Every so often, something comes along that revolutionizes the industry of sports fishing. The trolling motor, plastic jerk baits, the flats boat and push poles have all dramatically changed fishing techniques. It's happening again now with the advent of the use of the kayak as a fishing platform instead of a means for an extreme on-the-water workout. Whether it's viewed as an extension of the challenge of sports fishing, the desire and need to be on the water, a way to be closer to nature or simply an effective way to catch fish, kayak fishing is one of the fastest-growing segments of this industry.
The word is out, and more and more fishermen across the country are turning to kayaks. Manufacturers are starting to build kayaks specifically for fishing, with some models so popular that dealers have months of backlog. New gear, tackle, rigging and equipment is being introduced every time you turn around. Specialty guides services are available in most fisheries, clubs have formed, kayak fishing tournaments are increasing in numbers and excursions specifically for kayak fisherman are increasingly available.
With just a little thought about the kayak, it's easy to see why fishermen are embracing it so enthusiastically. It is very economical with relatively low upfront and ongoing cost. It is simple, stable and deadly silent. Probably most importantly, the kayak provides fishing access to areas that you simply cannot get to by other means. Take one fishing trip in a kayak and you will become a convert.
The costs of power boating can be great. Nowadays, it's hard to get an outfitted flats boat without spending well over $20,000. The fishing kayak, on the other hand, requires no fuel, no insurance, no trailer, no tow vehicle and basically no maintenance. You don't even need a boat ramp. Weighing about 50 pounds, it transports on top of a compact car and can be launched by one person just about anywhere there is water.
Completely outfitted for fishing, including paddles and safety gear, the typical fishing kayak will cost about $1,000 -- a far cry from the cost of any flats boat.
Most are made out of plastic, so there's no hardware to polish, gel coat to wax, electrical systems to corrode, trailer bearings to pack or oil to change. It's easy to use and simple to maintain. A quick rinse with fresh water is usually all that she'll need.
It takes but a few well-placed rod holders, some safety equipment and perhaps an anchor to turn that old recreational kayak in the backyard into a fishing kayak. While the basic kayak is an effective fishing platform in its simplest form, like every other boat on the water, if it can be customized and rigged to a boat, someone is going to do it. Many enthusiasts have rigged their "yaks" with multiple anchoring systems, back rests, a variety of storage options, coolers, bait wells, batteries, pumps, GPS units, sonar, radios and even camera mounts.
Many kayak anglers have been doing their thing all along, unnoticed, outside of the mainstream world of traditional fishing. They have been fishing waters that most of us would consider inaccessible. Their private places have remained their secret paradise for years. The blue-water charter captain and the Midwest bass guide rarely saw kayak fishermen, and the West Coast kayak fisherman knew nothing of the East Coast kayak fisherman.
In his book Kayak Fishing: The Revolution
, Ken Daubert calls the Internet the "fuel to the fire of this phenomenon." For the kayak fisherman, it has provided the means for this disjointed group of enthusiasts to learn from each other and to make decisions about the who, what, when and where of the sport. It has become the backbone of what Ken calls the "kayak fishing community." A community, made up of fishermen, guides, outfitters, paddle shops, manufacturers, merchandisers, sportswriters and publishers.
Kayaks are being used in both deep and shallow water fisheries. Whether fishing vertically in deep water or horizontally in shallow water, the kayak is a great fishing platform. There are those that are seeking and catching dolphin, sailfish, stripers, sharks and giant tarpon in deep water from their yaks. But it is in the shallow waters of Southwest Florida where the kayak is coming into its own.
Success in the shallows depends largely on stealth. One slam of a hatch, a dropped tool on the deck or a graphite push pole twanged into a rock and the game is
Kayak the Everglades
over. Boat manufacturers have sunk huge amounts of time, energy and money into the design of expensive flats boats trying to make them silent in the shallows. Stealth is king, and the kayak is the King of Stealth.
With a kayak, you are able to slip quietly into your fishing area virtually undetected, gliding practically effortlessly through the water. Basically, the only sound that you hear is that of the paddles dipping into the water. In the backcountry of the Ten Thousand Islands, tarpon actually seem to be attracted to the sound of the paddles. I have been spooked too many times by a tarpon that rolls within feet of my kayak.
There's a spot for redfish that I have fished for years. It is one of the "day saving" spots that I go to when the fishing is tough and we really need to get something pulling on the string. It is almost always good for one, two and sometimes three redfish if we can pole in quietly enough. But the first time I was there with the kayaks, we caught over a dozen reds. I have been back to this place twice with a kayak since catching 10 the first time and 13 the last time. Three trips certainly do not make for good scientific research, but it is good enough for me, especially when I can still only catch my one or two fish with the flats boat.
In almost every shallow water fishery, at low tide fish tend to fall in the deeper "holes." Be it a grass flat, a channel near a mangrove shoreline or a tide-eroded depression near an oyster bar, you will find predatory fish seeking this deeper water. In many places, physically getting to the fish is all but impossible with a traditional boat. The areas that you can actually get into, you can rarely get into without spooking the fish. The silence and stealth of the kayak amazes me every time I am in one. There is a whole new fishing world that has opened up for me as a shallow water angler -- a world that I used to motor right by.
When a kingfisher smacks the water, a mullet jumps across the bow or one of those spooky little tarpon startles me, it all seems to happen very close. In a fishing kayak, things do appear to happen closer because usually you are -- closer to the water, closer the fish and closer to the action. You notice things around you that you just can't at 40 mph. When a tarpon or even a ladyfish jumps, you don't see it at eye level; it is jumping over your head. Looking up at a tumbling tarpon is an absolute thrill.
The kayak has totally rejuvenated my enthusiasm for sports fishing. All the species that I have caught in my fishing career I now get to target in my kayak. All the areas that I could not get to before, I now can. I intend filming a triple-digit tarpon coming over the side of a kayak. If I am not behind the camera, I intend to be behind the rod.
I have made many new and wonderful friends in this kayak fishing community. Whether I am fishing with one other angler or 12, or just reading about another's fishing day on an Internet forum, I get to share fishing experiences with others. I love to launch the yak for an hour or two in the evening -- sometimes with my wife and sometimes not. If I catch a snook or a jack or just the sunset, I am a winner. For me, it is about being out on the water, doing what I love. The fishing kayak now lets me do that easier and more often.Capt. Charles Wright runs www.ChokoloskeeCharters.com and www.EvergladesKayakFishing.com. With four different boats to choose from, and a fleet of outfitted fishing kayaks, he is able to allow his anglers to experience all the fishing opportunities the area has to offer. He grew up in South Florida and the Keys and has fished the Everglades National Park since 1972. Schooled as an environmental engineer and an FAA Certified Flight Instructor, he sold his consulting firm and moved to Chokoloskee after Hurricane Andrew. Using a small private plane, he regularly scouts the area for new fishing grounds and offers a unique "on top" perspective to the area.CaptWright@ChokoloskeeCharters.com