The freedom that one feels from driving down the road with a fishing kayak strapped to your roof, seeing a potential fishing spot and being on the water fishing within minutes, is a feeling that is pretty difficult to explain. The word is out and more people are making the move to the "little plastic boats."
What usually starts as a simple alternative fishing platform, soon develops into a newfound appreciation and respect for the silent outdoors. Sometimes, your kayak or canoe will actually amplify shallow underwater sounds. Shrimp clicking; black drum drumming; oysters squishing. Oftentimes, the silence is deafening.
Your perspective on predation changes dramatically, too. After seeing bottlenose dolphin crashing mullet along the beach beside you, or seeing a monster snook launching a topwater into the air three or four times, one has a tendency to question our placement in the food web. Remember, all of this is happening at eye level on the water.
Many factors are feeding this transition to paddle fishing. With our current financial challenges, cost is probably the biggest advantage to most readers. No matter what paddle-craft you opt to begin with, you are looking at a one-time investment with very little, if any, maintenance and upkeep costs. Fuel and launch fees become a problem of the past, as well as the constant and costly outboard repair and service charges. We have already started to hear the horror stories of E-10 (ethanol) and the damage it is causing to fuel systems.
A new, top-of-the-line, fully rigged, fishing kayak should only set you back about $1000 to $1300. However, any used kayak, as long as it floats, is just fine and can save you a lot of the initial costs. If you look hard enough, you'll probably find one sitting in a neighbor's yard collecting dust. Rigging the kayak is a personal thing and I've seen a lot of money thrown into gizmos and gadgets. I've also seen some ingenious home-built devices created by kayak anglers.
Transportability is probably the second biggest benefit of kayak fishing and paddling in general. Think about the time you got a few miles from the house, skiff in tow, just to hear the trailer bearings start to whine. Most boaters, who trailer their boat, also have a story of "the man" waiting at the ramp, passing out tickets for trailer lights that only seem to fail when the ticket book is out. He never seems to believe everything was in working order just a few minutes ago.
Your tow vehicle is a big factor in the costs of boating, as well. The wife's 4-cylinder Toyota Camry doesn't quite tow that flats boat as well as the big, beefy truck most people are still paying for.
I know from experience I can get three rigged fishing kayaks on the top of my wife's Camry. One person can easily load most kayaks, with a bit of practice. There is an array of different rack systems and styles to choose from, if you decide to go that route. Some of these systems make loading or unloading even easier. As with anything, they can get as pricy and fancy as you wish.
If you decide to go with the rack system, keep in mind very few can go from one vehicle to another without new parts for the second car. Tried and true, is the good ol' foam blocks, right on the top of the car with a couple of cam straps, or even a rope. This method should cost no more than 50-bucks, or so. Remember, you should always use a bow and stern line if you plan to get on the highway or are driving long distances.
Now that you've found a boat and figured out how to get it to the water, let's take a look at getting that nice redfish or snook to the kayak. You should expect to learn something new on every trip. Anchoring, controlling drift and landing fish, are techniques that will require time to get used to. Hiring a professional kayak guide can significantly shorten the learning curve. There are a growing number of seasoned, kayak fishing guides, who have learned a lot of the lessons of kayak fishing the hard way. Many times, just watching the pro actually fish, is as valuable as any advice they can offer.
When you're with your guide, notice how they set up their kayak. Where are the rod holders? How do they store their tackle and gear? What type of anchoring system do they prefer? Usually, when introducing an angler to the kayak-fishing world, they are learning as much about the sport on the shore, as they are on the water.
Fishing tackle is an area of passionate debate with pretty much all anglers. However, in a flats boat, it takes a major slip-up to dunk a rod, so a several-hundred-dollar rod and reel combo is relatively safe from the elements. Before taking that high-end setup on the kayak, you need to realize rule one in Murphy's law of kayak fishing: It will get wet and eventually dunk, no matter how good you are. My recommendation is to start with one or two of your cheaper combos to ease the pain while learning. Lashing or tethering to your boat, anything you don't want to lose in the drink, is a good idea as well. It's tough watching your new gripper tool disappear into the murky depths. If it's not tied down, it will eventually go overboard.
With time on the water and a rod in your hand, these lessons will become ingrained into your daily fishing regime. Don't let the thought of trying something new deter you from getting out and joining the Revolution. The fish will come and the fight will be on. After hearing the drag scream and feeling your kayak being towed, I guarantee you will be a convert. Till next time we'll still be paddling.
Tight lines and good times.
