Bill Shedd is an avid saltwater angler, marine conservationist, and accomplished kayak fishing expert. He is the president of AFTCO MFG CO. INC, that through its division AFTCO Bluewater manufacturers all Guy Harvey sportswear. Bill and Guy are longtime friends who have worked together on a number of marine resource efforts.
The combination of working at the American Fishing Tackle Company (AFTCO) all my life, and loving to fish, has provided me with some amazing big game fishing adventures around the world. The friendships developed in the cockpit of a sportfisher in pursuit of marlin or other highly migratory gamefish is second only to the sheer excitement of the bite from those magnificent fish.
While I treasure those experiences and the camaraderie of being offshore with friends, catching fish in the ocean from a kayak is both challenging and rewarding in its own right. I live on the water in Laguna Beach, California so I keep my kayak on the beach below the house. Whether it is catching calico bass on swim baits or trolling offshore and hooking a thresher shark or striped marlin and having him take you on a Nantucket sleigh ride, fishing from a kayak in the ocean is a real thrill.
The main thing you need to know is that kayak fishing is not as difficult as it may seem. Today’s kayaks are safe and efficient. A good sense of balance helps, but no real need to fear rolling over because stability is the name of the game with the modern kayak. My Hobie Outback kayak with its Mirage foot peddle drive system allows me to propel the kayak with my legs and keep my hands free for more important tasks, like fishing! At the same time it allows for fast travel and directional control with is lever steering system. If you want to go all out, you can equip your kayak with side angle rod holders, a bait tank, a fish finder, and numerous gizmos and gadgets.
If you’re launching in a harbor then life is simple. I launch through the surf which can be a bit trickier. The key is picking a spot where the waves are not too big and don’t break too far off the beach. Then it is all about timing the swells. Once you decide to go, be aggressive. Don’t hesitate, don’t panic, and always keep the kayak pointed directly at any incoming wave. Getting sideways inside the surf line is almost a guaranteed capsize.
For safety I always carry a life vest, a hand held radio and a knife close by in case I somehow get a line wrapped around me with a big fish on. I also carry my cell phone in the waterproof pocket of my new AFTCO fishing shorts. Since it is impossible to keep out of the sun, extra sun screen and bottled water is a must. I also wear one of my Guy Harvey performance long-sleeve fishing shirts, which dries fast and wicks away moisture to keep me cool.
I have been fortunate enough to catch nine different species of saltwater fish from a kayak, including striped marlin, thresher sharks, and mahi mahi, but my biggest thrill was the 51-pound white seabass pictured in this article. This fish was special for many reasons. First, it was a surprise. I was offshore trolling deep diving plugs for thresher sharks and as I got the fish near the kayak I was expecting to see the darker brown of a shark, not the lighter color of a white seabass. When I realized what it was I started laughing with joy and salivating at the same time.
White seabass are special not only because they’re great eating and a real prize for the Southern California angler, but also because our family and the AFTCO company have been involved for over 30 years with the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute in their effort to raise seabass in a hatchery and then return them to the sea. After gaffing the fish and dragging it on board (a testament to the stability of a kayak), the trip in was a reminder of why fishing from a kayak in the ocean is such a treat.
The quiet and solitude offers a unique feeling that can only be achieved while alone in the middle of the ocean. You see and hear things from a kayak that you will not experience from a boat. Once while trolling offshore, I was surrounded by a pod of over a hundred bottle nose dolphin. They passed all around and directly under my kayak. While that’s not so uncommon on a boat, I was particularly amazed by the sound. In a boat you’ll hear the breathing and the splashing. What I heard from the quiet of the kayak was the faint squeaking of them talking to each other. Often the little things make the biggest difference and the essence of saltwater fishing alone in the solitude of a kayak brings the little things home.