Ascend Fishing Kayak Journey with Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson sells Ascend Fishing Kayak and accessories at Stokleys Marine, but he’s also spent countless hours out there paddling and fishing from his Ascend 12T…

Although my journey to an Ascend Fishing Kayak began forty years ago, it wasn’t until recently that I came to own one.

I grew up canoeing and jon-boating Sugar Creek in Indiana.

My early years were filled with outings with my buddies, my 4-H club, and my church youth group. Memories of rope swings, laughter, and the austere beauty of the creek co-mingle with those of an aching back, blistered hands, and WIBS (Wet-and-Itchy-Bottom Syndrome). Although I loved the water, I didn’t always love the physical toll canoes and jon boats exacted, not to mention the cost of lost sunglasses and lunch sacks due to tipping.

Over the years, my interests changed and I found myself paddling Eagle Creek Reservoir on the west side of Indianapolis. I cannot count the number of hours I spent in hybrid sit-in kayaks on the reservoir.

From there, my tastes changed again as friends and I began to paddle the surf off of Okalossa Island, Florida. Many a sunny day was spent paddling the shoreline of the Emerald Coast of the Panhandle…and dragging the sand-filled boats up the dunes to our beachside room at the Ft. Walton Beach Holiday Inn.

Several boats came and went, I became a husband and a dad, and the ensuing years were spent caring for our four sons (ages 14, 12, 10, and 10 as of this writing). Watching them move through the stages of childhood has been like watching a pig move through a python. Then I met the Dix River Tailwaters.

Clear, cool water. Towering, 250’ palisades. Wildlife galore. The Dix is a paddler’s and fisherman’s dream. The stocking program of Brown and Rainbow Trout by the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife ensures that fish are abundant and healthy.

The only challenge is getting there.

To access the Dix, one must put-in on the Kentucky River at High Bridge (near Wilmore, about 30 mins south of Lexington). A one-mile paddle upstream from Lock & Dam 7 takes you past Shaker Village’s Dixie Belle.


Dixie Bell Kentucky River

The Dixie Belle offers tours of the Kentucky River Palisades from historic Shaker Village in Mercer County.


Just past the paddlewheel, you’ll float under the 312-foot-high bridge appropriately named—wait for it—“High Bridge.” (The bridge is double-tracked with trains crossing a couple of times each hour. If this wasn’t the setting for the train scene in Stand by Me, it should have been). From there, it’s just a few hundred yards to the mouth of the Dix.


High Bridge Kentucky River

The iconic railroad bridge at High Bridge towers 300-feet above Pool 7 of the Kentucky River as morning mist rises.


Three miles up the Dix lies the crowning jewel of the Palisades. A massive, 250-foot sheer cliff stands over a narrow chute with a short stretch of rapids. Above the chute is the base of the Herrington spillway where an enormous amphitheater of cut stone envelops a turquoise pool of calm water. It is a most extraordinary setting.


Dix River Cascade

The plunge-point of the Lake Herrington surface spillway lies one river mile below the lake on the Dix River. The cascading water has created a cut in the palisade, and the adventurous souls at the base of the spillway provide perspective.


However, the trip up is filled with submerged timber and limestone boulders. It is a minefield for lower units on outboards. My friend John and I looked for rugged boats that were lightweight yet built-to-last. Then we both met an Ascend fishing kayak.

The Ascend brand is a Tracker Boats / Bass Pro Shops exclusive. Built by the same folks who make Nitro fiberglass boats, Tahoe runabouts, Sun Tracker and Regency pontoons, and the industry-standard Tracker aluminum fishing boats, Ascend fishing kayaks are built with value, durability, and performance in mind. They are heavy-duty kayaks offered in a variety of models ranging from sit-in to sit-on-top, from recreational to fishing, and from just under 10’ to well over 12’. Unlike box-store kayaks, these boats are made to take a beating. And unlike the higher-priced niche boats, you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to own one.

