Price of fuel got you down? Try the peace and solitude — and costsavings — of fishing from a kayak.
The illuminated sign in front of the gas station showed their price for regular at $2.09 a gallon. National Public Radio said those prices — or even higher — were here to stay: instability in Iraq, possible tensions between the US and the newly elected, ultra-conservative leader of Iran and a booming Chinese economy were some of the major factors.
Not only was the price of gas a headache, but so was the multitude of reasons for it all. Thank God for fishing.
As I drove toward Bayou Amy in St. Martin Parish, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the big bass boats that I passed with their big engines, big gas tanks and big trucks.
The only loss in gas I was going to take that day was in my truck’s fuel tank because the Old Towne Discovery 169 canoe strapped to the top wasn’t going to need anything more than a little elbow grease.
Now I love a fast boat as much as anyone, but times being what they are, a boat that goes a little slower might be just what the doctor ordered. Pushing a canoe or kayak through quiet waters is more physically challenging, more peaceful and requires you to fish water more thoroughly. You also have the advantage of sneaking up on fish.
I unloaded my canoe just across the West Atchafalaya Protection Levee from the Whiskey River Landing at Henderson Lake. Trucks and trailers poured over the levee into the landings, but I had this little piece all to myself.
The green-hued water just beckoned to be ridden. I obliged and pushed in to fish.
The Old Towne canoe was kind of like the work truck of canoes and kayaks. I had all the stability I needed to fish and plenty of room to hold an ice chest, three rods and a tackle box. I used the paddle to line myself up to fish, and sometimes I kept the paddle moving with one hand and would cast with the other depending on the wind.
In all, over the five hours I fished, I covered no more than two miles of the river. I fished it pretty thoroughly though, and that made the difference.
Canoe and kayak fishing is growing in popularity across the country. Some anglers are finding it easier and more cost-effective to purchase any one of the many models on the market. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to store, lightweight and most can be decked out with all the gadgets you’ll find on a $30,000 boat.
You can also take one of these vessels anywhere you want. The Basin, coastal waters, rivers, bayous, farm ponds and lakes are all perfect places to get close and personal to the fish we love.
The guru of kayak fishing in America is Californian Dennis Spike. Spike started kayak fishing decades ago as a “lifestyle” instead of a simple hobby. He was one of the first people to start fishing from a kayak full time, the first to write about kayak fishing for magazines, and he developed the first kayak fishing web site, kayakfishing.com, that has grown to an immense proportion and now receives more than 1,100 hits a day.
Spike believes that kayak fishing is slow to grow in Louisiana because the only real tradition that is even close might be young boys, and some men, that grew up fishing from pirogues.
“Take a look at all the fishermen using kayaks or canoes in New England, Minnesota, Michigan and even on Florida’s peninsula,” said Spike. “Those regions are just steeped in canoe-fishing history. Down in Louisiana, most people are familiar with the pirogue, but not so much as something to fish out of. It just takes time.
“What happened with the growth of kayak fishing wasn’t that people saw that fishing with a kayak was cheaper; what happened was kayaks themselves got cheaper.
“Once the people in high population areas who had a lot of kayaks got the feel for them and the prices of them went down, it was a peanut-butter-and-chocolate hit.”
When Spike began fine-tuning his kayak as a fishing platform, his frequency of trips skyrocketed. Never again did he have to take time to prepare a boat, haul it somewhere, run to the fishing hole, run back and break it all down, clean it and store it. He just threw the kayak on his own vehicle and went to the fish.
“With the development of the plastic kayak, it no longer took a whole day to execute a fishing trip,” said Spike.
Spike spends most of his time in California, but dedicates about three months of living and fishing to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. He catches and releases a wide range of fish — some of them nearly as large as the kayak.
“One of the particularities to fishing from a kayak is drag setting. The dynamics of fighting a fish from a kayak versus fighting one from the deck of a boat is completely different,” he said.
“In a kayak, the fish is fighting the weight of the angler and the kayak, not the drag. For that reason, we set the drag just tight enough to set the hook but loose enough to give some line.”
Spike regularly targets jacks, tuna and big grouper along the California coastline, and he has found that the slower, kayak-drag is actually better for the fish in regard to their eventual release, which Spike takes very seriously.
