What is it about sports fisherman? Why is it that we seem to be driven by some internal force to fish? What fuels this passion for being on the water? Why is it we do what we do?
Is it simply being on the water? It is true, that few things can match the feeling of freedom and serenity that you feel when you are around the water. Open water, whether you are on it, in it or even just near it, is a powerful attractant for most everyone. The South Florida lifestyle is water.
People are constantly moving to this wonderful area. Waterfront property values continue to rise with no end in site. The beaches have been rejuvenated to a new luster . . . the boating industry is booming . . . all this largely because of our spectacular South Florida waters. This feeling about water can dictate our lives and lifestyles.
But if the attraction is simply being near the water wouldn't the beach or a sailboat be enough? This serene, serendipity feeling is a big part of the answer, but not all of it.
Being in the outdoors and feeling a part of nature has to be a component of this drive that we have. On the water you are away from the crowds . . .away from the traffic . . . away from the rat-race. . .away from the pressures. Whether watching an osprey crash the water on a ladyfish, a raccoon searching an oyster bar at low tide or dolphin cooperating together to herd mullet in a bay; be it chasing frigate birds offshore or catching speedos to feed to billfish or seeing a goliath grouper gobble up a big jack, when we are there, we feel a part of these natural things. Simply being in these settings allows us to feel as if we are piece of that world and sometimes, humbly, part of the food chain. We want to be as close as we can be and be there as often as we can. But, again, why sports fishing?
Would not a hike in the woods get us this "close to nature" feeling?
Perhaps, it is the camaraderie of our fellow fishing enthusiast that draws us in. I know few who want to be alone for very long. We all need space and time to ourselves. After all, time is the most precious commodity that we have in life. Time spent alone in special places and circumstances can't be replaced. But sharing experiences with friends is also extremely rewarding.
Personally I love watching people catch fish as much as I like to catch them myself. Few things, can stand up to the look in an angler's face when she knows she is about to be spooled by a permit streaking to the horizon. Every face on the boat lights up when a big silver dinosaur-sized tarpon launches into the air at sunset. I still remember the feeling one day on a charter when a grandfather, as he was watching his grandson bring in a speckled trout, turned to his son and said, "Isn't it wonderful to watch your son catch a fish . . . Son". It will be with me forever.
Fishing offers us something in common with our group of friends, something unique and special to us that we can share amongst ourselves. This sense of shared experiences is a big part of why we do what we do. But, there are those that will say the same thing about college football!! Those folks simply do not get it.
Perhaps it is the raw excitement. The rush that you get from a dolphin streaking towards trolled baits is pretty powerful. Watching a sailfish follow and strike a bait is very high on the experience list. The explosion of a double-digit snook crashing a top water lure under the mangroves is absolutely addicting.
These days it seems that I get very little "bow time", so it very precious to me. On one of those rare occasions when a good friend was poling and I was fishing, we saw a bonefish that we both estimated to be a near 13 pounds. I have seen and caught plenty of bonefish, but watching that big tailing bone, working to get in position to present the fly was so exciting that I was shaking . . . shaking so much that I missed the cast and spooked the fish. However, (later) that was okay; just being there was the thrill. The excitement, the rush is part of this passion that we call sports fishing. ("buck fever" is very real!).
Perhaps it is the challenge and the opportunity for accomplishment that sports fishing gives to us? There are few things in life where people talk of their "personal bests". The typical sports fisherman competes with himself and the fish; not with others. Unlike the rest of our lives where we compete to position ourselves to better our lifestyles, where failure can have dramatic impact on our families, fishing only has rewards. Most anglers are happy when a fellow fisherman catches seven snook and you only catch five . . . after all you did catch five!!!
That is usually not the case outside of sports fishing. When a colleague out competes you and advances ahead, it might be years before you get another opportunity. Your next opportunity for a redfish is on the very next cast! There are no failures . . . only chances for successes.
The lure of sports fishing is very strong. For me it is a combination of many things. The pure sensation of being on the water, the feeling of being a part of the natural surroundings, the camaraderie and shared experiences with my friends, the raw excitement of the action and the limitless opportunities for personal challenges and successes all combine to fire my passion for the sport. Sports fishing offers an incredible escape from the reality of what we call daily life.
The sports fisherman is a constantly evolving critter, however. As a fishing guide, I see it all the time. In the beginning of an angler's fishing career, a day of fishing means a day of catching fish. It does not matter what kind. As long as he is catching fish things are as good as they can be. Soon, he will challenge himself to catch a limit of trout, for example. Next time he may seek a limit of trout using only artificial lures . . . then only top water plugs. How about the inshore slam and then the inshore slam on fly? I have anglers who love the personal challenge aspect so much; they have "evolved" to throwing top water plugs to permit at night!!! Talk about challenging!!
The sports fishing industry too is evolving. Every so often, something comes along that revolutionizes the industry. The trolling motor exploded into freshwater fishing dramatically changing fishing techniques. Plastic jerk baits have again changed they way people bass fish.
