These kayakers like a challenge
A chunk of dead bait swirls through clear blue water toward the bottom. Before it lands, it’s inhaled by a fat red snapper.
This is old news to many anglers fishing the northern Gulf of Mexico, except this angler was in a kayak. An ever-increasing number of kayak anglers have found easy pickings to get in on some great, nearshore snapper action.
Unfortunately for Louisiana kayak anglers, the influence of the Mississippi River precludes shore launching to get to species such as red snapper. However, many Louisiana anglers regularly travel to the beaches of Alabama and Florida for vacations, and they really should bring their kayak along.
Snapper fishing has long been the exclusive domain of powerboats heading many miles offshore to find them on wrecks, reefs and oil platforms.
However, kayak anglers are now capitalizing on their ability to launch directly from the beach and reach prime red snapper fishing grounds — all within sight of land.
Finding good snapper fishing areas is not easy, but with a little planning and reconnaissance, kayak anglers can build a library of spots they can return to and find success year-after-year.
No one knows this better than Matthew Vann. As a kayak fishing guide in northwestern Florida, Vann has compiled a list of hotspots allowing him to consistently put his clients on limits of hard-fighting, delicious red snapper.
“You need to put in your time and survey the area you want to fish,” Vann said. “Good electronics are the key to finding and being able to return to spots that hold fish.”
A high-quality depth sounder/GPS combo is a must.
Noting that the nearshore northern Gulf is like a “flat desert,” Vann advises that any change in the bottom has the potential for attracting and holding fish.
“You have to use your bottom machine to find any change in or on the bottom that separates it from the surrounding areas,” he explained. “It can be as dramatic as sunken wrecks and debris or as subtle as live bottom or a contour change.”
Anyone who structure fishes knows GPS coordinates are guarded better than the gold at Fort Knox. And Vann is no exception.
He does not allow charter clients to bring their own electronics in order to avoid copying of his prized locations.
To find your own hotspots, Vann advises beginning with a good local map that lists public reef and wreck numbers.
“The public areas are a great place to start,” he said. “You can use them to practice navigating and locating known bottom structure and, of course, you can catch fish there too.
“Once comfortable at identifying bottom spots, you can begin to search out and mark other productive locations.”
Kayak access to the Gulf is virtually unlimited. Numerous public beach access points are available from Gulf Shores, Ala., to Panama City, Fla.
Snapper are hard fighters and difficult to battle from a boat, much less a kayak. Vann’s rule for successfully landing a snapper comes into play right from the hookset.
“You’ve got to move the fish 10 feet in 2 seconds or you’re done,” he said.
Once you’ve got the fish pulled from the structure, steady, short, pump-and-reel strokes will bring the fish to the surface.
Fighting a powerful snapper from the seated position often causes anglers to lift their rods high, thinking they are gaining leverage. However, this “high-sticking” can quickly cause it to snap.
Gear with 50- to 70-pound braid is necessary to quickly get control of hard-pulling snapper. A length of mono or fluoro leader snelled to a quality 5/0 to 7/0 circle hook will get the job done.
Compatibly rated rods measuring 61/2 to 7 feet long are also recommended.
Many anglers opt for lightweight jigging rods that provide enough pulling power but are easy to handle in a kayak. Short, boat-type rods restrict anglers from getting the line around the bow of the kayak when a fish heads to the other side and can cause break-offs or even flip the kayak.
Inshore kayak fishing is exciting, but it doesn’t compare to the exhilaration that comes from fighting fish in open waters. Red snapper are prized fish, and catching them from a kayak is a great accomplishment.
Whether with a guide or on your own, there’s no reason to sit on the beach when all those snapper are waiting just beyond the breakers.
Editor’s note: Matthew Vann is owner of Sails and Tails Kayak Charters based in Pensacola, Fla. He can be reached through his website at www.sailsandtailskayakcharters.com.
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