There is a growing fascination with paddle fishing in Florida in general and kayak-fishing in particular. Legions of avid “yakkers” are now deploying these unique craft anywhere there’s fish and water. One of the yakking crazies is Jack Stubblefield of Sanford Florida, who, in this article explains why he’s so hooked on yak fishing.
By Jack M. Stubblefield
I bought my first kayak four years ago while living in Sarasota. I’d not fished in years; even while vainly trying to make a living operating a St. Johns River fish camp, I’d no time to fish. However, after a few days ghosting around Sarasota Bay, I began to see and drift right over all sorts of fish. Hmmmm. So, a quick trip to a local discount store set me up with a $20.00 spinning rod and reel and some basic lures. And, eventually, I figured out how to fish the tidal areas. Outgoing tide; follow wheeling, screeching and feeding birds, blind cast into the mangrove roots, and the like. I got some nice Trout, Snook, Mackerel, a few critters that required the purchase of a picture book to identify; and, generally, I was fairly smug about it all: “Ha. I can get right up to the likely spots, quietly, and … and, well .. look at this picture.”
But my stay in Sarasota was cut short and 20 months ago I found myself right back in Central Florida and the town I’d left, Sanford. So, the saltwater was 35 miles east. The closest waters were the lagoons; miles long, narrow, shallow, grassy. Almost landlocked given the distances between tidal inlets. I scouted the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon, nosed around, found isolated launch spots and was pleased that public foresight had closed this immense lagoon system to development years previously. Hot, insect infested, some areas tough to get to, lots of wildlife, and, importantly, tales of huge trout and redfish.
I’d never caught a redfish. Frankly, I hadn’t thought much about it on the southwest coast. Snook and trout kept me happy and busy. How difficult could this be? Maps show maybe a foot of water for 20 miles, grass flats, some holes, sand here and there. Hundred of islets. Hmmph.
Thus, in December 1999 began my ‘Goon obsession. I paddled; I cast; I sweated and swatted mosquitoes; I cursed; I read magazine articles; I tried different areas; changed lures; and … well, I’ll tell you, there were no pictures of a smiling Stubb holding up reds or much of anything.
No tides to guage when to fish; never see a flock of feeding birds … just miles of grassy water full of leaping mullet. Oh, I’d paddle right over reds. They’d blow up right under me. On a flat calm day, I’d see the tails of reds waving briefly as they nosed for shrimp, crabs or Saltworms and I’d flail my way over there and … nothing.
I was persistent, oh, Lord yes, was I ever. I was on the Lagoon two days per week absolute minimum. I’d given up most lures that were not weedless. Switched from Rapalas and other shallow runners to Texas rigged plastics …. anything that wouldn’t snag a ton of grass, you understand … about stopped using topwaters; and even, at last and fearing a mental breakdown, I started carrying a baggie with a dozen fresh shrimp and a small popping cork. “Ah, Stubb….. anyone can catch fish with bait….” “Oh, yeah? When’s the last time you fished your guts out on the ‘Goon?” Friends in dark beer joints glanced my way and shook their heads while I mumbled in my glass and chain smoked bad cigars. A very nice yakfisherlady in Miami emailed and scolded me like a teacher. I seriously considered selling my collection of cheap rods, reels and the kayak and taking up chess or bridge.
I refined my paddling technique … quieter, don’t splash, easy, easy now … and some friends and I came up with the idea to use a ski pole to get right on reds lazily tailing in 8″ of water.
Stealth was the thing; pole the yak within 20′, don’t spook them now! Wince as dripping water runs off the ski pole and slowly lift the rod up and cast … yup, just right. Does she see the lure or smell the shrimp ..? Hands tense on the rod, click the bail off a bit .. now wait, see that swirl right near your line! Don’t move it … another foot, she’s on it…! And SLAM she rolls over it and peels off 50′ of line … don’t move, don’t set it yet, let her run, count to three and STRIKE. “Okay .. let the yak be the drag” you think as you’re towed off. Then she turns and blasts right under the yak! Pointing the rod to starboard and you look port and see the rod tip under water .. the yak whirls, finally, rod not busted, she’s tiring and you start to gain line on that red.
It took me six months to catch my first legal sized redfish. I would go through periods of moderate success; I arrived at a point where I never blind cast, just roam the extremely shallow flats hunting for “sign”: disturbed water, large shoulder wake, a blue rimmed copper tail or dorsal fin. I started carrying two stalking/anchor poles. One is the broader ski pole which is good in softer bottom, the other a chopped down glass spinning rod that works well in shell or hard ground. I seized up cheap reels and bought more expensive rigs. Searched for longer, faster rods and found, inevitably, that a 7.5′ light action rod carries a price tag. So, today if I have 3 sets of rods and reels with me they cost more than the kayak and it’s gear.
And about the time I get smug again, confident in my sneak ability, smirking a bit when gliding around the wet grass; just about the 120th day in 18 months of combing Mosquito Lagoon, I note the water has changed, the ‘Goon’s depth inexplicably up or down, the reds (roamers one and all) have moved off, no artificial lure that worked last month does more than iritate tailers, and the odor of a freshly dead shrimp causes the reds to idle right on by.
Day 141 was last Saturday. I’ve not much to say about it except that the weather blew me off the water about 11:30 a.m. It was a nice day to paddle around, check out the roseate spoonbills, wood storks and watch an osprey fish. I got a little sun and exercise. And the only redfish I saw that morning ….? I ran right over the sleeping devil 10′ from my truck and the take out site. Did I get her after the “spook”? Maybe.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.