Gulf Coast Redfish Fever!

An early fall Redfish round up by Kristian Kolflat

It wasn’t my birthday weekend but it might as well have been! The late summer, early fall seasons provide some of the best redfish fishing here on the Texas coast. So good, that before I can even finish making my plans to hit the coast, I usually come down with a serious bout of “redfish fever” — it’s the only thing on my mind. My last trip was fairly eventful but in an effort to enlighten others with the same experience, I brought along two longtime friends with the hopes of catching some big ones and having a whole lot of fun….and that we did.

Kristian proudly showing his catch for the day

During the fall months, redfish begin to group together into schools for feeding, mating and seasonal movement before winter. Over time, anglers have caught on to this annual “run” and they themselves begin to school into the back bays, flats and jetties along the coastline. Not only is the fishing phenomenal but the beaches tend to be free of seaweed, the water warm and crystal clear, and aside from fellow anglers and paddlers, there are far fewer people in the area. I personally consider this to be one of the best times of the year to be there, so off we were.

Before we left, I had to deal with the fact that my midsize SUV could only hold one or maybe two kayaks at a time but by utilizing a Thule Stacker, I was able to load all three Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120’s with room to spare for one more. We (and our kayaks) arrived safely and it was time to wet our lines.

Day One:
We launched into one of the many back bays with live shrimp and fresh dead menhaden as bait and paddled about a mile and half before reaching the cut, leading to a destination that always proves to hold a few fish. My comrades were impatiently excited and begin to fish before we even get out of the channel. Despite the fact that I am trying to shake off this “redfish fever”, I patiently paddle on a little farther and find a shallow point at the intersection of three waterways. I toss a shrimp under a popping cork and within a few seconds, BAM the fever is broken and I have my first keeper on the stringer!

Kristian and his buddy enjoying another successful day

As the day went on, we split up and explored the bay each on our own, all secretly wishing to find the best fishing hole first. I spotted a small school of reds just under the bow of my yak so decided to quietly drop anchor and cast a few lines out. Glad I did because from this point on, every time my friends looked over my way, my rod was doubled over — this was quite possibly one of the best fishing days I have ever experienced in a kayak. I caught my limit in reds released the rest and even landed a few small trout, a bonnethead shark, a large mullet, skipjack, pin-perch and absolutely no hardheads or stingrays. What more could an angler ask for? A few redfish also made it onto my buddy’s kayaks but before we knew it, the south wind picked up and it was time to head back home.

As I was getting beat in a game of horseshoes on the beach, I wondered if the next day would be as good? No way, not possible. Two awesome days of fishing in a row? Never.

Day Two:
After two seconds of discussion a unanimous vote puts us back in the exact same waters as the previous day. However, as noon rolled around nobody caught anything and our hopes were fading fast. We did see some fellow anglers in the distance catching reds all morning long. No luck for us so we decided it was time to stalk the flats on foot. With my kayak anchored down, I began wading in about four feet of water and threw two lines out. Once again BAM! One doubles over, I set the hook but I miss. I reload, shoot again but this time I’m fighting what I believe is a keeper. The sky brightens, the clouds clear and the fear of going home empty-handed on day two begins to subside. The tide turns and so does the fishing. I turn around to scope out the horizon only to be greeted with two reels zipping away — both mine. I grab one and then the other, set both hooks and perform an awkward dance of holding and alternating between two fighting redfish shooting through the water like bullets. Game on! In the background, my two friends and what seemed like everyone else on the flat is cheering me on like it’s the game of the season and the last shot determines the championship. It turns out that one of the two fish was a half-inch too short so I released her. However, within a few minutes my rod doubled over again and once again, I finished off the day with a full stringer. That night, we enjoyed fresh redfish, fried and blackened at Jay’s Seafood and Spaghetti Works in Port Aransas, Texas.

