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Monday
Oct062014

More Anglers Choosing Kayaks; Here's Why

New Jersey kayak angler Richie Moschella

Unless you are one of a small but growing number who fish from a kayak, chances are that what you think you know about the little craft is wrong.

You think that they are too unstable? Not anymore. Now you can stand up to fish.

You think that they are too uncomfortable? Not anymore. How does a swivel seat sound?

Want electronics? You can have that too.

And, hey, you don’t even have to paddle if you don’t want to. Some fishing kayaks now have pedal drive systems. That means you can move backward as well as forward, with both arms free, and cast as you go.

“Ten years ago, you had to fish out of a touring kayak,” said Richie Moschella, a longtime B.A.S.S. member, kayak fishing veteran, and host of the Reel Deal Fishing Show out of New Jersey.

“But, in the last two years, kayak fishing has just exploded. Today, some (fishing industry) companies are even starting kayak fishing pro staffs.”

Statistics from the Outdoor Industry Association reflect that “explosion.” In 2009, kayak fishing participation wasn’t even surveyed. Today, nearly 1.8 million anglers say that they fish from these lightweight, easily portable craft.

 For fishermen, at least, those first-generation kayaks were unstable and uncomfortable, and they were not suited for adding options. Rather than providing the means to better enjoy another outdoor activity such as fishing, they were intended solely for what their name implies--- touring. Just casting from one of those could be perilous because of their tendency to tip with the slightest shift in weight.

“I never liked canoes after tipping one,” said T. Chad Montgomery, a Georgia angler. “When I found Freedom Hawk, I could stand, which is how I prefer to fish, and the stability gave me peace of mind. I was hooked immediately for something I said I’d never be into.”

The Freedom Hawk provides a perfect example of how touring kayaks have evolved into man-powered fishing machines. It features an outrigger system that can be extended into a Y shape for stand-up fishing. It also offers a casting brace to lean against.

Down in Louisiana, meanwhile, Russ Pylant now fishes from a top-of-the-line Hobie Pro Angler 14, a pedal-powered craft with lots of bells and whistles that retails for about $3,000. And at 6-5 and 260 pounds, he can stand and fish comfortably in it.

“You give up some speed and maneuverability for stability and standing capacity,” he explained.

But Pylant began with a more modest vessel. 

“I started out with a Bass Pro Ascend (about $500),” he said. “It only took me a few months to see this hobby was going to stick and I upgraded to a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 (about $1,200).

Moschella, who gives seminars on kayak fishing, added that an angler should pay at least $500 for his first kayak, while a “decent kayak setup” likely will run $700 to $1,200.

“I know so many who buy cheap,” he said. “I tell people that what they pay is the experience that they will have.”

The New Jersey angler explained that he experienced some of that when he started kayak fishing in 2007. “Some of them were cheap and bad,” he said. “They took on water. They sat too low. They didn’t move true in the water. Yeah, they might weigh less, but you get what you pay for.”

His choice today is a Native Watercraft, 12-foot, sit-on-top that weighs about 75 pounds and retails for about $1,200. “It’s so comfortable that it’s almost like sitting in a chair. Nine hours seems like nothing,” he said. “Native Watercraft really thought about fishermen when it made this kayak.

Russ Pylant. Photo by Casey Brunning of FiN Crazy. Click photo for more information.

One of the most important steps in the evolution from touring to fishing has been development of the sit-on-top kayak. Typically, sit-in varieties are more difficult to get into and launch and are more prone to tipping. Additionally, angler movement is more restricted.

Besides allowing the fisherman to stand in some models, the sit-on-top also offers better leverage for a hookset, even when the angler is seated. Still, it’s a good idea to exercise caution, even in kayaks designed for fishing. Before moving into deep water for the first time, practice casting and reaching around you in the shallows to gauge your stability. In general, you’ll want to use your arms more and cast with a little more finesse than you would from shore or in a bass boat.

“If the water favors it, many kayak anglers side straddle their kayaks, meaning they sit side ways while their legs dangle in the water,” said Austin Kayaks. “Keeps you cool but also provides a general feeling of balance and many find it a bit more comfortable of a position, especially if paddling and fishing for long periods of time. A general rule of thumb is to always keep your body upright and your head centered over your kayak.”

