Monday, March 9, 2015

10 Questions with Wilderness Systems Pro and guide Juan Veruete

 Five or six years ago, as I was really getting into kayak fishing, I decided to do a Google search for folks kayak fishing near where I grew up, in Central Pennsylvania.  I had spent countless days chasing smallies throughout that region with family and friends.  We got to the fish any way we could - wading, canoes, jon boats, river boats, and even an air boat from time to time.  I couldn't help but think about how effective a fishing kayak could be on many of those flows.  I stumbled upon one website, in particular, called Kayak Fish PA.  It was run by guide and pro-staffer Juan Veruete.  I sent Juan a message saying hello and telling how much I had enjoyed his site.  I explained to him my back-story and that we share a number of favorite flows.  He immediately wrote me back and was extremely friendly, informative, and down to earth.  I lived vicariously through the reports that he and other pros, such as Jeff Little and Jed Plunkert, published, which took me right back to my roots.  Juan falls into the category as one of those guys who is hard to dislike, but don't let the baby face fool you - the man can flat out fish.  Now one of my teammates with Wilderness Systems, I am glad to be able to share some of his thoughts on all things kayak fishing.

In addition to being a Wildy Pro, he is an American Canoe Association certified kayak instructor and a PA licensed fishing guide. He conducts kayak fishing classes and guided kayak fishing trips on the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers through his business Kayak Fish PA, LLC.

He holds pro-staff positions with a variety of companies that are focused on the growing sport of kayak fishing, including Wilderness Systems Fishing Kayaks, Adventure Technology Paddles, YakAttack, Kokatat, All Pro Rods, Winco’s Custom Lures, H.C. Baits, and HOOK1 Kayak Fishing Gear.

Now, let's get this rolling...

1.  Although you’re a talented all-around angler, I would have to guess that smallies are number one in your heart.  When, where, and how did you get hooked on smallmouth bass?

I grew up a stones throw from a native trout stream and a short bike ride from a creek full of smallmouth bass. I truly had the best of both worlds. Through my grade school, high school, and college years I fished veraciously for anything that swam. Over time, the draw of the hard fighting smallmouth bass started to consume more of my fishing time. The smallmouth bass holds a special place in my fishing world. It's one tough fish that doesn't know how to quit. You've really got to respect that!

2.  What is the best day of fishing you have ever had…ever?

I've had many many "best days" on the water in my life. Some involved catching a lot of fish, some involved catching big fish and others where spent with good friends or family. My favorite days are those that I spend on the water with my son. He was born in March and his first fishing trip with me was in April. I think that alone speaks volumes for our shared love of fishing and the outdoors. He is now a young man in his mid 20's, but we still reminisce about all those incredible trips of the past and plan for more in the future.

3.  I know you own a fleet of boats, most of which get river use. What sort of river conditions dictate which boat you take on any particular day?

I'm really lucky because I have a great stable of Wilderness Systems fishing kayaks to match the varied conditions that I encounter throughout a calendar year. I'm a big fan of the Ride series of kayaks forriver fishing. They have a lot of volume so they draft very shallow allowing me to paddle when others are dragging. Rides also help get me into those tough to reach areas of the river. On smaller faster flows, I like the Ride 115 or 115X because these 11.5 feet kayaks are quick and maneuverable. In particular, if the water gets high on smaller flows the Ride 115's  are my "go to" kayaks. I can scoot in and out of small eddy pockets with ease in those boats. On bigger flows, like the mile-wide Susquehanna River, I like myRide 135. The increased speed and glide of the longer Ride makes it a nice fit for paddling big rivers. Like the Ride 115, It's also stable for standing and sight casting in shallow water making it an extremely versatile river fishing platform. In the dead of winter, I do a lot of single access trips sometimes paddling very long distances up river to reach concentrations of smallmouth bass in what we call "wintering pools". My new tool for this situation is a Thresher 140. At 28" wide it's got really nice speed and glide so attaining up river is a lot easier. I added an optional storage tray to the large rectangular center hatch to keep my winter fishing tackle within easy reach. This allows me to access my gear easily while on the water and not have to worry about reaching behind me for gear and possibly loosing my balance resulting in a cold water swim.
4.  Your guide business does unique, multi-day kayak fishing trips called “boot camps”.  Briefly walk us through a boot camp weekend.

The Kayak Fishing Boot Camp was born out of an idea that I wanted to provide an intensive multi-day training to educate kayak anglers and push their skill sets to the next level. The three day experience starts with a half day paddling session that covers water safety, paddling technique, kayak maneuvers in moving water and kayak angling positioning techniques The remainder of the first day focuses on fishing seminars covering a variety of core topics such as how to pattern smallmouth bass and various presentation strategies. On the last two days we hit the river to apply what we learned. The river trip gives me a chance to coach anglers and further hone their skills on a more individual basis. We also cover new concepts on the river but the focus is primarily on practicing and reinforcing proper skills. Some anglers have done the Kayak Fishing Boot Camp multiple times. It's a great learning experience!

