Winter Sightfishing in a Kayak
Bonefish, tarpon and permit are my favorite species to pursue from my kayak. But during the cooler months of the year, these fish can be tougher to find on the flats here in the Keys, so I have to plan and fish accordingly.
One species that can fill the sight fishing void until the “big three” return is redfish. Keys reds, like most things in the Keys, are different. They are generally more pale and silvery than the bright copper color you see on redfish north of here. A worthy adversary, somewhat spooky and hard to see, redfish put up a decent fight, and they’re very good table fare. Since these members of the drum family will go into super skinny water, they make terrific sight casting targets for kayak fisher-folk.
Another often overlooked sportfish on the flats is the barracuda. During the winter months, big cudas, sometimes over 4’ long, will come up in very shallow water to warm themselves, and can be sightfished from a kayak. Hard strikes, drag screaming runs and lots of jumps are typical with these toothy fish. The best lure for barracuda is a brightly colored tube lure, but they will hit other shiny baits like spoons and top water plugs. Just remember to put on a small wire leader or Mr. Teeth will depart with your hardware!
Jack crevalle, sometimes weighing as much as 10lbs, are around the backcountry in the winter. They are very willing to eat and respond well to a myriad of artificials. Like most jacks, they are quite good at using their broad, flat sides to great advantage during the battle, and they will run circles around the yak, which will certainly test your kayak fish fighting skills.
Some of the most exciting shallow water sharks show up during the cooler weather - the blacktip and spinner sharks. Very athletic and active, when hooked these two species will put on an aerial display that will leave you slack-jawed! Flying several feet in the air while simultaneously spinning in a barrel roll, they will certainly test your gear and rigging. Of course you’ll need wire to protect against their teeth (I like #5 single strand), but I add 6 to 8 feet of heavy leader before the wire to protect against the abrasive skin and the propensity of these piscatorial acrobats to wrap the line around themselves when they roll.
Sharks are good winter fishing fun, but give serious thought to how you will handle these guys before you put a hook in one.
Doing this in a kayak is much more dicey than in a boat. The small ones can be handled fairly routinely from the cockpit. But larger sharks, say 4’ - 6’, are a different matter. One way of landing them is to loosen the drag on your reel a bit and paddle to a shallow area with firm bottom. You can then get out of the kayak, finish the fight, and pull the shark into the super shallow stuff where it will be much less mobile. Sharks are powerful animals and will definitely try to bite you so be careful and keep body parts away from their mouths. You definitely want to perform this operation with LONG-HANDLED PLIERS, always have a knife or line cutter at-the-ready, and if things are feeling a little too dangerous, simply cut the line. The hook will rust out and you’ll keep all of your digits!
The bones, permit and tarpon will be back before long, but until then, there’s plenty of fun to be had winter sightfishing in a kayak in the Keys!
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