Jan 28, 2016

Kayak Fishing


Kayak fishing can be compared to hang gliding, skydiving, and mountain climbing in that there’s a jump off point in getting started. To the novice kayak angler, the idea of crashing the surf and fighting a 30-pound white seabass is like strapping on the ‘chute and bailing out on your first plane ride. Luckily, it doesn’t take hulk-like strength to push a kayak around and once you’re on. It’s more like riding a bike than jumping out of a plane, if not safer and easier.

Fishing from a modified kayak is not only a great way to fish, it’s a good Iow-impact upper body workout, at the same time making otherwise inaccessible fisheries accessible to the recreational angler.

The best way to get started is in the bays, harbors, and estuaries where canoers and float tubers lurk. From Mission Bay to Santa Barbara, there are numerous areas for novice paddlers to get their skills down. A basic kayaking class will cut your learning time in half and is recommended.

Remember, this is a awashdeck” kayak sport – don’t let the inexperienced watersports salesman talk you into a boat that you have to stuff yourself into. Open cockpit kayaks are stable and are not designed to roll over.

Redondo Harbor is a great area for conventional saltwater anglers to cut their teeth, and because of the infiltration of bonito, it is also a haven for those who choose to take up the fly. Barracuda, bass, and halibut are not uncommon and good weather days are plentiful for venturing outside the harbor.

Another great teaching feature about the harbor is its close proximity to the coast of Redondo Canyon. My first time out I was shocked to see the rapid fall and rise of the canyon walls come up on the sonar while I was within an easy swim to shore. Historically, the currents coming through Redondo Canyon have brought legendary yellowtail bites right into the harbor. Drifting the canyon a few times while watching the sonar gives you a good feel for reading structure. I have found most serious kayak anglers have employed fishfinders to take the guesswork out of where they’re going as well as for locating bait and game fish. GPS is an option, but the sonar gives so much more information along the way.

Normally I wouldn’t recommend a spot where the seals run the water or smokestacks adorn our beautiful coast, but in this case, Redondo Harbor offers the novice kayak angler a flatwater environment that is full of fish in which to get comfortable on their boats and refine their style of fishing.

One of the many great things about a fishing kayak is the ease of fishing. No harder to transport than a ’60s era longboard, the I angler has the advantage of fishing | wherever he or she desires. When w you hear about the tremendous hal| ibut bite at the Drainpipe, it’s nice to launch on the fishing grounds and start the hunt, as opposed to the 20-mile boat ride alternative out of the nearest port.

I find that when people start fishing in the ‘yaks, they fish a lot more frequently than they normally would. The kayak gives easy access to the fishing grounds, eliminating the need to consume a whole day just to go fishing.

By outfitting a washdeck kayak for fishing, the recreational angler has the opportunity to open a whole new fishery literally in his backyard. A hidden advantage for the angler with a family is that the modified fishing kayak, stripped down, is 100% functional for non-fishing uses. Family paddles, water-oriented vacations, days at the beach – she’ll never know that you bought it for fishing until long after it’s home.

Fishing on kayaks is largely responsible for making me an angler. Before I was just a guy who fished a lot. The comfort, affordability, accessibility, and overall ease of kayak fishing has enabled me to go from fishing 10 to 20 days on a good year to fishing over 100 days every year. All this with a minimum of the non-fishing time normally required to get in a good day on the water.

Kayak fishing gives the angler a perspective on the fishing grounds not experienced by others. Besides the higher fish counts and bigger fish in general, there is a sense of intimacy in the field you get on a kayak that you just can’t capture on any other type of vessel.

Whether your target prey is cat fish on a hot summer night or that 10pound calico that’s been eluding your hook for all these years, fishing on a modified washdeck kayak may be just the thing to turn your fishing life around. I know it has changed mine!

Fishing For Roosters


by Jon Schwartz

Without a doubt, roosterfish are in a class of their own. Their intricate array of feathered dorsal fins give them an unparalleled exotic look, and their proximity to shore puts the kayak angler in a perfect position target them. At times they roam alone, but just as often they swim in marauding packs with their feathers just above the water’s surface, darting around in waist deep water in search of schools of mullet, their favorite prey. No need to paddle out several hundred yards; these prized fish can be targeted within a stone’s throw of the beach, or less.

