My Favorite Riddle: Why do 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish? Because 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water, and 90% of the fishermen don’t know where that 10% of water is.
Remember: Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.
Keep it Simple, Stupid. Whatever kayak you choose to fish from, make sure it’s functional and comfortable. Don’t overdue it with accessories. There’s no need for expensive electronic gizmos while negotiating the one to six foot depths we encounter. Fish finders? They’re called rods and reels with lures on the end. Depth finders? They’re called paddles dipped over the side. A GPS device is a good idea, but I prefer a compass mounted in front of me for easy viewing. Have at least two out-of-the-way, but reachable rod holders. Be organized: everything you take with you should have its place.
The 6 to 9 Rule. By far, the best times to be out on the water are from 6 to 9 in the a.m. or p.m. when feeding is most active. During the heat of the summer, I usually ignore evening fishing and hit the water in the dark at 4 or 5 a.m., and paddle to my first fishing hot spot in the dark with the aide of a trusty head lamp. I believe these times trump anything going on with the tide, moon phase, solunar period, etc.
The 300 Foot Rule. Generally, the best fishing for most species occurs within 300 feet of a stronger, more concentrated tidal flow.
Beat the Heat. Take lots of water with you, and, of course, sun screen, polarized sunglasses and a wide brim hat. I also recommend wearing one of the dry-wick shirts, which I soak in water and wring dry prior to leaving the house.
Don’t Forget The Bug Spray. We’ve got those nasty little critters here in abundance. As much as I’d like to use safer products, only DEET seems to work for me (just shower and wash those clothes when you get home).
Stay in Touch. Leave a float plan at home, and carry a cell phone (yeh, they pretty much work out there) to let your spouse know when you’ll be back with lunch or dinner. Also, carry a VHF Radio to access marine weather reports, and to contact other nearby anglers, or, if need be, the Coast Guard.
Location, location, location. The old saying that 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish is probably true. Also probably true is the fact that about 10% of the water contains 90% of the fish, thereby, making identification of that small area of fishable water critically important. Google and Bing earth-view displays are essential tools for locating this productive area. Learn how to read them, and use them to plot routes and to locate oyster bars, grass beds and other structure where fish hang out. I never go into a new area without one or more of the print-outs to help keep me oriented. With numerous mangrove shorelines to choose from, focus on those near deeper runs (darker colored on the maps) which can serve as migration highways.
Sportsman’s and Top Spot maps can also assist in identifying sand bars, grass beds and other fishy features. Water depths and suggested fishing sites may also be highlighted. Never pass up oyster bars and grass beds: they provide cover for invertebrates and bait fish, as well as for the predators awaiting in ambush to chew on them.
Go With the Flow. Remember, paddling back a few miles against a strong wind or current is not only tiring, but potentially dangerous, so plan your trip accordingly.
Perform CPR, that’s catch-photograph-release, of course. Have you ever tried photographing a flopping fish on a measuring board to submit as an entry in a kayak fishing tournament?
3 Rigs to Take. If you’re into artificials like me, I suggest heading out with 3 outfits: (1) one rigged with a topwater walk-the-dog lure, (2) one with a suspending lure (e.g., mirrolure) or shallow diver (e.g., original rapala) and (3) one with a 1/8 – 1/4 oz jig head with 3 inch swimtail. My go-to topwater lure is the Ima Skimmer, having replaced its stock trebles with Trokar #2 trebles (an expensive choice, but I prefer its action over the cheaper and more widely used surface lures, and it casts better with the super light, extra-fast rigs I use). I also replace the trebles on the smaller mirrolure models and original rapala with suitably sized Trokars. And, I like the super “stretchy” Elastech plastics (like Z-man) in natural colors which hold up really well, but do need special attention in storing.
I like casting my artificials with a 7 to 7 1/2 foot fast action / medium power rod and 3000 spinning reel. I generally use 10 pound braided line with a 2 – 3 foot length of 20lb fluorocarbon leader.