Another advantage of the sit-on-top are the scupper holes, which make the vessel self-baling.

Aside from a drainage system and a comfortable seat, what else should an angler have to start kayak fishing? A paddle and a personal flotation devices are basics. Also, he probably will want rod holders and a storage system. Other options include a rudder, anchor, electronics, and safety light for after-dark fishing. Pylant keeps a floating net and measuring board for tournaments.

“The possibilities are endless,” Moschella said. “You can have video/GoPro (camera) holders too. You can just keep building on.

“You can find bundle packages too,” he added. “Some of the kayak fishing stores will install things for you, and the online stores might too. Most of them are owned by people who love the sport and want to pass it on.”

What’s to love about kayak fishing? That’s easy, according to Moschella, Montgomery, Plant, and many others: It’s much less expensive than the bass boat option, with virtually no cost for fuel or upkeep, and it allows you into places that larger and/or motorized craft can’t access. Also, kayaks are easy to transport, either on top of a car, in the bed of a truck, or with a lightweight C-Tug cart that can be dismantled and stowed in the vessel.

“I can’t think of a better way to fish,” Moschella said. ‘You can get into that pad field that a bass boat can’t get into. You can paddle right up to a (fallen) tree and see the submerged branches. You can use map services to find ponds that only you can get into. It’s like fishing unpressured, private waters.”

 Kayak Tournament Fishing

 Many like kayaks for fishing because of the serenity aspect, exploring remote backwaters with no outboard to scare the fish or disturb the peace. But as fishing kayaks evolve, so do how they are used. Those who can’t afford bass boats and don’t want to fish out of the back now have another option.

“Tournaments are really spiking,” Moschella said. “You see them mostly in salt right now, but they’re becoming more popular in fresh.

“In New Jersey, we’re seeing it in small tournaments. You take photos and measurements. It’s the honor system.”

He hopes that aspect will expand. “I’d like to see a pro tour, maybe with B.A.S.S. involved,” he said. “But we’re not at that point yet.”

Heroes on the Water

Fishing from kayaks also has a therapeutic quality, according to this organization, which arranges trips for veterans.

“What looks like a day trip of paddling and fishing is, in fact, something much deeper and long-lasting,” it says on its website. “Our unique kayak fishing program allows the participants a chance to decompress from the stresses associated with combat and the physical rigors of rehabilitation. Warriors enjoy these benefits while on guided fishing trips held in local communities around the country.”

One soldier called the outings “triple therapy,” since they provide physical by paddling and fishing, occupational through learning a lifetime sport/activity, and mental by relaxing in nature with no distractions or expectations of performance.

Kayak Fishing Statistics

1.8 million people participated in kayak fishing in 2013 for a three-year growth rate of 20 percent.

1 in 38 kayak anglers are female.

1 in 5 kayak anglers cast their lines in Florida.

(Source: Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Recreation Participation Report 2014, and 2013 YakAngler.com Survey)

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Oct032014

Friday's Fishing Wisdom

 

“There will be days when the fishing is better than one's most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse.  Either is a gain over just staying home.”  --- Roderick Haig-Brown

 “Beginners may ask why one fishes if he is to release his catch. They fail to see that the live trout, sucking in the fly and fighting the rod is the entire point to our sport. Dead trout are just so much lifeless meat.” --- Ernest G. Schwiebert, Jr.

Why We Fish --- Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen

“I fish better with a lit cigar; some people fish better with talent.”  ---Nick Lyons

“By the time I had turned thirty, I’d realized two important things. One, I had to fish. Two, I had to work for a living.” --- Mallory Burton

“I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.” --- W.C. Fields

 “Some men would rather be photographed with their fish than with their wives.” --- Gwen Cooper and Evelyn Haas

Thursday
Oct022014

Water Is Back Up in Clermont Chain, But for How Long?