My first experience with roosters was with one of the legendary pangueros of the East Cape, a man named Indio (whose real name, truth be known, is Marguerite, but don’t tell him I told you that). At the Sea of Cortez’s East Cape, the roosters’ favorite haunt is a stretch of beach just outside of paddling distance from Rancho Leonero, so we decided to put my rental kayak in the panga and transport it over to this area, known as the lighthouse. I launched my kayak in the shallows with a rod baited up with a sardine (no mullet were available), and I began a slow paddle along the shore. After awhile, a school of roosters approached. The sight of them made the hair stand up on my neck. Their movements set them apart from other fish. These fish did not lurk and wait; they moved aggressively and with a sense of urgency and purpose. They barged into the area, scanning quickly for prey, like DEA agents turning over an apartment in a raid. Their stripes and feathers were clearly visible in the crystal clear water.

a_reaaching_schwartzThe thing about fishing for these fish is that, unlike most other species, you are put almost face to face with them, due to how they haunt the shallow clear water that you are gliding through. You can see how they hunt. The stealth of the kayak provides the kayak angler with just enough distance to get right next to the rooster without spooking the fish. As I waited for a strike, my heart raced. I grew impatient and reeled in the bait, and then tossed it at the school when they passed by again. This time, instead of passing the bait up, they scattered as if I had thrown a brick into their midst. I was definitely doing something wrong, but what? What kind of fish scatters when you toss them a bait?

The rest of my 5 day stay consisted of more of the same. As the frustration mounted, my heart sank and I began to get more desperate. On the last day of the trip, Indio and I were motoring my kayak back to the Ranch from the lighthouse when he swung the boat around in a U-turn so sudden and tight that I froze. “Roosties! Roosties! Big Ones! Seventy, eighty pounds!” Having carried me around to all the hotspots in the area for several days in a row with no luck, Indio had begun to feel almost as forlorn as me. We launched my kayak. I took a baited rod, and slowly let the mullet drift back into the school of roosters, and let me tell you, these fish were huge. Even from 50 yards away, their gleaming striped backs, which were protruding out of the water, looked unbelievably massive. My eyes bulged out of their sockets as I craned my neck around to stare at them, praying for a strike. Finally my time had come!

The next thing I knew my bait began jumping into the air, just out of reach of the mouths of the roosters. They repeatedly crashed on the bait for at least a minute, but never actually swallowed it. I was sure that my line was going to start zinging at any minute, but it never happened, The school finally disappeared and as I reeled in my line I realized that my mullet was gone. “Pinche banditos!!” (Darned bandits!) muttered Indio.

Since then, I have had some lucky days with roosters, but more so than any other fish, I have had to pay my dues. I have learned several things about them. One is that they like for you to play hard to get with the bait. They like to see it slowly trolled, so they can feel like they are still hunting it. They can be unbelievably finicky, passing up a bait such as mullet because it has a few missing scales or a slight bruise. In addition, they can mouth the baits forever and spit them out just as you are readying to set the hook.

a_schwartz_jack_nopangaThe next time I returned to Rancho Leonero, I decided to launch from the beach myself with no panga support. This time I thought I was prepared. I had brought down a bait tank that I fashioned out of a small cooler. You never know what the bait is going to be at the Ranch. Sometimes there is plenty of mullet in the 7-10” range, perfect for big roosters, and sometimes the bait is small 3” sardines. Mullet are hands down the best bait for roosters, but they bruise easily and don’t keep well in a small bait tank like I had brought. Luckilly this time the bait was sardines, and I was able to load up on them when I paddled up to them men who sell bait out of their flooded panga just offshore.

At this time there was a marlin tournament in the area, and the boats were desperately maneuvering to line up at the bait boat. The local men selling bait had taken a liking to me, and waved me in between the smoke belching cruisers. “Sink that canoe!!” one of the guests barked, only half jokingly. I knew they were bitter as many of them had trolled all day the day before without a strike. I loaded up on sardines, pinned one on a circle hook, and began paddling away. Before I was 30 feet away, my reel began screaming and I locked down on. “He’s already hooked up!” someone complained. The fish turned out to be a ladyfish of about 8 pounds, which I landed and released in front of the astonished crowd of power boaters.