Capt. Jason Sine
When Robbie Green and Jim Chalkey returned to the weigh-in at Gulf Shores Alabama, on October 14th, after completing the third and final event of the 2008 Gulf Coast Division of the IFA Redfish Tour, never did they imagine their performance would garner 1st place, thus pushing them into 2nd place in Gulf Coast Division points standing. An accomplishment, which is noteworthy, especially considering the less than perfect conditions they and other tournament anglers endured as Hurricane Ike traveled through the Gulf to the southwest.
An inside look
Having the opportunity to sit down and chat with Green and Chalkey was a pleasure, of course we talked fishing, but there were a few questions I hoped they would answer in an effort to shed a little light on this quest they have embarked upon. A quest which will ultimately end for this year, after they compete in the 2008 IFA Redfish Tour Championship in Panama City Beach, Florida, on November 7th-8th.
How it came to be "Team Redfish 101"
This on-and-off the water fishing camaraderie began somewhere in the year 2003. Their friendship sparked like many others have over the last few years, by exchanging light-hearted banter on BigBendFishing.net - an Internet forum where people meet to post their thoughts on fishing. As well, the two are both members of the Tallahassee based North Florida Gulf Fishing Club, which was founded in the spring of 2001 to provide monthly venues, both on-and-off the water, for people who love to fish.
Over the years, both Green and Chalkey, being avid inshore fishermen, have developed a mutual affinity for chasing and catching redfish. After many fishing trips and much time spent on the water, somewhere in the fall of 2007 - the subject was broached. The possibilities of the two teaming up to fish the IFA Redfish Tour together.
Putting the prop in motion
With the first tournament of the series beginning on May 10th, 2008, in Panama City Beach, the second scheduled June 21st at Navarre Beach, Florida and the final leg in Gulf Shores, Alabama - the fishing duo began to form a plan which would place them in a position to contend in the tour events.
Tournament fishing is not an inexpensive venture to pursue nor is the time needed to prepare necessarily easy to come by, explained Green and Chalkey, who are both very modest about their accomplishment, appreciative of those who helped them out and give credit to the support they have received. "Being able to find fish is a must, but without the other side of the coin it wouldn't be possible." They credit their families, sponsors and friends for their success.
All things worked out and the two were able to use relationships and contacts to find the sponsorship needed to fish. Sponsors from South Georgia, Tallahassee, Panama City Beach and beyond showed their willingness to support. Capitol City Bank, Pickett's Landing, Paradise Bar Grill & Bar, South Georgia Outdoors, Challenger Tackle, Grand Panama Beach Resort and Bite-A-bait stepped up to the plate, setting the portion of the plan needed to perpetuate them towards tournament reality into play.
Once the prop was turning they realized the need for a reasonable goal to be set. This was simple for these two humble anglers: not to look foolish, tops 20 finish, and catch a fish each event. Little did they know, they would far exceed this list of goals, by placing in each tour event.
Formulating a Plan
These two anglers put together a plan that would ultimately allow them to place in all three legs of the tour events. Not an elaborate plan, but a good, functional plan none-the-less. Their plan was and is - to keep it simple. This is not to say that many hours of planning and homework don't go into this ongoing adventure.
Green and Chalkey explained they spend many hours studying nautical charts and online maps of the areas they plan on fishing. They also informed me that it didn't hurt to take note of advice offered from someone like redfish tournament veteran Paul Chavis.
Once a tournament approaches they typically fish two weeks out and then the three days prior to the day of the tournament. They pre-fish the areas of interest, which they have located, and eliminate the ones where they don't find redfish.
Green and Chalkey explained, "confidence in your spots is a must, you can not start second guessing yourself". When tournament day arrives the two stick to their plan, and fish the spots in a rotation pattern, fishing each spot hard and fast until they find fish. When they catch a legal tournament redfish the fish goes in the live well until it can be upgraded with a larger fish. This goes on until it is time to proceed to the weigh-in.
Tournament fishing takes teamwork and understanding how your partner will react, especially if you want to be successful. Each member should have a primary duty and position in the boat. Both men each echoed the same sentiment " you have to compliment each other by using your strong points to work together". On this team, Chalkey stands on the bow and operates the trolling motor while Green is standing on a large ice chest behind him. This allows both of them to fish in front of the boat as they work through undisturbed water. When a fish is hooked-up, the person who doesn't have a fish on handles the Power Pole and netting duties. In other words; the left-hand needs to know what the right-hand is going to do. Though occasionally things too go a little awry joked the two, referring to the number of rods they have broken during the heat of battle. Green jokes " Heath Sanders at South Georgia Outdoors would think something is wrong if I didn't walk through the front door with a handful of broken rods the day after a tournament".
Baits and such
When questioned about their go-to lures and what produced the best for them, both Green and Chalkey replied "metal and soft-plastic". "Anything we can cover a whole lot of water quick with and keep moving". Occasionally they do fish top-water, but not generally on tournament day. The risk of loosing a good fish boat-side is too great. Their brands of preference for those who wonder is: Captain Mike's Spoons, Texas Red Killers (soft plastic), Bayou Bucks Spinner Baits and Bite-A Bait for top-water.
