kingfish kayak

Taking a paddle-powered craft out onto the Gulf can bring great rewards, like this hefty king mackerel — but you had better have a solid plan in place first.

Kayak anglers don’t have to look too far to find pictures of folks in kayaks catching huge fish miles from shore. It sure looks like fun, but it also seems a little risky for most of us inshore paddlers. Kimball and I have made a few trips offshore in the Gulf of Mexico on calm days. It’s humbling to be farther from shore in a kayak or SUP than you could comfortably swim. Luckily, this time of year, kayak anglers can enjoy offshore fishing really close to the beach.

Most deep-sea kayak anglers go out there with a boat nearby to take the pictures, be available for emergencies and give them a ride back to shore if the wind or weather gets funky. If you have a friend who wants to boat fish with you out there on the deep blue, or another kayak angler, go for it. Take plenty of water, watch the weather really closely, and have a plan if it gets rough. You don’t want to be on the water with lightning and high winds. Be sure to wear your PFD, too. It makes it harder for sharks to swallow you whole!

As the water begins to finally cool off and gamefish in search of warmer water and a good meal head south, there is a migration along the beaches for kayak anglers to enjoy. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, pompano, sharks and others linger around our Gulf passes as they migrate through.

This is can be especially productive at the bottom of an outgoing tide, when bay water brings lots of baitfish and other forage out to the beach side. When this happens in the late afternoon or just after sunrise, it’s even better. This final push of bay water will form a line where it meets the first of the incoming Gulf water. Focus your efforts along this moving tidal line for the best results.

Watch for feeding frenzies to pop up around your kayak. It is always fun to see whitebait or finger mullet trying to become flying fish to escape the predators below. Also, of course, watch for birds diving on these same baits. With the birds above and toothy predators below, these poor baitfish are in a no-win situation. When this happens within casting distance of your kayak, throw anything into the chaos and reel fast for an immediate hookup.

Freelined shrimp are a sure bet, but if bait isn’t your choice, throw something shiny and work it fairly fast. Diamond jigs, Kastmasters and small spoons will get the attention of the bluefish, mackerel and jacks. Plastic tails rigged on 3/8-ounce heads will get the job done too, but bring a few extra to feed to toothy, short-striking mackerel. Choose a plastic tail with either a grub or shad tail in a silver or gold flake color. Sometimes a greenback color will be attacked readily.

Some anglers opt for wire leader to tame the razor-sharp teeth of a Spanish mackerel. We use 40-pound test fluorocarbon with good results. If you’re throwing a shiny lure, try hooking a small piece of a plastic red worm on the back end. This tends to make mackerel and bluefish strike back further on the lure and end up chewing on the metal, not the leader.

Not all the action will be up in the water column or on top. Redfish, black drum, flounder, sharks and sheepshead will gang up to enjoy the shrimp, crabs and sand fleas that are pushed along the bottom by the tide. It’s hard to beat a shrimp, but fiddlers, sand fleas and cutbait all will put fish in the kayak. Use just enough splitshot weight to take the bait down but still allow it to roll naturally along with the current. If you use enough weight to hold bottom in the current, your bait will just spin, turning the fish off.

All this fun can happen just a few hundred yards from the beach. If you plan well and hit an offshore breeze (out of the east on this coast), it’s possible to ride the tide out of the pass, fish on flat water and then ride the first of the incoming tide back into the pass to your launch point. You can also launch on many beaches around here, but a kayak tends to swing sideways and roll over when the bow hits the sand, even in moderate surf. We recommend launching inside the pass to avoid wave action that can dump all your gear in sandy water.

Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area,, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.


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