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Paddling Out...
"Kayaking the Surf"

by Jeff Herman

 

CURRENT MOON
lunar phases

Kayak the Surf

As we rig our kayaks and fishing gear on the beach, I can overhear a couple waders next to us complaining that the green water is about 75 yards past the breakers. Luckily, our kayaks will make getting to the green water a snap. Likewise, the seaweed is thick but patchy, and the easy maneuvering of the kayaks will help us work around this most terrible and feared obstacle of every treble hook ever forged. Our plan will be to launch the kayaks and paddle to the clear water just past the color break. We'll concentrate on fishing the edges of the weed patches while keeping an eye out for signs of bait fish. (Photo by Vincent Rinando)

Vincent Rinando and I have rigged our kayaks with a minimum amount of gear. Simple is better in the surf. We each have two rods. My Kistler's are rigged with a crystal minnow and a 4" Gulp shrimp. Vincent has a pink Riptide paddle tail on one rod and his other outfit is a fly fishing rig. Watching the breakers, we time our launch for a lull between wave sets. Paddling through the surf is always going to be a wet ride, but once you decide to go, you have to put your head down and paddle hard, straight out. Paddling past the breakers is kind of like a marriage I guess, once you commit you either dig in and get through the rough stuff, or you can pause and vacillate, and in this hesitation you invariably catch a roller broadside, therein getting dumped.

Luckily, the waves are only crashing at about 3 feet, so it's a pretty easy run past the chop. Within a few minutes we are approaching the color change between the muddy water and what looks to be fishy green water. Already, we can hear the bait and bigger fish popping at the surface. Setting up on a drift I start throwing out my crankbait between two patches of seaweed. I bring back nothing on the first couple casts. Then speeding up my retrieve I get a great strike and my rod bends fast. A small Spanish mackerel is brought to hand and released. Looking over towards Vincent I can see he has a good fish tight to line on his fly rod. After a short run he pulls in a healthy speckled trout. It looks about 20 inches, but she's is a fat fish and sure to have given him a good fight.

For the next hour and a half we both continue to catch smacks and specks every few casts. We also get a little variety when Vincent lands a baby shark on his fly rod. Finally, taking a break and paddling back to shore, we pass the same despondent waders who had complained about the water clarity at the beach. They are still waiting with slack lines for the green water to move in, the same water we just fished from our kayaks.

Seeing kayaks on Texas Coastal waters is no longer a curiosity, but a normal sight. The last few years a have seen an explosion of plastic boats. Aside from being just plain fun, they are a great, affordable platform to extend your fishing opportunities.

For anyone just getting started in kayaking, paddling in the calm waters of the bay is essential. But, once you get some paddling experience and safety techniques under your belt, the Texas surf offers some of the most exciting kayak fishing available.

Kayak fishing in the surf is always more of a challenge than fishing in flat protected waters. First and foremost for any kayaking trip, you have to know how to renter your kayak in deep water. I don't just mean knowing the theory behind the self-rescue process (BBF = Belly, Butt, feet). You must be physically able to do so, and have practiced deep-water reentry in safer environs. Likewise, when fishing the surf, regardless of your skill level and swimming ability, always wear a PFD. A type IV PFD is ideal. Inflatable's (type V) are great for flat calm water, but in the surf a Type IV is more appropriate.

Other essential gear and safety equipment should include a whistle, a signaling mirror, extra paddle, compass, first aid kit, plenty of water, and a handheld VHF radio. Cell phones are nice, but they are not a substitute for a handheld VHF. I also suggest carrying a knife that is quickly accessible for cutting fouled lines and rigging, and in the worst case scenario (you underwater) your knife can be used to free you from a tangled anchor rope or fishing line. A fishing partner is also essential for your safety when kayaking in the surf. It's a good idea to paddle with a partner in the bays, it is absolutely critical in the surf. Whether it's an unexpected wave dumping you in the drink, a fish hook finding purchase in your hand, or a big fish thrashing on the end of your leader, having an experienced fishing partner and an extra set of hands will help ensure a safe trip.

Weather and wind are also major components of any trip. Big winds can stir up the surf and wreck any hope of good kayaking conditions, so remember to check forecasts and the tide/surf cameras that can be found online. I asked T.J. Pilgrim, an upper coast expert on surf fishing from a kayak, about spring weather concerns. He said, "Springtime brings wind, squalls, and fog. Sea fog can be trouble if it catches you on the water in the kayak, even more so if you are offshore. The change of season allows for the air and water temps to vary greatly. It's this combination that is the perfect recipe for sea fogs. Even on clear days you need to keep a watch for it. Many a times on a perfect clear April day, I have watched a thick bank of fog come in with the high tide".

Remember too, you should always dress for the water temperature, not just the air temperature. The first warm fronts of spring can be misleading. The air temps might be hovering in the upper 80's, but the water can still be too cold for prolonged exposure. Always avoid cotton, and base your consideration for a wetsuit on the temperature of the water. In kayaking it's not "if" you'll be swimming, it's a matter of "when" you'll be swimming. Remember: rig your gear to flip and dress yourself to swim.

Once you have the safety aspect lined out, it's time to start thinking about your fishing equipment. I often see paddlers in the bay with their kayaks loaded down like a mobile tackle store. They say you never know what is enough, until you know what is more than enough. Through years of experience I assure you, less is more, especially when you're in the big water. My preference is a two rod maximum. Tackle depends on your method, artificial or bait. Either way, I take one single tackle tray. It has leaders, hooks or lures, weights, and hemostats.

You will also need an anchor with a fast release clip and a large float. Never use an anchor rope knotted to your kayak. A brass clip will allow you to disengage from the anchor line quickly and safely. The float will allow you to return and retrieve the anchor later.

Many people will also take a small cooler with them. I prefer to leave the igloo on the beach though. I freeze a few water bottles the night prior to the trip, and I keep them in the cooler until it's time to launch. Yes, they melt and warm up, but they will stay cold for a couple hours and it reduces clutter on the deck of the kayak. Not having a cooler on the kayak also reduces your profile to the wind, and thereby reduces the speed of your drifts. So, sans cooler what do you do with your bait? Take a page from the old salts and get yourself some burlap. Wet the burlap and put your fresh dead inside, it'll stay cool and fishable as long as you'll need for an average surf trip.

So, here it comes, and we've been waiting for it like a kid waits for the final bell on the last day of school. It's been sitting on the horizon just out of view for a few weeks, and while we wished it upon us sooner, you can't hurry Ma Nature, no matter how you try. The water temps have risen slowly past the upper 60's and are about to slip into the mid 70's. The surf fishing is about to turn on, and I plan to be paddling out past the breakers, and bending my rod with fish at the first opportunity.

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