bay for four or five years, then migrate to live in the Atlantic.
    The vast baitfish schools of the ocean feed our stripers to substantial size, often over 50 pounds and sometimes over 100 pounds. These migratory giants return to the Chesapeake once a year, during the early spring, to seek out their natal waters and reproduce. After they’ve spawned, they return to the ocean.
    Stripers begin spawning as early as February and, depending on water temperatures, can continue into May. But most are done by the third Saturday in April, when the trophy season is scheduled by Maryland law to open. Thus the season is scheduled to target fish that have already strewn their eggs.

On the Downside
    Planer-board fishing does have its downside. To rig and stream out so many outfits is a complicated affair requiring good teamwork and plenty of planning and preparation.
    Maneuvering a craft with a 300-foot-wide trolling footprint can be a big challenge. Despite the usual brightly colored flags marking a ­planer board setup, they can be hard for other boats to see, especially in choppy waters. Pleasure boaters not familiar with the fishing practice may not notice the devices in the water. The consequences of a collision with one of these towed arrays — even of an abruptly forced course change — can be costly in both time and money.
    Each individual trolling lure can include expensive, multi-lure umbrella and chandelier rigs. Multiply the individual lure cost by a dozen or more, and there is a significant investment in fishing gear. Plus a large mixup can take hours to untangle and re-deploy.
    Keep them out of trouble, though, and planer boards catch big fish.

Their clock is set to the dogwoods

My first cast met with instant success and, as my slim rod bent down, a flashing, silver missile erupted vertically in the middle of the stream, arced over, splashed down and then grayhounded across the roiling current. Hickory shad had returned.
    I knew it was time earlier that morning when I saw the first signs of dogwood blooms in my front yard. With their emergence the hickories had to be on their way.
    Collecting some shad darts in bright colors and some small three-way swivels as well as a couple of bobbers, I chose my two favorite five-foot spin rods and a pair of warm neoprene boots and set off for the upper Choptank on the Eastern Shore.
    Hickory shad arrive each spring to spawn throughout the Bay’s tributaries, with some returning multiple times in their 10-year lifespan. The harvest of all shad and river herring (a close cousin) has been prohibited in Maryland since 1981, as their population has declined due to unwise agricultural practices, urban development and damming. Catch and release, however, is allowed, as cool water temperatures keep the mortality rates low.
    About an hour later I was rewarded by another good fish, and soon another. As the sun warmed the waters, the bite improved. By mid-afternoon I had notched a rewarding number. The best one, an estimated 20-incher, gave me six nice jumps before it came unbuttoned. Hickory shad is one of the more sporting fish that visits the Chesapeake.

Catching Them
    My technique of fishing a pair of shad darts linked by a three-way swivel 18 inches below my bobber is a site-specific rig, chosen to keep the darts just off of the rocky, shallow river bottom and to hold the lures free from snags. Generally it is best to fish the darts — two always seem to draw strikes much better than one — bobber free so you’re able to explore the deeper waters where these fish also lurk. The hook wire on the shad darts is pliable enough to bend back to the proper shape, so be sure you do, otherwise you’ll not be able to keep a fish on your line for more than a second or so.
    I prefer one-sixteenth- to one-eighth-ounce black-tipped orange or chartreuse shad darts, dressed with yellow or white calf tail. But a one-eighth-ounce curly tail jig in bright green is also popular on the Choptank.
    An 18-inch hickory shad is a big one. Four-pound test line is plenty, but six-pound allows the additional luxury of prying a rock-fouled dart off by pulling hard enough to bend the hook.
Spring Fishing Extra
    This time of year you may also encounter late-run white perch and early-run rockfish. The stripers must be released in all rivers, no matter what their size, until June 1. White perch, however, can be kept for the table and are absolutely delicious, with no minimum size or catch limit.

The fish are willing — but is the caster able?

I hung the first rockfish almost an hour into my early-morning effort. The strike wasn’t violent; more a sudden stop followed by a long struggle. I had to put my electric motor into reverse to separate the fish from the structure and bring it onto the side of my boat.
    That fight established the pattern of all the fish I was to catch that day. Each insisted on remaining in one area as opposed to running for deep water. They stayed as close to the bottom as they could. I lost only one, but all the battles were perilous.
    My catch-and-release outing turned into an extended casting effort. The fish on this heavily overcast day were scattered singly among bridge supports, over submerged structures and along docks and jetties in water less than 10 feet deep. It took almost four hours to hang five nice fish.
    If I allowed my skiff to drift in too close, the stripers would either leave or shut off. If I didn’t hold the boat well away from the structure, my chances of drawing a strike were about zero. I had to drop the lure close to whatever structure I was fishing, and I had very few strikes in open water.

