The warmth of the sun hitting your knuckles, clutching your favorite fishing rod. The plummeting crash of a wave in the distance. The rock of the boat is followed by a cool, salty breeze against your face. Fishing heightens your senses, putting you in tune with nature in a way that nothing else can. But for anglers who seek an even closer connection with their prize catches, saltwater fishing from a kayak offers an even more heightened experience.
“When you sit in a kayak, you are literally immersed in the environment,” said Mark Ambert, avid saltwater angler and outdoor sports writer for The Fisherman Magazine, Coastal Angler, Florida Sportsman, and other publications. “You can’t get any closer to the environment or to the fish. You can smell the water; you see ripples and things that are moving in the water. You start to rely on your senses. You become a better fisherman.”
Originally from the Northeast, where he started experimenting with kayak fishing while fishing in the Long Island Sound, Ambert relocated to Jupiter, Florida, where you will find him fishing the Jupiter Inlet, the Indian River and other nearby inshore areas. While he’s fished inshore and offshore from much larger, motorized boats, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of battling Mahi, Snook, Redfish, Kingfish, Snapper and more – from a kayak – where the fish are mere inches from you.
“There is no better vehicle than a kayak to bring you right to the fundamental elements of what fishing is all about,” Ambert said.
While it’s clear that saltwater fishing on a kayak opens up a whole new world for anglers, getting started can be intimidating. And with those fears, come the questions that Ambert often receives, such as:
What happens if you hook up with a big shark?
What happens if you connect with Tarpon or a really big fish that could pull you…just about anywhere?
What would happen if you were to tip over?
What would happen if the weather changes suddenly or a big boat comes by and sends giant waves at your kayak?
To help you understand the saltwater opportunities of kayak fishing, the folks at Rapala spoke with Ambert, who shares ten critical tips for a successful day out on the water:
1. Find the perfect spot – Even though saltwater fishing on a kayak has its unique challenges, the tell-tale signs of an ideal place to fish will be the same: Park your kayak by one piece of land that is jutting out from the rest and immediately drops into deeper water. But once you find that perfect spot, you’ll want to investigate further.
“The secret to kayak fishing is understanding the topology of what’s under the water,” said Ambert. “How are the tide and the rock structure going to create currents that flow on the reef systems and effect your bait? Understanding bait movement is always the key. Find the prey and you will find the predator.”
2. Choose the right time of day – The great mighty ocean, grand as it is for fishing, also takes some getting used to, especially if you are accustomed to fishing on a freshwater lake. Make sure to fish at or around slack tide to avoid dangerous tidal rips. That being said, Ambert recommends scouting out the area at low tide because of the increased visibility. When scouting, take notes and pictures to remember where the best spots are before returning when the tide is right.
3. Use a Great Lure – A strong lure is perhaps the most game-changing piece of equipment in your saltwater fishing arsenal. Do all the preparing you want (and you should prepare!), but the one thing that will really pique the interest of your next biggest catch is a stellar lure.
Ambert’s top five recommendations for saltwater lures are:
X-Rap® 10 – “This is my favorite lure for just about any freshwater and most inshore saltwater species,” said Ambert. “Fresh or salt – this lure’s swimming action is second to none and always gets a strike from feeding fish. I have caught many of my personal best fish using this lure – I never leave home without it. My favorite color is glass ghost, which catches fish day or night.”
RipStop® – For Ambert, these lures have proven deadly on peacock bass found predominantly in south Florida waters. These fish like a lure with lots of action which the RipStop delivers in spades. The firetiger pattern is deadly for spawning peacock bass.”
X-Rap® Magnum – The perfect all-arounder for saltwater. “I troll these lures specifically for big stripers in the northeast,” said Ambert, “and just about any speedy pelagic fish here along the Florida coast. I also use these lures to target toothy critters such as kingfish, bluefish and barracuda. They are nearly indestructible and fish well at various depths.”
X-Rap® Twitchin’ Minnow – This is Ambert’s “go-to” for big snook. “They simply cannot resist the twitching action just below the surface.”
Saltwater Skitter Walk® – Another favorite for Ambert. “I’ve caught everything from fall-run striped bass and bluefish in the Northeast to tarpon, snook, redfish and more here in Florida. A must-have for your tackle box.”
