Kayaks and Stripers

Of all the saltwater game fish none have had more written about them than the Striped Bass. Understandably so as it has many wonderful characteristics which have captured fisherman's awe and pursuit for decades. It's easy to see why. It's an attractive fish, overall and is at home in so many accessible places. It's a perfect fish to hunt with a kayak.

Notice I used the word hunt, there's a reason that I chose this word. You need to have a hunter's mentality and a bit of Huck Finn in you to find the best fishing. With this attitude you can really take your Striper fishing to another level and a kayak will allow you to access places where others can't go and catch fish in what many would consider unlikely places. During t the past 5 years I have used my kayak and fished every kind of water within the region for stripers. I have fished for them in the ocean, rivers, bays, rocky shorelines, surf, ponds, estuaries, flats, rips, etc. If there is one certainty about all of these places, it is that Stripers spend time in all these places and you can find them. The common denominator is if there is something for them to munch they will find this prey and eat it. Many fishermen don't look for fish in a lot of locations because they assume that there aren't fish there. Some don't explore because they feel if there were fish in a particular location than somebody would be fishing there. One thing that a kayak has shown my friends and me is that stripers are in a lot of places we never thought to look. Due to the slowed down pace and stealth of a kayak we get to view many places from a different perspective and it continues to amaze us the places that hold fish. Many of these places can't be accessed by any other means. They're not accessible to shore based anglers. Many can't be reached via boat either as these is something which prevents access. Some type of barrier prevents admittance. Most often its shallow water that would ground a boat but other obstacles can inhibit access too. It amazes us who kayak fish at the many different places that hold fish. Catching 3 to 4 foot stripers in a couple feet of water has made a believer out of others and me. This is exciting fishing that is earned through exploration and very satisfying. The first thing you need to do is some exploring. I like to start off with a map. I look for places that have potential and then I check charts. If it's out of the way it's a good bet. As long as I can get to it I'll be fine. One thing that I have to determine is if there is current and if it's significant. If it is the spot can be too difficult to fish properly once I got there especially if I can't use the kayak for access and then fish while wading or from shore. If this is the case I scratch the area. A few tools will really help you in your searching and none will do more for you than a fish finder. A fish finder, also known as a depth finder, will tell you the depth of the water, identify structure, bait and even if game fish are present. If you really want to increase your chances of finding stripers fish finders are a must. Once you start using one its very hard to not have one along. They simply provide you with a lot of useful, fish catching info. Unlike a powerboat, that needs to be slowed down to properly check out areas, you and your kayak are always traveling at ideal speeds for checking things out. Simply paddling from one place to another and having a fish finder along will yield a wealth of info. I discover new fish holding places all the time. By also bringing a GPS unit along you can then mark these newly discovered spots so you can return. I've discovered some fantastic places this way.

Bays and Estuaries: The majority of the bait that stripers feed on are either born or reared in estuaries. If there's food the omnivorous stripers can't be far behind and at some stage of the tide they will consume it. These areas are often shallow, marshy, with soft bottoms and can't be reached from shore or via a boat. They are very easily fished from a kayak and its almost cheating. It's amazing how effortlessly a kayak will allow you to gain entry to these areas and allow you to fish them. It's a marvelous feeling taking fish which often can be longer than your leg, from such places. Whether you like casting lures such as plastics, plugs, etc. or using a fly rod these waters will often have fish in them at some season or stage of the tide. In the early Spring I know that Stripers seek out warmer waters so I look for shallow bays with muddy bottoms and tidal flats that have dark bottoms. These areas soak up the sun and warm quickly. Given a few days the water temps will be significantly higher than other areas and the stripers will find them. I especially like areas that have had a high ebb tide when the sun is at its strongest. This will ensure warm water as the tide moves out. This is a great scenario for active, hungry bass. In some Estuaries and Bays you will find cuts and creeks that snake through the terrain with some not wider than 5 feet. Fishing the mouth of these can be great I've also done well paddling cautiously along them keeping an eye out for fish, bait or good ambush spots. Often I find it easier to anchor the kayak and then wade. Using a kayak for access is the other way we use our kayaks to catch fish as we don't always fish from them. Its not technically kayak fishing but its great fishing and what's in a name or title anyway.

Rocky Shorelines: We all know how Stripers, like all basses love structure. Getting near structure is a place where kayaks really shine. In my home area of Western Long Island Sound there is no shortage of rocks, little islands and reefs that always seem to hold fish. A kayak allows one to get up close and personal in these areas in ways powerboats can only dream. You want to talk about stealth? I have been out nights and I have actually got so close to Stripers that they have hit my kayak while getting out of the way. Many of the rocky shorelines along the East Coast are in exposed locations where there are waves and rough water. Fishing these places takes considerable skill and it's imperative that you exercise common sense and be very cautious. I often beach my kayak on exposed rocks and utilize this grounded vantage point to fish from. Often it's much more productive than staying in the kayak and constantly trying to reposition yourself to fish a spot. When I'm going to fish an area where this type of structure exists I like to have a pair of corkers in the kayak so while climbing the rocks I have a secure footing.

Flats and Skinny Waters: I have to admit that it's only been the last couple years since I discovered flats and how productive they are for Striped Bass. I learned a valuable lesson a couple years ago from my fishing buddy Steve. While up in Rhode Island, we were in the back of one of the big coastal salt ponds and we saw some birds diving in about 8 inches of water. I yelled over to him saying " its nothing. there isn't any water over there". Steve gave me an incredulous look like I was nuts and paddled over to the melee. He tossed a fly and hooked and landed a beautiful keeper Bass. That lesson is now part of my brains gray matter and will never be forgotten. Striped Bass can be found in very shallow water. Shallower water is actually favorable to them because it makes foraging baitfish easier. After fishing several flats up at Cape Cod I can't believe that more guys are not using kayaks to get to some of these famous flats. We easily accessed many flats and when the tide got too high we simply re-boarded our kayaks. We'd either continue to fish from the kayak or find another location. Those fishermen who had waded to the flat would have to high tail it out of there as the tide came up. Cape Cod with its large tides is tailor made for kayak flats fishing. One never needs to worry about getting trapped by a rising tide. This means more time spent in productive areas. Conversely a falling tide, while no problem for waders is a problem for boaters that don't want to get trapped. Most kayaks will function in a few inches of water so again more time can be spent on the flat. If you end up without any water its relatively easy to drag a yak. I bring a towrope along just in case. We often access flats that are unavailable to waders as they are surrounded by deep water. We can also enter flats that are surrounded by water unapproachable to boats because the opposite is true. They're surrounded by water too shallow for boats to navigate. These same flats are often too far for fishermen on foot. We have found that the best flats are the ones others can't access.

Ocean: Now we can t& about my favorite kind of kayak fishing, I love to drive the ocean scanning for birds and launching when I had them. Most of us who have become kayak fishermen have done so because of this phenomenon.

Nothing is more frustrating then to be standing on the shore while the water is erupting with activity just out of casting range. When you have a kayak you just launch and go after them! (A set of kayak wheels is a necessity for this application and many places where the water is a significant distance from where you have to park.). Sometimes the surf is just too big to launch, but with a little practice and the ability to stow your gear you'll be surprised by where you can go. You'll be able to punch through some decent sized waves to get to the fish. As you can imagine this type of fishing should only be tackled after you have gained some experience. Practicing in the summer when the water is warm and without fishing gear is the best way to gain the experience and then have the confidence for when the fish are blitzing beyond the beach. I highly recommend, at very least, is that you shouldn't do it alone until you have become a more knowledgeable kayak fisherman.

Techniques: This article is not intended to get into the different ways we fish for Stripers. Its to show you how you can apply the techniques you're already using and how a kayak will facilitate your catching more fish by allowing you to gain entry into more environments that hold fish. Whether you use a fly rod, spin gear, bait or any other method, you can make it work on a kayak and increase both the number of fish you catch and your enjoyment of fishing. Last year I was introduced to a Striper technique that not only produces lots of fish but big ones too. For years I heard a lot about it. Its called the 'Tube-and-Worm' and it is truly amazing. It is almost unfair how productive it is when used in conjunction with a kayak. Add a fish finder and use it near structure and its almost obscene. The powerboat guys have been doing this for a long time with great success but the kayak is actually much better suited to the technique. The stealth of the kayak with its ability to troll in tight spots at slow speeds and quietly access shallow water gives the kayak many advantages over Powerboats. Last summer in the middle August, when most had given up on the Striper fishing in the long Island Sound, I was regularly catching keeper sized bass trolling the 'Tube-and-Worm' when other techniques couldn't even produce a schoolie. While exploring a new area I like to troll along likely looking places. An observation I have made over the years and one I am not sure if I have an answer to is sometimes I can cast my lure in a area for a long time without a single strike, then the minute I toss that same plug out and troll I catch fish after fish. It has happened many times and not only to me. You can make a case for the speed of my troll compared to my retrieve but I think it shows that Stripers will follow a lure for a long time while deciding whether or not they wish to eat it or not. The opposite happens too - sometimes trolling works great and at other comes the fish will respond better to a cast presentation. You never can tell. I spend a lot of time looking at navigational maps and nautical charts of areas I want to investigate, you will be amazed at how you can find interesting places to take a kayak into that may have never been explored by another fisherman. This is some of the best fishing and its very gratifying to take fish from these places.

Final Thoughts: We affectionately call kayak fishing the 'Dark side' of fishing. We do so because once you start you can't go back. It's simply very productive and rewarding.In this complex world we have created it takes us back to a simpler time. You'll be much closer to the environment and it's a marvelous escape. It also provides a wonderful form of very healthy exercise that doesn't stress any joints or connective tissue. So besides being a fun way to catch fish its good for you. I hope that I have opened your eyes to how adding a kayak to your fishing gear can increase your fishing enjoyment. It's obviously not only a great way to catch more Striped Bass but equally productive for many other species we have in our local waters. What I can't emphasize enough though is how your awareness of your surroundings will have to increase. You'll need to learn water safety and how it applies to you while kayak fishing. Learning tides and knowing weather conditions is a must. Remember if water conditions or weather changes it's just the power you provide that's going to get you home. You need to carry some specific equipment for the sport that includes gear and clothing. That's a whole additional topic that is best covered in its own article. So check out the 'Dark side' of fishing for Striped Bass, you'll be glad that you did.