The photo above of a boat house on Lake Crescent in the Florida’s Clermont Chain of Lakes was taken in December 2012.  Following a month of heavy rain and the clearing away of some flow blockages on the chain, water now is under the boat house, extending all the way to what once was the historic shoreline.

Also, boaters can now navigate the canal between Crescent and Minnehaha, according to my friend who owns the boat house.

But how long will the bounty last?

“Florida lake levels normally run in 5- to 10-year cycles of high and low water,” says Lakefront Florida, a real estate website. “In recent years, drought and overdevelopment have caused the Clermont Chain to lose 10 feet of water.”

Many who live in Lake County, including my friend on Crescent, believe that a “normal” water level on the chain simply is not sustainable, even during heavy rainfall years, because of withdrawals and diversions. And some suspect that government officials refuse to address the problem because it is in their best interests not to.

Since other Central Florida chains aren’t experiencing this problem, they simply do not believe the official line that drought is the cause for the Clermont Chain’s persistent low levels.

But is its decline a foreshadowing of what is to come for fisheries throughout the Sunshine State? A fast-growing population, few constraints on growth, and limited water seem to suggest that it is.

Meanwhile, the Clermont is experiencing at least a temporary reprieve, thanks to recent abundant rain and improvement of flow into the chain. Officials found culverts near County Road 474 that weren’t properly conveying water into the lakes and they discovered an old railroad bed on private property that was blocking historic flow.

“I believe, at the very least, there are more out there throughout the Clermont Chain of Lakes,” said Sean Parks, co-founder of the South Lake Regional Water Initiative.

To learn more, go here.

 

Wednesday
Oct012014

Commercial Fishing Is Ally for Anglers in Battle Against Asian Carp

Kentucky Lake Asian carp. Photo by Steve McCadams

A recent study by University of Notre Dame researchers suggests that  consequences of an Asian carp invasion into the Great Lakes may not be as catastrophic as many fear.

“If bighead and silver carp were to establish in Lake Erie, local fish biomass is not likely to change beyond observations recorded in the last three decades,” the university said in a press release about the findings.

Scientists pointed out, however, that the study mainly highlights the uncertainty, adding that the walleye population could decrease by as little as 10 percent or as much as 40.

“The range of possibilities concerning walleye biomass shows that the potential effect to this species is highly uncertain,” said Roger Cooke, one of the study’s authors.

But what’s happening right now in Kentucky Lake and many more of the nation’s bass fisheries along major rivers is not theory. It’s reality.  The exotic fish are there in massive numbers. For example, a first-of-its kind commercial tournament on Barkley and Kentucky Lakes last year netted 82,953 pounds of bighead and silver carp --- that’s more than 40 tons--- in just two days.

And this reality does not bode well for the future of sport fishing.

“If we don’t do something, bass fishing will be over with in five to ten years. You won’t be able to run a bass boat on many of these waters,” said J.D. Johnson, owner of Gulf Pride Seafood.

“If people don’t wake up, we might as well hang it up.”

Working with Carp Management Group of America LLC, Johnson is at the forefront of an effort to garner both angler and financial support for commercial harvest of carp. And he’s not alone.

B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland also supports the effort, as do fisheries chiefs in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“Fishermen need to get behind this idea of commercial netting,” Gilliland said. “It’s the only viable solution until someone develops a magic pill.”

“We have to do something now before our lakes and rivers become so over-populated with Asian carp that our native fish never will be able to make a comeback,” said Tennessee’s Bobby Wilson.

“We may not be able to eliminate Asian carp by this method. But the goal is to reduce their numbers so that they will not have a significant impact on our native species of fish.”

Kentucky’s Ron Brooks added that the carp pose a dire threat to “the very base of the aquatic food pyramid” because they feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton, primary forage for newborn bass, crappie, and other sport fish.

The invaders pose that threat because of their massive appetites and huge numbers. A carp eats 5 to 20 percent of its body weight each day as it grows to an average weight of 30 to 40 pounds. A female can lay hundreds of thousands of eggs at a time, and she can do so multiple times annually.

Even knowing all this, however, some bass anglers likely are shaking their heads and saying that they don’t want nets in their waters. But Gilliland said commercial harvest does not harm sport fisheries --- even when gillnets are used.