The trip was over far too quickly and instead of curing my “redfish fever” it simply spiked it even more. So much that I’m considering heading right back down for another weekend of phenomenal fall fishing in Texas soon. If you ever get a chance to visit the area during this time of the year, I high recommend it and be sure to bring your kayak or rent one from one of our stores.

Kristian @ACK Austin

P.S. We couldn’t leave without first walking down the jetties to see what others were catching and knowing that it’s a good time of the year for catching bull reds in the surf. Sure enough, we saw a lot of them being caught. I enjoy keeping a few fish for dinner here and there but these larger reds are not good for eating and are in prime spawning age groups. Here is some age/size information to use before you consider eating that 35-year-old bottom feeding fish that just gave you the fight of a lifetime. Take a picture, throw it back!

Redfish Age and Size*
1 year = up to 15″
2-5 year = 15-29″
6-10 year = 29-38″
11-35 year = 38-44″

*These are rough estimates from a variety of resources. Accurately determining age can be difficult due to habitat, gender, health and a variety of other factors.

2011 Paddlefest or Bust

ACK employees, Nate from Houston and Seth from Austin, will be heading down to the 2011 Paddlefest in Port Aransas, Texas. For those of you who haven’t heard about Paddlefest it’s a four day long event being held in Port Aransas, Texas by a group of like minded paddlers from all over the state this Halloween weekend. There will be camping, guided kayak tours, kayak demonstrations, basic sea kayaking instruction and a swap meet amongst a variety of other activities. What better way to spend a weekend! We asked both Seth and Nate to give us some insight into this event and here’s what they shared with us.

Paddlefest looks like it should be a huge hit this year. With paddlers from all over the state coming together for this weekend’s event, I look forward to meeting them and offering up my advice and experience any way I can. I’ll be spending most of my time helping fellow paddlers with repairs on their boats, assisting with paddling trips and teaching clinics.

This is also going to be a perfect time for me to pass on roach motels to put some great camping gear to the test. The main items I am interested in using are the Kelty Salida 2 and the Sierra Designs Zeta 3 tents. I guess Nate and I will have to do a coin toss to see who uses which tent. I’ve had my eye on the Kelty LumaCamp LED lantern to help light up our base camp kitchen along with the GSI Bugaboo camper cookset so we’ll be bringing those along. We are also going to try out a few different boats this weekend including the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140 and the Hobie Revolution. Personally, I am looking forward to hitting the surf with my personal Pyrhana Rev whitewater kayak. Nate was able to round up a small generator so I’ll also be bringing an extra heat gun and scraps of plastic to do on the spot repairs as needed.

I am really excited about this trip and I can’t wait to share my experiences with you when I get back. Just checked in on the weather report and this cold front that blew in is going to keep the conditions perfect for paddling this weekend.

– Seth @ACK Austin

Both Seth and I are excited about attending Paddlefest 2011 and honored to be representing ACK — you should be too! Why you might ask? Because we’re bringing demo boats and paddles! Expect to see us with a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140, Wilderness Systems Tempest 180 (composite), Current Designs Kestral 160 (composite) and one of Necky’s newest, the Vector 14. As for the paddles, we are bringing a Werner Camano Fiberglass 230, Werner Camano Carbon 230, Werner Kalliste Carbon Bent Shaft 230, Werner Cyprus 220 and a Bending Branches Navigator 230 — yep, some nice paddles.

In addition to product, we’ll also have tools, hardware and spare parts available to assist anyone who is having gear malfunctions. If you are planning to attend this weekend you can look for us at the IB MGEE Beach Park headquarters in the mornings and afternoons. This is where paddlers will be meeting before they disembark on various trips in and around the area and where we’ll be camping.

Seth and I are looking forward to paddling with you guys and gals!

Nate @ACK Houston

Happy Birthday to Me

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.

Ready, Set, Let's Go!

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!

In Search of Reds

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.

Exploring World Class Fishing Waters

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.

Success!

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!