Fine-tuning the Caster
    I had rigged up a pair each of casting and spin rigs and armed them with variations of my basic lure, a Bass Assassin on half-ounce jigheads: five-inch Saltwater Shads in four colors, Opening Night, Albino Ghost, Ripper and basic white. Ripper had a strong edge in seducing the bites, though I had a hit or two on just about all the colors.
    I had lost accuracy with winter’s inactivity. Initially my casts tended off target: too short, too long, to one side or the other.
    My effectiveness varied with my equipment.
    With spinning equipment, once I released the throw the cast was done. I was either on or off target.
    With revolving-spool casting rigs, on the other hand, I could make in-flight adjustments by thumbing the spool and changing the trajectory of the bait accordingly, shortening the cast when desired and to a lesser degree moving the lure’s impact right or left. The ability to make those adjustments also depended on quickly shifting my focus from the target to the lure as it flew through its arc. Otherwise, I could never react quickly enough to make the necessary correction.
    About halfway through the morning, I realized that it was the casting I was enjoying. It was satisfying to eventually place the baits just where I wanted them, at long distance and often inches from a concrete pier or just off of a large bolder — particularly with the casting outfits.
    The whirr of the spools was mesmerizing, while comparing casting to spinning made for a more interesting trip. The spin outfits excelled at quick casts to medium distances where pinpoint accuracy was not particularly necessary. The casting outfits were perfect for the more demanding presentations.

Right now it’s catch and release; Trophy season opens April 16

Once again, I heard a story I couldn’t pass up: a concentration of rockfish up to 33 inches. It was my dream setup and perhaps a chance to catch (and release) my first rockfish of the season.
    I was sure of only one thing. I had not dressed warmly enough for the morning. My teeth were chattering and fingers shaking from the chill as well as the anticipation when I threaded the soft plastic tail onto a half-ounce jig head.
    Selecting a five-inch saltwater Bass Assassin that had been productive at the end of last year, I tied it on my fluoro leader and began to explore, fan casting, drifting and hard-twitching the lure just over the bottom.
    A half dozen casts was all it took.
    I was tight to a good fish taking drag and shaking its head while it ran all around my skiff. I had squashed the hook barb flat — per DNR requirements for this time of year — so had to be extra careful not to allow the least bit of slack lest the fish throw my hook. After an extended struggle I finally eased the brawny rascal to the side of my skiff and into the net. Sweet victory.
    Leaving the still-struggling 25-inch striper entrapped in the mesh, I hurried to ready my camera and get a quick picture. Catch and release this time of year rarely causes mortality or even injury to the fish. Still, as soon as I could I slipped it over the side and back into the cold, clear water of the Bay. The fish jetted away, leaving a small cloud of milt in its wake.
    I couldn’t believe my luck. Then four or five casts later I was hooked up again, then again and a few minutes later yet again. Though the bite slacked off within the hour, I managed to scratch out a total of seven excellent fish by 11am, altogether a fantastic day for my maiden rockfish trip.
    On the way back to the ramp I reminded myself that the best fish of the day (the 25-incher) was still 10 inches under the minimum for the coming trophy season. Today, that ­didn’t matter a whit to me. The scrappers that were feeding that morning allegedly had some bigger cousins nearby. If they continue to hold and feed in that general area, I may have an excellent chance to score a trophy rock come opening day on April 16.

