St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Anglers catching on to no-motor fishing

Human-powered canoes and kayaks get to spots the expensive "flats'' boats can't.

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


WEEDON ISLAND -- On the far side of the oyster bar, a school of red drum rooted for food in a shallow pool left by an unseasonably low tide.

A hundred yards away, two skiffs sat anchored in deeper water waiting for the tide to turn.

A full moon and northwesterly winds had driven most of the water off the grass flat. All the anglers could do was watch as the tailing redfish filled their bellies.

The oyster bar was a natural barrier. It protected the reds from their natural enemies -- dolphins and sharks -- and from humans in expensive motor boats.

Sure, the fishermen could have gotten out of the boat and walked. But wading the length of a football field in knee-deep muck is no easy task.

No. It is far easier to float.

"That is the beauty of fishing out of a canoe or kayak," said Kevin Fenn, a guide who specializes in "no-motor" fishing. "You can get to the spots that other fishermen can't. It is the ultimate in accessibility."

A decade ago, most fishing boats were built for rough water. If you wanted to catch fish, you had to travel offshore.

But that was before the flats fishing revolution. When anglers discovered catching snook, red drum and trout on inshore grass beds was every bit as challenging and rewarding as catching grouper and snapper on offshore wrecks and reefs, the marine industry took notice.

Almost overnight, manufacturers began building boats that could run full speed in less than a foot of water. Many of these new "flats" boats cost as much as their blue-water counterparts, $30,000 or more.

This increased boat traffic, however, did not come without a price. Propellor scars soon crisscrossed the grass beds of the most popular fishing spots, prompting government officials to mark off the most sensitive areas as "no-motor zones."

"I worked as a manufacturer's rep selling fishing equipment," Fenn said. "I always fished out of a canoe because of the accessibility they offered. I thought that type of fishing would appeal to a wide variety of anglers. I was right."

So Fenn, a University of Florida graduate who specialized in marketing, switched gears and started a new business, Tailstalker Inc., a guide service dedicated specifically to no-motor fishing.

"You have such an advantage when you fish out of a kayak because of the degree of stealth it offers," Fenn said. "They are so quiet and you can sneak right up on the fish."

Fenn, an Orlando native, fished the East Coast's Indian River Lagoon often. One particular weekend, he saw hundreds of flats skiffs at a redfish tournament.

"I said to my friend, "wouldn't that be something if all those guys were in canoes or kayaks,' " Fenn said. "He said, "Great idea.' And the tournament was born."

Fenn and Osprey Bay Kayaks held their first no-motor tournament last year.

"It was a huge success," he said. "It is amazing how many people fish out of canoes and kayaks."

Not really. No-motor craft are the original fishing boats. From the Maine woods to the Florida Everglades, anglers have long fish from canoes and flat-bottomed boats propelled by paddles or long, wooden poles.

Today's boats are lighter, faster and more durable. Fenn prefers two boats built by Ocean Kayak, the Scupper Pro and the Drifter. Both have plastic hulls, weigh 50-60 pounds and are 12-14 feet long.

"I put two rod holders in the back and one in the front in addition to a live well behind the seat," he said. "I also carry a 3-pound folding anchor, deployed by a bow-to-stern pully system, as well as bow line to tie around my waist in case I want to get out and wade."

A sea kayak rigged for fishing will cost from $700 to $1,000. A few manufacturers, including Wilderness Systems, are selling prerigged boats designed for fishing. But for $50 to $150 you can take any old kayak and turn it into the ultimate shallow-water fishing craft.

"You don't have to deal with the hassle of a boat ramp," Fenn said. "You can just pull over on the side of the road and go. If you paid $30,000 for a flats boat just to get out and wade, you might as well as be fishing from a kayak or a canoe."

If you go

WHAT: No Motor Fishing tournament. Canoes, kayaks and jon boats, people-powered only.

WHEN/WHERE: Saturday; Osprey Bay Kayaks, 17910 U.S. 19, Clearwater.

ENTRY FEE: $50 per person. A portion of the tournament proceeds will benefit the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary.

FOR INFORMATION: Call (727) 524-9670 or log on to www.ospreybay.com. Osprey Bay also is offering free paddling and fishing clinics in conjunction with the tournament.

For more experienced paddlers ...

Check out 2001 Florida Gulf Coast Sea Kayak Symposium, sponsored by Sweetwater Kayaks, through Sunday, at Fort De Soto Park. Expert sea kayakers will lecture on everything from navigation to Eskimo rolls. On-site registration is $200. Call (727) 906-0708 or log on to www.sweetwaterkayak.com.

@87$temp$ $STPT$

ID: + Paper: +

Date: 2/23/01 Page: 10C+

Section: OUTDOORS Byline: DAVE MISTRETTA +

Headline: Things are about to heat up

Notes: +

The transition from winter to spring finally has taken hold. Unseasonably warm weather conditions have allowed migratory fish to work their way toward our coast

The first thing I noticed was a massive influx of baitfish. For months, our local waters have been barren, but giant schools of Spanish sardines and threadfin herring are easing their way to us from deep in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. They were last spotted about 10 miles west of Clearwater.

Another one of my favorite inshore baits is pinfish. The warming trend has allowed thousands to venture in from the deeper gulf.

If the weather holds, it is just a matter of time before king mackerel arrive. This aggressive gamefish will produce great springtime action. I expect the big push to arrive by mid-March.

Kingfish won't be the only migratory predator. Anglers will soon find Spanish mackerel, bonita, sharks, amberjack, grouper and many other species. Fishermen working along the beaches of Redington have been rewarded with an endless bounty of silver trout. These scrappy fighters produce lots of fun on light tackle, and they also are good to eat. They range from 1 to 2 pounds with an occasional 3-pounder.

Be sure to look for tripletail while drifting by the crab trap buoys. A few great catches have been reported from trout fishermen as they drifted the same waters.

About 2 to 3 miles west of the trout activity, giant herds of blackdrum and redfish have settled on the hard-bottom areas. Hundreds of these mature drums can be spotted by a discoloration in the water. A rusty orange cloud about the size of a football field is the telltale sign that you have found them.

Just about any bait will work for drum, which have an endless appetite. The average size of these fish is a whopping 30 to 40 pounds. Be sure to release these large breeders unharmed so they can finish their northward migration to spawn.

-- Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 595-3276, or e-mail sales@jawstoo.com.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.