Take look at the flats boat. Twenty-five years ago, my plywood decked 13' Whaler was about the only boat that I saw in the shallows. The flats were my place . . . few to follow. That is not the case now. There are scores of manufactures and many, many more models. Hundreds of boats inundate Florida's flats every day. They too have even evolved so that few are without trolling motors. As the boats and anglers have changed, push poles have evolved to "push-off" poles for many.
And, it is happening again . . . now!! Whether it is viewed as an extension of the challenge aspect of the sport, the desire and need to be on the water, a way to be closer to nature or simply an extremely effective way to catch fish, kayak fishing is one of the fastest growing segments of this industry.
Serious fishermen have re-discovered the kayak as a fishing platform, just like they did the flats boat. The word is out and more and more fishermen, across the country are turning to kayaks. Manufacturers are starting to build kayaks specifically for fishing with some models so popular that the dealers have three and four month backlogs. Gear, tackle, rigging and equipment is being introduced every time you turn around. Specialty guides services are available in most fisheries, clubs have formed, kayak fishing tournaments are increasing in numbers and excursions/lodges specifically for kayak fisherman are available.
With just a little thought about the kayak it is easy to see why others are embracing it so. It is very economical with relatively low upfront and ongoing costs. It is simple, very stable, and deadly silent. Probably most importantly, the kayak provides fishing access to areas that you simply can not get to by other means. Take one fishing trip in a kayak and you will become a convert yourself.
The costs of power boating can be great. Nowadays, it is hard to get an new outfitted flats boat without spending well over $30,000. Many boats run twice that amount. Factor in the costs of insurance, interest, fuel, taxes, storage, a trailer, towing vehicle and hitches and a boat becomes a major investment for most any household.
Many of my anglers had their own boats faced a hard reality about power boat ownership. For many, it did not make economic sense to maintain their boats considering the real costs, the maintenance headaches, the storage issues and the fact that their lifestyles and schedules limited the time they had to actual use the boat. They found it simpler, more cost effective and usually more productive to turn to a professional guide.
The fishing kayak, on the other hand, requires no fuel, no insurance, no trailer, no tow vehicle and basically no maintenance. You do not even need a boat ramp!! Weighing about 50 pounds, it transports on top of a compact car and can be launched by one person just about anywhere there is water.
A typical fishing kayak ranges in price from several hundred dollars to about $900. Completely outfitted for fishing, including paddles and safety gear, the typical fishing kayak will cost somewhere around $1000 . . . a far cry from the cost of any flats boat.
Most are made out of plastic, so there is no hardware to polish, gel coat to wax, electrical systems to corrode, trailer bearings to pack or oil to change. It is very ease to use and very simple to maintain. A quick rinse with fresh water is usually all that she'll need.
Yaks are so simple and easy that many anglers can be loaded up, at the launch site and in the water in the less time it takes just to get their power boat ready for a trip. Think about how long it takes you to properly clean and store things after a fishing trip. Many find that they actually use their kayaks more often than they do their powerboats. The ease of use and the pure simplicity of the fishing kayak make the quick, after-work trip practical whether you go alone or meet up with a few friends.
It takes but a few well placed rod holders, some safety equipment and perhaps an anchor to turn that old recreational kayak in the back yard into a fishing kayak. While the basic kayak is a very effective fishing platform in its simplest form, like every other boat on the water, if it can be customized and rigged to a boat, someone is going to do it. Many enthusiasts have rigged their "yaks" with multiple anchoring systems, back rests, a variety of storage options, coolers, bait wells, batteries, pumps, GPS units, sonar, radios and even camera mounts. Kayak rigging is another whole subject entirely.
Sports fishing is a wonderful activity that many become a passionate about. However, the costs and logistics of ownership prevent many from entering and enjoy this activity. The economics of owning a fishing kayak, the virtual lack of maintenance, the simplicity and ease of use have opened the door to sports fishing for many who simply could not afford it otherwise.
They say "Necessity is the Mother of all inventions". Dennis Spike, the recognized "Grand-Father of Kayak Fishing" got his start kayak fishing in California. Using small boats outfitted with outboards, he and his cousin would launch thru the surf to fish the kelp beds beyond the breakers. The battle with engine corrosion from the surf's salt spray was not a battle they could ever win. On a "hunch" they purchased a couple of recreational kayaks to experiment with. Their maintenance problems ended and their costs went down. Instead of spending his time working on engines, his now spent it fishing.
From that very first kayak, Dennis went on to establish KayakFishing.com, the original kayak fishing website, as well as, the first kayak fishing guide service in California. You can now join him at the Hotel Rancho Leonero in Baja Mexico to fish for yellow fin tuna from one of his outfitted kayaks.
Many kayak anglers have been doing their thing all along, un-noticed, outside of the "mainstream" world of traditional fishing. They have been fishing waters that most of us would consider inaccessible. Their private places have remained their secret paradises for years. The blue water charter captain and the Midwest bass guide rarely saw kayak fishermen and the west coast kayak fisherman knew nothing of east coast kayak fisherman. However, the birth of the Internet, the information highway, changed all that. The Internet catalyzed the terrific rise in popularity of the sport of kayak fishing.
