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  1. Outdoors

Kayak anglers have a tournament of their own

Kayak guide Neil Taylor, with a seatrout, says proper equipment, stealth, and proper casting and retrieval techniques are key to catching fish.
Published Mar. 21, 2013

Kayak fishing guide Neil Taylor believes paddle anglers belong in a league of their own. The former baseball umpire believes, strike-for-strike, the kayak fishermen have the advantage.

"When it comes to stealth, you can't beat it," he said. "And we can get into that skinny water where power boats just can't go."

The paddle-versus-prop controversy was a frequent topic of discussion on the old Captain Mel Berman Show.

Berman, an avid fisherman who educated thousands of anglers over the years through his Saturday morning radio show, died in 2010 at 81, but right up until the end, "Captain Mel" still enjoyed getting out in a canoe to sneak up on seatrout.

For Taylor, the benefit of human-powered craft is a foregone conclusion. So if arms beat motors when it comes to flats fishing, why not gather the best kayak hunters on Florida's west coast, put them over the sea grass and see who paddles away with the title?

In three years, the annual Captain Mel Trout & Redfish Classic, an artificial-only, catch-and-release tournament has become one of the most competitive kayak fishing events in Florida.

But while this tournament may bring in some real veterans, beginners have just as good of a chance to hook up. So if you are new to kayak fishing and want to improve your chances, here are five tips from Taylor:

• Rig it right: Spend time setting up your rods and reels. Make sure your hooks are sharp, and your line and leaders are not nicked or worn. If you travel with just one fishing rod, make sure it is a good one.

"Never underestimate the importance of a properly spooled reel, quality graphite fishing rod and the appropriate terminal tackle," Taylor said. "Check everything once again before you get out on the water."

• Find the fish: Taylor spends a good deal of time scouting prospective spots. He often paddles an area the day before he takes clients out to fish it. Study the tides and think about wind conditions. Look for secluded bays and inlets that may hold fish in bad weather. Look for grass beds and oyster bars at low tide.

"Just be alert to your surroundings," he said. "Something as simple as birds diving on schools of bait can help you catch fish."

• Make casts count: Kayak fishermen miss some of the height and stability afforded their power boating colleagues, so casting mechanics and proper retrieval techniques matter more.

"Focus on making long casts so you can cover a lot of water," Taylor said. "Keep control of the lure and make sure it runs at the right depth."

And good advice for any angler, regardless of where they fish: "Eliminate unnecessary noise," he added. "The fewer fish you spook, the more there will be to catch."

• Don't lose it: Many anglers try to "muscle" a hooked fish into the boat, but Taylor is a strong advocate of letting the rod do most of the work. A common mistake many novice anglers make is "bouncing" the rod as they reel.

"Instead, try to maintain a nice, easy bend in the rod," Taylor said. "This will keep constant pressure on the fish."

Another common pitfall for kayak-based anglers is reeling in too much line. "Remember, you are sitting in a kayak," he said. "You need to leave enough line so you can grab the leader and land the fish."

• Keep your eyes open: Taylor never stops looking, even when he is fighting a fish. A pair of polarized sunglasses is just as valuable as a top-of-the-line graphite fishing rod.

"After a while you will learn how detect subtle clues in the water's surface," Taylor said. "You have to be observant. That is the key to catching fish."

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