Kayak Fishing for Big Game
By: Jim Sammons Owner La Jolla Kayak Fishing
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In recent years kayak fishing has seen a growth unlike any other aspect in the fishing or paddle sports industries. With this growth we see people target a variety of species in fresh water and salt, it seems that if there is water with fish to target you will find kayak anglers. While many people in the sport are content to catch some of the smaller inshore varieties of fish, not that there is anything wrong with that, there is a growing desire by many of these anglers to target the bigger game fish that haunt our coast and the waters of southern Baja.

Locally, Yellowtail or White Seabass are what most kayak anglers target when starting to venture offshore for fish that can give them their first kayak sleigh ride. Down south in Baja, likely targets are the tough fighting Rooster fish, Tuna or Bull Dorado for arm aching action and long rides. For many of them the sensation of getting dragged around the sea has become an addiction for which they must get another fix.

For a few of these intrepid kayak anglers the addiction grows and the need to challenge bigger and badder prey takes over, all they want is the thrill of getting one of the real bad boys of the sea. This desire pushes them to attempt landing fish, which many people in much bigger boats would balk at. Fish that can be longer, and certainly weigh more than the small plastic vessels they are fishing from.

I can tell you from personal experience that catching a two hundred pound Thresher shark or a hundred eighty pound Striped Marlin from a fifteen foot, sixty-pound kayak is something that gets your heart pumping and your adrenalin flowing like nothing you will ever do again. In the years I have been involved in this sport I have been lucky enough to be involved in the landing of many Threshers and fifteen Billfish, Marlin and Sailfish. One thing that holds true for all these catches is the adrenalin factor, that comes from bringing a fish to color that can actually hurt you. Not just sore muscles hurt, but physical damage, hurt. To experience a Thresher shark greyhounding across the water towards you, or a Marlin slashing his bill out of the water mere feet from your kayak while you are sitting only inches from the surface of the water, will cause even the heartiest of us to wonder if this is the smartest thing to be doing. Though we will do it every chance we get.

Targeting big game from the kayak is not to be taken lightly; the inexperienced can quickly find that they have taken on more than they bargained. Even a thresher pup of sixty pounds can be a handful once next to the kayak, tail flailing next to your head. Having a Marlin slam into the side of your kayak may also make you rethink what you are doing. If you think landing a Billfish from a kayak is easy, take a look at the videos on my Web site, Kayak4Fish.com. In one video you can see a Marlin just about end up in my lap, in another I come just inches from being put in the water, while holding the bill of a thrashing Marlin. These very dangers are some of the things that attract us to this type of fishing; it really is you against the fish.

I have sat at the bar at Hotel Punta Colorada and listened to other anglers tell of their battles with Marlin from the cruisers, in which the fight lasted fifteen minutes, while the angler basically just cranks in the hundred pound test line as the boat chases the fish. In a kayak the fight rarely lasts less than an hour and a half, we have had fights last over three hours, and will cover many miles as the marlin drags you wherever it wants. Many of us have been dragged over five miles straight out to sea, at speeds that would amaze any onlookers.

I was recently watching a show about Mt. Everest, which got me thinking, more people have climbed that mountain (The summit of Everest has been reached over 2200 times by 1500 different climbers) than have caught a Marlin from a kayak (eight that I know of), that makes this a pretty exclusive club. At La Jolla Kayak Fishing there is actually a Billfish club with, at this time, eleven members who have collectively landed fourteen Billfish, Striped Marlin and Sail fish. I know that a few other Sail fish have been caught from kayaks in different locations around the world, but they have not been submitted for consideration. Members receive a certificate of their accomplishment and even more important bragging rights amongst their kayak fishing brethren.

I had a chance recently to sit down with Jeff "Rhyno" Krieger and Matt Moyer, both very experienced big game kayak anglers and members of the La Jolla Kayak Fishing Billfish club to talk about big game kayak fishing. Below is a bit of our conversation.

Sammons: Jeff you have been known for some time for your exploits and skill at landing Thresher sharks, what is it that has attracted you to taking on big fish from your Ocean Kayak?

Rhyno: For me it really is about the challenge, how big of a fish can I put on my kayak, what can I handle solo? Landing any big fish unassisted is just a thrill.

Sammons: Matt, you have now fought Threshers, and Landed a Mako and a Striped Marlin from the kayak, why do you go for these big fish?

Matt: Basically it is the thrill of the fight, the adrenalin rush when one of these big fish jumps near the kayak, the fact that all these fish act so differently, you just never know what they are going to do next. (He laughs)

Sammons: Kind of like when we tried to land your Marlin and it almost knocked me in the water, slamming me into you?

Matt: Yeah, like that. (We all laugh, knowing what a scary/exciting moment that was)

Sammons: It really is that adrenalin factor isn't it, and the fact you are doing something so few have had the chance or are willing to attempt?

Sammons: Jeff, you have probably landed more Threshers from a kayak than anyone I know, and have now landed a Striped Marlin, can you compare them.

