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October 29, 2009

Picking the Right Kite

Fishing kites deliver "high" performance

An important fixture in the south Florida offshore scene, modern kite fishing traces its beginnings to the 1940s and the efforts of Capt. Bob Lewis to perfect the technique. He made his own kites and eventually opened a business to supply the growing legion of anglers who adopted this method for suspending baits at the surface.

Lewis passed away in 1997, but his son and daughter-in-law, Capt. Jimmy and Holly Lewis, now keep the business and family name aloft. "We sell thousands of kites each year," says Holly. "Anyone who has kite-fished will tell you there's no more effective way to catch pelagics such as sailfish, dolphin, kingfish, wahoo and tuna. Anglers constantly look for new ways to employ kites. For example, fishermen on long-range boats in California now use   them to deploy live baits weighing up to 5 pounds for large yellowfin."

Sticks 'n' Skins
The material used in Lewis kites  varies because the company offers six different models, each designed for specific wind conditions. The Extra Light kite is made of 100 percent cotton, and each of the other models consists of fabric containing a distinct cotton/poly blend.

Struts, also called sticks or spars, form an X-shaped frame to stretch the kite taut. Bob Lewis started out using leftover tops from fishing-rod blanks, and fiberglass still serves as reliable strut material. "It's not just a matter of getting four pieces and slapping them together," Holly says. "The sticks must weigh within two-tenths of a gram of each other, and we hand-match each set so all four struts have the same flex, or spline. This makes the kite    fly steady."

Using combinations of different fabrics and struts, manufacturers design kites to perform in specific situations. An obvious example: Kites meant for use in calm breezes employ the lightest sticks possible. "You'd be amazed at how much of a difference just a few grams per stick make in the amount of wind it takes to fly a kite," Holly says.

The struts' flex and strength also rate as important factors. Highly flexible sticks can let a kite collapse; however, even sturdy struts designed to withstand extra-heavy winds must have a certain degree of flex for the kite to ride at angles necessary to achieve proper altitudes. "Fiberglass struts prove ideal for heavier kites because they're strong but flexible," Holly says. "Lighter kites fly better with sticks made of carbon/glass composite or graphite, which weigh less but are stiff enough to hold light wind. We're testing new extra-light/light-wind sticks that should be lighter and stronger than our current sticks. They'll let anglers use the same kite, instead of two different models, in extra-light and light winds. The new sticks should become available within the next few months."

AFTCO covers a broad spectrum of conditions by offering one kite model (made of waterproof sail material so it flies even when wet) and two sets of struts. "You can change from light to medium spars and fly the same kite in winds ranging from 3 to 18 knots," says sales manager Greg Stotesbury.

Fair 'n' Square
Delta wings and kites of other shapes allow kite enthusiasts to make them swoop and dance - the last way you'd want a fishing kite to act. A fishing kite's no-nonsense square shape helps it hang steadily in the sky. To keep their heavy-wind models from getting squirrelly in a hard blow, Lewis and SFE design holes in the kites.

All fishing kites connect to the deployment line via a three-point    bridle (attached to the top corners and the center of the kite). Bridle adjustments control the kite's angle and cause it to fly higher or lower. Riding at the proper angle also helps a kite "spill" or "dump" wind instead of struggling against a brisk breeze and juking from side to side.

Anglers can deploy kites using monofilament, Dacron or Spectra lines. Stotesbury sums up their characteristics: "Mono is hard to see, has large diameter, high wind resistance and poor knot strength; Dacron offers good visibility, minimal stretch, a rather small diameter, low wind resistance and fair knot strength; Spectra has no stretch, good visibility, the smallest diameter, the least wind resistance and fair knot strength."

Holly adds that mono tends to stretch and wears out a little faster than the other two types of line. "Dacron is very durable and long-  lasting, but its weight can bog down a kite in light winds. Spectra is very lightweight and strong but requires caution because it can quickly cut your hands when the wind catches the kite on deployment," she says.

Both experts recommend 50-pound Spectra as a light-wind kite line. Stotesbury suggests using 50-pound mono or 80-pound Spectra in heavy wind; Holly opts for 50-pound mono or Dacron.

Kites may seem expensive at first, but like other premium fishing gear, they'll provide many years of service if properly maintained. Salt crystals in the fabric hamper performance, so rinse kites thoroughly with fresh water after each trip. Let them dry completely (to avoid mildew) before putting them in their storage tubes.

Manufacturer/Model Wind conditions
Kite material Size
Color Strut Flies
when wet?
AFTCO All-Weather (light spars) 3 to 9 Rip-stop nylon sail cloth 36 Black Graphite Y Y $117
AFTCO All-Weather (medium spars) 9 to 18 Rip-stop nylon sail cloth 36 Black Fiberglass Y Y $141*
Frenzy Fishing Kite 5 to 25 Quick-dry breathable nylon 34.5 Orange Carbon fiber Y Y $80
Lewis Extra Light Wind 4.5 to 9 100 percent cotton 31 White Composite N Y $90
Lewis Light Wind 7 to 12 Cotton/polyester blend 30 Yellow Composite N Y $85
Lewis Medium Wind 10 to 18 Cotton/polyester blend 30 Red Fiberglass N Y $85
Lewis Heavy Wind 15 to 20 Cotton/polyester blend 30 Dark blue Fiberglass N Y $85
Lewis Extra Heavy Wind 20-plus Cotton/polyester blend 29 White Fiberglass N Y $100
Lewis Gale Force Wind 30-plus Cotton/polyester blend 29 White Fiberglass N Y $120
SFE SFE 5 to 25 N/A N/A Green N/A Y Y $120
SFE Force 5 17 to 40 N/A N/A Yellow N/A Y Y $150
SFE XH 25-plus N/A N/A Yellow N/A Y Y $130
*Includes one kite and medium and light spars

Photos by Sam Root /