So many people go to the East Cape with plans of covering a lot of ground, well offshore, when the fact is, many of the best fish, including big jacks, roosters, dorado, and pargo, can all be landed within yards of shore, provided the water temperature is high and the water is blue. Many of these fish congregate at the site where the bait is bought, just offshore, waiting for the extra bait to fall into the water. The smart kayaker will be prepared for this and pin baits on as soon as possible. I’ve kicked myself for not being ready as dorado circle my kayak twenty yards offshore at 7:30 am, eyeing me as they circle my yak, waiting patiently for me to throw a cheap piece of squid that I neglected to tie on.

In any case, I paddled south into the light winds, and tried to get as far as I could before the winds picked up, which usually happens about 10:00 am. I got about 300 yards down the beach when I realized that my bait tank wasn’t circulating enough water to keep the ‘dines alive, and about half of them had perished already! I took the remaining live ones, and put most of them in a plano bait bucket that I had brought down. I pinned on two sardines on a small ringed circle hook, lines let out about three feet from the side of the yak. Needlefish abound in the shallows there and they will quickly eat all of your bait if you simply let your bait swim well behind your yak, but if you keep the bait close enough to you, the needles won’t approach. Then, when you see a school of baitfish being chased or the feathers of a rooster appear, you can quickly let out one of your baits, and the rooster or jack or pargo will swoop down on the offering.

This is exactly what I did. I got down to a favorite site about a half mile down the beach where there is a bunch of structure, and sure enough, I saw a school of sardines jumping out of the water in unison. I quickly let out the line on my lever drag reel loaded with 25 pound test and within seconds, I was onto my rooster with no panga support! The fish fought intelligently, first running straight away, then down, then changing directions. Just when I thought I had it, it took off for another set of runs. It wasn’t huge, maybe 15 pounds, but I was ecstatic that I was able to land this fish all on my own. When the bait dies quickly and the fish are finicky, the wind picks up, and the temperature is 95 degrees with 80 percent humidity, just getting 2 or three live baits a mile down the beach is an accomplishment. I kept on my course, staying within 20 feet of shore, and was struck again, this time by what turned out to be a 15 pound jack crevalle. On the way back, I was able to land one more rooster, for a total of three, and be back at the beach by 11:00!

Oa_reviving_rooster_schwartzne other rooster experience I’d like to relate occurred at the lighthouse as well. This time I had gotten my other favorite panguero, Rene, to take me there. We had maybe five mullet. He dropped me off in my kayak about 50 yards offshore, and I began to paddle around, one bait about 40 yards behind, and one bait about ten yards behind. I began circling the area, and noticed what appeared to be an oil slick on the water. This saddened me. How could this happen here in paradise? But I watched Rene, and he was watching the slick too, not with a look of disappointment, but of intense interest. I got the feeling that I should give the slick a second look, and when I got within 10 yards of the slick I found that the “slick” was actually a giant school of cubera snapper, swirling in such numbers that the sea had turned a dark reddish-brown! Unfortunately I was unable to entice any of the twenty pounders to strike. I’ve since learned that when a school is this large and packed together this closely, be it jacks, pargos or snappers, the fish are often simply not in eating mode.

I continued paddling around the area, and about ten minutes later, my reel made the sweet high pitched screem that I had been waiting for. I waited till I couldn’t bear the suspense, slowly tightened the drag, my rod doubled over, and my yak spun around immediately towards the fish. Game on!! The fish immediately dove deep, and I was stunned at how much line it took. The water gets very deep right off of the beach, so you sit there, 50 yards off the beach, while your fish peels and peels line and you’re wondering, how deep can it go?

What ensued was one of the most memorable battles I’ve ever enjoyed. I had a 25 pound setup, and this fish put my equipment to the test. I am still amazed at how the reel held up. I was so worried about losing the fish that I kept grinding on the crank, even though I was gaining no line. Rene followed me around as the fish pulled me all over the place, and I kept looking at Rene, asking him, what could this possibly be? “Grande Rooster!” he said. C’mon, how could a rooster do this? The fish towed me at will and dove for the first 30 minutes, and then surfaced briefly, just long enough for me to see his magnificent body. It was a truly huge rooster. I screamed and my eyes bulged out.

