Katching Kayak Fever
By: Jim Sammons, Owner La Jolla Kayak Fishing and Kayak4Fish.com
As printed in Western Outdoor News 2003

La Jolla Kayak Fishing If you have been wondering who is catching all the fish lately, you may be surprised to find out that some of the biggest fish are being caught from some of the smallest vessels. Over the past few weeks, large numbers of White Seabass have been landed off the coast of La Jolla by a fleet of kayak fisherman. Hitting the water in the dark to catch mackerel for bait, they are on the fishing grounds as the sun comes up. Often you will find them back on the beach with a trophy catch while most people are still in bed. More than a few of these fish top fifty pounds and several of them are closer to sixty pounds.

Why are kayak fishermen landing so many White Seabass while a large percentage of the power boaters are getting skunked although they are fishing the exact same water? We can only guess at the exact reason, but there are several factors that may come into play, which may give the kayak angler an advantage, not only hooking these fish but also landing the fish after hooking it. First and foremost is stealth, White Seabass are a skittish fish, kayaks glide through the water with virtually no noise, vibrations, or smells disturbing the water and spooking the fish. Another advantage is speed or lack thereof; kayaks move through the water very slowly, much slower than most boats can go. This gives a very natural presentation when trolling live bait along the edges of the kelp. The fact that the kayaks are slow, and must be paddled to get from spot to spot, forces the kayak angler to cover an area more thoroughly. Most power boaters will pull anchor and go full speed to the next fishing spot if the one they are fishing doesn't produce. Kayak anglers don't have that luxury so they just slowly troll from spot to spot. With bait always in the water, kayak fishermen have more chance of getting bit. Of course, the ability to slide right over the kelp to fish a hole in the middle, fish the inside edge of the kelp or toss a bait into the boilers for some great action is another bonus to kayak fishing.

Don't think that White Seabass are the only fish being caught off the kayaks. Several large Yellowtail up to thirty-two pounds have been landed in the past week. In fact, kayak fisherman all along the coast of California have shown the ability to make amazing catches off of their vessel of choice, including large Thresher sharks over two hundred pounds. I was even lucky enough, during the El Nino of 1998, to catch an estimated one hundred and eighty pound striped marlin right off the coast of La Jolla. The Marlin was hooked on a live mackerel pinned to twenty-pound test. The battle lasted two and a half hours and covered over eight miles. This is another one of the advantages of fishing from a kayak as the boat itself is drag. Large White Seabass, Yellowtail and even Thresher sharks will just pull the kayak around until they tire. When the fish goes deep the kayak slides right over the top of it, giving the angler the ability to put maximum pressure on it.

The ability to drop your kayak right where you want to fish gets you on the fishing grounds within minutes. This is a great asset when down in Baja or cruising the California coast, since you won't waste time looking for a launch ramp. After considering the surf and weather conditions, find a good spot and toss the kayak in the water. It's that simple!

So what is the best way to get started?

Of course we don't recommend you grab a kayak, load it with your best fishing gear, and go bounding through the surf in search of big game until you put some time in on the water in a kayak and possibly get some good instruction.

Before I take someone out on one of my guided trips, I usually suggest that they go to one of the local shops and first just try paddling on the bay. If you want to kayak fish, you have to paddle, so you better first see if you have the desire and ability to paddle yourself around all day. Next, I would suggest that you take advantage of my instructional guide service. We supply the kayaks, fishing gear and everything else needed for your day on the water. For most people this will shorten the learning curve by one or two years. Also, it is a great way to see if kayak fishing is for you before you make the investment on a new kayak. We offer classes and trips for every level of kayak angler from entry level to advanced and offer offshore mother ship trips and expeditions to Southern Baja. If you prefer to learn it on your own, there are several resources available to help you get started. Web sites such as Kayak4Fish.com, Yakfishing.com, and Kayaksportfishing.com can be a wealth of information. The book, Kayak Fishing, the Revolution, is filled with information. Although the author of the book is based on the east coast, much of the information is relevant to West Coast fishing. A great place to cut your teeth on kayak fishing is on your local bays, where you have a chance to get comfortable with the kayak without the worry of surf and swells. You can get the feel of moving around your kayak and landing smaller fish before you jump offshore. There is a large group of kayak anglers that never go offshore, preferring to stay in the bay catching large numbers of spotted bay bass, sand bass and some pretty nice halibut.

If you are ready to get offshore, we do recommend that you first take a surf survival course. Since more gear is lost in the surf zone than any other area of kayak fishing, learning to handle your kayak in the surf can save you a lot of headache and money.

