Versatile fishing kayaks catch on with anglers across Texas

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Fishing kayaks have multiple uses
Kayaks catch on with Texas anglers

MUSTANG ISLAND — No matter what the square said on the calendar, school was in session.

The surface in the summer shallows popped and squished as horse mullet zoomed back and forth amid stands of waving seagrass and sandy potholes dotted with the occasional oyster shell or crab. The rising sun and cloudless sky made the conditions perfect for spotting fish, while a light breeze paralleled the sloping beach marked at its crest with free-form sand dunes.

The water continued to churn in a number of places at once as the banana-yellow kayak glided along at the urging of the wind about 50 yards off the beach. As I patiently scanned the water, a dinner platter-size stingray materialized a stone’s throw away and then floated through the 2-foot space between the underside of the craft and the bottom. Seeing its waving tail go underneath made me a happy camper that I was on the water instead of in it.

After watching the ray wiggle out of sight and proceeding on, things suddenly fell silent except for the occasional slurp of the paddle as a few strokes were needed every so often to keep the kayak on my intended course. After a couple of minutes of no surface activity, the top again began to pop in the distance as more mullet surely had begun to again cut up downwind.

The craft slowly floated toward the commotion with a few more strokes, and as I got within easy casting distance, I realized it wasn’t scads of 10-inch fish making the ruckus like before.

I’m sure my heart skipped a beat as the first luminescent blue and orange tail crept ever so slightly above the surface and a large black dot just below it gave away the creature as a hefty redfish. Other hungry reds soon appeared to the left and the right as they performed headstands and sucked down whatever was unlucky enough to be scampering on or near the bottom.

The sight of tailing redfish is as good as it gets no matter where you are on the Texas coast, but in skinny water it doesn’t take much to send them scurrying. Had I been wadefishing, the wily creatures might have fled as my toes scraped the oyster shells and sand humps below. Had I been in a bay boat, the fish might have seen a looming shadow and movement well above the surface and lit out. But in the low-lying kayak, and despite the gentle sweep of a paddle, the fish didn’t know anything was there.

It was a good day.

Functional Fishing: Thanks to modern ingenuity, fishing kayaks have emerged as the go-to craft for many anglers, especially those fishing coastal water systems. The fishing kayaks of today are a sturdy, functional platform that allows anglers to get where they need to go comfortably without waylaying the gas budget.

There are two basic types of fishing kayaks: sit in and sit on top. Sit on top kayaks also are called sea kayaks and have become a huge hit for many anglers because they provide comfort and plenty of storage space for various gadgets. These models feature scupper holes that allow any water that gets in the craft to drain easily. Sit in kayaks are what many people think of when they imagine someone whitewater rafting. Sit in models are what they sound like, featuring a skirt-like opening that you place your legs into as you get in. For that reason, sit in kayaks offer less comfort and angler maneuverability, making them less appealing to those who want to move around as they fish, especially when they’re attempting to land a catch.

Speaking of ingenuity, kayak maker Hobie also features a line of crafts that are pedal-powered, utilizing fins that sweep back and forth underneath to propel the kayak. These fins also can be laid down in shallow water.

Though many models are similar in how they’re arranged, it often can be tough to decide what to look for if an angler is in the market to buy a kayak. The best thing to do is rent or demo a model to try it out and go from there. Many anglers who have bought a kayak for fishing often have found a particular model or brand to be lacking in some way and moved on to another setup that made more sense to their style of fishing. As far as design goes, a longer, narrower kayak generally is faster, while shorter crafts offer more maneuverability in turns. The biggest thing to consider is how you’ll be using a kayak the most and then see what’s out there.

Accessories, Add-ons: Anglers have never been shy about hauling along plenty of gear for even a quick outing, but that’s no problem for today’s kayaks. Though most of the crafts are less than 3 feet wide, there is a surprising amount of space to work with. Almost every sit on top model features at least one large closable hatch and a couple of smaller ones. There usually is also an open compartment at the back with shock cords to hold down gear.

As with other water toys, there is no shortage of accessories to jazz up the form and functionality. From flush-mounted rod holders and attachable dry bags to bait tanks and depth finders, there are a number of creature comforts that can make a fishing trip more productive — even if it just feels that way.

Though the onboard compartments work well in most situations, it’s a good idea to get a small dry box or something similar to hold things such as a cell phone or camera that only need a slight mist of water to give up the ghost.

The most important accessory you can bring along is a personal flotation device, but one thing to think about for safety reasons is the color of a kayak. Blues and dark colors often blend into the surroundings on the water, adding to the potential for a dangerous situation, especially if there is any kind of chop that could hide your presence. Since fishing kayaks sit so low, they’re inherently harder to see for operators of any kind of powercraft, so it’s smart to pick a color that will stand out, kind of like wearing blaze orange when hunting public land. A yellow or orange kayak will stick out like a sore thumb and since it doesn’t really matter to the fish, you may as well go bright.

Limitless Fishing: The kayak could be the perfect shallow-water craft, but many anglers have adapted their use to different bodies of water and different species. From salmon in Alaska to bonefish in the Caribbean to billfish in the Pacific, anglers are finding new ways to test the limits of kayaks and they seem to hold up to almost anything thrown at them. For a lazy day of crappie or catfish angling, a kayak is the best way to grab some table fare without burning a single drop of gas on the water. And just think of the ways you could use one in pursuit of largemouths.

Many fly fishing aficionados also have taken to the kayak and use them to fling loops in a variety of situations. The biggest asset a kayak possesses is having stealth ability even in shallow, clear water. As long as you don’t make too much racket with the paddle, even the spookiest fish aren’t going to flee.

Another perk of using a kayak is getting a good workout and burning some calories in the process. So next time you find yourself explaining to your significant other why you went fishing instead of finished the chores, just say you did it for your health.

Fishing’s good for you when you’ve got a kayak.

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