Mark Garcia is our first ever Rey Del Mar, the winner of the Offshore Division of the first annual Rey Del Mar Kayak Fishing Tournament.

The tournament, hosted as a collaboration between ACK and Fin Factory Kayak & Tackle Co, was one of the first of its kind, including both inshore and offshore fishing on the same weekend, combining over all weight.

Check out this quick interview with Mark!

Where are you from?

“Born in Brownsville but I have lived in San Antonio for 12 years now.”

Kayaking Experience?

“Bought my first kayak 2 years ago. I’ve been fishing since I was 10 with family and friends around the lower Laguna Madre and bought my first kayak 2 years ago out of the desire to explore more of the waters and inspiration of some creators in Youtube like Chris Castro.”

Why do you kayak fish?

“I wanted to go back to fishing and but this time I just didn’t want to do it from a dock, I wanted it to be more physically challenging, I wanted to our and about in nature. Some friends suggested getting a kayak. I got some inspiration from Texas RedFish Hunter; Drew Smith and Chris Castro and their youtube videos, that got me really excited. I’d be watching the videos and just feeling the desire to do that. I remember just telling myself… I want to do that, I want to do that.”

Why did you sign up for Rey del Mar?

“I have fished a few other inshore tournaments organized by Robert Rodriguez and the rest of the guys from TKFSA (Texas Kayak Fishing San Antonio) Facebook group. In fact a few weeks before Rey del Mar I won ‘biggest red’. There I had the opportunity to meet Chris in person and we talked about Rey del Mar. I thought about doing the inshore part since I had never been offshore but Chris insisted that I should participate. I didn’t have an offshore kayak, gear or experience but Chris offered his Viking GT and advice on what to get, how to rig and all the intricate details about fishing offshore from a kayak. Before this time I had really never considered fishing offshore. While big water, the surf and the ocean was not alien to me as I used to surf; taking a kayak, fishing from it and landing big fish in the middle of the ocean did make me feel a little nervous. I was still on the fence but Chris gave me enough motivation with his confidence-building …..“you’ll be fine”…haha. Anyway, so I decided to register for the tournament. I figured it would be an awesome experience to go offshore for the first time next to guys like Chris, Reuben and others.”

Expectations before the tournament?

“The expectations changed as the tournament got closer and even more so as my day on the water progressed. Initially, it was all about making out off the surf in one piece with all my gear. I also wanted to at least catch one fish. It didn’t really matter to me how big or small. Remember that I had never been offshore before so any fish caught would have been a first for me an nonetheless EPIC. The biggest thing that I wanted to gain out of this event is to experience the camaraderie and unity of the kayak fishing community. The guys who have helped me through the process of picking a kayak, learning the ins and outs, selection the fishing gear, etc. are some of the coolest dude I have known. They have been super welcoming to me and all my questions and meeting more of those guys in person and fishing with them was going to be super cool to me.”

The fishing story?

“I had been talking to Chris for weeks before the tournament on all the gear I needed. I bought a Penn Squall reel, line for it, a VHF radio, a new PFD and bunch of other equipment. We worked out a meeting location for the morning of the tournament but I still had to register. I didn’t do it online….don’t know why.. I should have because the Friday of the captains meeting I had to work, load up and then head to the coast to register in person. I showed up at Corpus at 11:45 and registered with Mike Morales. I think I was the last guy who registered. In retrospective it is crazy to think that I almost didn’t even make it to register since it closed at midnight.

I went to sleep or at least I tried, I dont know how many hours I slept, probably not many as I was so pumped and I could not stop thinking about fishing and the surf….oh the surf. I woke up that morning and the plan was to fish the Mustang Island rigs. Chris and all the rest of the crew was already there and that’s when he gave the Viking kayaks that I was going to use and learned that It didnt have seat but there was not turning back I was going out no matter what.

I got ready to launch and saw some of the guys go through the surf. Conditions weren’t ideal and even Chris admitted that if it wasn’t a tournament, he wouldn’t go out. My confidence level was low but my pumped gauge was at maximum!  By the time I decided to launch Chris and some of the guys were already past the 4th bar. I just kept telling myself to not overthink it and just do it, so I did.

The Viking rode so nice over the surf. Again, I have never done that and the crossing of the surf was so easy. It felt like I was a natural. The last swell felt like an 8′ wave, which of course wasn’t but to me it looked like a wall of water. As soon as I made it out past the surf I set up my rigs (ribbon) and I started paddling. I threw another lure out and then took it out of the water because I just didn’t like how it was swimming.

About 20 minutes later one of my rod goes off, drag screaming, line peeling and heart pumping out of my chest. The fish runs and runs and then a huge Tarpon jumps out of the water! What the hell! A tarpon! The fish made a couple more jumps and then the line went slack. The issue was that when I spooled that new reel with braided line, I didn’t pack hard and when the fish took off the line dug itself into the spool and on the next run, the line coming out of the reel wasn’t smooth and broke off. It sucked but oh my god I can’t believe that just happened! My emotions were racing as the same speed of the Tarpon taking off; First I was shocked that it happened,  then mad because I know I made a mistake when spooling the reel and a few seconds later I was perfectly fine with the outcome since I had accomplished my #1 goal of the day which was to get past the breakers in one piece.