As soon as his eyes met mine he dove again and the battle lasted for another 15 minutes. Finally, he came alongside of my yak, and I hoisted him for a picture. At this point I was within ten yards of the beach. Right after Rene snapped the last shot, he yelled, “Watch out!” and I was swamped by a wave in the shorebreak. In an instant my yak and gear were floating upside down, and the rooster was floating belly up next to me. It was either revive the fish or get the yak and gear, and I elected to revive the fish. I grabbed his tail, and as I swam behind him, I pushed him in front of me. When I did this, he raised his feathers and started moving slowly. His response encouraged me and I continued to push him along, although I quickly became exhausted from all the kicking necessary to keep a steady pace. Luckilly I had my PFD on, so I was never in any danger. I kept the rescue effort up as long as I could. Rene would have swooped in to grab the fish and revive him by pulling him alongside his panga as he slowly motored along, but he couldn’t risk getting to close to the shorebreak, so I was the fish’s only hope.

After awhile I became so exhausted that I couldn’t swim anymore. I had thought that the rooster would now be able to swim independently, but when I let go of him, he went belly up, so I swam him onto the beach and tried to revive him in knee deep water by running him along the shore. It was with great sadness 15 minutes later that I had to come to the reality that the fish wasn’t going to make it. I felt guilty. At this point my yak was lodged upside down in the sand with one the rods wedged in the sand like the obstacles on the beaches of Normandy. The other rod was lost. I put the fish in the yak, and since I had lost the paddle long ago, I tried to push the yak through the shorebreak. Eventually I had to get in, swim up the face of a wave, and push the yak over top of the wave, and then swim to the yak. Finally I kicked the yak and I out to where Rene was waiting for me. Rene took hold of the yak, I climbed over the side of the yak, and collapsed, exhausted, in a heap on the floor of the boat.

a_hammer_upright_schwartzWhat I have learned from this experience is that if the fish looks exhausted, it is best not to remove it from the water at all. In addition, I have switched to heavier tackle when targeting larger fish, as it enables me to get them up before they are completely spent. When I returned to the beach, I brought the fish to the fillet table and met up with my friend Dennis Spike. I told him how badly I felt for causing the fish’s demise, and he told me that I had done my best, and that sometimes, despite our best intentions, things like this happen. Although I had heard that roosters are almost inedible, I filleted the fish myself and brought every last ounce of the dark purplish meat back to San Diego, where I vowed to eat it all, lest the fish’s death go in vain.

What I had heard was true. The meat is barely edible. It looks like beef heart and has the consistency of shoe leather. Fortunately, my Mexican wife, who grew up dirt poor in the tiny country town of Areo de Rosales, is well versed in the art of making the most out of the least, and we were able to make some worth and meaning out of the wondrous fish’s ultimate sacrifice.

What I have learned from this experience is that if the fish looks exhausted, it is best not to remove it from the water at all. In addition, I have switched to heavier tackle when targeting larger fish, as it enables me to get them up before they are completely spent. When I returned to the beach, I brought the fish to the fillet table and met up with my friend Dennis Spike. I told him how badly I felt for causing the fish’s demise, and he told me that I had done my best, and that sometimes, despite our best intentions, things like this happen. Although I had heard that roosters are almost inedible, I filleted the fish myself and brought every last ounce of the dark purplish meat back to San Diego, where I vowed to eat it all, lest the fish’s death go in vain.

What I had heard was true. The meat is barely edible. It looks like beef heart and has the consistency of shoe leather. Fortunately, my Mexican wife, who grew up dirt poor in the tiny country town of Areo de Rosales, is well versed in the art of making the most out of the least, and we were able to make some worth and meaning out of the wondrous fish’s ultimate sacrifice.

