How would you avoid turning over? Aren't they too small? Where would you put your pole? Your tackle box and your catch?
Those questions were still fresh in my mind several days later when I read an online fishing-forum post about an upcoming outdoor show featuring two Louisiana men bass fishing from kayaks in St. Francisville.
After a few more clicks, I found myself engrossed in the text and photos of the website for Calmwater Kayaker Charters of Grand Isle run by Danny Wray and Mark Brassett. I soaked up everything on that site like a dry sponge.
My questions were answered, but my thirst wasn't quenched. My appetite to know more about this sport was whetted.
From there, I followed a link to www.kayakfishingstuff.com, where I quickly learned everything I didn't know about kayaks, which was apparently quite a bit.
The whitewater kayaks we are more familiar with are called Sit In Kayaks (SIKs). Even though some people are skilled enough to fish from a SIK, there is a type better suited for fishing. It is called a Sit On Top (SOT) kayak, and is said to be more stable for fishing than either a canoe or pirogue.
These SOT kayaks boast models for anglers that are outfitted with everything from livewells to brackets that hold your GPS and fish-finder. Different features are molded into the plastic — the seat, as well as places for your legs, feet, bait buckets and rod holders. Located in the deck are several holes, called scuppers, that let water drain quickly once the plugs are released.
This was sounding better all the time.
According to forum posts by veteran kayak anglers, fishing from a kayak is very relaxing. Fishing from a canoe with a 10-year-old boy isn't relaxing at all. I spend more time watching out for him and keeping the canoe balanced than I do watching my cork.
The possibility of my son fishing safely from a kayak was very intriguing. Finding out if an SOT was safer than a canoe immediately became my goal. It was time to call the pros at Calmwater Kayaker Charters.
Kristen Wray, the organizer and hostess of Calmwater, answered the phone and informed me their charter for the upcoming Saturday had canceled. She invited me to join them on a scouting trip. All I needed to bring was myself, unless I had a favorite rod and reel. Two days later, I was on my way.
The charter business runs out of Calmwater Guidehouse, located at the end of a quiet peninsula jutting off Grand Isle into Caminada Bay. Surrounded by water on three sides, the camp provided a beautiful panoramic view of island, bay, and marsh. Barely six years old, the camp sustained only minimal wind damage from Hurricane Katrina. At its capacity, each room holds five people comfortably.
My hosts provided a delicious meal of fresh salad, grilled steaks and pork chops, baked potatoes, garlic bread and beverages of our choice. Part of our dinner conversation focused on my questions about kayak fishing. They assured me that if I could handle a canoe, I could handle a kayak.
Four years ago in a large store in Houston, Danny Wray first saw a fishing kayak. He was attracted to the concave hull of the Wilderness Ride, because it creates a very stable fishing platform — much better than a pirogue or canoe. He bought two, because, as he says, "It's more fun to fish with a buddy."
Wray suggested that a beginner take the time to go on a kayak charter trip to get the feel for kayaks in salt water, learn the basic paddling skills and how to use an anchor to position the kayak effectively for fishing. Brassett pointed out that one of the most important aspects of a successful kayak fishing trip is boat position.
After clearing the dishes, we headed downstairs, where Wray and Brassett were making last-minute preparations. Six rods were lined up on the picnic table waiting to be cleaned for tomorrow's fishing trip.
"The sand does more damage to the reel than salt water does," Brassett said. "We like to clean them often so they work well and reel more smoothly."
The speed and ease with which the two fishermen removed the old line, washed the reels in soapy water, and put them back together was impressive. These two worked seamlessly side-by-side, evidence they have been good friends and fishing buddies for a long time.
Saturday began early with a light breakfast of coffee, biscuits and bacon. The warm, salty breeze blew under the camp as the water reflected a luminous gray onto the sky. It was hard to tell if we would have fair weather or foul.
The Calmwater, moored between two piers, waited in the early morning haze, loaded down with all we needed for a day of fishing and exploring. The mothership is a 28-foot pontoon boat, which the kayaking duo retrofitted from its first life as a party barge into a serviceable kayak shuttle.
The front deck held six 14-foot kayaks in two stacks of three. The custom-designed rod holders were placed on racks mounted to the outside of the barge railing, another space-saving design. Each of the six ice chests was topped with a cushion, serving double duty as seats. One was a dry box, one held iced-down bottled water, and the rest were ready to hold the fish we would catch. A metal roof covered the seating deck, keeping customers out of the weather. The mid-deck was roomy enough for three bait buckets equipped with aerators to keep the baitfish alive.