Ralph Stokley made the decision recently to stock and sell Ascend fishing kayaks. John and I took the bait. My first boat was and is a 2017 12T sit-on-top fishing kayak.

2018 Ascend 12T Sit-on-Top Fishing Kayaks in Desert Storm Stokley's Marine

The 2018 12T Sit-on-Top Ascend Fishing Kayak in Desert Storm. Retail Price: $649.99. Also available in Titanium, Camo, and Lime Green


John went for the 10T version.

2018 Ascend 10T Sit-on-Top Fishing Kayak in White Stokley's Marine

The 201810T Sit-on-Top Ascend Fishing Kayak in White. Retail Price: $549.99. Also available in Desert Storm and Lime Green.


I followed suit by buying a 10T of mine own. John and I keep the boats at my house on a kayak trailer I repurposed from an old utility trailer, ladder racks, and a truck bed tool box.

Ascend Fishing Kayak homemade trailer

A re-purposed 5′ x 8′ utility trailer with ladder racks makes a perfect kayak trailer. The last step is to install a truckbed toolbox at the front to keep life jackets and paddles.


My first trip in my 12T was July of last summer. It was a sweltering evening. I met my friends at the Kentucky River, just upstream from High Bridge. Steve has an Ascend 12T in the Desert Storm color scheme, fully rigged with every electronic device imaginable. His wife, Kathy, paddles her D10T in red-and-black like a boss.

Ascend Fishing Kayak D10T

Kathy paddles her D10T sit-on-top Ascend fishing kayak like a boss.


Launching around 6pm, the three of us meandered our way up the Dix. The cool water of the Dix Dam outflow creates natural air conditioning along the tailwaters. The paddle was relaxed, and the conversation was enlivening. On the way up, I offered Kathy what I thought was a helpful suggestion: “Kathy, if you ever feel like you’re going to tip, here’s a paddle stroke that will keep you upright.” Kathy politely but quickly replied, “Brad, I never feel like I’m going to tip in this boat.”

“Wow,” I thought. Just “wow.” What a far cry that was from my time in canoes on Sugar Creek.

I noticed my own experience in my 12T was unlike any kayaking experience I had had thus far. With a 31” width and tunnel hull design, my 12T is the most stable kayak I’ve ever paddled. I stood up in it just to see how fishing would be from this platform, and I was impressed by how solid the boat felt under me. I was even more impressed by how well the boat glided along the water with minimal paddle effort, and how straight the boat tracked without a rudder or having to paddle-steer. The centerline in the hull design keeps the boat perfectly on course.

But what really impressed me was the comfort. Rather than using a neoprene-seat that sits on the floor of the kayak, most Ascends (mine included) feature a framed, removable chair that is made of mesh and adjusts to suit the posture of the paddler. We returned back to the dock at about 9pm, just as evening shade was giving way to night fall. I fully expected to be sore, tired, and battling WIBS. There was none of that. My backside was perfectly dry, my back didn’t hurt a bit, and when I got up onto the dock, I actually felt better than when I got into my boat.

Ascend fishing kayaks chair

This chair for an Ascend fishing kayak is not only incredibly comfortable, but can also be removed for use on shore, around a campfire, or at an outdoor concert.


For reals.

Kayaking is a low-impact activity. My muscles were warm and loose. My lower back had all the support I needed. The fellowship, the atmosphere, and the activity all took me to a new state of mind. The boat truly was my vessel to relaxation.

I share this with you as you consider the possibility of incorporating an Ascend kayak into your lifestyle. The boats are rugged. The accessories for launching and loading are abundant. Shallow water presents no issue. You can drift, paddle, shoot, dive, fish or float from these boats. The yaks are excellent for nearly all members of the family. And you get all of this at a price that won’t break your budget. (My next adventure is a return to the Gulf Coast where the scupper holes built into my boats will make playing in the surf a breeze.

(And the housekeeping staff at the Holiday Inn will frolick at the thought of not having to clean my room with a sand shovel.)

Come in today to see our complete line of Ascend fishing kayaks. Your own journey awaits!