Ros: Kayak Fishing Equals Freedom
By DAVID RAINER
Gliding through the water virtually without a sound, Mike and Heather Ros eased up to their favorite fishing spot in Weeks Bay and tossed a live shrimp near the pier.
As the bait settled to the bottom, Mike watched as speckled trout and redfish swam almost close enough to touch. Obviously, the couple was not on a typical fishing trip as no conventional vessel would allow such proximity to the target species without spooking the fish. They were sitting atop 14-foot kayaks – a fishing method that continues to attract more and more participants.
Although he has fished all his life, Mike insists it has never been the same since he caught his first fish out of a kayak.
“You’re never more at one with the water than you are in that kayak,” he said. “Until you get down to that level and get that close, you’ve never felt fishing. You’re right there with it and the fish is in your lap. It’s kind of a primal thing to fight with a fish in your lap. It’s really cool to fight and land him at your feet.”
In 2006 Mike and Heather were introduced to kayak fishing by Ken Styron, who was a boat captain at the time running a billfish trips.
“Ken would come in and go out into (Mobile) bay at night in his kayak and catch a lot of fish,” Mike said. “That sparked my interest in the kayaks. That’s when I started doing research and figured out it was something I needed in my arsenal. I’ve always fished piers in small boats, so it was a natural progression to a boat that doesn’t require any gas.”
After doing a great deal of research and testing, Ros settled on a sit-atop kayak that fit his frame.
“I’m not the smallest guy in the world so I don’t fit in a small kayak,” he said. “I had to get something that would fit me. I still paddle everything I see. If I see a new design I try it. I’m still looking for the best thing out there. For a guy my size, there aren’t many boats that I can fish out of. A 140-pound person will be stable in a certain boat, but when I get in it at 245, it’s not going to be stable. You need to do your research on what you want and what you’re going to do with it.
“The longer a kayak is the faster it is, basically speaking. You really want to have that length because as you’re pulling on the paddle the boat is not trying to turn. The longer it is, the straighter it will go and the harder you can pull to make it go faster. For me, 14 feet is the optimum length with as much capacity as possible. For a big guy like me, the weight capacity needs to be 500 pounds so I can bring everything I need – fishing tackle, ice chest and cast net.”
When outfitting a kayak for a fishing excursion, Ros recommends a minimalistic attitude.
“Everything has to be on a small scale,” he said. “You need a small cooler for your bait or ice, a small anchor with a trolley system to allow me to orient in the current. The anchor can slide up and down the length of the boat. Basically it’s two pulleys that is like having a cleat that moves on the boat.
“And I recommend you spend your money on a good seat. You don’t want to skimp on the seat because you’re going to be sitting in it awhile. You don’t want any back issues. And that is different for every person. My wife hates my seat and I hate hers. Every seat feels different, so research, research, research.”
Ros considers stability the No. 1 factor when choosing a fishing kayak.
“As far as a fishing boat that you want to feel comfortable in, you never, ever want to have to worry about flipping over,” he said. “That should be the furthest thing from your mind. There are several models out there that turning over will never cross your mind. You want a boat that you will fall off of before it flips over.
“And don’t buy a boat that’s rigged out to the hilt. You need to custom fit everything. It’ll take you five or six trips to figure out where you need your life jacket, your landing net, your anchor, or where you need your pliers.”
As for life jackets, Ros said he always wears one when in the Gulf or fast-flowing river systems. When he travels with a group in relatively shallow water, he makes sure it’s within quick reach.
“You can also get one of the automatic types that inflates, but you need to get the one that only inflates after you’re under 2 feet of water,” he said. “You don’t want the one that inflates when it gets wet because it’ll blow up when you least expect it.”
When it comes to fishing tackle, Ros prefers spinning gear because of the ease of using live bait, although he said there are quite a few people who use baitcasting equipment.
“The main thing is you want a rod with a long handle to keep your reels out of the saltwater while you’re paddling,” he said. “I use a 6-6 or 7-foot rod with 12- to 20-pound test. I like to free-line shrimp. The main thing is I like to match the hatch. You’ve got to be perceptive about what they’re eating, and you use the smallest amount of rigging you can have. If you don’t need a swivel, don’t use it.”
For people with no kayak experience, Ros said the technique is relatively simple.
“Learning to paddle is easy,” he said. “You can look on the internet and find instructions on how to do it. Really, a 3-year-old can do it. Basically, you want to pull the paddle toward you instead of swatting with it. If you swat, you’re going to make the boat turn. You are going to have to put in some seat time to get your technique down pat. You’re going to feel more comfortable than you think right off the bat, but an hour into it, you’re going to realize there are a lot of things you don’t know, especially when you start fishing out of a kayak. Just don’t expect to run out there and catch a 20-pound redfish on your first trip.”
Ros obviously launches as close as he can to the area to be fished, but he has paddled up to 3 or 4 miles to get to a certain spot.
“The whole deal is you have to be able to paddle there, catch the fish and then get back,” he said. “If you go out in the Gulf and catch a shark, you may stay hooked up for two hours. Then you have to paddle back, a lot of times against the current. If you catch a big fish and want to keep it, you have to drag the fish back. So it can turn into a real marathon if you’re not careful.
“I know about a guy who was in his kayak off Cabo San Lucas and caught a 350-pound blue marlin. It dragged him 18 miles but he landed the fish. He got a full IGFA (International Game Fish Association) release in his lap.”
Within the last couple of years, numerous kayak fishing clubs have popped up on the Gulf Coast and Ros considers kayak fishing a part of the mainstream.
An easy place to get introduced to kayaking is at 5 Rivers’ Bartram Landing on Battleship Parkway, where kayaks and canoes are available for rent, as well as expert instruction.
“They will point you in the right direction,” Ros said. “They’ve got enough experience that when you walk in they can see about what you’re going to need.”
To get into kayak fishing, the initial investment will likely be more than $1,000, but Ros insists that outlay must be put into perspective.
“You slide that thing in the water and you don’t have to worry about anything,” he said. “It’s just so refreshing and relieves so much stress.
“You’re not buying a piece of plastic, you’re buying freedom.”
For those who may not have seen the news, Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley has decided to alter the regulations regarding coastal areas in state waters that had been closed to fishing. Those areas are now open to catch-and-release fishing only.
Visit http://www.outdooralabama.com/news/release.cfm?ID=821 for details of catch-and-release areas.
PHOTOS: (By David Rainer) Stability is a key factor in choosing a fishing kayak and Mike Ros can battle a nice redfish while sitting sideways in his kayak. Heather Ros fights the fish with one hand and nets the nice redfish with the other during a recent trip in Weeks Bay. Heather shows off the redfish that took a live shrimp near one of the many docks that line the shore.