"What kind of bait do you use?" I asked Wray as we boarded.
"Oh, he's minnow-dependent," chimed Brassett.
Wray didn't deny it.
"I prefer live bait, because that's what fish eat," he said. "I don't know why certain people pay such disrespect to live-bait fishermen. I personally think it is the purest form of fishing when you catch your own bait.
"It's a three-step process. First, catch it. Second, keep it alive. And third, present it for consumption."
For speckled trout, he uses live shrimp and croakers. For redfish, he prefers live cocahoes. The only time he resorts to plastic is when nothing appears in his cast net.
Brassett has his own very strong opinions about the bait he chooses.
"I prefer plastic over live bait because it's easier and less expensive," he said. "In the fall and winter, the plastics will consistently catch more reds and specks over live bait."
Brassett uses an old-school lure that he has found productive for the past 40 years — Mann's avocado Stingray rigged on a ¼-ounce red jig head — and he uses it faithfully for fishing both specks and reds.
The only time he uses live bait is in the summer when the school specks move to the beaches and close rigs. He finds that live croaker, finger mullet and shrimp are the best producers then.
In the fall, until about 9 a.m., Wray likes to use a Zara Spook Jr. for topwater specks. This allows him to make patterned casts and cover a lot of water. It often produces larger trout for him.
Brassett explained that using a topwater bait from a kayak is too dangerous for his liking. This fall you'll find his 10-pound-test line on a medium-light, 7-foot rod rigged with his trusty avocado stingray.
"The entire stretch from Leeville to Grand Isle on the east side of Bayou Lafourche holds huge schools of specks and reds from late September through early June," he said. "We like all the small islands to the north of (Grand Isle) for the hottest action."
Wray agreed that their peak season is just now on the horizon.
"Our fishing grounds get better as fall approaches," he said. "We fish transition areas like Lake Raccourci and Little Lake."
When searching out spots to kayak fish for speckled trout, Wray looks first for clear, clean water. The second thing he looks for is calm water. Third is the evidence of tidal movement with a preference for incoming tide. These three things offer a good opportunity to catch fish and not be stranded in skinny water.
Brassett seeks for sharp grassline points first. A current break along a distinct, grassy point created by wind or tidal flow is a major feeding area for fall school trout. Dead-end oilfield canals with at least a 6-foot depth will hold fish in the fall. Without a doubt, though, he claims the best places to fall fish are the oyster beds along the grass lines in the small marsh bays. He finds them by bouncing a jig along the bottom.
"And don't forget to look for bait," he recommended. "Look for schooling mullet, glass minnows or jumping shrimp. If they are seen teeming in a cove or off a point, drop the anchor there and wait for the speckled trout to bite."
Finding the reds is a little different. Wray spots them by looking for nervous water — thin water over oyster beds or water moving through the marsh with evidence of bait.
To Brassett, reds are much like black bass. They love to relate to structure, and will ambush bait in slack water behind pilings, points, or rocky shorelines. They prefer very shallow water, and can be sight-fished as they root out crabs and shrimp from the oyster beds.
Both veteran fishermen like to paddle their kayaks along the shoreline in small, shallow ponds to "hunt" for the reds. They look for the fish finning or tailing in the shallow water. Hooking up with a nice red results in what they call a "Cajun sleigh ride." Hang on tight, because the ride can last as long as 20 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.
Regardless of their differences about what to hang off their hooks, that morning they exuded the same excitement. They were like teen-aged boys embarking on a new adventure as we left the dock. The fact that they really enjoyed what they were doing was obvious, making it easy to catch their enthusiasm.
Brassett was encouraging.
"Don't worry. You'll do fine," he said. "Just do what I tell you. One of our charters had a few (rookies) on board. You could tell they hadn't fished much. I explained how to let the bait sink to the bottom before you start your retrieve. They wouldn't listen, so I finally gave up and let them have it their way. Funny thing is, most people have so much fun just being out in the kayaks, they don't care about making a meat haul."
While skimming across the bay, I scanned the skyline looking for the promise of the day. The sun was coming up, and things looked good until I saw rain pouring on the southeastern horizon. I tapped Brassett on the knee and motioned in that direction with a frown on my face. He just shrugged off the impending inclemency with a flick of his wrist as if he were making a casual cast.
Our hunt for calm waters continued to the marshy areas northeast of Grand Isle, where the skies were pure azure.
Kristen Wray pointed out the small islands as we passed, and called them by name.
"To the right is Dutch Island," she said. "There is a small bayou that runs up in there that usually produces nice reds for us. It takes me about 40 minutes to paddle there from the camp."