`Yak Fishing For Threshers


Most people believe that fishing from kayaks is a new sport, spurred by the popularity of the inexpensive plastic vessels. Truth is there have been anglers fishing everything from longboards to dive kayaks for many decades. When it comes to kayak fishing, we all paddle in the wake of the old kayak hunters. Where they used kayaks for transportation and harvesting game to survive, we have “beat the system” so to say, and enjoy an ongoing orgy of fishing from our modified kayaks. The pre-modern kayak hunters sought seals, salmon, and whales for food. Nearly everyone had at least one friend or family member who never returned from sea. Just the same, the kayaks were legendary for their seaworthiness. As the ancient methods crossed paths with 20th century navigation, kayak hunters were known to return home after disastrous storms that had taken modern boats and the lives entrusted to them.

Considering the period, what a rush it must have been to stick a whale, then hold on to 50 feet of homemade rope as you are dragged out to sea. Beyond sight of land with no compass and your buddies paddling hard for hours to keep you in view, no wonder some did not return. It makes sense to theorize that the most extreme examples of kayak fishing and hunting were motivated by the threat of starvation. Today’s kayak anglers are motivated by two things. The ability to easily add 50 days a year to their fishing schedule is the main reason most people fish from kayaks. The potential for some very extreme quality fishing attracts the rest.

One such individual who started fishing from his kayak on the extreme side is Jeff “Rhino” Krieger. Inspired by a story in the Hawaiian Fishing News, Rhino fashioned a hand-line and float system and went looking for the jumping marlin off the inshore, the thresher shark. Krieger paddles a Scrambler XT kayak which he customized with the “Rhino Bar,” a rail with a sonar screen and trolling rod holder attachments, mounted forward of the footwell. The bar is also used for tying off the rigging (shark) when paddling in to shore, something I will touch on later. Always looking to learn something new, this writer jumped at the chance to get a lesson on landing threshers in a kayak. Arriving with first light and my fishing partner, we set out to make a few baits and work the rocks around Point Dume for while seabass or yellowtail. On the water we were passed by another kayak angler hauling a five gallon bucket for his bait. Fifteen minutes later, he had a big bend on in what resulted in a lost fish. Except for a few calico bass, we weren’t doing any better. Suddenly I looked up, and the bucket hauler is again hooked up when a thresher breaks water ahead of him. Knowing what was going on, we paddled over to offer our assistance. The angler’s eyes were as big as saucers when he declined our help and reached for a knife to cut the line. I hate to see a fish (or shark) trailing a hook let alone 200 feet of mono, and when this “angler” was advised that he wouldn’t catch the yellowtail he sought soaking a salami mackerel within a feeding frenzy of thresher sharks, he went away.

Several times I have fished deep water areas and consistently been bit off within a particular water column, only to read about the boats I left behind landing 300 pound threshers. When I started fishing from a kayak the shark thing was a concern, kind of. Then I got lucky enough to meet a commercial diver who worked the Channel Islands harvesting sea urchins. When asked about the implications of big sharks in the water, he discounted my concerns and said the sharks don’t really access the different levels the way our fears would lead us to believe. When sharks are circling the diver

Using a 5/0 hook on a 200 pound leader with a mainline of 400 pound tuna chord, Rhino baits a mackerel and lays his float out.

working at the bottom, they don’t follow him up as he rises to the boat. When asked about when the divers leave the water due to sharks, his reply was simply “when there are too many to keep your eye on.  ” When you fish our coast with a kayak you see how many people make their living in the water every day, without incident.

Southern California is believed to be a nursery for many species of sharks. According to John Ugoretz, DF&G biologist involved with the state shark tagging program, “while the big common threshers are found mostly in the northern waters of Oregon and Washington, Southern California holds mostly “medium” size threshers and a lot of pups”. Very little is known about the thresher shark in regard to its presence on our coast. With this in mind, the National Marine Fisheries Service is currently implementing a program to conduct satellite tagging and tracking of the thresher sharks of Southern California.  Knowing where the sharks travel will give us data crucial to the health of this fishery as well as provide the vital information for necessary management.  The thresher is a perfect candidate for this program since it produces 2-6 live offspring and has proven its ability to rebound faster from overfishing than other shark species.  During the course of the year certain tight inshore areas are polluted with calved and juvenile threshers (I assume) feeding on schools of bait.  Unlike most sharks, the thresher gives birth to live pups. These “pups” are four to five feet long at birth and only four to five years old when they reach 10 feet.  Since it is believed that the common thresher breeds at six to seven years old, respect must be given to the take of these ocean predators, especially when most of the sharks hooked are juveniles.

