For a paddler, fishing outside the surf line is immensely challenging and rewarding. The closer you get to the Gulf Stream, the better your chances are of hooking into some really sizeable sea creatures. Realistically speaking, however, kayak angling from the shoreline out to 3 nautical miles in the ocean is probably about as far as most paddlers care to tackle without the aid of a mother ship or other support craft. Fishing beyond the breakers or even fishing open water inside big inlets should be considered advanced-level kayak fishing and not undertaken by those with little or no experience.

The first consideration when fishing nearshore is your watercraft. This is not the place to be fishing from a canoe, cockpit boat or anything that is not completely self-bailing because water will come into the boat, frequently faster than it could be bailed back out. An even better choice is one of the popular wide, stable yaks with enough length to track well in open water. An installed and steerable rudder is also a plus.

The best locations to target for nearshore fishing are large sounds, inlets and bays, which make the transition to open water easier to manage. Launching a kayak through the surf is entirely possible but requires a practiced skill set and better-than-average physical ability. Bear in mind, launching is a lot easier than the egress.

Picking good nearshore locations without a reliable fishing report can be done via map, satellite imagery from the internet or even limited scouting from shore. Depending on the nearshore species you are targeting, channels and sloughs between sandbars, deeper holes surrounded by shallower water, hardbottom structure and other features can be identified ahead of time. 

Any of this topography will be incrementally better fishing grounds with the presence of baitfish in the area. This means a reliable sonar unit and/or portable pair of binoculars should be added to your list of gear. Speaking of baitfish, launching in open water with a long paddle ahead is not the most conducive environment for lugging along a bait tank.

Unless you are planning on using only artificials, bait used for dead or cut-bait fishing can be acquired a day or two before and kept fresh on ice. Frequently, the best bait will be obtained during the trip. Plan on having room for a decent-sized cast net and/or a couple of light rods to keep you stocked.

What baits to use will be dependent on what species you are targeting. Most of the time, that species will pick you. Small baits like shrimp or finger mullet will catch bottom-feeders and may include a few redfish, trout and flounder. Larger, dead baits will produce sharks, bull reds, stingrays and dare to say, maybe a tarpon.

Trolling off the beach is also an option for Spanish and king mackerel, bluefish and a scattering of other species that like to see flashy objects moving through the upper section of the water column. Trolling out with the outgoing tide and back in with the incoming is the smart way to fish. Make sure to use an appropriate leader to match the teeth of your quarry.

Anchoring and putting out two or three rods with live or cut bait is probably the surest way to catch something, and by that I mean sharks. Target the water column in three stages: one bait on the bottom, one free-lined to cover mid-depths and one bait under a float or balloon to entice surface feeders. This will also help reduce tangles as all rods will be in close proximity.

Kayak anglers have a slight advantage over powerboats when fishing sandbars from anchor because it is much easier to anchor out and quicker to move. A 12- to 14-pound Danforth anchor with three times the rope as depth of water will hold a kayak tight under most conditions. Tie the anchor off to a poly anchor ball, and then tether the kayak to a 15- to 20-foot lead off the ball. Tied to the ball, the tension from moving current is in-line at the surface, and the boat will ride flat across the top rather than torqueing the anchor point on the kayak down.

Added benefits of the anchor ball are added visibility to powerboaters, as well as elevating the anchor line. A big fish will tend to circle the boat when it gets close, and this configuration keeps the fish out of the anchor line. For safety purposes or when needing to disconnect to fight a large fish, rig the tag end of the lead with a loop and use either a pin or carabiner clip within easy reach to cut loose and let the boat move away while preserving the anchor site with the poly ball.

Some final words of advice are to never attempt nearshore, open-water kayaking alone. Every year, kayakers up and down the east coast lose their lives when swept out to sea in the rip and tide currents created by the strong alluvial tides. Always wear a life preserver and have safety gear, a charged cellphone or radio in a waterproof container, and plenty of water on board if you do end up caught in a current and have to paddle back the long way or wait for the tide to change.