Most significantly, however, gillnets aren’t the best way to harvest Asian carp, according to Johnson. “We call it ‘strike fishing’ and we’ve done it for years with mullet,” he said.

Schooling fish are encircled by net, driven inward, and quickly harvested. No nets are left unattended to snag whatever swims by.

“I can put 900 feet of net down to 200 feet in less than a minute,” Johnson said.

He added that he could send 575 metric tons of carp to Asian each year, if only the facilities were available to process them. Right now, though, harvested carp are used mostly for fertilizer and silage, and that’s not profitable enough to sustain an aggressive commercial fishery.

“In Tennessee, things are moving at a snail’s pace regarding commercial harvest, processing, and marketing of Asian carp,” Wilson said.

“Funding is the major issue, as it is with almost every venture.

“We know that commercial fishermen can catch them, and we know that there is a market for them overseas, as well as within the United States. The missing pieces are the processing plants and the price per pound for commercial fishermen.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Sep262014

Battling --- And Besting --- The Big One

Once again the huge fish bulled for deeper water. And once again I pumped and reeled to regain line.

If frogs croaked or birds sang on this cool evening in early fall, I didn’t hear them. The only sounds that I remember are the “Whap! Whap! Whap!” of the monster’s broad tail as it slapped the surface of the still, shallow water, and the “Zsst! Zsst! Zsst!” of the drag on my spinning reel as it protected my 12-pound line from breaking.

The fight lasted 15 minutes at least, probably more. I knew that I had to weaken the grass carp to have any chance of wrestling it ashore, but I also realized how perilous our connection, with light line and small hook. That’s why I eased off on the drag each time I brought it close to my dock. At close range, one hard headshake from a fish that size, even a tired one, would part the line.

Finally, I judged it ready to be landed, knelt on one knee, held the rod with my right hand and scooped with my left. Only my net was far too small to get much more than its head in it. And as I belatedly realized that, a barb on the little treble snagged in the mesh. Now, a foot or so below the side of the dock,  I had the huge carp half in and half out of the net, and there was no way I could lift the fish with one hand, even if it all did fit.

Suddenly, the once tired fish became manic, thrashing wildly, and I all but acknowledged that I had lost the fight.  I was certain that the line would break as the carp jerked against the resistance of the hook embedded in the net.

Hook on right is the one that I removed from carp and net.

But I pushed the net as deep as I could, and the fish bolted farther into it instead of away from it. Nearly simultaneously, I dropped the rod, grabbed the handle with both hands and heaved.

And finally there it was, a 40-pound-plus grass carp half in and half out of the net on my dock. Somehow, someway, I had managed to land the beast with a net that likely was better suited for butterflies than fish of this size.

I know that it was 40 plus because it was far heavier than my previous best, which had bottomed out a 30-pound scale.

During the nine years that I’ve lived on this 10-acre semi-private lake, I’ve caught about 20 of the illegally stocked grass carp, which have suppressed the bass, bluegill, and catfish populations and degraded the water quality.

Aquatic vegetation never has been a problem in this normally clear, spring-fed lake, but ignorant property owners stocked the carp, thinking that they were filter feeders that would improve the water quality. One of them actually told me that.  In truth, grass carp are the equivalent of aquatic cows, adding to the nutrient load as they grow to massive size, and contributing to algae blooms as they stir up the bottom.

But they are fun to catch, fighting a lot like big redfish, and I’ve perfected the technique --- at least for my little lake. I fish only for the carp that I can see. Once I’ve spotted one, I toss a bread ball under a bobber in front of it. Sometimes, I have to increase the depth of the bait to get the fish to take. Last night, I had to do that three times.

When I go back out there this evening to look for the three others that saw with the one that I caught, I should have it at the proper depth on the first try.

And I will have a larger net.

To read about the 30-pound carp that I caught and learn more about why grass carp generally are bad news for sport fisheries, go here. I'm not suggesting that grass carp can't be used to manage aquatic vegetation in certain circumstances, but they're tools that only fisheries biologists should consider.