In the past two decades, a new sport has taken root in the fishing community, in freshwater and saltwater — kayak fishing.
The kayak-fishing industry, barely a blip on the radar a decade and a half ago, has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon. Paddling out through the surf, catching some bait and hooking and landing a yellowtail, or other large game fish, has much of its roots here in Southern California. Local pioneers of the sport such as Jim Sammons (a local kayak-fishing guide since 1996 and now the host of The Kayak Fishing Show on WFN) and Jeff Krieger (inventor of the Rhino-bar, a tool that provides a mounting structure for fish-finders and other gear) blazed the trail.
In 1998, while half a mile off of Scripps Pier with clients, Sammons hooked and fought an estimated 200-pound marlin that towed him eight miles before it was released. This was the first marlin catch-and-release recorded from a plastic sit-on-top kayak.
Stories of large game fish being caught and released or hitting the beaches strapped to a kayak started circulating in the fishing community around that time. There were no fishing kayaks then, only kayaks rigged for fishing by fishermen. The popular choice back then was Ocean Kayak’s Scupper Pro TW, a kayak that could be mounted from the water with a tank well to accommodate a single dive tank in the rear and a stowage hatch in the front. It was originally designed for scuba divers. The original Scupper Pro, a touring kayak that has a hatch front and back, leaves little room for fitting a bait tank or hauling gear where you need it — within reach and not inside the hull.
Now, specialized kayaks for fishing are made by all the companies making SOT (sit-on-top) kayaks. No worry about pumping out a flooded boat or learning the “Eskimo roll” to right yourself, as these SOT kayaks are self-bailing with an enclosed hull and are very stable.
Here in the San Diego area there is a multitude of accessible spots to fish from a kayak. A favorite area I fish is outside of the ecological reserve and along the La Jolla Canyon. I have caught quite a few yellowtail and white seabass alongside the edge of the La Jolla kelp beds while trolling a mackerel or a sardine. A Sabiki rig (a leader tied with tiny flies with hooks for catching bait) provides the bait. Paddling provides the power. Other notable target species off the San Diego coast include thresher shark, lingcod, calico bass, sheepshead, and rockfish.
San Diego Bay is a popular spotted bay bass fishery and holds some nice halibut and shortfin corvina among its scaled denizens. Mission Bay produces some nice catches of bay bass and the occasional halibut. In the bays, and in lieu of live bait, most kayak-anglers use plastic “swimbaits,” a molded rubber lure from three to five inches long that “swims” like a baitfish as you retrieve it. A great majority of bass caught in the bays are released, although anglers will often keep a legal halibut for supper.
It’s an inexpensive way to catch quality fish on the ocean, just paddling out through the surf in the morning and being a few inches off the water, seeing dolphins, whales, ocean sunfish, sharks and seals is reward enough.