Several years ago, lured by the mantra of “going where no flats boats dare to go,” my wife, Louise, and I purchased our first kayaks. These were really first generation of actual kayaks made specifically for fishing. They had rod holders and an anchor line and cleats but that was about all…fishing kayaks. In just a few years since then, fishing kayaks have gone from do-it-yourself to generation-one fishing kayaks to high end fishing machines. Or as Capt. Jerry Dilsaver commented, “the fishing kayaks have really come into their own in the last five-years, and in the last three years the manufacturers have really listened,” said Dilsaver, “they have called up fishermen and said ‘what do we need, how are we going to do this?’ And so fishing kayaks have really come a long way.”
Capt. Dilsaver, tournament fisherman, freelance writer and guide in his own right, has taken to kayak fishing like a finfish to water. As with most of us he started by fishing the interior shallow marshes and sounds and bays, but as a long time king mackerel fisherman, it wasn’t to long before Jerry dragged his kayak across the barrier islands to the ocean side in search of bigger prey, smokin’ king mackerel.
“I fish a Hobie Pro Angler,” explained Dilsaver, “it’s the big boy of all kayaks. It is wider, not necessarily longer but has more storage. It’s 13-ft. 8-in. long, but what makes it so incredible is that it’s 38-inches wide, it’s rock solid! It is in my opinion, the kayak to be on in the ocean. You might fall out of it but you’re really going to have to do something foolish to turn it over.”
Overturning a kayak can happen at any time, in an instant, but an ocean launch and a dry return in unpredictable surf can be high-risk maneuvers. So how is it done? Dilsaver, also a surfer from “back when” explained it to me.
“The waves tend to come in sets,” said Dilsaver, “they’ll typically be three to five, and then there will be smaller waves for a period of time, before another set will come in. What you do on the way out is you watch for a few minutes…you don’t get down there and get so excited you just chunk the boat in the ocean and jump in and try to paddle out. You watch, you get a feeling for how long those lulls are (between the sets) and you ease out to about knee deep water, let a set roll under you, already have broken, and at that point you jump in the kayak and paddle for the horizon with nothing else in mind, and try to get out before the next set comes. Now going out straight is the way to go. If you get the least bit turned, when that wave picks you up if you get caught in one it really gives you some balance challenges. So straight is the way to go on the way out. When you come back in, you stop just outside of that surf zone or impact zone, and do the same thing again.”
Of course there is always the chance you will go over, and Jerry has a simple philosophy on this. If you need to have it when you get back you need to somehow tie it on, and if it has to be dry, then it needs to be in a dry bag. Think tethers and leashes, there are commercial products, but most of us can do with bungee cords to meet our needs.
Capt. Dilsaver is a longtime boat king-mackerel fisherman and uses the same rigs rods and reels he did while motorboat bound. A seven-foot light-action-tip rod, conventional reels that will hold 400-yards of 20-pound test mono-line and a five to six-foot wire leader. The basic rig is two treble hook live bait rig.
For baiting up, Dilsaver sometimes uses menhaden (bunker) but prefers menhaden-size bluefish. In his experience, while nearshore fishing for kings on a kayak, the king mackerel seem to prefer live bluefish baits to menhaden. And the methodology is simple; Capt. Dilsaver usually sets out two rods, one for the surface and a second line weighted to fish about six feet down, and trolls or slowly drifts waiting for a screaming hook-up.
So eventually you’ve found a king mackerel, and he’s eaten your bluefish, then what? “The first thing you do is yell and scream,” screamed Dilsaver, “because you are getting ready to go on a sleigh ride.” “You lean back, take the weight off the bow of the kayak so it will pivot and turn easy and go after the fish and you really just hold on for the first little bit. He makes that run, he calms down, you are really reeling yourself to him instead of him to you. He’s got more purchase in the water than you do in the kayak. Even with a big teenager king, it’s a 300 to 400-yard ride. They’ll get half of that in their first run, then when this big shape comes up to them, they’ll go again and the second run will be 50 to 100-yards and then the little stuff on down until they gradually start wearing out. There is definitely sort of a feeling of hopelessness as this fish takes off and is ssssmoking it,” exclaimed Dilsaver.
When the fish is exhausted, Jerry uses a two-ft. gaff, with the hook bent slightly outward, and the fish is struck, in the middle of the back under the second dorsal fin and quickly placed in the fish box. Yet another nice feature of his Hobie kayak.
Of course kings aren’t the only fish in the ocean, there are plenty of by-catch possibilities with live bait. Spanish mackerel, big bluefish, and of course sharks. “We’re going to see some sandbar sharks, blacktips are especially fun,” said Dilsaver, “they will give you at least one jump.” “It is one of those things that if your adrenalin does not spike and your pulse rate and breathing don’t go through the roof when that happens, you probably need to pull out your cell phone and dial 911 because you are in need of medical help and just haven’t realized it yet!”
Ocean fishing can be treacherous at times, so Capt. Dilsaver stresses safety above everything else. The first thing is you PFD. Dilsaver likes the light weight inflatable ones, especially on hot summer days, but remember, they do any good if you don’t wear it! Being seen in a kayak in the ocean is a major consideration; even a two-ft. swell can hide your kayak from other boats, so Dilsaver recommends a bright orange VISIPole flag by YakAttack for visibility. Capt. Dilsaver also has a fish-finder with a GPS feature. It will help you get to your fishing destination and as Dilsaver put it, “if you should need, it gives you bread crumbs to get back.”
Finally, Capt. Dilsaver strongly recommends the buddy system when you go out, but sometimes that’s not possible, but filing a “float plan” is always possible. Let somebody responsible, a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, aunt, uncle, neighbor, whatever, know where you are leaving from, where you are going to fish and when you expect to return. And make sure they know when you return and cancel the float plan at that point.
“I’m an old man, I don’t text well,” admitted Dilsaver, but if I go by myself you can bet as soon as I‘ve got things under control, and out of the water, I text my wife with just a little “IR back”. That’s all it’s got to be.”
Hopefully “IR back” and with fish in the cooler!
Capt. Jerry Dilsaver is a freelance writer, national king mackerel champion, and avid kayak fisherman from Oak Island, NC, http://www.captjerry.com/.