To see where we were in relation to the camp, I pulled out my handheld GPS-Map. Brassett grabbed it, and pretended to throw it overboard.
"No good guide lets his customers use one of these," he said. "They might tell all our secret spots."
As we cruised, Brassett fitted each kayak with its own custom-made anchor pole, mini tackle box and stringer. While busy at his tasks, he explained that everything must work together — the wind, the current, the tides and the movement of baitfish. With those parameters in mind, they soon agreed on our first fishing spot.
As Wray nosed to the bank, Brassett threw the anchor into the marsh grass, where it bit the ground and held the mother ship taut. With the Calmwater anchored off securely, it was time to launch the kayaks.
"Who's going first?" I asked.
"You are," answered Brassett, while handing me a life jacket and holding the kayak steady.
The bow of the kayak floated under the deck of the boat between the pontoons, making it possible to position the seat of the kayak just beneath me. I stepped onto a plank, which extended from underneath the deck about 2 feet, held onto Wray's hand, and easily lowered myself into the kayak.
"You're a natural," Wray encouraged as he handed me a fishing rod with a bare hook.
His feelings seemed hurt when I told him I wanted to fish plastic first. He exchanged the rod for one rigged with a spin caster and a plastic bait, which I put in the round slot behind my right shoulder, made just for that purpose. Someone handed me a paddle, and off I went.
"See that point over there?" asked Brassett, as he passed me up with swift, efficient strokes. I followed him, trying to match the pattern and rhythm of his strokes. It was evident he's been doing this for a while. "Paddle over here in front of me, and turn your stern to the bank. Now, unhook your pole anchor, and shove it down into the mud about a foot and a half. Put your paddle in its holder, and grab your rod. Good. Now the water will position your kayak so you can cast off this point where the trout are attacking the bait.
"See that place where the water seems to be churning? Cast right in the middle of that. There ought to be some fish in there."
My rod was rigged very simply with a ¼-ounce white jig and a Fearless Frank Deadly Dudley — a color I'd never seen before. He must have seen the question mark on my face.
"That's all you need right there to catch fish out here in this marsh," he said. "If the fish are there, this will catch them.
"Just cast it out, let it sink to the bottom. Then lightly twitch the tip of your rod, and reel slowly for a few seconds. Repeat that process until your line is back in. If the big fish are down there, this will stir them up."
After about the third cast, I had a good, solid bite.
"O.K., there you go! Set the hook! That's a good one!" Brassett said. My guide was just as excited about that speckled trout as I was. "That's a keeper, for sure. Swing him over here, and I'll put him on the stringer."
After catching several ladyfish and a couple more trout, Brassett added a bright yellow popping cork to the line.
It wasn't long before the cork went under, and I jerked back to set the hook without even thinking about it. I missed the bite.
"Too quick," he advised. "You have to let him take it all the way to make sure he's gonna keep it. Then set the hook."
While I fished, Brassett explained that he likes to give a spot a good chance before he moves on, since fish move through in schools.
"You just have to sit and wait for the school to swim through," he said. "Be patient, enjoy the scenery, and pretty soon another school will come by. See how quiet and still it is out here? Isn't it great?"
While I continued to fish, Brassett continued schooling me in the advantages of kayak fishing.
"I've been fishing specks and reds for 40 years, and this is the most versatile way to target them," he said. "I've been kayak fishing for three years now, and it has become my passion. Kayaks are calm and quiet. They don't stir up the water or the fish."
He further explained that kayak fishing is a good substitute for wade fishing; but if you decide you want to wade fish, you just anchor the kayak and hop out or hook it to your belt and pull it along behind you.
After the bite slowed, we paddled back to the Calmwater, which was always in our sight while we fished. Wray and I caught the same amount of trout. Brassett, fishless, laughed that no one had outfished him in a long time.
"I was so busy talking, I couldn't concentrate on my fishing," he said.
Getting out of the kayak was just as easy as getting in. I handed the gear up first, then Wray gave me a hand up. In a matter of minutes, the four of us were back on board and the kayaks were restacked and ready for the next launch.
As we traveled past Queen Bess Island on a sightseeing tour, I thought about all I had just experienced. At no time while I was either paddling or fishing in the kayak did I feel unstable. Once I started fishing, the thought of tipping over never crossed my mind.
Kayak fishing had passed the muster, and I couldn't wait to get back home and research the right SOT kayak for us. Before you know it, I'll be ready for my first Cajun sleigh ride. Ayeee!
Capt. Danny Wray can be reached at 225-281-0863 or 225-634-5034, or by emailing email@example.com.