Fishing like a gentleman and arriving two hours after the last ‘yak has hit the water, Rhino trolls up a few mackerels on his way out and gets set to fish. Using a 5/0 hook on 200 pound leader with a mainline of 400 pound tuna chord, Rhino baits a mackerel and lays his float out. Twenty minutes doesn’t go by before the float makes a few bobs and starts moving under the surface. Barehanded (and barefooted) he takes the line taught and sets the hook. With that a six foot thresher broke water 40 feet from the kayaks. Taking lots of short runs, pulling the float, Rhino and the kayak all over the place, the shark took a few more leaps before it began to tire out. At that point, Rhino brings the shark alongside the kayak and while gently lifting its head from the water, he grabs the tail and hoists the lower half of it’s body over his lap, at the same time letting the head drop. Now the head and body are pointing down into the water. The group looks on in amazement.

Even a small tired thresher can be a handful given the slightest burst of energy. That is when teamwork and a good release tool is crucial. A thick broomstick with a small caribeener fastened to the end is inexpensive and easy to make. Popping the hook free is often enough to awaken a sleeping thresher. Once the hook is out, within a split second, send the shark into the water and mind that tail!  If the hook is buried, there is no problem positioning the shark’s mouth away from you and cutting the line up close with nippers.  Holding on to that tail really takes away the shark’s leverage and an easy release can be effected.

Rhino Krieger’s biggest landed thresher is a 90 pounder.  It took over 1 1/2 hours to tire and was landed by bringing the tail across the lap and securing it under the Rhino Bar once the shark had become totally exhausted, then paddling to shore. With the shark restrained in this fashion, it will not have the opportunity to swim and will weaken further

by Jon Schwartz
East Cape of Baja, California Sur

Yakin’ It Up in La Bufadora


The Baja peninsula offers several hundred miles of uninterrupted coastline, much of it punctuated by a seemingly endless number of protected coves, beaches and grottos. Although shore casting has always been the most commonly practiced method for taking fish in most of these remote areas, a new breed of highly adaptable fishing kayak now makes it possible to work the inshore zone for a much wider variety of species and enjoy a level of action that is virtually unattainable by those fishing from the beach or rocks just a few hundred yards away.

The portability factor of a fishing kayak is also a big advantage if you happen to be visiting a region that does not have a ramp, which might be needed to allow access by larger craft. Luckily, industry leaders such as Ocean Kayak, Cobra and Hobie now offer hard-body, sit-on-top kayaks that can be easily launched from just about any beach. They are perfectly designed for inshore fishing and are available at prices well under a thousand dollars.

Many surface fish, such as bonito and barracuda, prefer lures that move rapidly through the water, while others – like the highly prized white seabass – are more likely to inhale a live mackerel or artificial that is pulled a little deeper in the water column at a slower speed. One of the advantages of trolling from a kayak is having the ability to pull your bait much more slowly than is generally possible in a powerboat that is not equipped with a special trolling motor.

Often, you’ll catch more fish by simply finding a “fishy” looking area and sitting in a stationary position for a while. Try casting plastics, surface iron or Krocodile-style spoons toward the edge of kelp growths, or drop down a heavier jig with a frozen squid pinned to the end and bounce it along the rocky bottom. Some kayak anglers prefer catching their own live bait – usually small mackerel – to pull along behind them in a bait sled until it is needed.

No matter how you plan to fish after making the decision to purchase a kayak for ocean waters, it is vital to learn how to use it safely and effectively. The best way to do this is by taking the time and money to invest in a training course from any one of the several certified professionals in your area who provide such services. A few of them also offer guided kayak fishing trips to nearby local beaches, as well as to more secluded places where the average person might not choose to venture on his or her own.