The internet dramatically opened many doors and created many opportunities in most segments of our society. For the kayak fisherman it has meant communications at unprecedented speed. Kayakers rapidly exchange ideas on rigging their boats, fishing techniques, fisheries, launch sites, as important share their experiences with others.
Ken Daubert, in his book, "Kayak Fishing: The Revolution", calls the Internet the "fuel to the fire of this (kayak fishing) phenomenon". For the kayak fisherman, it has provided the means for this disjointed group of enthusiasts to learn from each other and to make decisions about the who, what, when and where of the sport. It has become the back-bone of what Ken calls the "Kayak Fishing Community". A community, made up of fisherman, guides, outfitters, paddle shops, manufacturers, merchandisers, sportswriters and publishers.
Kayaks are being used in both deep and shallow water fisheries. Whether fishing vertically in deep water or horizontally in shallow water, the kayak is a great fishing platform. There are those that are seeking and catching dolphin, sailfish, stripers, sharks and giant tarpon in deep water from their yaks. But, it is in these shallow waters of South Florida, where the kayak is coming into its own.
Whether you are stalking bones in the Keys, tailing redfish in Mosquito Lagoon or snook and tarpon in the 10,000 Islands, success in the shallows depends largely on stealth. One slam of a hatch, a dropped tool on the deck or a graphite push pole twanged into a rock and the game is over! Boat manufacturers have sunk huge amounts of time, energy, and money into the design of expensive flats boats trying to make them silent in the shallows. Stealth is King and the kayak is the King of Stealth.
With a kayak, you are able to slip extremely quietly into your fishing area virtually undetected gliding practically effortlessly through the water with amazing stealth. Basically, the only sound that you here is that of the paddles dipping into the water. In the backcountry of the 10,000 Islands, where I fish, tarpon actually seem to be attracted to the sound of the paddles. I have been spooked, too many times, by a tarpon that rolls within feet of my kayak.
There is spot for redfish that have fished for years. It is one of the "day saving" spots that I go to when the fishing is tough and I really need to get something pulling on an angler's string. It is spot that is good for one, two and sometimes three redfish if we can pole in quietly enough. But, the first time I was there with the kayaks, we caught over a dozen reds. I have been back to this place twice with a kayak since catching 10 the first time and 13 the last time. Three trips certainly do not make for good scientific research, but it is good enough for me, especially, when I can still only catch my one or two fish with the flats boat.
In almost every shallow water fishery, at low tide, fish tend to fall in the deeper "holes". Be it a grass flat, a channel near a mangrove shoreline or a tide-eroded depression near an oyster bar, you will find predatory fish seeking this deeper water. In many places, physically getting to the fish is all but impossible with a traditional boat. The areas that you can actually get into, you can rarely get into without spooking the fish. The silence and stealth of the kayak amazes me every time I am in one. There is a whole new fishing world that has opened up for me as a shallow water angler . . . a world that I used to motor right by.
When a kingfisher smacks the water, a mullet jumps across the bow or one of those spooky little tarpon startles me, it all seems to happen very close. In a fishing kayak, things do appear to happen closer because usually you are . . . closer to the water, closer the fish and closer to the action. You notice things around you that you just can't at 40 mph. When a tarpon or even a lady-fish, jumps, you don't see it at eye level, it is jumping above your head. Looking up at a tumbling tarpon is an absolute thrill!
The kayak has totally rejuvenated my enthusiasm for sports fishing. All the species that I have caught in my fishing career I now get to target in my kayak. All that areas that I could not get to before, I now can.
I have made many new and wonderful friends in this kayak fishing community. Whether, I am fishing with just one angler or twelve, or just reading about another's fishing day on an internet forum, I get to share fishing experiences with others. I love to launch the yak for an hour two in the evening . . . sometimes with my wife and sometimes not. If I catch a snook or a jack or just the sunset, I am a winner. For me, it is about being out on the water, doing what I love. The fishing kayak now let's me do that easier and more often.
BIO . . .
Capt. Charles Wright is professional fishing guide, outdoor writer and naturalist. With four different boats and a fleet of outfitted fishing kayaks, his anglers are able to experience all the fishing opportunities that the Everglades National Park and the 10,000 Islands have to offer. He grew up in South Florida and the Keys and has fished the Park since 1972. Schooled as an environmental engineer, an FAA Certified Flight Instructor and US Coast Guard Captain, he left the consulting business and moved to Chokoloskee after hurricane Andrew. Using a small plane, he regularly scouts the area for new fishing grounds and offers a unique "on top" perspective to area. Charles regularly fishes the Florida Keys, Tampa Bay, Miami and the Bahamas, but he maintains fishing the Everglades City and Chokoloskee area is the best this State has to offer. www.ChokoloskeeCharters.com; www.EvergladesKayakFishing.com; CaptWright@ChokoloskeeCharters.com ; (239) 695-9107