Diary of a New Kayak Angler | Sport Fishing Magazine

Diary of a New Kayak Angler

Rigging and learning to fish the Hobie Mirage Compass

Most recent installments appear at the top of the page. Scroll down to see earlier commentaries.

Spotted Seatrout Release

A small trout, to be sure, but one I was giddy-proud of — my first legit kayak-caught fish.

Chris Woodward

Installment #2

Sat., Sept. 24

I’ve found my happy place. It lies near a boat ramp off a rural, two-lane south Georgia highway.

I notched my first legit fish from the kayak — a small seatrout. I also had a spectacular nature moment as dozens of garfish fed on bait surrounding my Hobie. At first, the rolling fish seemed like small tarpon. They creased the surface in slow motion, their dorsals and backs riding some unseen swell.

My Lowrance HDS Carbon 7 presented an amazing FishReveal view. I saw fish stacked up along the lee of submerged humps along a creek oxbow. The ebbing tide created an ambush location. I floated and pedaled, seemingly unnoticed by the fauna.

I kept casting, though I wasn’t particularly keen on hooking a gar. So I was secretly happy that I didn’t really have the right lure setup. But clearly this creek was alive with more bait and predators than I had seen in my previous launches.

This is where I will return. This is where I’ll begin my in-depth location scouting. On my next several trips, I plan to log sonar to better map out this waterway. Charts can’t keep up with ever-changing coastal erosion and sedimentation.

Everything I’ve done up until now has been an exercise in learning and patience. For instance, in early September, I learned that when there’s an 8-plus-foot tide, you don’t try launching into a small coastal river.

There’s a beautifully maintained ramp just 5 miles from my house on the Little Satilla River. However, the river necks down in that area, and the flow through the nearby bridge and the ramp’s floating dock create swirling eddies.

I successfully launched, but when I tried to pedal and paddle against the current, no way. This was much more than 2 knots; I’d rate it at about 5 knots.

I theorized that I could let the current drift me along the bank downriver, and once the tide neared slack low, I’d be able to pedal back to the launch. However, I had only an hour or so for testing before I needed to be back at my desk, so I aborted.

Rushing Water at Boat Ramp

On the extremely high tides we routinely experience in coastal Georgia, some coastal creeks rush like spring-fed rivers. When I see those eddies and currents working in opposition, it's time for a plan B.

Chris Woodward

I also learned that rods must be stowed as far toward the back of the kayak as possible to avoid tangling on a backcast. My macramé skills are now choice.

It also pays to completely rig four rods or more before the trip. Trying to deal with a 7-foot-long fishing rod aboard a kayak takes too much time. Just retying a new jighead or hook, or changing out leader must be done in steps as you work to maintain boat position with your feet and an occasional left hand on the rudder.

I used my Yeti Flip 12 cooler for the first time this past weekend, and was impressed by its cooling capability and its size. It’s perfect just behind my seat and ahead of the Yakgear crate I’ve begun to customize. I went a little overboard with the picnic lunch I packed — cold fried chicken, Kalamata and green olives, slices of cheddar cheese and fresh strawberries — but that’s the beauty of controlling your own details.

I also settled on a launch and retrieve plan that’s based on the tide stage and on ramp security. When the tide’s high, it’s easy to pack the boat full before pulling it on level ground with my Trax cart to the water’s edge. However, when I’m ready to deploy the boat, I have to remove everything so that I can turn the boat on its side to remove the cart wheels.

Removing the cart wheels while the boat is floating just doesn’t work. The balloon-style wheels are too buoyant.

I use the cart rather than backing the trailer into the water for two reasons: One, I don’t want to submerge the trailer in salt water, and two, the trailer is fairly short. I can see its path on my small backup-camera screen but when I look out the back window, I can only see a very small part of the stern. I think that’s a function of my height and the size of the back window. So I’ll stick with using the cart.

When the tide is low, I launch and retrieve an empty kayak — choosing to pile the gear at the top of the ramp.

Now that I’m knocking out the basics, I’m very anxious to jump to the next level: Live-bait fishing, and launching from the beach. The only way I can fish bull reds off our coast is by launching from the sand. Stay tuned!

South Georgia Marsh Kayak Fishing

Kayak fishing paradise — the south Georgia marsh.

Chris Woodward

Installment #1

Earlier this summer, I decided I wanted to really explore the world of kayak fishing. Call it a mid-life crisis, perhaps? A desire to commune a little closer with the marsh, maybe?