As the sun peaks over the chaparral-covered hills at the end of the Punta Banda peninsula on northern Baja’s Pacific coast, the long strands of resident kelp inside La Bufadora’s placid cove often appear to create a shimmering sea of gold. To Dennis Spike, known simply as “Spike” to his friends and clients, this picturesque sanctuary has also become a perfect venue for gently introducing others to the glories of kayak fishing in a virtually unspoiled marine environment that lies less than 100 miles south of the Mexican border.

Spike was one of the original pioneers to popularize the sport of West Coast kayak angling. Several decades ago, he and his cousin started rigging up their own sit-on-top kayaks for fishing and immediately noticed that they began to consistently catch more and bigger fish than ever before.

During their first year of experimentation, they successfully fished hundreds of times in areas that had previously been accessed almost exclusively by powerboats. An added bonus came when they discovered their ability to fish extremely productive places in dense kelp and around boiler rocks that conventional craft were unable to reach safely.

In late 1994, Dennis Spike created the domain kayakfishing.com, and published his first magazine kayak fishing feature in February 1995. In 1997, www.kayakfishing.com became the first Web site dedicated to kayak fishing on the Internet, and is now accessed by thousands of visitors each day.

What was once Spike’s personal passion for the outdoors had inadvertently turned into a career change. In the course of helping to nurture and grow this newly popular sport, Coastal Kayak Fishing has also managed to become one of the foremost guiding and outfitting dealerships on the south coast.

I happened to drop in on Spike and one of his groups down at Rancho La Bufadora a few weeks ago as they prepared for an early-morning departure the next day. Although it was December and the nights were chilly, the irrepressible Baja sun broke through the clouds early that weekend, which helped to enhance the sensory impact of the golden kelp forest and turquoise waters churning around the jagged, volcanic outcroppings near shore.

Armed with numerous rods that were loaded with an assortment of deadly looking lures, and backpacks stuffed with hastily made sandwiches, potato chips and Buddy Bars, the group of fewer than a dozen departed. One by one, they slid out into the rising tide near La Bufadora’s crumbling cement launch ramp just below the cliffs. Watching them from the beach, I was reminded of an assemblage of ravenous seagulls; loosely organized on the hunt, but ready to strike in a simultaneous flurry once their prey was sighted. It became obvious that to a seasoned kayak angler, the sport is much more than a mere hobby; it becomes an adopted lifestyle.

On this particular voyage, the group managed to take a selection of bottom species, but also had to deal with large swells that occasionally called their attention to maintaining the stability of their boats instead of catching fish. The next day was better, however; as the water flattened out, the sun decided to shine a bit brighter and the fish were in a feeding frame of mind.

Over a period of a few days, their coolers began to fill up with fresh fillets. More important, by the time they were ready to head back toward the border on Sunday afternoon, they had also amassed volumes of happy memories to take with them. Memories to be pulled out and savored – perhaps one day in the middle of a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam on a crowded Southland freeway. Thoughts of a place where small kayaks and daring, determined anglers can quietly slip away from the beach in a placid lagoon to paddle off in pursuit of hungry fish.

Got a question, comment or a hot fishing tip? Share your input by sending an e-mail to: tlgatch@4dcomm.com.

Kayak Fishing in Catalina


In the sport of rod and reel fishing there are many experts. Some make their presence known to the kayak fisherman every time they enter into a conversation and make statements like “for the kind of fishing you do” and the ever precious “have you thought about putting a motor on it?”. For the record, a motor on a kayak makes as much sense as a 5th wheel on a car. That is why we have inflatables Not to be caught unawares, the expert will inevitably part with a “too bad” comment, such as “too bad you can’t fish the islands in that thing”. Funny thing about the experts is I have yet to meet one who has fished from a kayak. Kayak anglers are serious and committed people who often appreciate ten times the amount of fishing as “the experts” who take 3 months to recount their 2 day trips. Kayak anglers cut their teeth in bays and kelp forests then move on to more serious structure in their quest to land fish like 40+ pound halibuts and sea bass. Going on vacation means the opportunity to do battle with tarpon, sailfish, salmon, tuna and other huge fish that lend an “extreme” quality to “the type of fishing we do”.

