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Kayak Fishing Quite a Hook

Activity Allows Fishermen to Travel Where Motorboats Can’t

Mac McCormick ends a day of fishing from his kayak on the Back River in York County, Virginia. (Adrin Snider/Newport News Daily Press/MCT)

Mac McCormick ends a day of fishing from his kayak on the Back River in York County, Virginia. (Adrin Snider/Newport News Daily Press/MCT)

Sanibel, Fla. — One of the great advantages of inshore kayak fishing is you can get to places that powerboaters cannot.

That realization came to me when I had an entire bay in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge to myself.

I was making cast after cast after cast to wherever I wanted along the mangrove-lined shoreline from a 12-foot Hobie Outback kayak. It wasn’t until I landed a keeper redfish on a Sebile Stick Shadd that I realized the downside of my solitude.

There was no one to whom I could show off my catch. The best I could do was take several really bad selfies of me and the fish before I let it go.

Fishing from kayaks has grown tremendously in popularity over the past 10 years according to Keeton Eoff. He handles fishing-focused marketing and development for Hobie Cat, which builds many different kayaks just for fishing.

Hobie got its start in the 1950s making surfboards, then expanded in the late 1960s to making sailboats. Eoff said the California-based company started making kayaks nearly 15 years ago.

“The main concept was recreation,” Eoff said. “As kayak fishing got more popular, we started developing kayaks to suit that need and then it got better and better.

“What I think is cool is that in kayak fishing it seems like the age range, we see from 25 to 65. You don’t have to be a punk kid to do this.”

One of many companies to make kayaks, Hobie is the only one with Mirage drive, which employs pedal-driven flippers for propulsion.

You sit in your seat and use your feet to pedal the kayak forward. A hand-controlled tiller provides steering.

The Outback and Revolution were Hobie’s two main fishing kayaks. Then the company came out with the Pro Angler, which this year surpassed the Outback to become Hobie’s top seller. It has horizontal rod-holders, lots of storage and an elevated seat.

“You have more room than you need,” Eoff said, “and it’s not difficult to move.”

I fished in a Pro Angler my first day, following Eoff and magazine editor Polly Dean out of the refuge to McCarthy’s Marina in Captiva, which has a fleet of rental Hobies.

We did a lot of pedaling, which was much easier than paddling, and I caught fish trailing my favorite kayak lure behind me: a D.O.A. Deadly Combo, which consists of a plastic shrimp suspended under a noisy foam float.

Holding my fishing rod in my hand as I pedaled, I caught and released a jack, an undersized sea trout and a good-sized bluefish.

Hobie does make paddle kayaks, which start at around $1,000. Eoff said you can start off much cheaper with a lesser quality brand to see if you like kayak fishing.

“Those that become passionate will upgrade,” said Eoff, who noted that a Mirage drive kayak starts at around $2,000, but also warned that some cheap kayaks can get expensive when you have to pay extra for a paddle or a seat, which Hobie includes.

He added that Hobie kayaks can be upgraded with accessories such as depthfinders; livewells; H-bars to hold on to or lean against while standing and fly fishing; and even a Power-Pole electric anchor.

A big consideration in choosing a kayak is what type of fishing you plan to do and where. Eoff likes the Revolution for offshore fishing because it launches better and when you’re fighting a big fish, “you can throw your legs over the sides and ride it like a horse. When you’re fishing the flats and wading, it’s easy to get in and out of because of its low sides. The Pro Angler has higher sides, but it’s more stable and you’ll stay drier.”

The best thing, said Eoff, is to go to a Hobie dealer, such as Nautical Ventures in Dania Beach, and try out different kayaks to find the one that best suits your needs.

Another valuable piece of advice: don’t buy a tandem kayak for fishing just to gain the approval of your significant other.

“He wants the kayak and he’s going, ‘Honey, look, we can both go out.’ How often are you going to fish with your wife?” Eoff said. “One person trying to pedal a tandem is not a great experience.

“Spend $1,000 more and get two kayaks, so when you go out you’re still together, but you can be independent. And when you go fishing, you get the experience you want.”

Jeff Weakley’s excellent book Sportsman’s Best: Kayak Fishing ($19.95, floridasportsman.com), which includes a DVD, covers all the basics of the sport. The executive editor of Florida Sportsman magazine, Weakley talks about everything from paddles, pedals and pushpoles to safety gear, roof racks, tackle and tactics.

Two helpful items that I used while kayak fishing: an All Weather Wallet from Coghlan’s (coghlans.com) made of heavy-duty PVC with two zip-seal pockets that kept my money and fishing license dry; and an SPIbelt (spibelt.com) that I wore around my waist.

It has a zip-seal plastic pouch that I put my car keys and cell phone in, then placed into an attached zippered pouch so they stayed out of my way, dry and convenient.