I live in south coastal Georgia, near Brunswick and Jekyll and St. Simons islands: low country, land of dramatic tides. In this spartina-grass, oyster-reef region, redfish and trout thrive. On a 7-foot tide, you can pole through the marsh grass and find tailing reds that will take a shrimp, an artificial and sometimes a fly.

We have a sightfishery for tripletail each spring, just off the beach. For the very adventurous kayaker, we also have tarpon and sharks near shore, as well as bull reds and Spanish mackerel.

Georgia’s multiple river systems flow into the coastal estuaries. In the fresh water, we have bass, crappie, bream, catfish, and redbreast sunfish.

I’ve fished here by boat many times, but my new Hobie Mirage Compass kayak is so… portable. I’m looking forward to fishing a microcosm, where I learn every dip and ridge, every oyster reef and stream. You might also be new to kayakfishing or considering it for the first time. Join me and share your experiences with me on social media.

...But first, there’s rigging.

Hobie Mirage Compass Arrives

My Hobie Mirage Compass has arrived!

Chris Woodward

Sat., Aug. 11:

Took delivery of my new Hobie Mirage Compass kayak this afternoon at Southeast Adventure Outfitters. All in one moment, I was giddy, I was overwhelmed and I was relieved.

Giddy for obvious reasons: My BOAT is here!!! I can fish on the marsh during high tides. I can take it upriver for some freshwater species. I can get the fly rod out again. Thoughts swirled.

Overwhelmed, because I now had so many choices to make: How do I mount my Lowrance HDS Carbon 7? How do I secure all my gear? Do I need a kayak crate, or will the tackle hatch suffice? Where and how do I secure the cooler? Which cooler? Ditto my iPhone and new Fusion StereoActive — where and how? What’s the best way to launch this? Where should I launch?

Relieved, because I had finally started down a road toward completely self-sufficient fishing.

With the help of Kurt Meng from SAO, we unpacked the kayak from its clear-plastic cocoon and carried it to my new Trailex trailer. I had decided to buy a trailer for the boat because I’m getting to an age where lifting a 12-foot-long kayak onto the roof rack of my Toyota Rav4 would be a bit strenuous.

Yes, I know there are devices that help you load a yak on top of a vehicle, but I felt like I’d have more flexibility and get more use out of a trailer. In fact, I’ve already found that the trailer serves as a work table, of sorts, when I need to adjust gear. And Hobie tells me my kayak can be stored on the trailer since it comes with a cradle.

Trailex Trailer Assembly for Kayak

Assembling the Trailex trailer for the Hobie Mirage Compass.

Chris Woodward

Leading up to this point, I had assembled the trailer mostly by myself. My husband wired the lights. I had registered the trailer, so I have a legal tag, and inflated the tires. And I bought good tiedown straps for the boat.

Though I was itching to splash the boat at the first ramp I found, I feel like I did good just getting the kayak home on the trailer. I calmed my enthusiasm by telling myself I still had some work to do to make sure everything was put together and working.

Hobie Mirage Compass Bow

The Compass' bow showing the larger rectangular black hatch in front of the seat locat1on, a larger bow hatch and the marine mat kit that cushions the deck.

Chris Woodward

Sun., Aug. 12:

Hobie sells Compass models with minimal accessories, which helps keep the price down. I had chosen this model after testing a Pro Angler 12 and an Outback (the original model vs. the one just introduced). This boat tracked better, floated higher and was altogether much lighter.

However, I wanted to order some extras from Hobie, including the MirageDrive 180 (Compass comes with a standard MirageDrive) with Turbo Fins. Our tidal current here can run 2 knots or more; I’d need all the power I could get, and I wanted the ability to switch from forward to reverse when trying to fish pilings and channel markers.

I also wanted the Livewell V2, since we use a lot of live bait in this region, the Trax 2 cart for launching, a larger hatch in front of the seat, pockets, a push pole/stab anchor, and a marine mat kit.

To wire up for electronics, I’d need the lithium fish-finder installation kit from Hobie, and I had chosen a Lowrance HDS Carbon 7 head unit. The TotalScan transducer is compatible with Lowrance-ready kayaks from Hobie, and I wanted to test the sidescan and downscan technologies and Lowrance’s new FishReveal to better explore the flooded shallows as well as channel markers and other structure.

First Launch New Kayak

Though I was nowhere close to finishing the rigging, I splashed the kayak for a shakedown cruise.

Chris Woodward

Sunday morning, I eagerly studied the kayak bow to stern. I’d had the transducer and deck mats professionally installed, but I still needed to mount the electronics head unit and finish putting together the MirageDrive pedals. Before the yak arrived, I had charged the livewell battery and made sure the other accessories were ready.