Some days, it isn’t the fish that count

Sometimes nothing goes right, and it just doesn’t seem to matter. The original plan was to start out at tide fall. According to the charts, that meant about 11am at the mouth of the Magothy. But of course it was closer to one o’clock when Mike, Dale and I finally launched my skiff.
    The high tide, we noticed, was stalled, but perhaps ready to fall as we stowed our gear and motored out into the river channel. Intending to methodically work every area where we had ever found fish on the Magothy, we started right there. Marking small schools holding on the bottom, we presented minnows and bloodworms for almost an hour. No takers.
    This was the first trip of the season for Dale, though Mike and I had been out. We all knew that the likelihood of finding fish was questionable. It was a bit late for yellow perch and early for the whites.
    Soldiering on, we fished up the river in familiar-looking locales. At first we blamed our lack of success on the absence of tidal current, then the lack of grass shrimp (we only had bloodworms, minnows and butter worms), followed by the fickleness of spawning perch and the time of day (mid-day is the least productive period).
    Since denigrating each other is an alternative sport when things aren’t going right, we eventually speculated on the presence of a Jonah. Named after the Biblical Jonah, swallowed by the whale, and ever since identified with bad luck on the water.
    Moving upriver, we fished all the way to Beachwood Park, where it was obvious from the many listless anglers along the shoreline that no one was catching fish. Our luck remained stalled — as did, incidentally, the tidal current.
    Dale and I were about to bestow the Jonah on Mike when he hooked up with a fat and feisty yellow perch, which he battled to the side of the boat. Consumed by envy, Dale and I were relieved when the ned spit the hook as Mike tried to derrick it into the boat.
    He explained that he had purposely freed the perch out of concern for our self-esteem. We loudly protested that preposterous claim. Then Mike went on to hook a small sunfish, then a pickerel — at which point his luck and his boasting grew unbearable.
    Dale and I were conferring aloud on the best way to heave him overboard when I happened to glance at my watch. Already it was 5pm, and Mike had promised his wife that he would meet her for dinner at that hour.
    We persuaded all of our spouses, who had been patiently waiting for our return, to join us at a waterfront restaurant halfway down the Magothy River on Mill Creek. It would take them, we hoped, as long to get there as it would our skiff.
    Dinner was delicious and the adult beverages especially welcome and warming after the chill of the late-afternoon run. Mike, Dale and I entertained our dinner companions by trying to convince them just how one lost yellow perch, a tiny sunfish and a barely legal pickerel constituted a fantastic fishing trip. They believed us. It was obvious we’d had a great day on the water.

Paddlers approach fish and wildlife closely and unobtrusively

Lifting the slender red hull with one hand, I put the single-person kayak in the back of my pickup truck, securing it with a bungee cord and tucking in the double-bladed oar. Within an hour, I was floating over the placid waters of my favorite lake, casting my fly rod to any number of bluegills, pickerel, bass and perch.
    Later that week, I would launch the same craft along a major Chesapeake tributary to pursue white perch and schoolie rockfish with a light spin outfit.
    One of the best things about living in Maryland is our public recreational areas. I’m not talking about places such as Quiet Waters Park, Truxton or even Sandy Point State Park, though they are all great areas to enjoy the outdoors. The public space I’m talking about is the Bay itself and its almost countless tributaries, as well as Maryland’s many freshwater lakes and streams.
    Under federal law, people have access to all navigable waters subject to the ebb and flow of tide, and to all inland (non-tidal) waters capable of being boated. That means that if you’re floating in a watercraft almost anywhere in Maryland, you are in public space.
    That amounts to thousands of square miles of public recreational water including the 2,500 square miles of the Chesapeake, the 3,190 miles of shoreline (up to the high water mark), 40 rivers and innumerable lakes, streams and creeks.
    But you can’t enjoy this vast playground unless you have a boat, which may be easier than you think.
    The kayak boom has accelerated access to Maryland’s waters. This small craft was created by Inuit hunters of the far north some 4,000 years ago. It is a very stable craft due to its low center of gravity, light and easy to propel. In its modern incarnation, it is inexpensive and virtually maintenance-free.
    There are versions available for big water (sea kayaks), special designs for fishing, others for whitewater or saltwater surfing models. There are models designed for up to four people, though solo and two-person kayaks are the norm. All are seaworthy, so you can expect to be safe and secure on any day pleasant enough to make you want to be out on the water.
    Many versions weigh about 40 pounds and can be transported on the top of virtually any vehicle. I’ve even seen them towed on special trailers built to be pulled by a bicycle.
    The general touring or recreational versions will do for most applications. Coupled with a comfortable life jacket and a light two-bladed paddle, it is a marine package almost anyone can afford and enjoy.
    This very unobtrusive craft allows the paddler to approach closely to fish and wildlife, a particular advantage to an angler, wildlife photographer or nature lover.
    Canoes also afford wide access to our calmer waters. Canoes were developed some 10,000 years ago in Scandinavia and are generally considered the first form of watercraft. Of yore, they were crafted from a single log or by covering a light framework with tree bark.
    Commonly used by Native Americans and later by European immigrants, the canoe proved to be the primary source of transportation on the lakes, rivers and streams of North America until the late 1800s. Their light weight allowed them to be easily portaged between navigable waters, and they were built in sizes that could accommodate as many as eight passen­gers and their gear.
    Today’s canoes are constructed of molded synthetic materials that are both light and robust, requiring little maintenance. Many are as inexpensive as kayaks though not quite as stable because you sit higher in the hull. On the other hand, the canoe provides more room and storage. Many models can accommodate up to three or four people.
    No matter which of these light craft you choose, it will give you immediate access to one of the largest aquatic recreational areas in America, and all that access is free.