If you feel you are ready to venture out on your own, start out small. Bring one rod (not your favorite four hundred dollar stick) and some of your favorite plastics such as fish traps and some crocodiles. Fishing for Calicos, Sand bass and Barracuda is a great way to get a feel for your boat. After some time on the water you can start adding gear such as multiple rod holders, fish finders, GPS and live bait tanks. Of all the pieces of equipment on our kayaks, the live bait tanks have done more to increase our catch of large game than any other. The ability to carry up to twenty-four live mackerel gives you a shot at the real big guys out there. Just remember, if it's not tied down you will loose it, so everything should be secured to your kayak. A good rule to follow is "rig to flip dress to swim."

Here are some things that you don't want to leave the beach without.

Your kayak: The best thing to do is test several kayaks to see which fits your needs and body style the best. Most good shops will have demo kayaks for you to try before you purchase. For a fully outfitted fishing kayak (kayak, seat, paddle and rod holders) you can expect to pay from $600 to $1100. For reference I use the Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro TW. These are top quality kayaks and very fishable. But again not all kayaks fit all people so test a few. You should never buy a kayak without first taking a test paddle; if it isn't a good fit, you won't use it. Things to consider when purchasing a kayak are: length vs. width, speed vs. stability, single vs. tandem, comfort, weight, storage, and fishability.

Length vs. Width: In general length equals speed, and width equals stability.
Speed vs. Stability: We try to find a good balance of these two features. During a long day of paddling, a faster kayak that glides through the water is much less fatiguing, yet you don't want to feel like you are fighting to stay on top of the kayak. Keep in mind however that " you can learn stability but you will never make a slow kayak fast." Some people may argue that you don't need a fast kayak for fishing, but when considering speed, we are not talking about going and racing the next guy to the fish. We are concerned with how much effort you must put out to move the kayak through the water. This is a trivial matter on a calm day, but when the wind, chop, and current are all against you and you have a few miles to go, you will be happy you opted for a little extra speed.
Single vs. tandem: In theory, a tandem seems like a good idea, as most tandem kayaks are designed to be paddled also as a single. In reality, a common scenario is this: Person A wants a kayak for fishing, their partner, Person B says, "if you want to get a kayak you need to get one I can go out with you on." A says "great, I'll get one today." Here is the problem: in most cases, B never goes out on the kayak and A is forced to paddle a bigger, bulky kayak all by himself. Don't get me wrong; tandems do have their place. Both of my kids caught their first fish off of tandems, and I have several friends who paddle tandems solo all the time and love them. Generally, however, these are bigger guys where the extra size is actually a benefit. In general, though, I find fishing from tandems a little confined for two adults. If you do choose a tandem for two adults, consider one of the longer designs.
Comfort: The seating area on these kayaks will vary from boat to boat as do the sizes of people so make sure you fit in the seat area comfortably.
• Weight: You will find the better fishing kayaks will range in weight from forty-five pounds to seventy pounds for a single and sixty to eighty- five pounds for a tandem. Some of the larger kayaks can be a lot to handle alone. If you can't lift it, you most likely won't take it out. Get one that you are comfortable carrying.
Storage: Most of the fishing kayaks will range from twelve to sixteen feet. Make sure you have room to store your kayak, preferably out of the sun.
Fishability: Depending on the type of fishing you do, you will want to outfit your kayak to make is fishable. Does the kayak have room for a bait tank, rod holders or electronics? If fishing offshore can you store your equipment inside the kayak to protect it during surf launches?

Your Paddle: Obviously, if you want to get anywhere you need a paddle. This is your motor on the kayak, and you will be amazed in the difference between a higher end paddle and a cheaper one. I always suggest getting the best paddle you can afford; a good paddle will run you between $125 and $200. I also suggest you carry a second cheaper two-piece paddle inside your kayak. You don't want to get up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

The Seat: Just like kayaks, they come in many different sizes and styles, and like a kayak, not every seat is for every person. Go to a shop that will let you test the different seats on the water. Make sure you try the seat in the kayak you are considering. A seat will feel completely different from one kayak to the next. A good seat will make a huge difference in your level of comfort while on your kayak.

A Paddle Leash: This allows you to get your paddle out of the way while fighting a fish, but keeps it close at hand.

Personal Floatation Device: A PFD is not only required by law, but it can save your life. Get a PFD that is designed for paddling from a kayak shop. If it isn't comfortable you won't wear it. A PFD inside your hatch won't do you much good if you can't get to it in a hurry.

Rod Holders: As you progress in the sport, you will find the need to carry several rods. Having multiple rod holders makes it possible for me to carry five. Place them in different areas on the kayak for trolling or storage. There are several on the market. I prefer the rocket launcher type as they keep the reels farther from the water.

Fishing Rods: Gear your rods towards what you are fishing for. The main consideration is length. Don't buy into "short boat short rod". You will want to use a rod of about seven feet for a couple of reasons. It will increase your casting distance but more importantly, will allow you to reach around the bow of your kayak while fighting a fish. I like to land fish on the left side of my kayak, controlling my fishing rod with my right or dominant hand. The longer rod allows for bringing the fish up on your most comfortable side.