4. Utilize a Powered Kayak – If you’re idling around a dock catching smaller fish, your standard kayak will work just as well. However, if you really want a shot at getting into some great waters, you’ll want to invest in a motorized or pedal-drive kayak.
“You can’t have your hands tied up with a paddle trying to maneuver and hold a rod. In strong currents It’s a recipe for disaster,” said Ambert, who was one of the first anglers to put an electric motor on a kayak. “If you’re serious about fishing for kingfish, for example, you have to have a powered kayak. It will get you where the fish are safe and give you the added maneuverability and control needed to fight and land that fish of a lifetime.”
5. Match Your Line to Your Depth – Ambert’s ideal line for vertical jigging in deep water is a 30-pound braid due to its sensitivity, lack of stretch, reduced diameter and line drag in the water which is essential for getting to the bottom. “I use 50 yards of a 40-pound mono on the front of the line to reduce cutoffs,” said Ambert. “I use Sufix 832 Advanced Superline braid in Lo-Vis Green.”
“When I go to the jig (Ambert uses Rapala’s Williamson jigs), I immediately put on an “O”-Ring and quality ball bearing swivel on,” said Ambert. “That gives you the most maneuverability on the lure. It doesn’t twist, it doesn’t spin in the current. It just works beautifully.”
Ambert’s two favorite Williamson jigs are the Benthos high-speed knife jig for reaching the bottom quickly – especially in a strong current, and the Williamson Vortex, a rotating flutter jig for added action. “I like the glow-in-the-dark finish when fishing deep,” he said.
6. Get Organized – Sure, a large part of fishing is enjoying the serenity of nature. But once a 50-pound tarpon starts ripping line, things happen fast. With your adrenaline pumping and only two seconds to gather your wits before your monster catch pops you right out of your kayak, you’ll want to be prepared for what’s coming. For optimal preparation, Ambert recommends laying a bungee cord across the front of your kayak. Securely strap your pliers, scissors, safety knives and more onto the cord, and organize them so that you know exactly where everything is when you need it. In case of a rollover, have everything bungeed or strapped in.
7. The Battle Is In the Rod, Not the Reel – So now you are organized, but what happens once you get a bite? When you feel that first tug on your lure, don’t panic. Ambert says to point your rod facing the front of your kayak and buckle in for the ride.
“Point the tip of your rod right at the front of the kayak, and then allow that fish to swing the boat around to their purpose,” said Ambert. “Tighten your drag and just let that kayak swing, because the fish will pull the nose around, run and take you with them. You’re going to go four or five miles an hour. Within 10 minutes, she’ll settle down. That’s how it unfolds.” “Once you come up on the fish the battle will switch to vertical. This is where good fighting techniques and a power-flex rod will win the day.”
8. Suit Up – Properly gearing up to hit the water won’t only ensure you’ll look stellar in your photograph holding up your big ‘un, but it will also guarantee that you don’t come ashore looking as scaly as the fish you reeled in. Ambert recommends that you keep the sun away by wearing long sleeves, the highest UV-rated clothing you can get, vented hoodies that cover your ears and neck and a proper hat. Stay sharp out there, folks.
9. Don’t Be Shark Bait – Out on the waves, any tug of your line can be exciting enough to make you nearly jump out of your kayak, but keep in mind that it is entirely possible you’ll hook something that you don’t really mean to…such as a shark. While some kayak anglers are experienced in fishing for sharks, if this is your first time fishing on a kayak, Ambert recommends having a pair of pliers ready and simply cutting the line if you accidentally hook a Shark.
“Personally, if I have a shark on my line, I usually let it go right out of the gate,” said Ambert. “I’ve had one jump one time and he literally hit me in the side of the head with his snout in the 11th hour.”
10. Prepare for Toothy Critters – Even if hooking a shark isn’t your goal, there are still plenty of truly toothy critters out there. If you are lucky enough to reel in a Barracuda, Bluefish, Kingfish or any other fish known for its bite, Ambert recommends using a specific form to retain all of your digits (i.e., your fingers!).
“I always like to have the nose of the fish out in front alongside the kayak and put my hand on the tail to bring it out of the water,” said Ambert. “Never try to lift them in across your face with the teeth out in front. Once safely out of the water, place your other hand under the belly of the fish. Then I take the hook out with a Rapala plier. I use the 11’’ one, and it is truly a finger saver. Your fingers are never near the fish’s teeth, and you can just pop the hook out and you’re done.”