Rhyno: They are both tough fish but there really is no comparison. Nothing could pull you faster, dump more line or have the stamina of the Marlin; you will never forget your first time.

Sammons: It pretty amazing how fast these fish can pull you, and with so much power. Remember Mark's fish, when we had it pulling all four of us in our kayaks plus the camera man, in the water? (Smiles from all of us as we remember that amazing adventure)

Sammons: OK guys, how about some advice for someone ready to make the jump to Big Game kayak fishing

Rhyno: I would say hire a guide or at the very least go with someone who has dealt with these fish before, they may be able to anticipate and thereby help you avoid situations that may get you in trouble

Matt: Yeah, having you, Jim, in the kayak next to me as I fought and finally landed my Marlin made me feel a lot more comfortable. I would also say, particularly for the Billfish, having a support boat out there is a great safety feature. When landing a fish with a weapon on the end of his face things can go wrong fast and you may need that boat. It also helps with the catch and release. I would also like to remind everyone to always wear a PFD (personal floatation device). I did not have mine on when I caught my Marlin because we were just fishing for Tuna. You never know when things can turn bad and I should have had my mine on.

Sammons: That is why we always have a Panga on the water with us on our group trips to Punta Colorada. The added bonus is having a guy on the water with you that fish's these waters everyday to put you on the right spots.

Rhyno: I think the most important thing to do if planning to target bigger fish is to think though the entire process before it happens. Are your landing gloves where you can get them, is your deck clear for when you bring the fish on board for that glory shot. If you are going to keep it, do you have the proper landing tools, gaff, knife, tail rope, cutaway tool?

Matt: Too many guys go out unprepared; do a little research on the characteristics of the fish you want to target. There are lots of resources out there now on the Web, you can always find some answers for your questions. Again, a guide is a good idea, particularly for that first time, you will learn a ton. Take your time to learn the sport before targeting the big guys.

Sammons: I have had guys want to book a trip with me to target Threshers but they have never even caught a bass from a kayak. I think people just need to slow down, get the basics down before trying to go after big game. Catch a few Yellowtail then look into catching the big stuff.

Sammons: On most of our Marlin catches we have used a panga to reach the fishing grounds. The kayaks were put in the water once we got there and all the fish were hooked, generally while trolling live bait, fought and landed from the kayak. There are some videos around which show guys landing Billfish on the kayak which were obviously hooked from a boat. You can tell by the large trolling jigs hanging from the fish's mouth. What are your feelings on these "Non-Pure" catches?

Rhyno: Hey, what ever floats your boat, who is to say what is pure? That is not the way I want to do it but as long as the person is honest and says that is how it was done, who cares. Some may say we are not pure because we used a boat to get to the fishing grounds.

Matt: Some may say we are not pure because we used a car to get to the launch or a plane to get to Baja, just go fish and have fun how ever you do it.

Sammons: As long as you are having fun and are honest about the catch, who cares how you do it. I have had fish where the hookup was the most exciting part and others where the excitement came at the very end during landing. No matter which way it is done it is still exciting and fun for the person doing it. This is supposed to be fun and if you have fun doing it your way, great.

Sammons: Like me, you both paddle and are sponsored by Ocean Kayak so besides brand do you have any advice on kayaks or fishing gear for big game kayak fishing.

Rhyno: The main thing is to get a kayak you feel comfortable in; you don't want to feel like you are fighting to stay in the kayak while you are fighting to land a thrashing fish. I often use one of the larger singles or a tandem kayak when targeting Thresher sharks so that I have a nice stable landing platform. For the rest of my fishing I like one of the faster kayaks, so that I can cover more miles in comfort. On rigging I like everything handy but out of the way, I can easily reach all my equipment but it is never in the way of landing a fish.

Matt: As far as the fishing equipment goes, just make sure you use good gear with fresh line and leader. You may be on the fish a long time so smooth drags can make the difference between landing and loosing the fish of a lifetime. The reels don't have to be big, I landed my Marlin on a Shimano Trinidad 12 loaded with 30 lb test line and no leader while we were fishing for tuna, and I got a five mile sleigh ride for two hours. I really think the smooth drags saved me on that one.

Sammons: That's funny; I caught my first Marlin pretty much the same way. Fishing for Yellowtail off La Jolla with only 20 lb test on my Shimano Charter special, lucky for me it was brand new line. The fight lasted two and a half hours and covered eight miles.

Sammons: I know we have all hooked and fought Mako sharks while kayak fishing, but Matt you actually landed one. That puts you in a very small club, any thoughts on Mako fishing from a kayak.

Matt: I caught that Mako fairly early in my kayak fishing career, and honestly got lucky nothing went wrong. I caught that fish as much out of ignorance as any thing else. I would not recommend catching Mako's from a kayak; those teeth are just too big and those fish are just too unpredictable.