Floating Grass. When floating grass becomes a problem in summer, try fishing the outgoing tides (and beginning of incomings) and using weedless lure presentations (gold or copper spoons or weedless plastics). If you’re a topwater addict like me, replace the trebles on a few of your walk-the-dog or popper lures with single inline hooks (the front hook opening forward and the back hook opening toward the rear). I’ve also had some success with the “snag-proof” plastics meant to imitate frogs for bass in freshwater, but in white or colors more closely resembling baitfish.
Try a Fas-Snap. If you go out with just 1 or 2 outfits, and expect to change lures occasionally, I recommend using the “fas-snap” in an x-large size instead of a larger swivel or loop knot. The snaps are no larger than the small split rings that come attached to several lures, and will hold up to the biggest redfish.
Setting the Hook. It took me 5 years of setting the hook hard on strikes (like I’ve done all my life fishing in freshwater), especially on topwater strikes by redfish, before I learned to replace that with fast reeling until I felt a pull on the other end, thereby leaving my lure in the strike zone in the event of a miss. Just make sure you’re using super sharp hooks.
Silence is Golden. Be as stealthy as possible, especially If you’re stalking redfish in shallow water. The slightest tap of your rod or paddle on the side of your yak will spook Mr. Red into the next county. Arrange your yak so there is NO noise when alternating between casting and paddling, when using your anchor, and when reaching for gear, water, accessories, etc. Use only soft-sided containers to store your gear, and, if necessary, glue padding down in front of you. Try to keep everything within easy reach (a challenge with most Sit-Inside and Sit-On-Top yaks).
I’ve rigged my uniquely designed Wavewalk kayak (I refer to it as my Sit-On-Top-Inside yak) for maximum stealthiness, comfort and convenience. There is no need for hatches as everything is within easy reach. The foam noodles along the rim silence all noise from the repeated paddle / rod handling, and are cut and marked to measure fish without having to bring them aboard, providing for the quickest measurements with minimal stress to the fish.
In the Still of the Night. Unless you love the heat, launching an hour or two before first light and fishing to 9 or 10 in the morning is a great strategy to employ during the HOT summer months when water temperature frequently exceeds 90 degrees during the day. You’ll need a good headlamp, and it helps to have a compass mounted in front of you to watch as you’re paddling in the dark. Moonlit nights work best. Just make sure you know the area well enough to feel certain that you won’t get lost.
Motor Up, Maybe. Some of the best fishing is available around the outer islands and keys located several miles from our launch ramps. Unless you’re an Olympic paddler and a fitness addict, reaching them will require attaching a small motor to your yak for the 10 mile or more round trip. Trolling motors and small gasoline powered motors in the 2 horsepower / 30 lb range should work nicely. Just watch the weather closely when out that far, and also watch out for shallow rocks which won’t be kind to your lower units.
Fresher Fish For Dinner. While I release most fish, occasionally I’ll deep hook one that may not survive. To keep it as fresh (and tasty) as possible for the neighbors, I clean and bleed it out before putting it on ice by keeping it in the water attached to a stringer after having gutted it and slit the gills. Just keep an eye out for sharks as it bleeds out before putting it in the bag, lifeless and without the noisy flopping around. If you’re going to release it, but want a picture before doing so, letting it swim and revive a bit before clicking should result in a better picture and a less stressed out fish.
Landing Net or Fish Grips. If you’re planning on a fresh fish dinner, you should have a landing net (preferably, one of the no-tangle ones) to get your catch into your yak and fish bag. Catch-release guys should use more fish-friendly fish grips to hold the fish while removing hooks with the fish still in the water (to improve survivability). Small and large fish grips also come in handy for securing needlefish, lizardfish and other toothy species around their skinny bodies while removing hooks.
See You Later Alligator. Do keep an eye out for gators, especially in the lakes, bays and rivers. I’ve even seen them near river mouths where the water is fairly salty. They generally seem to prefer keeping their distance from yakers, but you never know.