As the water starts to cool down and winter fish begin to head this way, kayak anglers gain a distinct advantage over those standing on Gulf shores. Most beach anglers have watched a school of Spanish mackerel pass by just a bit farther offshore than they could cast on their best day with a tail wind. While some fish may depart from the group and come close enough to hook up, most are just too far out.
Enter the kayak angler. We are almost exclusively inshore kayak anglers and haven’t even considered going miles out to sea in pursuit of fish bigger than our boats — but, on a really flat day with mackerel, jack crevalle and ladyfish just off the beach, we’re up for it. With a little preparation and caution, this can be one of the most exciting and productive trips of the season.
Launching is an issue when heading off the beach. We prefer to time our trips starting with a launch inside an inlet like Stump Pass so we can float out with the tide (and the goodies this flow is taking out to sea). If we get it right and head out near the bottom of the falling tide, we can fish for a couple of hours and then the rising tide will help us back to the launch. This sets us up to intercept whatever gamefish are congregating outside the pass and enjoying the smorgasbord of bait drifting out with the last of the tide.
Tackle is simple for all of the expected species found around the passes as the tide drops. All these fish are are suckers for a shiny object moving fast. Thick-bodied spoons, diamond jigs or anything else that casts a mile and sinks quickly will get attacked. A high-speed retrieve is essential. We replace the treble hook with a single hook and tip it with a small piece of a red worm tail. This seems to direct the strike to the hook end of the lure.
These toothy fish will cut light line easily, so you’ll need a short wire leader or some 40-pound fluorocarbon. The fluorocarbon setup will get way more strikes than the wire, but of course you get cut off more also.
We usually take along some live shrimp for times when we get tired and just want to rest and free-line a shrimp. Two rods make this approach seamless. Keep the artificial ready for when a feeding frenzy erupts nearby.
Any time or place you find a bunch of baitfish getting chopped up by midsize predators, you shouldn’t be surprised to find a shark nearby. If you feel the need to hook up one of these big guys, just sink a hunk of ladyfish or jack below the action (but not mackerel, which by law have to be landed ashore in whole condition). Otherwise, use caution when unhooking fish. If you release them, just “spear” them back into the water, don’t hold one by the boat to revive it; you might lose your hand.
There is a generous limit of 15 Spanish mackerel, each of which must be at least 12 inches. They are tasty when fresh if iced immediately. We like to brine and smoke some boneless filet strips for later. Freezing fresh mackerel doesn’t work very well due to their oily nature, but frozen smoked fillets stay good for a long time.
When we were first getting into kayak angling, we tried beaching the kayaks after a fishing trip off the beach. Very shortly we decided it was a much better idea to avoid the surf and get back inside the pass. Even with just little waves, when the kayak hits the sand, the back end swings to the side and tries to roll up onto the beach.
That might not be a problem on a stripped-down kayak. But for us, rolling onto the beach with a full load of gear was not an option. We did discover we could bail off about waist-deep and pull the kayak up onto the sand before it swings around. Trust us, though — it’s just easier to avoid the surf side.
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, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.