Published: Jul 8, 2005 

One of the first articles on kayak fishing, the year I started taking kayak fishing charters. NT

Two things are clear on Tampa Bay these days: There are more no-motor or limited- motor access zones every year, and these zones have a lot more fish in them than the ones that are open to all comers.

Enter the kayak.

These low-cost, paddle-powered cockleshells offer swift, silent access to the closed zones. They put the angler so low to the water that the fish can’t see him or her. They cruise over water only inches deep, across mud bottoms too soft to wade, and they’re light enough to launch anywhere – including off a seawall in the middle of town, if that’s where the fish happen to be.

Even anglers with access to all sorts of high-powered performance fishing boats are adding kayaks to their stables.

Consider the top two editors at BassMaster Magazine, which recently moved to Celebration near Disney World. Editor in Chief Dave Precht and Editor James Hall have purchased kayaks, despite both men having their choice of performance fishing boats with powerful outboards.

“When we go saltwater fishing rather than bass fishing, we fish a lot in the no-motor zones over around Titusville and Merritt Island,” Precht said. “The fishing is great, and there’s almost no pressure from other anglers.”

An Added Dimension

Neither angler is likely to give up his close relationship with high-speed bass boats. Still, kayaks offer anglers another dimension, which more and more fishermen around the Bay area have been sampling in recent years.

Kevin Finn, formerly of St. Petersburg, was one of the early advocates of paddle-powered fishing boats here.

“You have complete silence in your approach,” Finn said. “You can get into areas that are way too shallow for most other types of boats, and you can store your boat on the upstairs porch of an apartment if you have to.”

Kayaks are light enough for one angler, man or woman, to hoist onto a rack on the top of a car or slide into the bed of a pickup, SUV or station wagon. They’re typically 10 to 14 feet long, and weights for kayaks rigged for fishing are usually less than 60 pounds.

They are available in the sit- on-top versions and the more traditional models where the legs go under a bow deck. Many anglers like the sit-on- top models because they’re easier to get in and out of.

A typical day in kayak country includes a good bit of wade- fishing as well as fishing from the boat, so the ease of entry can be important.

Something For Everyone

Most kayak makers designate various models for different duties.

Those who intend to use their boats for fishing probably will want a “recreational” or “general use” version, according to Ian Joyce, spokesman for Wilderness Systems Kayaks, one of the leading fishing kayaks.

These are wider and more stable than some of the sport models, Joyce said. The trade- off is that the wider the beam, the harder the kayak is to paddle and the slower it goes for a given amount of effort. Wider kayaks are also somewhat heavier, though not enough to be a factor in getting the boats in and out of the water in most areas.

Most anglers set their kayaks up with backrests to ease the pressure on the spine during long hours in the boat. They also are likely to add other items for comfort, safety and performance (see list at right).

Most kayak anglers opt for at least two rod holders, allowing them a quick choice of lures for varying depths.

By law and by common sense, it is wise to carry and/or wear a personal flotation device anytime you are in a kayak.

Sooner or later you probably will turn the boat over. Often, in the backcountry, the remedy is simply to stand up. But in deeper water, the boat might drift away quickly, and a life preserver can make all the difference.

Many opt for the belt-pack or suspender-type inflatable, which offers more freedom of movement for paddling and casting than the vest type.

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