A taste of kayakfishing the Malibu way
by Ross C.
When I realised that a three week business trip was going to have me between commitments in Los Angeles for the USA 2004 "Memorial Day" long weekend I did an internet search for LA area kayakfishing sites and managed to track down Dennis Spike of Coastal Kayak Fishing to seek his help to get me out on the water for some "R & R" during the break.
As luck had it, Dennis runs a full-time kayakfishing business that employs several California based guides and is himself an experienced guide. He responded to my request in style by personally collecting me at my Downtown LA hotel at 7:00am on Saturday which turned out to be a typically enjoyable Californian Spring day.
After a picturesque and informative coastal drive (Dennis organised a driver and was therefore free to share his wealth of knowledge on things Californian), collecting "food to go" at a drive-through restaurant, and securely stowing the gear on two "Wilderness Systems" kayaks we were ready on a Malibu beach by 9:00am for a surf launch.
Because beach launching always has the potential to go wrong, Dennis had me wearing a short wetsuit and rubber boots as well as a PFD with all my personal gear for the day tied in the rear-well of my "Ride" inside a dry-bag. The fishing rods, portable sounder, tackle, food, water, and reels were stored in the hull through the hatches of Dennis's larger "Tarpon 160" kayak so that nothing would be lost if either craft capsized.
To this point in my flatwater oriented kayakfishing experience I had never paddled a kayak in the surf so I was a little concerned when Dennis explained how we were going to watch the wave patterns for ten minutes, wait for the last wave of one of the repeating sets to pass, and then quickly launch and paddle like hell before the next set of breakers rolled through. I therefore did exactly what Dennis said, exactly when he said, and we got out successfully and relatively dry (in fact I quite enjoyed becoming partially airborne in the "Ride" while punching through a couple of waves just before they broke).
After getting past the breakers we paddled out to a kelp bed where we "anchored" by tying on to the heavy kelp strands while we set up our fishing gear (the kelp is well attached to the bottom and grows to the surface like large underwater vines to form a series of convenient mooring and fish attracting sites along the coast).
Even though swells were moving through, the water was relatively smooth out here and the view was excellent looking back towards the hills behind the Malibu coastline and the multi-million dollar "beach shacks" of the rich and famous.
Dennis had a variety of lures aboard and started me off with a "Storm" five-inch soft-plastic swim shad. I dropped this through the kelp while Dennis set up another trolling rod and a small rod with a size six "Piscator" rig for jigging baitfish. Within minutes something neatly removed the tail of my shad but after a Seal started sticking its head up and splashing around in the kelp we moved further out to an area where Thresher Sharks of up to 150 pounds had recently been taken by both trolling and using live baits. These sharks are relatively small mouthed with sharp teeth, have a long, stiff, strong tail and they jump right out of the water when hooked making them the local "ultimate achievement" if a hundred pounder is taken by kayak.
Trolling proved to be unsuccessful so we then jigged for baitfish and put several Smelt and Spanish Mackerel into live bait containers (unlike the larger specimens with the same name that we see in Queensland these fish are used as bait at about nine inches long).
We fished without any takers for an hour with the live bait and as the wind was building we moved back closer inshore to the kelp beds and switched to using Sardines (in packets like small West Australian Pilchards). The Sardines were immediately successful and Dennis landed and released a couple of Sand Bass of about a pound. Two other local kayakfishers who had joined us at the kelp bed borrowed some Sardines and pulled in a similarly sized Sand Bass and a White Bass and one guy was broken off by something heavier.
four rods he carried, paddle clips, foam noodle on the landing
net, and the live bait container (including air pump) at the rear.
Unfortunately we didn't encounter any Halibut or Black Bass as was hoped, however (to Dennis's resounding shout of "client on"), I hooked onto a large Bat Ray that we estimated would have weighed about twenty pounds.
The ray gave us a bit of fun as it towed me around in circles (making two other kayaks "up anchor") and into and out of the kelp for about ten minutes before we could get it between our kayaks to release the hook. In deep water, with the cover afforded by the kelp, the Bat Ray provided the toughest tussle I'd had to date from a kayak and this catch was the highlight of the outing for me.
By 1:00pm the strengthening wind was pushing through larger swells so we decided to call it a day and headed back to the beach. Now that the wind had come up, though, the surf was much bigger for our return to shore. Again we had to wait for a break in the sets and paddle flat out to try to keep on the back of a wave but in front of the following breakers. We both beached okay even though I got caught from a wave behind and went sideways for twenty feet or so before somehow paddling out of it — this experience was quite exhilarating actually.
One tremendous advantage in being at Malibu is that a friendly and helpful kayakfishing community exists in the area. During the morning three other Kayakfishers joined us at our second "kelp anchoring" spot to share information and ideas as to why the fish were shut down and to discuss kayakfishing in general. Such company is also handy for safety reasons as was proven when a Kayakfisher capsized and another broke his paddle while trying to launch off the beach shortly after we made it through. Yet another got dunked when coming back in to shore with Dennis and me. The guy who capsized lost his front hatch and cut his foot slightly on rocks so needed help to drain his kayak before sitting on the beach for the rest of the day while the one who broke his paddle was loaned a spare enabling him to continue with the outing. As the kayaks used were fairly heavy, it was great to see that there was always someone willing to help the owners carry them to and from the water's edge. Those who had already finished fishing were most helpful by waiting for the others to beach and then assisting them.
All the craft I saw on the water were longish "sit on top" kayaks including models from Cobra, Ocean Kayaks, and Wilderness Systems. These seaworthy self draining hulls have obvious advantages in the surf as well as being stable enough to allow the occupants to move around the craft confidently and to even fish "side-saddle" with legs dangling in the water (they assured me that sharks have not yet taken a liking to Kayakfisher feet in these waters).
Back on the beach during packing up was when I realised that Dennis Spike was much more than a guide. Two Kayakfishers came up to discuss an article that was recently published about Dennis in a prominent fishing magazine and one even got him to autograph the photograph. In talking to these guys I learned that Dennis was possibly the first person to promote modern kayakfishing in the USA and has appeared in TV shows and magazines as well as producing a kayakfishing training video that is available for sale on Dennis's Coastal Kayak Fishing web-site.
It is not often that I pay to be taken fishing but, with Dennis's excellent knowledge, organisation, and commitment to safety, I received top value for money and learned some new techniques. He's also a "good bloke" to fish with and a bit of a larrikin yet remarkably humble about his pioneering of and ongoing contribution to the sport of kayakfishing.
I reckon this was the best way yet that I've found to fill in a spare day in the middle of an overseas business trip and thoroughly recommend it to any Kayakfishers who ever find themselves near Malibu with some time to spare and a willingness to pay for the privilege of learning some valuable new skills to add to their existing kayakfishing expertise.