Five casts later, alligators were forgotten as a redfish grabbed an electric chicken grub and made off with it. The young angler attached to the other end of the line gripped the rod tightly as the redfish spun his kayak in a clockwise circle, looking for an escape route. After two complete rotations of the craft, the redfish came to the boy's grip, released to fight again - both of them.
Whether you're in it for the peace and serenity that comes from fishing without motorized propulsion, or whether you just want to get into some untapped redfish action, kayak fishing has a lot to offer.
During the spring and fall, fishermen take to skinny waters in search of tailing reds. Kayaks have a lot to offer in that regard; they are easy to use, highly portable, and cost a fraction of the price of a shallow-water flats boat.
During the summer, these boats shine as a way to access backwater estuaries and pools that are inaccessible by conventional methods - an excellent way to have unpressured fish to yourself.
Choose a fishing kayak
Greg Franklin knows kayaks. He is the South Carolina-area representative for Ocean Kayak, a company based in Ferndale, Wash., that is on the leading edge of developing kayaks for fishermen.
"The trend in kayak fishing started, obviously, on the West Coast" said Franklin, "then we saw it move into Texas. Ocean Kayak actually sponsors a kayak tournament fishing team there. The trend hit Florida and then skipped up to Virginia. Now, it has come into South Carolina and Georgia, and those anglers can benefit from the designs and features that other anglers have already discovered."
The biggest decision when selecting a fishing kayak is whether to go with a "sit-on-top" model or a cockpit-style kayak. There are advantages to each, depending on your padding ability and the water you fish.
"The sit-on-top models really lend themselves to kayak fishing, because they allow more versatility in setting one up" Franklin said. "There are several ways to set up a sit-on-top for fishing, whereas with the cockpit style, you're fixed in one position."
Franklin said that 75 percent of the fishing kayaks his company sells are sit-on-tops, but a lot of that is personal choice by the angler. The company is breaking into the freshwater and stillwater fishing market with cockpit-style boats. The design bodes well for rivers, lakes, and other waters where fast currents and surf are not an issue.
"Someone who wants to take a cockpit-style boat into the ocean really needs to know what they're doing," Franklin said. "There's a lot that could go wrong - if you flip that boat over, it's going to fill with water. A sit-on-top doesn't have that problem, because they are all self-bailing."
When selecting a fishing kayak, anglers should look for a boat that will allow them to tailor the set-up to the way they fish. A fly-caster will want room to coil fly line without it becoming entangled with excess gear. A bait fisherman will want flat space in front to mount rod holders, and a trolling angler - an increasingly popular tactic involving paddle-only propulsion - will want an easy-to-reach, sturdy mount for trolling rods. One of the more advanced options is the ability to incorporate sonar/electronics on the kayak.
"Manufacturers are designing boats with lots of surface area to accommodate rodholders, storage bins, even electronics," Franklin said. "We have a model that allows the installation of a sonar transducer into one of the scupper holes, so the transducer doesn't rub when the kayak hits bottom."
Walk the walk
Once the choice between a sit-in or sit-on boat is made, all that's left is working out the where and how, which is Meador's specialty. He's the proprietor of Luden's Outfitters in Charleston, a well-known outpost for kayaks and gear, as well as advice from people who walk the walk. Accordingly, he favors all manner of paddle craft and feels they hold a big advantage over fishing from motorized boats.
"A great advantage to kayak fishing is you're going to get closer up on the fish when you're on the water," Meador said. "Whether it's shallow water on a flat or deeper water in a canal or estuary, a kayak doesn't put out pressure waves like a big boat does."
He compares the situation to standing beside an interstate when a big 18-wheeler passes. You can feel the air - an experience similar to when a boat motors up a narrow creek. Through their lateral lines, fish sense pressure waves put out by the hull of a motor boat.
"When we're fishing out of a kayak, we are often almost touching the fish with our paddles and rod tips, because the pressure of a kayak moving through the water isn't enough to excite the fish's lateral line. It's pretty common to have reds swim under the boat and feel them slap the hull as they swim by."