There is no vessel afloat that gives the angler the access, ease, and affordability to fish the inshore as the kayak does. When the yellowtail show up we don’t go bass fishing, and when the squid boats arrive late in the fall, the thought of catching a forty pound white sea bass keeps us up at night. Kayak anglers can and do fish the offshore islands and there is no better destination than Santa Catalina Island, California.

When the seas are calm, Catalina puts the paradise back in your fishing. Paddling around the island the sights are breathtaking. As you glide along the inshore, a variety of landscapes from rocky cliffs to oak groves meet the sea. Sea caves, blowholes, bays, and stretches of sandy beach surround Catalina. With this type of structure often bordering thick kelp forests, the fishing possibilities keep you busy from dawn `till dusk.

There are several ways to do Catalina on the kayaks. My first choice is to pry Pete Gray away from his office, load our kayaks on his sportfisher and motor across the channel. Having picked up a load of live bait from the receiver, the mothership moves the smaller fleet around in search of the hot bite. At days end, getting a mooring at Avalon allows you take dinner in town and get a room if you’re so inclined, or just sleep on the boat. Some of the best fun I have had in years has been doing these island excursions.

New fishing situations become learning experiences that add to my arsenal of angling knowledge. Fishing with Pete is no exception. Like most great anglers, he has the touch with certain fish. When the stories of Pete and yellowtail started filtering to me I got really excited because yellowtail had been my “unlucky fish”. After hitting the bait receiver for a load of sardines, he moved us outside the harbor to make a few mackerel. Good thing too, it seems that in sportfishing the best bait is often the one you don’t have so the more variety the better. One of the most relevant things Pete told us in our quest to “learn” how to catch a yellowtail on the kayaks was the distinct advantage paddlers have in their ability to slow troll a live bait. Twenty minutes into trolling an area on the backside of the island, I hooked my first kayak yellowtail. Just a small “firecracker” the jack gave me a taste of what these fish are all about. The real test came 10 minutes later when our radio host got hit by a monster. Seeing the rod bent nearly in half as he gained position on the fish told me I had plenty of time to get there to assist with the landing. Fishing with Pete since the beginning of the year, I knew this was his biggest kayak hook-up. After a 15 minute battle a 25 pound yellowtail showed color and was brought to gaff. Even though he has caught much larger fish, Pete confirmed something I have maintained for years, “there is nothing like catching them on a kayak”. A luxurious sportfisher is not required to mothership kayaks. Sometimes I will load the “yaks” onto a friends sailboat or have them portaged to the islands by shipper or outfitter. This is remarkably inexpensive and lightens the commute. Camping at Catalina is another option. Secluded coves are abundant and although most Catalina campsites are considered “remote”, basing your stay out of Avalon or Two Harbors sets up the potential for a trip that really can’t be done anywhere else.
And then there is the fishing. Catalina has it all during the course of the year right down to the weather. Having so many miles on the inside, refuge from wind and swell is usually attainable. Yellowtail and white sea bass are the biggest prizes to be pursued. Halibut, calico bass, sheephead, bonito, and barracuda can all be fished with overwhelming success. In most cases success can be achieved by sticking to the artificial lures. For the beginner, this is an easy way to fish while getting comfortable on the kayak. But the ease of kayak fishing, coupled with the long history our waters have as a live bait fishery, make the perfect marriage. Experience shows that fishing the live baits aggressively, yields more overall hookups with bigger fish. The Plano Trolling Bait Bucket will keep baits alive for hours.

Trolling is probably the most tedious exercise on a kayak. A clear understanding of the kelp, rocks, current, and all of the conditions of the area to be trolled are crucial. Anchoring to the bottom and surface structure as well as drifting, are usually more productive than trolling unless you are in the optimum situation. Break-offs for example, occur when shallow rocky structure is trolled, and the results are no fish landed.

Mothership fishing is one of the best ways to get out of your backyard fishery and exploit the Channel Islands. With minimum effort and planning Catalina Island will support every kind of trip to fulfill your needs. From a simple trip with the guys to a full fledged family vacation (even a posh romantic getaway), Catalina is one of those quiet treasures sitting a few miles within reach. On top of it all, the fishing is often “resort quality”.