Summertime sleigh riding

Numerous species of fish can provide kayak anglers with a summertime sleigh ride.

Of all the thrills and chills of kayak angling, one of the most exhilarating is hooking up to a fish so big that it pulls the kayak along behind while the angler hangs on to the rod and prays for a successful outcome. Among kayak anglers, this is known as a sleigh ride.

The month of July brings some of the warmest water of the year close to the Carolina coastline, and the warm water often heralds the arrival of fish species with enough muscle to hitch up to. For the inshore or nearshore kayak angler, the steed of choice is most likely sharks, stingrays, and (dare we say it) tarpon. These fish feed in nearshore and inlet waters and carry enough muscle to move a kayak and angler in the direction it wants to go.

If a Carolina sleigh ride is on your bucket list this month, a couple of things you can do, and should know, will make that experience a more enjoyable one.

Start with the tackle you intend to hitch a ride with.

Beef it up

Typically, heavy weight rods and heavy pound test line are the norm since the rod and line are the only connection between the boat and the fish. The minimum pound test is around 20 pounds but 40, 50, or even 60-pound test is better. Monofilament line, known for its stretch is OK, but braided line with a length of mono shock leader may be better. The idea is the amount of “give” between the boat and the fish should be primarily supplied by the resistance of the boat moving through the water, rather than the line or the rod.

Speaking of give, it’s also beneficial to tighten the drag system on your heavy-duty reels down a notch or two so that the drag isn’t releasing tension and giving line to the fish as it swims away.

The tactic used to target a certain species – trolling, bottom fishing, or casting, may dictate how you position the boat. If your tactic involves anchoring to the bottom or tying the boat to a piece of structure, use a quick release device to slip the anchor once you’re hooked up.

Catching big fish, at least ones big enough to tow a kayak around, often means using big baits and hooks. For the health of the fish, it’s much better to incorporate a circle hook into your tackle to ensure a solid lip or jaw hook rather than using a conventional J hook and the risk of gut hooking the fish and then putting so much pressure on the fish’s internal organs. Consideration should also be given to the endurance of the fish. Wearing a fish down to the point of total exhaustion in warm water can be fatal to the fish. A nice ride is fun, but a fish released alive to fight another day is the better option.

Steering your way

Once you are solidly hooked up and detached from anchor, it’s best to point the nose of the kayak in the direction of the fish. A green fish, meaning one with plenty of stamina and endurance, pulling perpendicular to a kayak renders the risk of capsizing the boat. By pointing the nose at the fish, the boat will move forward, by design, and it’s up to the angler to steer the boat to keep the pressure pulling on, or at least as close as possible, to the nose.

With both hands full of loaded fishing rod, a rudder system that can be controlled with your legs or feet is a great way to keep the kayak optimally turned during the fight. It’s also beneficial to use fishing rods long enough to reach around the front of the boat in the event the fish makes a sharp turn that will put the boat perpendicular to the fish.

Some species of shark, as well as tarpon, will make acrobatic leaps shortly after being hooked and may not provide much straight away pull until the aerial leaps are finished.

Large rays, on the other hand, may make strong runs as soon as they feel the hook, then begin looking for a good place to lie flat on the bottom, requiring the angler to fight the fish straight down.

At some point during the ride, the straight away flight will wane, signaling that it’s time to fight the fish to the side of the boat for release. Again, straight away is the best approach, but at some point, once the fish is beaten, maneuver the fish to the side and exert straight up pressure to keep the fish from diving. Don’t be surprised if the boat sends the fish on one or two more straight away runs before the fight is complete.

More options

While sleigh rides in nearshore waters are most common, mother-shipping the boat into open water to tackle additional species of fish is becoming quite popular. Mother-shipping may allow kayak anglers access to sailfish, mackerel, tuna, dolphin, and even marlin, or just big donkey-like fish such as amberjack.

Regardless of the species targeted, safety becomes an important priority when dealing with fish large enough to potentially capsize the boat. Plan on wearing your PFD the entire time from start to finish. Be aware of a fish pulling you into structure, areas of heavy current, or other places you’d rather not go. Keep a sharp knife within reach in the event you need to disconnect from a fish in order to avoid being pulled into breakers, rip currents, or areas of heavy boat traffic.

For the seasoned kayak angler, sleigh rides are not just a winter pasttime reserved for when snow covers the ground. Taking a wild ride on the tail of a huge fish is an adventure not soon forgotten, but one that requires some advanced planning and safety precautions to make sure both the rider and the steed survive to see another ride.

About Phillip Gentry 823 Articles
Phillip Gentry of Waterloo, S.C., is an avid outdoorsman and said if it swims, flies, hops or crawls, he's usually not too far behind.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply