Louisiana is a mecca for coastal kayak fishermen. Having virtually unlimited launch sites, and miles and miles of protected waters, kayak anglers can easily find great inshore action from one end of the state to the other.
However, for those looking to “up the adventure,” offshore kayak fishing in Louisiana is nearly impossible without the aid of a mothership to take you far offshore where the big fish roam.
The largest fish coastal kayakers will regularly encounter are bull redfish, black drum, jack crevalle and the occasional cobia. All of these species put up great fights and are considered prized kayak catches.
But they don’t compare to the drag-screaming runs and extended battles that come from fighting the variety of pelagic species that inhabit the Gulf and oceans.
Due to the influence of the Mississippi river and the relatively shallow offshore coastline, one must get many miles offshore to encounter the blue, high-salinity waters suitable for offshore species such as king mackerel, wahoo, dolphin, tuna and billfish.
Pursuing these fish in a kayak without the aid of a mothership for long-range transportation is an extreme challenge.
However, in many areas along the Gulf Coast and the eastern coast of Florida, kayak anglers have discovered the challenge of going after these offshore creatures in their tiny craft. With clear, salty water lapping directly on sandy beaches, kayakers can launch from shore and need only venture a few miles out to get to offshore fishing nirvana.
Kayak fishing offshore is a whole different game and not for the inexperienced. Big fish, big waves and fishing in areas inhabited by big boats all merit the necessary precautions to stay safe.
Fish with a friend (or two), wear a PFD and carry a VHF radio. Weather and surf conditions can change quickly, and the decision to head offshore takes a lot of planning and should only be undertaken in the best of weather conditions.
The guys who regularly fish offshore have their kayaks rigged to resemble mini fish-wagons that rival many tournament-ready sport fishing yachts. GPS and depth sounders accompany livewells and bluewater tackle.
Upping the game even more, many have taken to the inclusion of downriggers and kites. The only things I have yet to see are outriggers and radar.
Most kayaks do not have room to store and cool large fish, so a specialty fish bag that can be strapped to the bow or placed in the tank well is a necessity if you plan to keep your catch. Bats and gaffs are unnecessary when trying to land a bull redfish, but they come in mighty handy when trying to subdue a toothy kingfish or thrashing dolphin.
Recognizing a growing desire of kayak anglers to push the sport to further limits, a group in Southeast Florida started a tournament series two years ago dedicated solely to offshore kayak fishing. Led by tournament directors Joe Hector and his wife Maria, Extreme Kayak Fishing holds events such as the “Sailfish Smackdown” and “Summer Slam” that have attracted anglers from across the country.
After two years of planning, their recent “Battle in the Bahamas” proved to be extreme kayak fishing at its finest.
Thirty-four anglers met in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where their personal kayaks and gear were loaded on a high-speed ferry for transport to Freeport, Grand Bahamas, for a two-day event like no other.
The final weigh-in saw a parade of large kingfish, dolphin, grouper, amberjack and barracuda brought to the scales. However, it was the marlin fought by two of the anglers that cemented the “extreme” brand of the tournament.
Less than an hour after launching, Joe Kraatz found himself in an aerial battle with a feisty white marlin. News of the marlin hook-up raced across the VHFs and every angler with a line out was thinking that he could be next.
Then it happened. While Kraatz was only halfway through his hour-long battle with the white, Matt Eckert’s line went off.
“The line was just screaming, screaming off my Penn 6500LL spinning reel,” Eckert said.
Thinking it was a big wahoo, he frantically pedaled his Hobie kayak in the direction of the unknown beast in order to regain line.
When news came that Kraatz had successfully landed and released the white marlin, Eckert still had no idea of what was on the end of his line.
The tournament bait boat sitting about 300 yards from Eckert when a 400- to 500- pound blue marlin launched into the air. It was first thought to be free-jumping, but it was quickly realized that this was the beast on the other end of Eckert’s 30-pound braided line.
Little did he know, Eckert was about to put the “extreme” into Extreme Kayak Fishing.
For the next three hours, the duo played tug-o-war, and suddenly the marlin made a long run followed by an amazing jump in which it came completely out of the water. The tournament committee boat stayed on the edges of the battle to follow the angler and the marlin for what proved to be an epic adventure.
The big marlin sounded after the air show and proceeded to tow Eckert across the ocean like a giant trolling lure.
Several hours into the fight, the big blue was making slow circles in the clear water beneath the kayak. “This is it,” Eckert said to himself as he was thinking the fish was more tired than he. Wrong.
For a brief moment, the big marlin rose to the surface at the nose of the kayak. “We were face to face and it was the scariest moment of the fight,” Eckert said. “It saw the kayak and dove deep.”
Finally, the leader was coming through the guides and Eckert grabbed it, which is considered a “catch” in most billfishing tournaments.
However, far from being done, the fish “freaked out” and dove again.
Knowing he had leadered the fish, Eckert told the captain of the support boat that he would make one last effort to boat the marlin. He cranked down the drag and used his thumb to put additional pressure on the spool.
He was making progress, but the braid finally gave way and popped. The marlin slowly swam off, and Eckert collapsed in sheer exhaustion. He had fought the fish for over 11 hours.
You don’t need to travel to the Bahamas or southern Florida to get a taste of offshore kayak fishing., though.
Launching from the beach at popular summer destinations such as Gulf Shores, Pensacola or Destin all offer the opportunity to get in on some extreme kayak fishing. Kings, cobia, sailfish and pelagic species have been caught within sight of the beach in all of these areas.
For more information of the Extreme tournaments, log on to www.extremekayakfishingtournament.org.