Paul Lebowitz – IT'S JUST FISHING

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Friday, May 29, 2009
MLPA LOG: Trust Betrayed

Targeting local tuna by kayak

FAR BEYOND SIGHT OF LAND – John Pawlak looked a little out of place on his 10-ft kayak. The tall Okuma staffer was slowly stealthily trolling a sardine in a broad circle around a patch of kelp. Typical stuff except when the weeds in question belong to a paddy drifting over a dozen miles from shore.

What was he doing out there? Having a blast, what else?

Along with this writer, Pawlak had hitched a ride on Fish Doc Charter’s speedy Edgewater 225 center console to this offshore spot somewhere south of Ensenada. Skipper Jim Carter was at the helm. Although these days Carter is the master of 200 Yamaha horses, he fondly remembers his kayak fishing roots. When he fired up his charter business a year back, it was a no-brainer to offer his customers a taste of the addiction that originally ignited his fishing passion.

So there we were, out on crystalline blue water Southern California kayak anglers rarely experience, looking for tuna, ‘tails and dorado on one of the few 4-pack charters to sport a kayak fishing option.

Strictly speaking, the compact Malibu Mini-X sitting on a custom gunwale-mounted cradle during the motor out to the spot served little purpose on a run and gun paddy hopping expedition. It didn’t come close to matching the fishing utility of its mothership for this particular use.

When Carter added the kayak-carrying option to his charter captain bag of tricks, he did so with inshore and island fishing in mind. It would be a user-friendly introduction to the sport. No surf to mess with, plenty of bait and brews at hand, and the flexibility of picking up and running to fertile waters should the plan of the day go awry. Why take the easy way out? We planned something different.

We toted that kayak offshore just for the heck of it, for no reason other than the novelty of the thing. As I’ve said before, for inveterate kayak anglers it’s all about the sleigh ride, hitching a ride behind a hard-charging fish. And offshore those fish can come in jumbo sizes. We also hoped to get veteran inshore angler Pawlak his first kayak tuna – first tuna catch of any kind in fact.

Don’t get the idea we were the first to think of this fun stunt. Plenty of guys have pulled it off successfully. Would we be as lucky?

With fresh and promising reports in hand, our strategy was simple. Roll up on a paddy, then toss a couple baits from the big boat to check if it was holding. Only after an answer in the affirmative would we launch the kayak. Even with a system as simple and elegant as Carter’s, deploying and recovering a kayak takes time. It could add up into many fewer paddies over the course of a day.

Before I cover whether we hit a home run or struck out, let’s take a closer look at Carter’s set-up for those who might be tempted to carry their own ‘yaks offshore or better yet, to the islands to access boat-eating boiler rocks and the thickest kelp beds.

First off, Carter went with the lightest kayak he could find, Malibu’s 9-ft long Mini-X. This simply rigged 40-lb model is on the stubby side, not a kayak for traveling long distances, but that’s what the big boat is for. At 33-inches wide, the Mini is stable enough for big guys and first-timers. Yet it is compact too, which is important on any private boat. An excellent choice for this use.

There are plenty of other options. Any kayak on up to the 60-lb range is reasonably easy to man-handle on and off a private boat. The Hobie Lanai comes to mind, as does Ocean Kayak’s Frenzy.

Unless you plan to spend hours on your mothershipped ride, the stock kayak seat and an inexpensive paddle and leash will do fine. The only other necessity besides the mandatory PFD? A rod holder or two. Flush mounts will keep things streamlined, an important factor when handling a kayak on a private boat.

Carter custom built a set of kayak brackets that slide right into gunwale-mounted flushmounts. This simple solution is easily removable and keeps the kayak off the deck and out of the way. There was a little play when we hit a patch of rougher water. Carter said he’d work on the fit to prevent the wear and tear this could cause over time.

Small kayaks can also be stored directly on deck. It’s common practice in the East Cape and other destinations of an expeditionary bent. But watch out for gear damage. I’ve seen a ‘yak fall and mash a reel handle flat to the body. They are also murder on shins when you’re moving around the boat.

Now let’s get back to our offshore play by play. Things started off well when Pawlak hooked a yellowfin on our second paddy of the day, our ‘anybody home’ check from the big boat. As soon as the circle dance ended – “They pull hard! Stubborn too, there’s no quit in them” Pawlak said of his first-ever tuna – it was onto the ‘yak for a good long soak. An unrewarded effort, so we moved on.

And on, and on as is sometimes the way with offshore fishing. Another couple dozen paddies later we were still zero for the kayak and not much better for the boat. Our numbers just didn’t come up. We didn’t let it wreck our fun. For Pawlak who’s paddled nearly every inch of southern California’s mainland coast, venturing offshore was an exciting change of pace.

A day later once he’d had the chance to digest the reports, Carter said he’d do things a little differently next time – and there will be a next time. “It seems like the fish were scattered out quite a bit, but the boats that did best were in same general area. I still think we took the best approach for local tuna on the ‘yak. We just missed hitting the target head on. In retrospect, I would have dropped the yak each time,” he said.

On the hunt for tuna, Okuma staffer John Pawlak sets up on a kelp paddy - Captain Jim Carter of Fish Doc Charters tosses a kayak overboard at a paddy stop - Pawlak’s yellowfin
TOP: KELP, KAYAK, CHECK. HEY, WHERE’S LAND? – Okuma staffer John Pawlak sets up on a kelp paddy, on the hunt for tuna more than a dozen miles offshore. An unlikely place to find a kayak, he hitched a ride on a center console just for the fun of it.

MIDDLE: SPLASHDOWN IMMINENT – Captain Jim Carter of Fish Doc Charters tosses a kayak overboard at a paddy stop while Pawlak looks on. Carter’s custom gunwale-mounted rack keeps the kayak off the deck when underway.

BOTTOM: A FINE FISH – Pawlak’s yellowfin didn’t come on a kayak, but it was a first for the veteran inshore angler nonetheless. For guys who cut their teeth in the local kelps, a trip to the blue water is a blast.

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