5.  What is the ONE thing about guiding you recommend to anyone trying to become a kayak fishing guide?

Hone your teaching skills! Your clients aren't standing on the deck of a boat while you put them into perfect position to make a presentation. You'll need to be able to coach anglers as they put themselves into position to make the perfect presentation. Your success as a kayak fishing guide will be directly related to your ability to teach and coach. 

6.  I know you tie some bass flies – what is your favorite fly (both that you tie and that you purchase elsewhere)?

I truly believe fly tying as an art form. The men and women that do it well have my utmost respect. My brother got all the artistic genes in my family so that means I have to purchase  my flies. I buy some flies that are "off the shelf" at name brand fly shops. I'm a big fan of various types of poppers for smallmouth bass. They are easy to fish and the smallmouth love to harass them! Personally though, I really like picking up flies from skilled "independent" fly tiers. I have crazy ideas for flies sometimes. I recently had an idea that I wanted a baitfish fly that acted much like a suspending jerkbait. Joe Pegnetter of Predator Fly Outfitters tied me up the craziest articulated 6" baitfish imitation with a single hook and a treble. We dubbed it the "Slash Fly". Rightfully so, a lot of fly fisherman shudder at the thought of trebles on a fly but I'm going to give it a shot this April!

7.  Social media and blogging have become such valuable tools for the kayak fishing community.  It allows us to share our catches, tell our stories, and give credit where credit is due.  What are the most important ways that you utilize social media and do you have any recommendations for others – maybe based on social media “mistakes”?

I use social media and my blog to educate kayak anglers. I truly enjoy sharing my kayak fishing knowledge with others and helping the sport grow. I answer a lot of question on my Facebook page, via email and I even get calls from kayak anglers. I have a lot of fun with it.  Anglers who just want to soak up some information about kayak angling can go to my blog Those that want to take it a step further and take one of my Kayak Fishing Classes can go to my guiding page My personal mantra for social media is "be real" and "be professional". That approach has served me well.

8.  I know you also do a bit of whitewater paddling.  Where is your favorite place to paddle?  Do you ever tuck a rod in those short boats?

I don't consider myself an avid whitewater paddler but I try to keep my hand in it as much as possible. I do some paddling periodically behind my local kayak shop at Tussey Mountain Outfitters. They have a nice paddling park set up that I use to keep my skills sharp. This past spring I paddled the Lehigh Gorge in some crazy high water conditions on three consecutive days. That river was a lot of fun and it runs through some beautiful country! I saw some big rising trout on that trip so next time I'm packing the fly rod! I strongly believe my experience paddling white water and earning my ACA instructor certification has made me a much more effective river angler. The skills that I've gained in terms of paddling technique, maneuvers, and control over my kayak have enabled me to put myself in position to make great lure presentations in moving water. It's also given me a keen awareness of river hazards and water safety. I've incorporated a lot of paddling skills into my kayak fishing classes. In particular, the hazards and water safety aspects of paddling. Many kayak anglers get themselves into trouble because they simply don't understand the hazards that moving water presents. I'm working hard to educate kayak anglers so that we can more fully enjoy the sport that we love and at the end of the day return home to our families safe and sound.

9.  Many of the agriculture dominated basins in your area can go from clear to chocolate milk quickly, especially in the summer.  What conditions are your favorites for targeting big smallies?  How does your bait selection change based on conditions?

I'm lucky to guide and teach on two great rivers, the Susquehanna River and the Juniata River. They both are capable of consistently producing trophy size smallmouth bass. I like to target big smallmouth across a lot of different water conditions. That being said, a rising river is the absolute best scenario for numbers and size. When the river rises, it activates the entire river food chain from the bottom up. If the river is on the rise, I'll usually toss a spinnerbait as big as 1 oz. The tempo of my fishing is fast making as many casts as I can to as many good fish holding targets that I"m able to spot. It's like playing a fast paced video game. Low water is a time to finesse. Rising and high water is a time to power fish big baits for those bronze brutes!

10.  You get a chance to fish with anyone – living or dead – who do you pick?

That's easy. Jerry McKinnis. I was raised by my mother who, to my knowledge, never fished a day in her life. I started fishing with some of the older boys in my rural community at about 6 or 7 years old. I was obsessed with fishing from my first outing. My mother lovingly fed my obsession. I could count on new gear and subscriptions to fishing magazines on every birthday or major holiday. Since my mother knew nothing about fishing, I learn through my own experimentation and by watching TV fishing shows. Jerry's "Fishing Hole" was by far my favorite! There was just something about his laid back approach that appealed to me. I learned a lot from watching his show as a kid. It would be incredible to be able to fish with him!


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