In order to target redfish from a kayak, a fisherman needs to understand seasonal locations fish prefer. In July, baitfish are plentiful, and the weather gets pretty hot. Both baitfish and redfish will push well up major river drainages. An excellent location is a deep estuary off of a main water system. Summertime redfish may be upwards to 20 miles inland. Cooler spring and fall months find kayakers working skinny-water flats closer to the coast, places that flood during high tides.
Kayak redfish spots
Prime spring and fall locations include miles of shallow flats that are flooded by creeks and rivers during high tide. The high end of the water cycle offers paddlers the best access to the most-remote reaches in the backs of small creeks.
"You have to go at a full high tide, because at low tide, this water can skinny - up to only six to eight inches," Meador said. "I can't stress enough how important it is to pay attention to the water level and make sure there's enough water to get back out. Try going for tailing reds one afternoon and get stuck out there in the marsh all night fighting mosquitoes just one time, and you'll never forget how important it is."
Meador suggests planning your trips for the last couple of hours of incoming tide, fishing a window ranging between 45 to 90 minutes, then paddling out once the tide turns back.
One of his favorite year-round spots isn't far from the coastline.
"Right off of Folly Beach, near the county park, is a great place to find redfish," he said. "The fish will often come in on an incoming tide and hold in those areas across the Folly River between Bird Key and Folly Beach.
"These areas pond up on high tide; the reds will come in there to stay away from the porpoises and feed until the tide rolls back in and they leave. That's the beauty of kayaking these ponded areas - they hold enough water to paddle around in and catch fish, and when you get ready to leave, you can drag the boat out across hard sand, not muck and mud like most backwater areas."
Baits, gear and tackle
Tackle for catching redfish from a kayak doesn't necessarily differ from tackle used from a motorized boat. Paddlers are somewhat limited in the number of rods they can take due to space limitations. Many see this as a bonus, suggesting that a kayak allows them to focus on getting optimum performance from their tackle. It's this kind of thinking that makes the kayak and fly tackle a natural pairing.
"A lot of anglers exclusively use fly tackle when kayak fishing," Meador said. "Fly presentations are an excellent choice for tailing fish, especially in small, backwater areas. In skinny water, I suggest using fly tackle because you want a bait that will stay up on or near the surface - you don't want a deep presentation. On the other hand, during the summer, I would suggest a medium, sinking line for flycasters to get baits down into deeper pockets where reds are seeking deeper water."
Conventional casting and spinning rods also work well for paddlers. As for bait choices, the presentation follows the season. Meador sticks with his suggestion of topwater and shallow baits for skinny-water fish in spring and fall. For summertime fishing, his tackle choices include an assortment of 3-inch, lipped crankbaits that will dive three to four feet. Summer fishing often means blind-casting to likely structure, and small crankbaits are a good way to cover a lot of water - and they are a favorite for both reds and trout.
At the top of Meador's choice for bottom-bouncing baits is a soft-plastic shrimp- or minnow-imitator. He rigs these on jigheads of a quarter-ounce to 3/8ths of an ounce, depending on the current. Meador favors Bass Assassin and DOA plastics and is quick to point out that an imitation shrimp bouncing along the bottom catches a lot of summertime redfish.
"If you look at a redfish, his eyes, mouth, and tail are designed for feeding on the bottom," Meador said. "Anything that matches what they're eating ... bounced on a weighted jig around structure will be right in his face and hard to resist."
Kayak fishing is not limited to anglers fishing only artificial baits. Many kayaks offer rod holders, allowing paddlers to fish multiple rods; that way, live or cut baits can be presented to otherwise hard-to-reach fish.
"If you're going to live-bait fish, go with the mud minnows with the big yellow fins on a Carolina rig. These work great to target reds around deep holes," said Meador, who reminds fishermen that for the first two to three years of a redfish's life, its diet is almost exclusively fiddler crabs and small blue crabs. He suggests tempting these puppy drum with half of a legal-sized blue crab.
"Drop that bait out there on a 7/0 hook in a quiet pool at the back of an estuary, and he can't stand it. That's an excellent way to catch a July kayak redfish."