By Tom Gatch
A new breed of highly adaptable, saltwater fishing-friendly kayaks have now made it possible to cover the inshore zone for a much wider variety of species in areas that may be virtually unattainable by those who are land based. One of the advantages of fishing the inshore waters from a kayak is having the ability to troll your bait or lure at a much slower speed than is usually possible in a motorized craft. Many surface fish, such as bonito and barracuda, prefer a lure that moves rapidly through the water. Other species, like California's highly prized white sea bass, are more likely to inhale a live mackerel or lure that is pulled somewhat deeper in the water column at a slower speed.
The portability factor is also a big advantage if you happen to visit regions that have no launch ramps or other areas that allow easy access for larger boats. The new, state-of-the-art fabrics now being used by manufacturers have added a dimension of safety and reliability that was nearly impossible to achieve only a few years ago. While saltwater kayak anglers can easily fish in shallow marshes, back bays and small harbors, they are certainly not limited to those types of venues. These days, it is not uncommon to see them fishing inshore just beyond the breakers, as well as venturing out well past the surf zone to points several miles offshore in pursuit of bigger fish.
The gear used in this type of specialized saltwater fishing is much the same as the tackle that you might use when fishing from a small boat under 20’ in length. Light to medium spinning reel outfits are popular but, depending upon where you plan to fish, it is also a good idea to also be equipped with a heavier conventional rod and reel combo just in case you run into something that requires more muscle to battle and land.
Saltwater kayak fishing also makes good ecological sense; there is no gas to spill, no oil to leak and an absolute minimum of noise pollution to inflict upon those nearby. More and more coastal regions are now closing large portions of salt marshes and estuaries to motorboat traffic, while many other areas are making legislative moves to protect estuaries and salt marshes by closing large portions of those estuaries and marshes to motor boat traffic. To many anglers, that may also include restricting access to their most productive fishing spots …unless, of course, they happen to be fishing from a kayak. With today’s emphasis upon habitat and environmental restoration, saltwater kayak anglers will definitely have the advantage in the future.
Although the market is now being flooded with cheaply made kayaks that are not suitable for the demands of saltwater fishing, industry leaders such as Hobie and Ocean Kayak currently offer a good selection of high quality hard-bodied, sit atop kayaks that are perfect for inshore fishing; most of which are priced at well under $1,000. One of my personal favorites is the Ocean Kayak Prowler ‘Big Game’, which is extremely stable even for ‘plus-size’ kayakers. The latest line of Hobie kayaks features a ‘Mirage Drive’ that allows you to paddle it with your feet. This innovative design keeps your hands free for fishing, and can even greatly increase your range of coverage.
Most importantly, don’t be fooled into thinking that a fishing kayak is just an adult ‘toy’ that is only capable of catching smaller fish near shore. The billfish in the photo was just one of nine that were caught on a trip to Baja's East Cape with La Jolla Kayak Fishing Owner/Guide Jim Sammons and his client, who fought this 160 pound striped marlin for three hours in a spirited battle that covered over six miles.