Anyway, so I set up again but first let most of the line out of the reel and spool the line again to make sure its all packed nice and neat and to avoid the same issue. 30 minutes later I get another hit. This time the line was on check, the drag was also light and kept cranking it as I really didn’t want to lose the fish. I fought that fish for 15 minutes and when I first saw it I thought it was a shark and that got me a little nervous. I just didnt want to deal with a shark but as the battle continued and the fish got tired and closed and closer to the boat I got a peak of it and the flash confirmed that it was a king! Now to land this fish. I had the fish boat side and go to gaff it and almost gaff myself, in fact the gaff grazed my hand. I waited a little longer for the fish to get tired and relax and on my second attempt I got the gaff just right and nailed the fish. I took the time to remove the hooks and put the rod away. Throughout all this time the fish was still in the water and I was holding it with the gaff. I was stoked, taking pictures and just enjoying the fact that I had accomplished goal #2 of the trip, catch a fish. I wasn’t even thinking about the size of the fish, I mean it was my first king, I really didnt know what was a small kingfish vs a big kingfish. Once I gathered all my thoughts and finished taking in the moment and finished celebrating my accomplishment I started to work on actually landing the fish and loading it into the kayak and fish bag. I go to lift the fish off the water and swing it to my lap when the boat starts turning sideways and to the water I go! There I am, in the water, swallowing water ( I have my life jacket on though) trying to kick up my Penn rod so it wouldn’t sink when I see a beautiful silver fish floating away and sinking. Wait, that’s my fish! Throughout the commotion the fish got off the gaff and I was losing it. I had to leave my attempts to rescue my rod and let it sink to the bottom of the ocean. I grabbed the kayak with my hand and used my legs to hold the fish. It all happened so fast. I gained my composure while I had the kayak upside down next to me, in the water and holding the fish with my legs; Then it hit me, a little of panic! Im in the middle of the ocean with a big bloody fish between my legs.  I was FREAKING OUT! I had just spent that last week watching shark week on the discovery channel. I told myself, relax, just flip the damn kayak right side up, throw the fish on top and climb up the kayak. Amazingly it all went well and got back on the kayak with the fish.

I then see two guys coming close to me and they see me getting on the kayak. They asked me if I was ok and If I had the fish as they were able to see the battle from far away. I replied that I was able to save the fish and we all started yelling! It was so cool. I was so tired about the encounter and flipping the boat that I was ready to go out. I

had accomplished all my goals but I pushed deeper and paddled to the rigs. All that had happened still halfway to the rigs and I had never been there so there I went. At some point on my way to the rigs the adrenaline wore out and sea sickness kicked in with a vengeance. I made it to the rigs did a few passes and hooked another king which was smaller and turned out to be not so much o a challenge to fight and land. At that time it was about 12 so I decided to head out. As I got close to shore, sea sickness got worse and worse and I just couldn’t hold any liquids. Lets just say I was glad it was all going to be over. But not before dealing with the surf. I put all my gear away and even tied the fish to the kayak. I could have “turtled” and tumbled on the surf but I wasn’t going to lose the fish so close to the beach. Amazingly the Viking again, made me look like a pro, I surfed the whole way out bracing on one side as whitewater an powerful waves push me closer and closer to shore. Once on the beach I showed the fish to Chris and he was surprised on how big it was. It was then when it hit me that I might just have a chance to win this thing. We packed all of our gear and sped up to the weigh in. When I got there I guess someone had already told the guys there that there was a big fish going in because everyone was looking at me and the fish…something was going to happen.”

What were you looking to get out of the tournament?

“I really was just looking for some offshore experience and maybe a fish. As I said before, making out through the surf was my only goal. When I accomplished that, It was about catching a fish. It didn’t matter which fish. Then making it to the rigs and lastly back to the beach with all my gear. I got all that but more importantly I got to fish, learn and hang out with incredible kayak anglers. That’s what I was looking forward the most.”

What is what you enjoyed the most?

“The kayak fishing community is so welcoming. Everybody is willing to help and share their knowledge even with a rookie like me. Fish with Chris and Reuben was a hell of an experience. I used to watch their videos and now I had fished with them on the same waters. Crazy stuff. From this whole experience I couldn’t care less the kayak and the money.. bottom line I had a great time. I was more excited about fishing with Chris than just fishing. Winning the kayak and cash was the cherry on top.”

Who do you think this event is for?

“The event is for everybody or anybody that loves kayak fishing. My story is testament for any beginner can do well and more importantly still win by meeting amazing people.”

Would you participate again?

“You bet! I’ll be there next year for both the inshore and offshore divisions.”

Conclusion

“Am I happy that I won? Yes, But meeting people and fishing with the brotherhood of kayak fishing was the best part of the event. Not once I felt that there was somebody feeling negative that a rookie won. Everyone wanted to hear the story and congratulate me. That tells the overall story of who we are as a group and the quality of people you find on this event and the kayak fishing community as a whole.”