Adventures abound in kayak fishing
EVERGLADES CITY -- Paddling a kayak is a relaxing, fun way to get close to nature, but I have found fishing from a kayak to be frustrating and difficult. Identifying a fish on the flats nearly is impossible when you are sitting on the same level where it is swimming. And, about the time you get around to casting to said fish, you often lose your paddle.
But kayak fishing can be as heart-stoppingly exciting, given my recent excursion to the Ten Thousand Islands of Florida's southwest coast with captain Chuck Wright and four friends.
Wright has a mothership kayak fishing operation where he carries six people and their boats to remote fishing spots in his wide-beamed, 27-foot Carolina skiff. On this day, he took our party to the mouth of the Rogers River, about 30 miles south of Everglades City.
Wright deposited each kayak in the water, and we set out on our own to explore the river and surrounding mangrove islands.
By the time I paddled to a shoreline and began to cast my jig, the tide had come way up. I could hear suspected snook thrashing around, chasing finger mullet in the prop root tunnels, but I didn't detect any evidence of their presence in open water. I didn't see anyone else catching anything, either.
CHANGE OF LUCK
Pretty soon, Wright paddled up and offered me a live finger mullet he had just cast-netted. I tossed it to the mouth of a narrow creek using a 12-pound spinning outfit, and waited for my luck to change.
It did in a hurry. I felt the finger mullet become extremely nervous, then get chomped by something with attitude. Before I could reel up the slack, the line went taut, the drag screamed, and my kayak was jerked into fast-forward.
Wright heard my yells and came over to watch -- just as the thing that ate the mullet stuck its head above the surface, revealing a very angry-looking, very large snook.
"It's snarling at me!" I screamed hysterically, as Wright laughed.
Of course, this large snook reverted to the same self-rescue tactics its ancestors have employed throughout the ages: It dashed for the safety of the mangrove roots.
BIT OF A PROBLEM
If I had been standing on an anchored flats boat, this might not have posed a problem. I could have tightened the drag, shifted to another spot on the boat, or used the Stu Apte "down-and-dirty" technique to disorient the fish. But in a light, 12-foot plastic tub, Mr. Snook and I were evenly matched. And it appeared that my opponent was winning, as it towed my boat toward the tangled prop roots.
Thank heaven Wright intervened. He paddled to my almost-water-skiing kayak, nudged his boat between me and the mangroves, and began paddling toward open water. I kept a tight line on the snook, whose forward progress was slowed.
Gradually, we managed to work the fish from its would-be haven.
I reeled it close, and Wright grabbed it.
"It takes two kayaks to handle a whopper," I remarked inanely.
As you can see from the photo, the snook was much larger than the 26-to-34-inch slot limit, so we released it.
Each kayaker had an adventure to report. D.C. Bienvenue, a Sarasota kayak guide, was followed by a large alligator for the length of a narrow creek. He also jumped a tarpon and released several small snook. Rick Roberts, founder of the International Kayak Fishing Association, watched a bald eagle steal a mullet in mid-air from an osprey.
Kayak fishing indeed does have its moments.