Offshore "Yak" Attack
by Capt. Ed Heller

As Jim Sammons and Jeff Krieger loaded their 12-foot Ocean Kayaks and supplies aboard my 2680 Glacier Bay the "Glacier Cat," I took time out for a reality check. While I had experienced many unconventional things during my 30 years of fishing and guiding, I never thought I'd be doing anything as wild as taking kayakers 45 miles offshore to battle oversized game fish from craft not much bigger than surfboards. But here I was, with two of the best saltwater kayak anglers around, getting ready to embark from San Diego on what could only be called an "extreme" fishing expedition.

Although Sammons and Krieger are both veteran, respected kayak fishermen, I did sense a little apprehension when I first asked them to head offshore and take on tuna from their miniscule boats. While the both veteran anglers had landed many big saltwater predators from their "yaks" - including thresher sharks and even a striped marlin - all of these fish were taken relatively close to shore. Never before had they ventured so far from the coast to take on powerful pelagics. I must admit, having never attempted such a trip myself, I was also a bit nervous about how things might turn out. Any apprehension on the part of Sammons and Kruger was short lived, however. After a whole 60 seconds of deliberation, the thrill-seeking anglers indicated they were in. Both Sammons and Krieger run their own kayak fishing guide services, so they are used to putting other anglers on top of the action. Sammons takes San Diego area anglers on kayak trips through his La Jolla Kayak Fishing (Kayak4Fish.com) service, while Krieger's caters to those in Los Angeles and Ventura County. This time, however, it was my job to put Sammons and Krieger on the fish. The plan was to head out to the blue water of the 238-Fathom Spot - unfamiliar territory for these inshore kayak-fishing veterans - and let them take on some spirited tuna "mono y mono."

It was 1 am on July 23, 2003, and we were almost ready to depart on our journey from Mission Bay. Before leaving our slip and heading for the bait barge, our "extreme team" huddled at the helm of the Glacier Cat to discuss a little strategy. It was agreed that we would run 100 miles down the Northern Baja Coast and approximately 45 miles out to fish the underwater canyons of the 238. To help ensure our success, I had pre-fished this general area a couple of days prior to get a good feel for the location, patterns and preferences of the tuna. Knowing that the albies could move out of the area with lightening speed, I stayed in constant touch with my Mexican commercial fisherman contacts to keep tabs on the situation. They assured me that a large body of fish – albacore in the 25-35-pound class – had invaded the area and were on the feed. Armed with this latest information, I charted our course, feeling confident that we would encounter some biters.

While I was fairly certain we would find the fish, I wasn't quite sure how the schools of tuna would react to our unconventional method of trolling. Initially, we would be pulling Sammons and Kruger in their kayaks behind the Glacier Cat via 50-foot "releasable" tethers, as if they were giant trolling lures themselves, perhaps for a great white or mako. I wondered if the kayakers' presence off my stern, and the extra whitewater stirred up, would actually deter or attract tuna. My instinct told me that the silhouettes of the kayaks and the additional "commotion" behind the boat would only further spark the interest of any hungry albies nearby. After all, some anglers have great success trolling big "birds" and even large fenders as teasers. We would just be taking this trolling technique to the extreme.

Our plan was to start off pulling the kayakers behind the Glacier Cat at a speed of seven knots. Sammons and Krieger would each troll a single jethead lure from a medium-action trolling outfit placed in a specially-designed, reinforced rod holder on their respective kayaks. We would also troll a couple of lures from the Glacier Cat's outriggers as additional teasers. When the kayakers hooked up, I would immediately release them from their tethers so the anglers could go to work on their fish, totally on their own. While our hope was for double jig strikes, if only one kayaker hooked up on the troll, the other would immediately grab an anchovy or sardine from his bait sled and drop back the live offering.

It was daybreak when we arrived at the 238, and a few party boats were already working the grounds. We made good time overnight, thanks to the Glacier Cat's unique multi-hull design and twin Honda 130 four-strokes. Now that we had arrived at our destination in Mexican waters, the kayakers began to prep their boats and tackle. I helped the anglers launch their kayaks and tether them to the mother ship. Once the Kreiger and Sammons were in the water and secured to mother ship, I began to pull them along at about 7 knots. The two anglers let out about 45 feet of line and started to troll their blue/white and Mexican Flag jethead lures. A few minutes later, a party boat passed us by. The looks we received were priceless! Apparently, these people had never seen kayakers "trolled" from a 26-foot fishing cat some 45 miles offshore! In actuality, we had never seen or done anything like this either, but we did our best to look like we had things down to a science.

