Launch a 'yak attack

Times Staff Writer

Dress to swim and rig to flip. That's one mantra of the increasingly popular sport of kayak fishing, where just rigging the boat can be a gear geek's dream come true -- despite high odds that you'll end up in the drink with your prey.

Several area kayak sales and rental shops are seeing a steady increase in people shopping for fishing-worthy kayaks -- as much as a 70% increase over a year ago -- while kayaks are being manufactured in angler editions by many big-name companies. Anglers are lured by the simplicity of the craft -- no motors or fuel to hassle with.

Kayaks are quiet and stealthy, perfect for pursuing skittish species that spook easily, such as sea bass. Halibut, calico bass, barracuda and bonito are also popular ocean quarry to be reeled in on the cozy plastic hulls.

The do-it-yourself aspect of kayak fishing is also an attraction. "You're the captain, crew, deckhand and fisherman," says Brian Lloyd, a kayak angler and salesman at San Diego Sailing Center who boasts he sometimes takes fish in the 40- to 50-pound range.

In Southern California, kayak fishing is popular from the bays of San Diego to the harbors in Long Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point as well as off Refugio and El Capitan state beaches, Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands.

"Half the fun of the sport is outfitting [a kayak] the way you want it," says Jim Sammons, owner of La Jolla Kayak Fishing. Boats as long as 16 feet can have everything from built-in bait buckets to electronic fish-finders or global positioning systems.

Should a kayak be short and wide for a stable ride or long, narrow and fast? Some experts advise opting for a faster kayak that can speed up a long paddle back to shore in a stiff wind. Sit-on-top kayaks are favored because they offer more room to stash gear and are easier to maneuver in when casting. They're also easier to get back in if they capsize.

Sammons recounts the tale of a client who -- despite his advice -- refused to believe he had a fish on the line after casting into a kelp bed. The man leaned over to look at the same time the fish decided to make a run. Splash! In a split-second, he went overboard.

Being prepared to flip means wearing polar fleece that dries quickly, a weatherproof paddling jacket to fend off the wind, and of course, a personal flotation device. It also means operating under the assumption that anything not attached to the kayak will go overboard. Rods belong in holders when not in use; pliers should be on a retractable cord and paddles on a leash.

Nabbing a 100-pound fish or more from a kayak is entirely possible. Sammons can speak to the thrill of taking large fish on light tackle. In August 1998, he hooked a marlin estimated at 180 pounds from his 14-foot, 9-inch kayak using 20-pound test line. The battle lasted 2 1/2 hours, and the monster dragged him eight miles.

Sammons advises doing such battle only in the company of experienced kayak fishermen -- but catches of smaller fish are more likely.

One issue kayak anglers must wrestle with is what to do with the fish they catch. On a relatively spacious party boat, a hooked fish can be heaved aboard, then tossed in the hold.

But a thrashing fish in a tippy craft makes for a bad scene. "You don't want a hot fish on the boat," says Sammons, who once caught a nearly 200-pound thresher shark from his kayak -- and kept it. A wild fighter such as a thresher shark needs to be battled for at least an hour before being reeled in, he adds.

A landing net or gaff can be used to haul the weary prey onto -- yes, that's right -- the kayak. The fish can be dispatched with a club or knife and stored in an insulated bag for the trip back.

Of course, catch-and-release anglers won't have to worry about the trying task of hauling in the fish. Sammons says sometimes he'll catch enough for a few sushi meals and release the rest -- as many as 50 in one outing. If a 200-pounder happens to come along, then it's sashimi for the whole town.

To e-mail Julie Sheer or read her previous Outdoors Institute columns, go to

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