Speaking to these two gentlemen as a person who has been around the recreational fishing industry for a few years, I had one last question. Is there anything you would recommend to others who want to fish the tournament circuit? The answers flowed easily: "make sure you have a strong home life and a good wife, you will need the support and understanding", "treat it like a business because there is money involved and taxable winnings, if you are lucky" and most importantly "you have to remember your job is to represent your sponsors in a positive, professional manner whether you win or lose".
Both of these gentlemen are grounded in their careers, home-life, and communities. Their accomplishment as a team is one, which is noteworthy. When asked about what they were going to do about the upcoming championship in November? The answer came easily " keep on doing what we've been doing and show up to fish".
For more information on the Team Redfish 101 visit www.teamredfish101.com, or if you ware interested in information regarding the IFA Redfish Tour, details can be found at www.redfishtour.com.
Bumbling Boatsman, you deserve kudos on the positive end to your kayak fishing experiment. We see lots of speckled trout here in the Everglades, but rarely do they get that large. Most Everglades kayak fishermen have one thing in mind... snook... big snook. Some even go as far as to call redfish and trout "by catch."
When chasing these ambush monsters in the mangrove jungles around here, one has to be pretty much in-tune with their equipment, rigging and fish landing techniques. If not, a "spanking" by a lost fish could be the least of your concerns. Things have a habit of going south quickly on the water. Knowledge of your gear, the area and presiding weather conditions can be your saving grace.
Let's start with the basics - selecting a kayak. First and foremost, you need to answer a very simple question before going to your local kayak shop and swiping the card. Ask yourself, "Where do I plan to fish in my kayak?" The flats and inland bays, open water with wind and current, or backwater creeks and tunnels? This first question is crucial to get you into the kayak that works best for you.
There are many boat styles out there and each one has its pros and cons. The kayak you select will depend on many things. But, where you plan to fish is one of the biggest factors. Kayakers fishing Gulf and Atlantic coastal waters favor the sit-on-top style kayaks, so these types will be our focus here.
For inland bay and flats fishing, a comfortable, steady platform is a must. In this zone, a 14 to 15-foot boat seems to be ideal. The flats are the realm of the sight fisherman. Eventually, the flats kayak angler is going to want to see his catch and transition to an upright stance. In order for this to take place, a boat must be wide enough to support a shoulder's width stance. This specification will allow the angler to stand comfortably for long periods of time. With the proper kayak and a bit of practice, you will soon be landing and releasing smaller fish easily while standing in your kayak.
Most seasoned Florida kayak fishermen "swear by" the Heritage Redfish series. It is 31-inches wide, with a strong, flat-bottom, plenty of storage space and comes with a very comfortable, high, back seat. This is the perfect combination when making the transition to pole and sight fish from a kayak.
It is impossible to keep all water out of the cockpit of a kayak. However, some do a much better job than others. The Redfish kayaks are self-bailing and one of the driest fishing kayaks available. The cockpit floor is above the waterline for all but the heaviest anglers. Any water that gets inside simply runs right out. (Those holes in the bottom aren't rod and net holders, Bumbling Boatsman. They're called scupper holes.)
The scuppers serve two purposes. One, they allow water to run out, or in, on some kayaks. Two, they provide structural strength between the top and bottom halves of the kayak. Typically, the scuppers are the seam locations in a two-part boat being assembled at the factory. Regardless of what boat builder you go with, be wary of jamming anything into the scuppers - they are tough to repair and can quickly render a decent boat worthless.
Comfort is Key
There is a new breed of boat out, now, that deserves attention... the Native Watercraft Ultimate series. This series of boats gives the flats fisherman a great option in its craft design. It is a hybrid canoe/kayak with a tunnel hull, and a comfortable, lawnchair-type seat you'll have no problem sitting in for hours on end. The seat even comes out of the boat to serve as an equally comfortable beach chair. The secret is a breathable seat that positions your feet slightly below your bottom, which increases blood flow to your legs. In a traditional sit-on-top, your legs are in line with your hindquarters and tend to get uncomfortable after a while.
The tunnel hull also allows for a lower center of gravity, which is the key to standing with ease. We have had many kayak anglers who have never even thought about standing to fish. But, in their first chartered trip, they are fishing with ease while standing up. We use the 16-foot version of this boat for our fly fishermen. The angler stands in the bow while the guide in the rear maneuvers and positions the boat.