I realized quickly that I had neglected to order an electronics mount. I also needed a mount for my iPhone (I have iNavX installed for testing), and one for my Fusion StereoActive unit. I made note to contact RAM Mounts. I’ve used RAM to mount electronics on my bay boat, so I was already familiar with the design and reliability.

Though I still had details to manage, I just had to splash the kayak — and explore an entirely different set of new skills to launch and retrieve this boat.

I chose a populated ramp and pulled my trailer into the parking lot. I chose to pull the kayak off the trailer stern first and insert the Trax 2 Cart into the ready-made holes aft of the seat. I piled all my gear on top and pulled — very easily — the cart and kayak to the ramp.

My first quandary: Placing the kayak in the water without scraping the transducer while also battling the current and removing the cart. After a little bit of fumbling, I launched. With the kayak floating nearby, I inserted the MirageDrive.

“Ok,” I thought to myself, “I really can do this by myself.”

In no time, I was pedaling around the floating docks and heading upriver to cast along some oyster reefs and around the pilings of a bridge. I’d spent virtually no time rigging rods; in fact, I carried just one rod with me.

I’m consumed by the feeling that I want everything finished and the learning curve conquered. But I know I have to take one step at a time.

Lowrance HDS Carbon 7 Mounted

Track ball to RAM Mount to Lowrance HDS Carbon 7.

Chris Woodward

Fri., Aug. 24: Fast forward two weeks, during which time work called me away. The RAM Mounts are in, and I can set up the Lowrance.

After finding the appropriate-length screws, I fastened the RAM mounting plate to the Lowrance bracket. I slid the track ball into the starboard rails, plugged in the battery, and wow, there it was all fired up and working. Note to self, though: Remember to order the Navionics chart chip.

I charged the StereoActive and placed that onto a RAM mount. After work, I rigged two rods, decided which cooler to use until my Yeti Hopper Flip 12 arrives, and made sure I’d packed some leader material and Z-Man lures along with my life jacket, VHF and personal locater beacon.

Second Launch Chris Hobie Kayak

With electronics and stereo, this boat is really starting to feel like a tricked-out fishing machine.

Chris Woodward

Sat., Aug. 25:

I headed to Jekyll Island’s boat ramp at high tide. A section of accessible flooded marsh lies nearby, and I hoped to test out the push pole I’d purchased.

The launch was pretty simple this time, as the high tide had just peaked. In truth, if I could have set out a tad bit earlier, I would have preferred fishing the last of the flood. But I have to be patient with this process and enjoy any opportunities I have.

I Bluetoothed the StereoActive to my iPhone and set the speaker to shuffle my songs. I also took the additional step to bungee the stereo to the mount. I didn't need to, but since the mount was out of my immediate reach, I chose to play it safe. I'll probably forego that step next time.

The Lowrance powered on, and while my Navionics chip had not yet arrived, I was still able to see the basemaps and look at the sidescan sonar. In just 3 to 4 feet of water, the sidescan would help show me some of the oyster reefs.

You must understand too that I’m an electronics editor/writer, so just playing with the new MFD was reason enough to be on the water. Still, I pedaled quickly to the marsh.

My Hobie push-pole worked quite well, though the coastal Georgia mud is like quicksand. I also realized that I must remember earlier on to raise the rudder and remove the MirageDrive to more effectively negotiate the spartina grass. (Talk about your “duhhhh” moments.)

I poled up onto the marsh and saw mullet pushing head wakes. I watched for redfish tails and larger head wakes, and cast to likely funnel areas where reds might be lying in wait. As the water really started to move off the flat, I pushed my way out to the grass edge and cast to the creek openings.

Fishing with even scented artificials can be tough in my region, and though I had two sniffs, the fish did not commit. I moved to more open water to continue playing with the sonar, setting preferences and looking at various views — all of which look different on a slow-moving kayak compared with a powerboat.

Retrieving the kayak at the ramp proved a bit more difficult now that the receding tide had uncovered slick, wet algae. I noted the need for shoes with better traction.

Fri., Aug. 30:

I’ve returned from another work trip to find the Navionics Platinum+ chip has arrived and I found and downloaded a software update for the Lowrance. I also now have the proper RAM mount for my iPhone and I bought a YakGear Starter Crate. I’m itching to get on the water. However, this long Labor Day holiday weekend posed two issues: Huge crowds at the ramps and periodic thunderstorms all day every day.

This is also the opening weekend for dove season. Let’s see, how many more years do I have before I can retire???

To be continued.....WITH fish pictures!