“They move the boat and strain their own circulatory systems, but they’re not yanked to the boat platform. This is much better for the release,” he said.
A safe release isn’t always the No. 1 thing on Capt. Theophile Bourgeois’ mind — he’s more into the catch-and-fry method.
But the veteran Lafitte angler has taken a liking to kayak fishing, and he now offers it as part of his charter service.
“We leave the lodge early in the morning when we go fishing in kayaks,” said Bourgeois. “We take a shallow-draft boat and load four kayaks in it with their riders. We want them on the water when the sun’s cracking because there isn’t any wind then. That’s the best time for a kayak, and it’s the best time for topwater.
“You can be real sneaky in a kayak. Sometimes you can get right next to them, and they’ll swim right by you and not even notice you’re there. When you fish out a kayak, you’re in the redfish’s element. You get a totally different outlook on fishing.”
Bourgeois saw the growth of kayak fishing on the East and West coasts, and brought a new ideology to the bayous. He was one of those who fished as a young child from a pirogue, so he knew what an advantage kayaks could bring.
“It’s going to grow in Louisiana as more people do it,” he said. “The problem is that many people in Louisiana are still meat hunters and think they need to limit out all the time.
“In the kayak, there’s no real ice chest, so you go to catch-and-release. Fishing from a kayak isn’t about getting a limit, it’s about the challenge and it’s even a pleasure just to sit and watch that sun rise over the horizon.”
Another proponent of kayak fishing is a real Louisiana legend. Jackie Smith was raised in Kentwood, and played college football at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. He went on to star as a tight end for the St. Louis Cardinals, earning five Pro Bowl invites in his 15 seasons there.
His tenacity as a runner and blocker made him one of the best in the game, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He likes Hobie’s Mirage Outback Fisherman-Hank Parker Edition because of its durability and ease of use for fishing.
“First of all, they’re very stable,” said Smith. “I’ve had them in the Mississippi River up here near St. Louis and have fished with barges passing and never had a problem.”
Hobie has a unique propulsion system called the Mirage Drive. Like pedals on a bike, all of the forward movement is driven by the fisherman’s feet and legs, but they are so easy to use, you can fish all day in them and not get tired. That frees your hands up for the serious task of fishing.
“You can’t appreciate this Mirage Drive until you get in it. I called Hank (Parker) to tell him about this, and I sent him one. He loves it now and can’t get his own son out of it. You can just concentrate on fishing, and you don’t get tired of it,” said Smith.
The Mirage Drive is made to resemble the feet of a penguin as the two rubber flippers point down through the kayak. Each push of the fisherman’s legs makes the “fins” move and generates forward motion.
“The great thing about this Hobie Mirage Outback is that you can take it anywhere and fish a tremendous area,” Smith said. “And it amazed me that I could fish all day long, cover a lot of territory and still be very quiet.”
Smith returned to Louisiana with his two sons, and we tested them out in the interior marshes of Southwest Louisiana and in another kayak-friendly body of water, Lake Martin in St. Martin Parish. Fishing in them was a cinch.
The simplicity of it all is why this is so useful for fishermen in Louisiana. Novices should keep things simple, and always remember water safety.
Spike recommends that novices start out by buying a commonly used 12- to 15-foot sit-on-top kayak (sit-on-tops are ideal for warm-water fisheries).
“Outfit it with rod holders, a paddle retainer, a bow line for safety and anchoring and a stabber to store a set of pliers and a knife,” suggested Spike. “Then grow into it over time by adding electronics or other devices you think you need.
“For safety purposes, you should bring a cell phone or a VHF radio and leave a float plan with someone.”
Finally, libraries and the World Wide Web offer a wide range of reputable treks to start out on. The Atchafalaya Paddle Trails (www.bayoutrails.org) will get you started on paddling through the Atchafalaya Basin and The Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club (www.bayouhaystackers.com) is a group based out of Southeast Louisiana that can be very helpful. Dennis Spike’s Coastal Kayak Fishing (www.kayakfishing.com) is the source for linking kayaks and fishing.
There is so much fishable water in Louisiana that kayaks and canoes can bring you to. Your soul and pocketbook will thank you if you try it.
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