A coastal kayak fishing adventure by ACK Employee, Kristian Kolflat
I hadn’t planned on getting struck by the whip-like harpoon-resembling barbed tail of a large stingray, but as I shuffled foot-by-foot in the waist deep, mucky-waters of the back bays of Port Aransas’ world-class fishing waters, this seemed more and more likely. “Always shuffle your feet,” an old friend preached to me for years.
This trip began in Austin, where my girlfriend Jacqie and I packed my high-mileage, hail-beaten, scratched, yet ‘mint’ condition Nissan Pathfinder. After loading two Wilderness Systems Tarpon Kayaks (120 & 140), the necessary paddling accessories, fishing equipment, beach gear, food and firewood, we headed due-south towards the Texas coastline. Final destination: Port Aransas, TX. Fourteen Dairy Queen’s, AKA “Texas Stop Signs” and countless nameless towns later we reached the coastal flats where we would later be kayaking. As we waited in line for the free ferry ride over to the island I day-dreamed about the sun and sand, but mostly the fish. Tomorrow would be my birthday and I had no intention of doing anything other than sitting on the beach, swimming in the ocean, playing horseshoes and doing countless 12 oz. curls while watching the sea gulls glide over the gleaming swell of the Gulf of Mexico. All this did occur but only after a mandatory 5-mile run on the beach — Thanks Jacqie!
The following morning, I was prepared to come face-to-fin with a whale of a fish. I was plenty hydrated and my nutritional needs were met by a wonderful seafood platter from Jay’s Seafood and Spaghetti Works the night before.
Gear check: A Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 with it’s lovely Phase 3 Seating, hassle-free Orbix hatches, adjustable foot pegs and countless bungees; an older model Tarpon 120 (which paddles the same as the newer ones, but requires a butt cushion) and a Werner Camano full carbon straight-shaft paddle that weighs in right at 25 oz. Imagine paddling with a feather rather than a sledgehammer? Lucky for me, I had the feather. Other accessories included a couple of dry bags, dry boxes, PFD’s, whistles, flares, biodegradable soap, soft-sided NRS coolers, neoprene wading boots, bruce-style claw anchors with rope, clips and anchor floats and a Mud Stick anchor (I highly recommend). Right about now you’re probably thinking, “how do you fit all on that on the boat?” Oh yea, let’s not forget the fishing gear: two Penn reels accompanied by Falcon rods, tackle, landing net, bait bucket, bait and of course a map of the area. I assure you that my gluttony for gear is not the only reason I come so heavily prepared. It’s the shear ruggedness of the coastal environment and countless encounters with despair that cause your hope to crumple beneath your waders all the while making you realize what you’ll bring next time. Believe me when I say that it’s not so much a problem fitting all this on the kayak, it’s the time it takes to pack and unpack all of this gear that hurts. I always plan on setting aside extra time for this very reason.
There we were, finally on the water. After loading up the kayaks at the Lighthouse Lakes public area off of Hwy 361 we paddled across the Aransas Channel. We were not alone, several other ambitious and hopeful kayakers had beat us to the spot, so we went deeper into the Lighthouse Lake’s endless channels of mangroves and bird sanctuary islands. The waters are shallow but crystal clear. Here, people sight fish for red’s, a protected and much-prized game fish, hoping to launch a bait front and center of their flaring nares (nostrils). As we paddled through this magical place, I kept an eagle-sharp eye on the mirror-surfaced water looking for several things including tailing redfish, ripples and anything with a fin on it! I have caught many fish in the flats around this area but I can say that it is not without effort. The waters can be rough and the winds can be devastating. While the fishing can be world-class or non-existent and let’s not forget violent thunderstorms can come in un-announced. This is not a place for kids. You must be prepared to give it your all, or die trying. All joking aside, kayak fishing is a sport that must be taken seriously and you must be well prepared.
After paddling several miles, we began our return to the channel but first stopped in South Bay. Here I skimmed over a lost sheepshead and decided that this spot was fishy enough. I used my mud stick anchor to quickly anchor and proceeded to bait up. I was using both thawed menhaden (shad) and live shrimp for bait. After only a few minutes my rod doubled over and started making that sound that fishermen dream of. I set the hook and began the fight. I am at this point pretty confident that I have a redfish on the end of my line and that its going to give me its best gift — a challenge. I fight this fish in as it melts line off my reel making its powerful runs. Soon enough it surfaces and flashes its gorgeous humpback sized-tail with a nickel-sized black dot. Suddenly, Aerosmith’s “I’m Back in The Saddle” starts playing in a silent frequency that leaves my girlfriend looking puzzled as I play the air guitar with my fishing rod. The day has just taken a turn for the best, when suddenly this stubborn hardheaded fish makes a run directly at me, pivots, then hightails around the boat and gets wrapped up in my anchor line. It wasn’t the Discovery Channel landing I was hoping to share with you, but nonetheless this 25-inch red was available for a quick supra-surface photo shoot.
As for the stingrays; as many times as I slid out over the edge of my mango colored Tarpon 140, I always made sure to shuffle my feet and slowly land onto the underwater soft-bottom. Many times I saw these bottom feeding creatures eye me with their beady little eyes as they swam just past me. As with gators and crocs in the Everglades, grizzlies and buffalo in Yellowstone and the snakes of swampy Caddo Lake, my motto remains “if you don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with you.”
Have you paddled and fished Lighthouse Lakes? I hope to make it back soon but in the meantime, share your story with us!