The Gulf Coast Kayak Fishing Association (GCKFA) puts on a spring fishing tournament every year. This year happened the be the 6th annual tournament and my first time participating. It was actually my first time fishing in any sort of tournament.
I waited until the last minute, the VERY last minute to sign up for the tournament. I knew with my luck, the weather would have been absolutely awful if I preregistered, so I waited until the captain’s meeting the night before the tournament to sign up. I was surprised at the amount of people who participated in the event. The tally came close to 150 kayakers from the Gulf Coast and some traveled from as far as Arkansas and New York to participate. My dad and I signed up Friday evening and went home to get everything ready that night.
The tournament had 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes for the following: Biggest Speckled Trout, Biggest Redfish, Biggest Flounder, Biggest Slam (Trout, Red, and Flounder combined), Biggest Spanish Mackerel, Biggest King Mackerel, and Biggest aggregate pair of King and Spanish. There was also a prize for the Redfish with the most spots.
My dad and I decided that we’d launch the kayaks in the Gulf Saturday morning and try to catch some King and Spanish. I also brought with me a bucket full of small bluecrabs to use for Redfish bait since I knew they were still being caught in the surf. The weather turned out to be beautiful (for the first time since I can remember) and the waves were perfectly manageable at 1 ft. high.
We launched the yaks at 5:45 and I immediately found Spanish ripping through schools of Glass Minnows just between the sandbars. I threw out a Gotcha lure with 3 inches of wire leader and….Nothing. I made another cast into a school of ravenous Spanish and once again…Nothing.
I’ve personally never had this particular phenomena happen. 99% of the time, you can throw whatever is in the tackle box at Spanish and they’ll hit it. I mean anything. Gotchas, diamond jigs, Mr. Champs, Pompano Jigs, Soft plastic worms, Forceps, even an old shoe and they’ll still clobber it if it’s moving fast enough. I decided that it must have been the wire leader messing things up so I took it off. I immediately began catching fish. I threw a few small Spanish into the cooler before I lost my first lure of the day.
I certainly wasn’t planning to go through almost EVERYTHING I had in my tackle box that morning. I put on a 30lb Flourocarbon leader on my lures and was still getting cut off. Spanish Mackerel prove to be a challenge at times because of their awesome set of choppers:
Over the course of the morning I lost 7 lures and had 3 jigs completely destroyed. It seemed like the smaller the lure, the better it worked. I actually started using little jigs for Crappie and Bluegill and soon had the reel screaming as a Spanish inhaled it.
I brought some frozen Cigar Minnows with me along with a big rod for Kings and just in case I ran into a Cobia. The kings weren’t out and nothing touched my Cigs nor my dad’s. While casting into schools of Spanish, I did hook a small snake King and got cut off. I didn’t really worry about it at the time since it was a very small King. For a brief moment while fishing, I thought I was going to catch a Cobia. I looked down in the water at one point to see a big, dark fish swimming below the yak. I near-instantly had a blue crab sinking down toward the fish and it turned to take the bait. It was then that I got a good look at the fish: A remora. The biggest remora I’ve ever seen. It actually had 3 pilot fish trailing along with it. I wish now that I’d thought to take an underwater picture of the thing, but maybe next time. The Remora followed my yak around for about 30 minutes. I guess it thought I was a big yellow shark and it really wanted to attach itself to my yak’s belly. The bite shut down around 10:00 and we headed back to the truck. The wind had also shifted to the south so we decided to go launch in the bay since weigh in’s weren’t until 3:00.
I’ve always known my kayak isn’t particularly light. In fact, depending on how long of a day it’s been, it weighs anywhere from 50 to 200 lbs. My yellow yak has obviously been eating well as my dad and I were forced to take several breaks while carrying it back to the truck. It’s amazing how much weight a seat, cooler bag, and some rods and reels weigh. We went ahead and launched into the bay and paddled out to a near by wreck. I flipped out a my bottom rod and tried to catch a grouper. My dad did the same thing with is light spinning gear and it wasn’t long before we received a sign…One that all saltwater fishermen know. A Hardhead Catfish.
Catching a catfish means “It’s time to go, the fishing is now terrible”, so we readied everything and began to paddle back to shore. I trolled a big King lure the whole way back and didn’t have a nibble. I decided just before pulling the yak out of the water to try trolling a Gotcha along the drop off into deeper water. After only a few minutes, my drag started screaming and a big Ladyfish was jumping behind the kayak. I turned around and started to fight the fish when something unbelievable happened. An osprey came out of nowhere and dove onto my Ladyfish. I’ve seen them dive onto free swimming fish before, but never one on the end of my line. It’s situations like this that make me wish I had a helmet camera so I could catch it all on film. Luckily, the Osprey missed (not without scratching the fish) and I landed the Ladyfish. Even though they’re no good to eat, they put up a good fight and are known for their aerial acrobatics. It’s no wonder they’re often called “a poor man’s Tarpon”. I managed to land two more before may arms gave out from trolling and I headed back to the truck.
My dad and I were both exhausted and he wanted to go home to get some sleep so we dropped him off and I went down to Shorline Park in Gulf Breeze to attend the weigh in. I grabbed the two biggest Spanish that we caught and brought them to the scales.
We kept a total of 16 Spanish Mackerel and caught close to 30. Unfortunately, they were all quite small and almost cookie cutter replicas at 13 to 14 inches to the fork. I weighed in my fish and looked at the leaderboard to see that someone had caught a 5.75 lbs Spanish. Holy crap. It must have looked disgusting and misshapen.
Needless to say, I didn’t place and the ogre Spanish won that division. I was shocked to find out that only 4 King Mackerel had been caught out of the 150 anglers. It’s a shame that I lost that little snake King. Had I landed it, I would have been guaranteed a spot on the leaderboard and a prize (either a fish finder or a new rod and reel). My friend Alex won 2nd place for his 2.5 lbs flounder and 3 brand new Hobie fishing kayaks were given away along with a TON of door prizes. It was good that I went to the weigh in because my dad was drawn for a door prize and won some random kayak gear that I haven’t even looked through yet.
Overall, the GCKFA Spring 2011 Kayak Fishing Tournament was a blast. Things were well run and there were great prizes given away. I did, however, feel as though there should be a few more species considered for possibly some smaller prizes. Cobia, Jack Crevalle, Pompano, Sheepshead, Bluefish, etc. I’m thankful that I participated in my first fishing tournament and I will definitely go next year. I think that had it not been for the tournament, I probably wouldn’t have ever launched my kayak into the Gulf. It was our first time taking the yaks out into the Gulf and certainly won’t be our last.