This past weekend wrecked me. It was my first time kayak fishing with my Hobie in saltwater, and I cannot shake the memories from my mind. Getting ripped around in my kayak by new species of fish with sharp teeth, the powerful tide and wondering what lies beneath. It was an experience I had dreamed of, yet it played out better than imaginable. I absolutely LOVED saltwater fishing! This is how it all went down.
My 31inch bluefish which helped me get 7th place!
I had first heard of the Jamaica Bay Kayak Fishing Classic through kayak anglers and social media. My fishing partner, Eric, had been raving about it for a few years and inviting me along but work was preventing me from getting away. In his sixth year, the tournament was now an annual trip for Eric. Two years ago he won the Grand Slam category. This year the stars aligned and we were both able to make it at the last minute. We signed up online, and began to plan the trip out. The event ran from May 15th to 18th.
First I needed to get equipped for saltwater fishing. The fish are BIG, STRONG and salt is hard on gear. I ordered a few new rod and reel set-ups specific for the presentations I would be using (I was also able to use some of my freshwater bass gear). Here are the rod, reel and line set-ups I brought with me and the presentations I used them for:
Leaving on Thursday, we arrived in Brooklyn in about 9 hours. It was quite the experience driving through the metropolitan area with two Hobies in tow. It’s not type of location you would expect to hold such great fishing opportunities. Jamaica Bay is right in the middle of New York and south of Long Island. In what seemed like every few minutes, planes were taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport, and I could even see the Empire State Building. It was a truly unique view.
Floyd Bennett Field was the location of the event. It was once the city’s first airport, but has now been converted to a park. The massive concrete pad hosted over 300 anglers at this years event with the majority of anglers using Hobie kayaks. It was the most Hobie kayaks I have ever seen at once! Trucks, campers, RVs and tents filled the majority of this massive lot. The ramp to Jamaica Bay is also large enough to support the volume of anglers taking off throughout the day. Great venue selection!
Floyd Bennett Field
Don’t let the sunny photo above fool you, this was taken on the final day of the event. Mother nature had other plans in store for us with high winds and heavy rain which resulted in day one of the event being cancelled. A small watercraft warning was put into effect on Friday. With unpredictable weather conditions and anglers traveling great distances to participate in this event, Captain Jerry Collins, event organizer, decided in previous years to make it a three day event. With a great forecast for Saturday and Sunday, I was excited that there was still plenty of time to fish. Winds were holding steady throughout Friday making the big open bay un-fishable. Some anglers headed to one of the sheltered bays for some fun fishing, and Eric and I decided to join.
My Hobie Pro Angler 12
I rigged up my kayak, and we made our way to the water. It was an unreal feeling launching my kayak in saltwater for the first time! It was still quite windy in this area, but I felt safe in such a stable kayak, my Hobie Pro Angler 12. Ever since getting into a Hobie and using the Mirage Drive foot propulsion system, I can’t imagine using a paddle. With my hands free, I was able to focus entirely on fishing and feel at ease even when the winds were ripping. I saw lots of different Hobie models on the water and it was neat to see the different styles in action and anglers catching fish!
I started off by throwing a Storm Chrome Bunker Kickin’ Stick but I wasn’t getting the depth I wanted. The depth in this bay reached about 40 feet, and I was marking lots of bait balls and big red streaks on my Humminbird throughout the water column. It was exciting to see! I changed it up to a Bunker Storm Wildeye Swim Shad to get down to the bait and fish I was marking. It didn’t take long for me to get a hit on my Swim Shad!
Before going on this trip, I learned about the species I was targeting. Being that saltwater fish are so foreign to me, I didn’t want to try and lip a fish and lose a finger. Bluefish are vicious and have razor sharp teeth so when I brought back my swimbait and saw a huge slice out of the tail, I had a pretty good idea what I was dealing with, bluefish! We continued fishing and Eric and I began to notice bait busting all over the surface nearby. Bunker! This was one of the sights I was hoping to see on this trip. We used bunker snags to catch the busting bait, and then rigged them up on our live-lining rods (2 ounce weights with 8 ought Gamakatsu circle hooks). This is a popular technique to locate striped bass and bluefish. It was a blast to ‘walk the bunker’ and let the fish swim around.
It wasn’t long before my bunker suddenly went NUTS, peeling lots of line and then went slack. I pulled it up to find THIS:
A 12inch bunker bit off by a bluefish!
WOW! The power of these fish is incredible! We fished for a few hours until the wind got nasty again and it was time to get off the water. I didn’t land any fish but I got a taste of the bluefish action and could barely sleep that night due to excitement for the following day!
Saturday morning came, and it was time to hit the water! It was much calmer and the rain let up. It was a beautiful day and a 5am start. The tournament ran from 5am to 7pm on Saturday.