Rhyno: I think you can land pretty much any fish from a kayak if you have the patience and equipment, but I think Mako sharks should be avoided. That is one of the reasons I use mono leaders when fishing for thresher sharks, a Mako is more likely to bite though it for a nice easy release

Sammons: Yeah, These kayaks we sit on are soft plastic and those teeth are pretty hard and sharp, I personally don't want to find out what a Mako's teeth can do to my kayak or my leg.

Sammons: So where is the best place to target the big game fish, like Threshers or Billfish?

Rhyno: Well for the Threshers, we get a good showing off Malibu every year. Just keeps an eye on the kayak fishing forums to find out when they are biting. When they show up I will post and let you know.

Matt: All but a few of the billfish landed from kayaks have been out of the East Cape in Southern Baja, most out of Punta Colorada. So that is a pretty good place to start.

Sammons: With all this talk of the dangers and precautions needed to target these fish are you ready to do it again?

Rhyno/Matt: When do we leave?

Sammons: Well my next group trip to the East Cape is set for May, Let's go!

La Jolla Kayak fishing runs regular trips to the East Cape to target game fish from the kayaks, normally focusing on Tuna, Dorado and Roosterfish. We are available for private guided trips to target the larger game fish such as Sailfish and Marlin.

We highly encourage catch photo and release of all Billfish and Thresher sharks.

Jeff Krieger can be reached for guided kayak fishing adventures in Southern CA and at Catalina Island through his Web site Rhynobar.com

Matt Moyer can be reached through Kayak4Fish.com where he works as a part time guide

Jim Sammons can be reached for guided kayak fishing adventures in Southern CA and to Southern Baja's East Cape at the Hotel Punta Colorada through his web site Kayak4Fish.com or call (619) 461-7172

Big Game Kayak Fishing
What to Bring

This is a list of some of the things you should consider bringing for a successful big game kayak fishing adventure.
  • A friend or guide: landing most of these big fish can be a two person job, besides you need someone to take your picture.
  • Reels: They don't need to be big but they do need to be good quality with smooth drags and strong side plates. A small lever drag or one with an adjustable clicker, like the Shimano Trinidad help hold bigger baits in place.
  • Rods: Many of these fish will run back and forth under your kayak, you need a rod long enough to reach around the bow of your kayak, seven foot is a good length. Lamiglas has a new series of kayak fishing rods with lots of pulling power in sizes that are very comfortable to fish with from the kayak.
  • Line: If fishing mono you can go from 20-40 pound test, if fishing the smaller reels consider fishing Spectra up to 55 pound test. Which ever you choose just make sure it is fresh, you may be in for a long fight.
  • Leaders: Mono from 80-100 pound test is fine in most instances; I like fluorocarbon in the clear waters of Baja. For billfish a 6 foot leader is all you really need, if going for Threshers jump up to 10-12 feet to avoid the tail. Avoid using wire; it can cause more problems than it is worth.
  • Hooks: For Marlin I like to use large live baits so hooks in the 6/0 to 8/0 range, depending on manufacturer, are a good size. I prefer circle hooks, for the corner of the mouth hookup, one of the reasons we have landed them without using leaders. Avoid hooks of larger gauge wire, you could never pull hard enough from a kayak to justify their use and they are more of a detriment to keeping your bait alive.
  • PFD: Personal floatation device or life jacket, what ever you want to call it, things can go wrong in a hurry and your PFD may mean the difference between floating and sinking.
  • Cut away tool or line cutter: Sometimes you may want to cut you line in a hurry and a knife or your dykes just are not going to do the job. A line cutter is basically a plastic hook with a razor in it. You just reach across the line and pull; it is cut. These are great for releasing fish with the hook in too deep, or the quick release of fish you don't want close to the kayak. Available at most dive shops.
  • VHF radio: You may need to call over one of your friends to give you an assist, or you may need emergency help. Make sure you get one rated as submersible
  • Landing Gloves: Both the bill of a Marlin and the skin of a Thresher are very rough; the gloves will help you keep your skin.
  • Drift chute: There are times you may want to put more pressure on the fish; you can do this by deploying a drift chute. Make sure you keep it at a length that it can easily be retrieved. If a fish starts spinning you your line may get tangled in it.
  • Landing tools: If you are planning on keeping big fish, make sure you have the proper landing tools such as a good gaff, club, and knife and tail rope. Remember you may have to paddle back a great distance with the fish, so make sure you have some way to secure the fish to the kayak, dragging a big fish is not really an option. There are times when the fish is just too big for the kayak, just let it go to fight again. This will also keep you safe.
  • Common Sense: Probably the most important thing you can bring with you on the water. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the moment of landing a big fish; you have to know when it is best to ask for help or to let the fish fight it a bit longer before attempting to land the fish. There are often times when it is best to just let this one go. We do encourage catch-photo and release with all Billfish and Sharks
These are just some suggestions to help in your success as a big game kayak angler. If you have any questions feel free to contact me directly. Jim@Kayak4Fish.com