This brings us to the next zone of kayak fishing; open water. If you are interested in fishing open water, a 14-foot kayak is the minimum. Open water kayakers need to constantly consider some very important issues in their search for fish... wind and current. Together they are a recipe for chop. Chop can be safely fished in a kayak, but that water coming over your gunwales needs to go somewhere, and fast.
Sit-on-tops are still the preferred style, but because of the potential distances traveled, sit-inside models are fairly popular for open water. However, to be safely fished, they must be "skirted" to prevent water from entering the kayak. Once in, water does not leave a sit-in kayak by itself. It has to be physically removed by pumping or sponging.
The Native Watercraft Ultimate again is a good example. Being a hybrid kayak, it has no self-bailing scuppers. Though, this company figured that into the equation. They offer a set of skirts that seals the cockpit from all outside water intrusion.
Wind and current also present another issue to work around... tracking. A flat bottom boat will not track nearly as well as one with a pronounced keel. This can be overridden by adding a rudder to your boat. The rudder will either be foot, or hand operated - depending on the boat builder. With this simple device you can steer your boat while paddling. Thus, greatly eliminating the need to perform corrective strokes; like paddling on just one side to compensate for the wind or current. The rudder, for the most part, is a must for drift fishing. While the current moves you along, the rudder is used for positioning the boat to a desired casting angle.
The current here in the Everglades can move pretty fast on strong tides in the passes, or even in the open, which brings us to our last option in this fishing zone... propulsion. Traditionally, kayakers and canoeist have used double or single bladed paddles to get around. The times have changed and so have the trends. It looks like peddle drives are the latest and greatest. Peddle drives are operated by your feet and legs, freeing your hands up for fishing.
A couple of companies have addressed this market. Hobie Kayaks has had a drive system out for a while, and held a lion's share of this market, until recently. Their drive system is good for trolling and holding position in a strong flow, but it only allows you to go forward.
Native Watercraft has addressed this issue by producing a bicycle sprocket and propeller drive system, which peddles in forward and reverse. We have found this to be a tremendous feature for pulling lunkers out from under the mangroves or putting the brakes on an "Everglades Sleigh Ride." Both systems require about 18-inches of water to operate and will hinder you in the shallowest fisheries, unless the drive is retracted.
The Short Advantage
Another zone for the kayak fisherman and particularly popular here in the Everglades is - the backwater creeks and confined, tree-lined waterways. Here, the mangrove creeks interconnect remote, brackish water lakes. The dense mangroves cover the creeks entirely in a canopy of vegetation. These "tunnels" can be excellent fishing for snook and small tarpon. But, you have to have a kayak, canoe or helicopter to get at them.
This zone calls for a very short and maneuverable boat. One offering the ability to stand up and sight fish is also an advantage. Short is the major requirement here. There is nothing worse than getting a mile into a tunnel, and realizing a 16-foot boat will not turn around in a10-foot space. Paddling out backwards, that far, is just not going to happen.
Ideally, most creekers like a boat in the 10 to 12-foot range. These boats can turn on a dime and easily be lifted and turned around in a tight spot, should the need arise. Creeks give you the option to select either a sit-on-top, or a sit-inside, because they are usually protected from the wind.
The fishing kayak is really about several important things. Economical fishing, access to areas unreachable by other means, and lastly, it is simply a different platform to enjoy what we all love to do.
One old-timer here has been fishing these creeks for over 50 years in what looks like the very first 12-foot canoe ever made. He's also an avid fly fisherman, which is why his preferred paddle-craft is a canoe. However, in the big picture of things, fish do not care what you are in, so borrow your neighbor's kayak - the one sitting in the back yard covered in mildew - and get out on the water!
Future articles will focus more on rigging, techniques and boat types for fly, bait, and artificial styles of fishing. Until then, we will probably be paddling and fishing. Tight lines and good times.
Capts. Jason Sine & Charles Wright
Now that water temperatures are starting to cool off and the Northwestern fronts are back, stone crabs will start crawling. There are two main ways to catch stone crabs. You can either put out crab traps, or dive for them. If you choose to trap them, you are allowed as many as five traps per person without needing a commercial license. Each buoy must be clearly marked with the letter "R" and your name and address, and they can only be attended during daylight hours. Good baits for crab traps are fish scraps and pig's feet. Here's a hint - pig's feet last longer than fish parts.
The down side to trapping is it is a lot of work and you always have to worry about others helping themselves to your catch. Be forewarned, it is a felony to mess with other people's traps. If, on the other hand, you choose to dive for your "stoneys," you avoid the expense of having to buy traps and the hassles involved with baiting and checking them.
The equipment needed for catching stone crabs by hand, besides your basic scuba gear, should include: flashlights, crab gauge, bag, and a good fitting set of gloves. If you don't have a crab gauge, you can make due with a lobster gauge by putting a mark on it at 2