Anglers launching at the Floyd Bennett Field ramp in Jamaica Bay
Eric and I set out and started trolling a 30 foot channel with tube and worms tipped with live sandworms. We covered a lot of water and then found a small drop/hole in 20 feet of water showing a lot of fish on our sonars. Eric switched it up to a bucktail jig and landed the first fish, a bluefish. It was so neat to finally see these fish in person! He put his fish on his measuring board, took a photo and released it. I was excited and hopeful to land one next. I continued trolling the tube and worm as I wanted to cover more water. It wasn’t long before I had a hit and my kayak did a 180 degree turn! This fish was in charge! I fought it out and brought it to the kayak, what an experience! No one can prepare you for how strong these fish are. I heard it so many times from others, but in the moment it was absolutely incredible.
My first saltwater kayak fish – a 29inch bluefish!
The Jamaica Bay Kayak Fishing Classic is a catch, ‘photo release tournament’ with several categories for anglers to enter. Each angler is required to use the measuring tape provided by the tournament, and take a photo of the fish on a measuring board, submitting the photos at the end of the day. Categories include: largest fish with four divisions; open, fly fishing, electric motor and juniors, and the Grand Slam: the longest fish of three different species including one striped bass. The targeted species of this event included: striped bass, bluefish, weakfish and fluke. As a Hobie Worlds Qualifying event, the winner of the Grand Slam would be traveling to Amsterdam for the 2014 Worlds event. It was a no-brainer that I was aiming for the Grand Slam. I wanted to catch new species of fish, but also have a shot at traveling to the Worlds again. With my first bluefish, I had one species down and 2 more to go!
Each with a bluefish under our belt, we were on the search for striped bass. Eric landed the first striper of the day, a 32incher! Such beautiful fish!
Eric with a 32 inch striped bass
We continued to catch several bluefish until I lost count. The fishing was unreal! They are such vicious fish and put up a crazy battle! The striped bass are typically the largest caught in the tournament, so we were hoping for that kicker bass to take the lead or help with a Grand Slam. The blues and bass can be found in the same types of locations, so each fish on my line gave me hope that it could be a bass. Midway through the day, I caught my first ever striped bass while trolling a tube and worm!
My first striped bass ever, at 30 inches.
The striped bass was the fish I was most anxious to catch. They are so beautiful! Living in freshwater and targeting largemouth and smallmouth, the thought of catching monster bass that can get up to 50 inches was thrilling! We decided to stick to tube and worm trolling and try to upgrade our blues and bass. Eric brought in his biggest bluefish at 34 inches and I upgraded to a 31 incher. We fished all day until the just before 7pm and then went in to submit our results.
One incredible aspect of this event is the camaraderie. Each evening after a day on the water, all the anglers got together and talked fishing, shared stories, techniques, food and friendships were formed. There were a lot of anglers at the event that I had connected with through social media and it was great to put a face to a name. The kayak fishing community amazes me!
On the last night, a group of us were chatting about our game plan for the final morning. I needed either a fluke or a weakfish to complete my Grand Slam and Eric needed the same. Gary Ward, an angler from New Jersey was chatting with us about fluke and tied up some teaser rigs for us to use. You don’t often find competitions where everyone is so helpful and supportive of each other. We’re all in it to win it, but everyone was so kind and helpful sharing information, techniques and even lures. It made it such a memorable experience!
The final day arrived and the weather was gorgeous. The tournament ran from 5am until noon. After talking with anglers about fluke and weakfish the night before, we set out to try a few locations where they were being caught the previous day. Fluke tend to prefer soft sandy bottom and feed on shrimp. Gary’s teaser rigs reminded me a lot of drop shot fishing (one of my favourites back home). The rig consisted of a 1 ounce bucktail jig rigged with a scented pink twister tail on bottom, with another twister tail a few inches above on an octopus hook. Eric and I covered a lot of water in our Hobies, and fished a few spots on the way searching for weakfish and fluke. I kept my teaser rig in the water as we were moving to another area and was taking off my jacket when I heard splashing behind me. I turned around to see that a fluke had eaten my teaser rig while I was on the move! I reeled it in and brought it in my kayak and screamed and did a happy dance! I completed my Grand Slam with a 16.75 inch fluke!
I was thrilled with my first-ever fluke!
Although this fish was literally caught by a ‘fluke’ we continued to target them throughout the morning as I was hoping to get a larger one and Eric needed a third species. After a few missed fish, Eric landed a 19 inch fluke and we were both celebrating the two Grand Slams with high fives and yelling! I hooked a few more smaller fluke, and lost a larger one at the side of my kayak that would have put me a few inches ahead. For the last half hour of the tournament I live-lined another bunker and trolled to the launch in hopes of finding a bigger bass. No such luck, but I was so happy with the day and the entire experience as a whole. It marks the start of a love for saltwater fishing and I am already planning to attend another saltwater kayaking event later this summer.
The end result put Eric in 4th place with 85 inches for a Grand Slam, and myself in 7th place with 77.75 inches for my Grand Slam. What a memorable experience!! Out of over 300 anglers, we were of the few Canadians participating in this event and we will definitely be back again next year!
Thank you to Captain Jerry, the organizers of the event and Hobie for sponsoring such an awesome tournament. Over $20,000 in prizes were given away and the proceeds were donated to local fishing charities. Can’t wait for the 2015 Jamaica Bay Kayak Fishing Classic!