Plastic Pursuits

Kayaks aren’t just for rivers and bays. Adventurous anglers are pushing the boundaries by heading way over the horizon.

Jose Chavez July 22, 2011

With the growing popularity of kayak fishing, an increasing number of open-minded anglers are pushing the envelope by putting themselves in situations that would
make most kayak fishermen blush. While many ‘yakers are perfectly content fishing shallow grass flats and mangrove shorelines for typical targets, transporting kayaks beyond reach of paddle power is quickly catching on as an exciting means of pursuing powerful predators. Are you up for the challenge?

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Photo: Jose Chavez

Utilizing a mothership to transport kayaks offshore is often overlooked due to the daunting task of planning such an extensive trip. Even though the logistics and execution of a mothership adventure has its complexities, it can be surprisingly simple if you carefully plan ahead. The first thing you need to do is find an experienced captain with a boat capable of safely transporting several kayaks. There are many experienced captains to choose from, but you need to find one that’s progressive and willing to undertake a unique trip like this. In this case, the man of the hour was Captain Jimmy Nelson, who has a merited reputation for catching big fish. When the opportunity was presented to fish with him out of his homeport of Homosassa—on his secret numbers—I couldn’t help but jump at the opportunity. After selecting a date and waiting for a window of flat calm weather—mandatory for an offshore kayak adventure—the time finally came. I was super excited and knew we were in for an extraordinary trip.

Since this was our first expedition of this type, Jimmy and I made sure to go over the details well in advance. We discussed the dimensions of the kayaks and the best way to transport and secure them. In the end we decided that two kayaks would be perfectly manageable, making sure not to make it too complex our first time around. We also made sure to go over the expectations of what would be required to launch and retrieve the kayaks, along with species targeted, techniques, and tackle employed. The morning of the trip was filled with excitement and anticipation. When we arrived at the marina we met Jimmy and quickly loaded all of our gear. Properly preparing ahead of time really paid off, and before long we were on our way.

When we arrived at the first spot Jimmy was extremely helpful in making sure to explain the bottom features and what species we could expect to encounter. He explained the direction of the current and wind, how the mothership—his Suzuki powered Parker in this case—would be positioned, and where the reef would be in relation to the boat. This information was extremely helpful when we started fishing, because it allowed us to stay above the structure and in the strike zone the entire time.

The kayaks were deployed over the side of the boat and in we went. We were in 45 feet of water and selected 5 oz. HookHer Flutter jigs as our weapons of choice. Jimmy chose this as our first spot because the reef held many grouper, providing us with an opportunity to get comfortable jigging and fighting fish that pull straight down. This is a completely different fight when compared to fish commonly found inshore, which typically pull you forward.

We were equipped with spinning and conventional jigging outfits loaded with 50 lb. braided line. In an effort to minimize clutter on the kayak, the only accessories we brought along were life jackets and a fish lipper. One of the nice things about a trip like this is that if you need anything there’s always help nearby. Whether it was handing over a gaff, switching out rods or snapping a quick photo, the mothership provided the necessary support to successfully kayak fish offshore.

Since grouper were our targets we dropped the jigs to the bottom and thoroughly worked the lowest level of the water column. Our first drop resulted in a double header, and we were soon extremely comfortable fighting powerful fish from our plastic platforms. This was something we were initially unsure of, but as long as we kept hooked fish toward the front of the kayak we were fine. We found that once we had a fish connected, it was easier to fight it with the rod butt between the legs, supported on the deck of the kayak. It worked great and turned the kayak into a mobile fighting chair.

After we had proven ourselves, Jimmy shouted to us that he wanted to find some bigger fish. Recovering the kayaks was very straightforward. We would simply bring the kayak boatside, have someone from the boat grab the front handle while the angler in the kayak stood up and got back in the boat. Then the kayak was pulled over the rail and safely secured.

Upon arrival at the next spot we switched to 5 oz. HookHer Arrow jigs since we were a little bit deeper. These jigs have a long and slender profile, which enables them to descend faster. With bruiser amberjack in our crosshairs, we worked the jigs all the way to the surface. The first drop resulted in an immediate connection, but these were AJ in the 15- to 25-pound range. Not monsters by any means, but they certainly had the determined mindset of their bigger brothers.

Jimmy soon decided that it was time to take on the big boys. We gathered the kayaks and relocated to the next spot. Once again Jimmy briefed us on the layout of the area while we launched the kayaks over the side. We started jigging and again it didn’t take long to get in the game. It quickly became apparent that these were larger AJ in the 40-pound range. Again, there did not appear to be any safety related issues as long as the hooked fish was kept toward the front of the kayak. If an uncooperative fish would try to work its way to the stern, the threat was dispelled by using the torso and legs to turn the kayak back into the correct fighting position. Placing the rod butt between the legs for maximum leverage was very helpful in fighting these powerful battlers.

Kings among kings
Targeting king mackerel required a different strategy altogether. With the mothership we trolled area structures and studied the sonar for the presence of bait. Once we found an area with a lot of life, we anchored, started chumming and launched the kayaks. We would deploy a flat line with a live blue runner, which typically got attacked within minutes. Landing kingfish was a little trickier because of their razor sharp teeth and feisty attitude when brought to the surface. Smaller kings were handled by grabbing the tail, while larger king mackerel destined for the smoker were controlled with a small hand gaff.

Fighting powerful game fish in the open ocean from the solitude of a kayak is a unique experience. We could have certainly caught the same fish from the mothership, but there was something really special about battling unrelenting predators while sitting at surface level. The perspective can only be achieved when fishing from a kayak. While we ventured offshore of Florida’s Big Bend, the beauty of this exciting approach is that with the proper planning and calm seas, you can get in the offshore kayak fishing game no matter where you call home. Truth is, for inshore anglers looking for new and exciting opportunities, this is it. Mothership trips put a new twist on kayak fishing by putting you face to face with game fish on their turf. Even though it requires additional planning and preparation, the rewards are well worth the extra effort.

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