Jacksonville Times Union - Anglers Catch Sailfish From Kayak
Deep-sea kayaking? Area fishermen pull possible first -- catching sailfish from a kayak 40 miles offshore.
By JOE JULAVITS, The Times-Union
When the two crazy gringos from Jacksonville unveiled their plan to catch a Pacific sailfish on fly from a kayak, their Guatemalan charterboat captains could only chuckle.
After all, no one had ever done that, at least as far as anyone was aware. But attorneys Jeff Morrow and Homer Bliss were serious. Each had caught dozens of sails on fly from a conventional boat.
Why not try it from a kayak? Morrow and Bliss were among a group of 12 anglers -- the others being Jack Kelly, Perry Penland, Chan Bliss, Lonnie Dean, Brent Chandler, Eduardo Sanchez, Terry Kilgore, Tom Edwards, David Lambert and Jim Ford -- who returned last week from Sailfish Bay Lodge in Iztapa, Guatemala. In 3 1/2 days of fishing, from Jan. 3-6, the group totaled 101 sailfish and 20 dolphin. Sixty-six of the sails were caught on fly, 35 on conventional tackle. And, in what's believed to be a first, four of those 101 were taken from the unlikely platform of a kayak. "None of the captains had heard of anybody doing it," Homer Bliss said. "They thought it was kind of harebrained till they saw us do it. "We didn't tell our wives about it before we went down there."
Morrow and Bliss brought hybrid kayaks -- part inflatable, part hard plastic -- as part of their gear for the trip. Made by Advanced Elements, the kayaks are easily portable and designed for the punishment of whitewater rafting. There's a well-established technique for catching sailfish on fly rods from a conventional boat. The captain drags hookless teasers, luring the fish close to the boat's transom. At the right moment, the mate pulls in the teaser and the angler casts his fly.
"The fish are so charged up, they'll eat probably anything you throw back there," Morrow said. "The timing was perfect on our boats. They tell you when to cast, and then it's up to you." There is no how-to guide on catching a sail from a kayak. Morrow and Bliss improvised. "Everyone was wondering how the hell we were going to do this," Morrow said. The anglers decided to make their casts from the cockpit of the charterboat, then, after a hookup, scramble into the kayak lashed to the stern. All the while, they would have to maintain control of the rod as the sail spun line off the reel. "They'd have about 200 feet of line out by the time you got in the kayak," Morrow said. "But once you got in, they just drag you around with that same length of line out. "We agreed that, after 30 minutes, if you hadn't released the fish, the [big] boat would come and pick you up and pull the fish in and release it. We didn't want to kill the fish." Morrow and Bliss each wound up catching two sails.
Only once did the crew on the big boat have to help when a fight dragged on. The other sails were subdued in about 20 minutes. "The kayak is like a huge bobber they can't pull under, and it wears them out," Morrow said. "They were amazingly docile once they got close to the kayak," Bliss said. "They didn't do much jumping at all next to the kayak. You could reach out and touch them and they didn't spook or anything." The four kayak-caught sails ranged between 85-115 estimated pounds.
The anglers threw tandem-hook flies tied by Jacksonville's Don Reed in streamer and popper patterns. The fly rods used were Cam Sigler 17-weights designed for sailfish, tuna and marlin. The fishermen rigged with 20-pound tippets knotted to 80- to 100-pound monofilament shock tippets. "It was a neat experience," Bliss said. "You just don't want to think that you're in a kayak in 2,000-2,500 feet of water 40 miles out in the Pacific." "It's kind of scary," Morrow said. "A couple of times, they almost hit the side of the boat with their beaks. You're so pumped up, so close to the fish."
Other highlights of the trip were a huge 175-pound sail caught by Kilgore; a sailfish double and a double on dolphin -- including a 40-pounder -- by Morrow and Lambert; and a sailfish triple pulled off by Edwards and Dean. The triple was accomplished when Edwards and Dean hooked up simultaneously. Dean's fish quickly came to the boat, and he then made another cast and hooked up a second time while Edwards was reeling his fish in. All three sails were released.
The anglers traveled as a group representing the Jacksonville-based Southern Sailfish Association. At various Central America fishing destinations, the members donate vitamins, medical supplies, food, clothes and other items to impoverished locals. "We're kind of using their territory, so it's a normal human desire to let them know we appreciate it," Morrow said.