A wise man once said, “The smaller the boat the greater the fish.” This man must have known the thrill that is going after open water game fish in a sea kayak. If not, he should.
Shallow draft kayaks, even the longer ocean-going sea boats, offer maneuverability that no other watercraft can. This allows kayak-borne anglers to press into bodies of water that are off-limits to those in larger powerboats. Whether it’s poking around the flats of the Florida Keys looking for tarpon, or trolling the isolated craggy inlets of the Pacific Northwest for salmon, these small boat fishermen can float in just inches of water and arrive at destinations far away from the beaten path.
Many salt-water kayakers begin in the brackish tidal marshes along the coastline. This is for safety sake (it’s much harder to drown in three feet of sea than in 300), as well as getting your bearings in open water. There are any number of good-sized coastal fish who spend their adult life in the ocean before returning to these reeds to spawn and lay their eggs. It’s these returning drum, mackerel, and trout who provide a strong foundation for the learning curve of any kayak fisherman. This is where small-scale bait cast and larger spinning reels with a decent 10-15 pound test can prove most adequate.
To keep hands free, popular options for kayak-borne anglers are “kickers,” which replace the standard paddle experience for a built-in foot-powered drive.
Working Your Way Up
After cutting their teeth in the tidal zone, the next step in the evolution of the salt-water paddleboat angler is going “out front” to the blue water of the coast. It is in these areas where the kayaker will need to smarten up on their tackle choices and lures to enable them to land the larger beasts like your pelagic tunny, jack crevalle, and coastal sharks. Typically, this is up to the end-user whether they want to stick with a spinning reel for those far-off casts or upgrade to bigger deep-water bait cast reels like the Penn International series. With these and the correct saltwater Ande or braid, you can do light trolling or hover over deep structure to pluck heavy grouper and snapper off the reefs. Beware of these larger beasts as they can often take you for quite a literal drag so be ready.
Many kayakers who decide to go after the big boys in deeper water opt for hybrid designs that incorporate small trolling motors for those times when a little extra “get-home” power is required.
Call in the Flies
A good test of fishing skill is graduating to salt-water fly-fishing from your kayak. This marries the small niche of yakkers with the even smaller overlap of flymen and produces a very specialized but challenging subset. If you think a 2-pound brown trout is a treat while working a fly in a freshwater stream somewhere, wait till you have to battle a 50-pound tarpon with a head like a tyrannosaurus rex. Should you be one who likes to rack up records, many states, especially on the Gulf Coast, maintain separate fly and conventional salt-water record books, which gives this growing legion of fine casting sea kayakers a very real incentive to become a pioneer in their sport.
Overall, this sport of tiny boats and immense sea monsters offers a thrill that is within the grasp of the modern angler.