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August 21, 2009

Cabo Kayak Marlin!

Striped marlin from a kayak? A Cabo San Lucas charter makes it easier than you think...

Cabo Kayak Q&A

1. Why bother?
I think I've pretty well covered this one. Besides all the excitement and thrills, it's difficult to overemphasize the sense of accomplishment from doing what few anglers ever get to do: catch and release billfish completely on your own. The experience is so utterly different than fishing from a big sport-fisher that words can't begin to explain it sufficiently.

2. How much bother is it?
Surprisingly little. It need be little more trouble than showing up at the dock like any charter. As for the expense, the rate should be no more than a regular charter sans kayaks (keep in mind the boat travels same distance to the grounds, then must coordinate big boat and skiff tending kayaks).

3. What's the risk?
Most active sports have at least some risk. Is this more risky than fishing from the cockpit of a 50-foot convertible? Undoubtedly. However, with common sense and reasonable caution, in the context of an operation like Marlin Masters, with a mothership (with groups of four or more) and a powerboat tender on the grounds to keep track of kayaks and monitor VHF transmissions, there just isn't much natural threat to a kayak angler out on the banks. On the one hand, you have that "safety net" available, in the background; on the other hand, unless you need it, you're on your own.

Do note my qualifiers above: "common sense and reasonable caution." They'll keep you out of  trouble; if by nature you're not good at operating within those parameters, stick to the big boats.

Some examples of common sense include not always succumbing to the temptation to pedal hard to get your kayak into a baitball that's forming  nearby, given away by frantic diving birds and porpoises. These ephemeral feeding frenzies come and go on banks like Golden Gate. If there are no other sport-fishers nearby, fine: Go for it because it can mean instant hookup. But more likely, you'll notice several or more of the big boats converging at full throttle with an angler on the bow ready to pitch a livey. There's a chance they won't even see you in their haste - you're a pretty small target - and some won't care anyway.

My response to a baitball forming nearby: Get the hell out of there and be content to work the perimeter. Ditto with any boat around that hooks up; boat play can be fast, furious and as unpredictable as the marlin. Wide berth!

Until you feel confident, pedal around within a hundred yards of the drifting mothership. No reason to rush away. (I watched Sport Fishing's sales rep Clint Jones, another blue-water yak-fishing enthusiast, hook a stripe just a stone's throw off the stern of the big boat, minutes after he'd put in.)

4. I don't need to be a pro at kayaking?
Absolutely not. The idea of kayaking still brings to some minds narrow, tippy little craft you squeeze down into. Of course, Marlin Masters uses sit-on-top kayaks that are neither  narrow nor tippy. And better still, their Hobie Outbacks require minimal paddling - only a few minutes out of an entire day. That's because these are "pedal yaks" - using a patented Mirage Drive system that means you can pedal away with hands free, making slow-trolling a breeze. And in general, for most folks, it's far easier to use your legs to pedal at a modest pace for hours than to paddle. The wide Outback is amazingly stable and of course, like all good sit-on-tops, is designed so your center of gravity is at water level. You'd have to work pretty hard to capsize one. (And should that happen, you can easily get back on with a bit of prior direction.)

5. So how does it work?
You're outfitted with a kayak and all necessary gear. Lowendick has come up with this specific protocol once out on the grounds:

Angler puts on PFD, secures waterproof VHF and emergency release tool (line cutter).

Angler checks radio for function and correct frequency.

Secured to kayak: safety flag, paddle, hand gaff, fish bat. Kayak put into water.

Angler enters kayak at transom and adjusts Mirage Drive pedals.

Rod/reel baited with live caballito handed to angler.

Using paddle, angler moves away from mothership, then snaps paddle back onto side of kayak, out of the way.

Mothership and tender monitor anglers, supplying needed bait, tackle and food/drinks, as well as assistance alongside kayak with gaffing/taking fish, releasing marlin, photography, etc.

(At press time, Lowendick was working on a hydraulic lift that would allow the crew to lower angler in kayak, completely ready to go, into the water.)

The rest is basic fishin' - start slow-trolling your "cab" and, at the strike, be ready to give plenty of drop-back (I missed my first two stripes for that reason, but with at least a 10-second count, enjoyed a solid circle-hook-set on the next three). Be prepared for a long battle, often an hour or two. At some point, with reasonably heavy line and the drag cranked, the fish won't be fighting the reel's drag (as on a big boat) as much as the kayak's drag. Hang on and enjoy! For the most part, you won't be rooster tailing at 10 knots; rather the tow will be fairly  constant and at a modest pace - but enough to place you up to three or four miles from your hookup point by the time the fish tires enough to release.