Reels: Kayak fishing is very hard on your equipment and the need for quality reels is imperative when trying to land trophy fish. I have tried lots of different reels and I always seem to come back to Shimano; they just seem to hold up best to the harsh conditions you find on the kayaks. Definitely stay on top of your reel maintenance to make them last. You want to bring a reel you are comfortable casting and something for trolling. My favorite reel for trolling for the bigger game fish is a Shimano TLD 15; the lever drag allows you to bump it into gear to hold the larger baits in place.

Line: Other than leader material, I have never found a reason to fish heavier than 20 lb. test. Since the kayak is drag, you just can't pull that hard on the kayak. You will learn that lesson the first time you snag a boiler rock and continuously drag yourself into the surf zone as you try to break the line. We have landed Yellowtail, White Seabass and even thresher sharks on line as light as six-pound test, adding to the light tackle possibilities in kayak fishing.

Electronics: Not that you can't catch fish without one, but a fish finder is a great tool to carry on the kayak. They are great for helping you find the bait as well as knowing the depth and bottom structure you are fishing. Some people will hardwire the finder to the kayak, but I prefer the portable units. This allows me to take the unit with me when I head to Baja and use a rental kayak. I also carry a GPS and VHF radio on my kayak at all times. The GPS is great for marking in fishing spots but more importantly will take you home if the fog rolls in. A VHF radio, like the GPS, is not only a great safety device but is also a handy tool. The community of kayak fishermen helps each other out a lot. Often, we call the other guys and let them know where to find bait or where the fish are biting.

Dry Bags: Don't let anyone tell you these boats are waterproof! If you have anything you want to keep dry, you need dry bags. Your fishing tackle will last you much longer if you store it in some type of waterproof case.

Bait tank: Live bait can give you a shot at some of the real bad boys out there. You can drag a Plano bait bucket; they work well but will limit you to only a couple of baits, and the key word is drag. It takes a lot of energy to drag a bucket all day. We now make custom bait tanks for the kayaks. These are full circulating tanks and will hold a couple dozen baits and keep them alive all day. You can find our custom kayak bait tanks at Kayak4Fish.com

Safety Equipment: I carry a small first aid kit in its own dry bag, a small pack of hand held flares, a whistle, and a towline. I always bring my cell phone with me on the water and a hand held VHF radio. I also carry a GPS and a compass as backup. These items don't take up much space on your kayak and can mean the difference between life and death. Remember, you won't need it unless you don't have it.

Fishing from a kayak can give you a whole new appreciation for the ocean and the creatures that live in it. Being so close to the water, you almost feel at one with your surroundings. Kayak fishing truly is an addiction and has become my passion. In Southern California, kayak fishing can be a year-round sport. With the proper clothing to protect you from the elements, there is no reason not to fish during every season. Great bay bass fishing can be had in the winter, with the Halibut and White Seabass really turning on in spring and leading into the Yellowtail fishing in the summer months. You adrenalin junkies out there can even target Thresher sharks.

If you want a great getaway with some incredible fishing, try kayak fishing in the East Cape of Baja. La Jolla Kayak Fishing ("LJKF") has joined forces with Hotel Punta Colorada to bring you the ultimate kayak fishing experience. In an effort to become one of Baja's premier kayak fishing destinations, Hotel Punta Colorada has invested in a new fleet of Ocean Kayaks outfitted for fishing by La Jolla Kayak Fishing. All of the Kayaks are equipped with multiple LJKF rod holders with attached rod tethers, Surf to Summit™ seats, bow lines, paddle clips and PFD's.

Punta Colorada, located on the Sea of Cortez, is closer to the fishing grounds than any other East Cape resort, which means less time paddling and more time fishing. Imagine catching bull Dorado, trophy Roosterfish, stubborn Pargo, Tuna, and even Sailfish and Marlin from your kayak. You will have fish pulling you so fast you'll question who's catching who. All this is possible just a short paddle from your hotel room. La Jolla Kayak Fishing runs several guided trips a year to the resort.

If you want something a little closer to home, try a mother ship trip to San Clemente or Catalina Island. The kayaks are loaded onto a larger vessel for the ride over to the island. Once at the island, toss your kayak into the water for some of the best Calico bass fishing anywhere. Gliding over the kelp to the boilers that the boat fisherman can't reach, and watching a bull Calico crash on your bait in a couple feet of water is not something you will soon forget.

Most people find that just being on the kayak is the true reward and the fishing is just a bonus. Where else can you go in the middle of the city and within minutes be all alone surrounded by nature?

I hope this give you a little insight into kayak fishing. For more information please visit our Web site Kayak4Fish.com. Or call Jim Sammons at La Jolla Kayak Fishing - (619) 461-7172