Just a few minutes after the kayakers started trolling, the action began. I heard Sammons yell "hook-up," as his Penn Sabre rod doubled over and 30-pound-test line screamed off his International 12T reel. I continued ahead for a few seconds, hoping for a second jig strike. When I saw that Krieger had also hooked up, I threw the boat in neutral, ran back to the stern, and released both kayakers from their tethers. Sammons had his hands full with what appeared to be an oversized longfin. The fish was literally towing him along in the tiny craft, like a scene from the "Old Man and the Sea." Krieger had also tied into a nice grade of fish. I couldn't be happier. What we had planned for months was now materializing. Both kayakers were busy fighting oversized albacore, completely on their own, a long way from shore. Sticking to our plan, Sammons and Krieger would now fight their fish, work the hefty albies boatside, gaff them and land them, without any outside help. I watched anxiously from the mother ship as Sammons struggled to gain on the hard-fighting tuna that nearly spooled him on its sizzling first run. Although the powerful fish had taken him for a boat ride, Sammons soon had the tuna under control. As he prepared to hand-gaff his 30-pound-class albie, (certainly no easy task in itself from a seated position in a 12-foot kayak), Krieger was busy working on his first kayak albacore. One of Southern California's premier kayak anglers, Krieger (known affectionately by locals as "Rhino") gradually pumped the 25-pound tuna boatside. He then gaffed the tuna, brought it onboard, and attempted to quiet the fish down before it could destroy his kayak.

While the kayakers were bringing in their jig fish, I kept the tuna close by chumming a steady stream of anchovies overboard. This afforded each fisherman a chance to pull out a lighter 20-pound-class bait outfit, grab a sardine, and present the bait to the hungry school. Both anglers immediately went "bendo." This time around, the angling assignment was even more challenging. They were now kayak-fishing offshore for big albies with even lighter tackle. Both Sammons and Krieger were up to the task, however, and after sustaining several arm-straining runs, they began to gain on their fish. The anglers worked their fish in closer, hand-gaffed them, and brought the 30-pound,"tail-thwapping" tuna aboard their kayaks. After quickly transferring their fish to the Glacier Cat, Sammons and Krieger baited up again and were ready for action. All of the albies in the school were nice-sized fish, and while there didn't seem to be any bluefin in the mix, we definitely weren't complaining. The bite turned into a bait stop that lasted for nearly an hour, resulting in Mexican limits on albacore for both fishermen. This would have been a good day for any angler, but it was a truly amazing achievement for a couple of kayakers battling hard-fighting game fish, 3-foot swells and wind chop, nearly 50 miles from shore.

Now that we are seasoned pros at this kind of "extreme fishing," we plan on taking additional kayak anglers out on the Glacier Cat to take on big bluewater game fish. We hope to have a chance to challenge even bigger tuna, such as yellowfin or big eye, later in the season. We're also planning trips targeting striped marlin and even swordfish. One of Krieger's life-long goals is baiting a broadbill from a kayak, and It would be great to help him realize this ambitious angling dream.

About the Author: Capt. Ed Heller is a veteran Southern California and Baja fisherman, an IGFA-certified captain, and a USCG 100-ton Master. He offers various sport fishing charters off Southern California and Baja aboard his 26-foot, San Diego-based Glacier Cat, including "Xtreme" offshore kayak-fishing adventures. Heller also owns and operates the new fishing Web-site, www.BullMahi.com, offering unique, continuously-updated "interactive," fishing reports. Heller can be reached through his Web site or by phone: (760) 271-2000.

Rigging a Kayak for Offshore Fishing

If you plan on fishing offshore from a kayak, you'll need to rig up differently than you would for an inshore kayak-fishing experience. Installing a RhynoBar is a must. The RyhnoBar, designed by veteran Southern California kayak angler Jeff Krieger, is a front-facing secure mounting bracket for reinforced rod holders and other important accessories. The RhynoBar is built to stand up to jolting strikes and pressure from larger saltwater game fish. It also provides a convenient place to attach other useful items, such as a fishfinder. The bar stretches and attaches across the beam of the kayak, in front of the seated kayaker, making it quick and easy for the angler to access needed equipment at any time. You can learn more about the RhynoBar or purchase one online at www.rhynobar.net. In addition to installing a RhynoBar, the offshore kayaker will need to select a rod/reel combination and terminal tackle that's appropriate for the angling assignment. These tackle requirements will vary according to the size and type of fish being targeted. You'll also need a sturdy hand-gaff suitable for gaffing oversized pelagics. Of course, safety is always a primary concern, especially when fishing big water in such a small craft. It's imperative that you work out a survival action plan in the event of separation from fellow kayakers and the mother ship. In addition to developing a such an action plan prior to departure, here's a list of some essential safety items you'll want to bring with you on any offshore kayak-fishing trip.

  • USCG-approved personal floatation device
  • Submersible handheld VHF Radio
  • Handheld GPS
  • Foul weather gear for protection from water and adverse marine conditions
  • Flares
  • Signaling devices (ie. flashlight, mirror)
  • Ample emergency food and water for at least 48 hours