By: Eric Fey
In my mind, the Hobie Pro Angler 14 is the ultimate fishing kayak. I have been fishing one for a couple of years now and the arrival of the Mirage Drive 180 was sure to improve the performance of this kayak. With the arrival of this new Drive system came the 2017 line of Hobie kayaks. In addition to the new drive, the Pro Angler and Outback would be offered in a camo version. Aside from looking cool, the camo model had some upgrades on each model. Once I found out that the new Camo Outback would be equipped with turbo fins and a larger sailing rudder, I made the decision to swap over from the PA and give the Outback a try for the upcoming year. I was able to take to the waters of Delacroix, LA recently to try out the new kayak. The following review is comprised of my opinion of the new model having only fished it one time.
2017 Camo Hobie Outback with 180 Mirage Drive
Unlike the Pro Angler, there isn’t much flat space on the bottom of the Outback hull. I normally store my kayaks on a set of saw horses with towels to soften the contacting surfaces. On the Pro Angler, the surface is flat and therefore very stable. The Outback however, has a rounded midsection of the hull that forces the hull to lean one way or the other. I was able to solve the issue by using a strap on the front and back to anchor the kayak to the horses. No biggy. The Outback is noticeably lighter than the PA so getting it up onto the horses and down from them was a bit easier. Another option would be to build a cradle out of PVC and 2×4’s. Instructions for build are online and easy to find. Or, you could purchase the Hobie cradles, but they are a little pricey.
The Outback is approximately 2 feet shorter than the PA. I no longer need to use a truck hitch bed extender when hauling the kayak. Again, the kayak does not sit flush in the bed and I highly recommend building a cheap cradle to help it out. This will make it much easier to tie down without any wiggling. Once again, the Outback is lighter and easier to load and unload without any assistance. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a cart of some sort. The cart will take the kayak to and from the water. If you intend to fish alone, a cart is a necessity. This is just as true with the Outback as it was with the PA.
I did not notice much difference when launching the Outback. I use the same method of carting it down to the water, lifting the back and letting the cart fall from the rear scuppers, then pushing the kayak into the water. Since the Outback is a little lighter, I give the edge to the Outback when launching and picking up.
When it comes to speed, the Outback is a clear winner…..maybe. Here is the problem. I can say definitely that the 2017 Outback is faster than the 2016 Pro Angler. But the drives are different. The 2017 Pro Angler may be just as fast but I can say without a doubt that the 2017 Outback FLIES!!! Without having actually measured the speed, I would be comfortable saying that it could be 2-3 mph faster. It makes sense that the Outback would be faster. It is lighter, sleeker, and therefore has less drag. Keep in mind that I was using turbo fins since they came with the camo version of the Outback.
The PA is a clear winner for layout and storage in my eyes. In fact, this was my biggest complaint about the Outback platform. There are no in hull rod holder which I have come to love. There is very little in hull storage in the front hatch and even less in the middle circular hatch. The back of the kayak is much smaller than the PA and could barely hold my 35 qt Yeti and Hobie cart. I would be much better served with a soft sided cooler on this kayak. I know plenty of anglers that have solved this issue and rig milk crates and fashion extra PVC rod holders. I am into keeping my kayaks simple and basic so this type of solution doesn’t appeal to me. I did however like the forward facing rod holders on the Outback. While sight fishing it was nice to have my rod at the ready and in front of me for when I spot fish.
I found no issue with the stability of this kayak. I fish nearly all day from the standing position. I never once fell like I was at risk for going overboard. The PA is more stable as you would expect, but the Outback was plenty stable enough. There is nothing more to say on stability other than don’t let the size or shape of this kayak scare you out of standing.
Being that the Outback is a smaller kayak, it obviously handles a bit better than the PA. Turning is more responsive, at least with the sailing rudder. One thing that did surprise me was that the Outback seemed to track better than the PA as well. When I took it out, the wind was blowing pretty good (10-12mph). On the way back to the launch around noon, I was traveling North-Northwest into a Northeast wind. I rarely had to make any adjustments to my rudder to stay on course. This may be because it has a lower profile than the PA and therefore catches less wind. I am not sure, but it was noticeable. One HUGE benefit to the Outback is its paddle-abilityishness when the fins are locked up to the bottom of the hull. Often when I am sight fishing, I pick up the fins and use my paddle to push pole or paddle across the flats. The Outback was very easy to propel from the standing position. This alone almost entirely makes it a more pleasant kayak to sight fish reds from.
The PA is rigger friendly. You can attach almost anything that you could want without putting unnecessary holes in the hull. This is not the case with the Outback. Both kayaks look really sharp but the Outback is seriously lacking in modular rigging options. Again, many people have no issue tearing into their brand new hull. I am always a little more hesitant. That being said, it is more than possible to rig the Outback anyway that you could ever want if you have the stomach for it. I find the circular hatch in the middle of the Outback next to useless and would seriously consider changing it out to the rectangular hatch. It is worth noting one more time that the Camo version of the Outback comes with extras which in my mind, more than justify the extra $150. One of those options is the Turbo fins on the new Mirage Drive. The other is the larger sailing rudder. Aside from these two extras, you also get a sweet camo paint job.
New Mirage Drive with Reverse
I will start off by saying that even if you never use the reverse feature, it seems like Hobie has found a way to make the Mirage Drive perform even better. The new drive seems faster and feels like it requires less effort. Once again, I am comparing a 2017 Outback to a 2016 PA, but I will make an effort to get in a new PA soon. Now, on to the reverse function. For the first part of the day I found it difficult to switch the drive into reverse. Or rather I thought it was difficult. It turns out that in the water you cannot hear the audible “click” of the drive spinning around, WHICH IS A GOOD THING! Quiet is always better. But, since I was expecting to hear it, I wasn’t recognizing when the drive was flipping. Once I came to that realization, it seemed quite easy to engage the reverse. Once the fins were locked in, you have the benefit of full power, full speed reverse. This drive is capable of pushing the kayak in reverse at unnecessary speeds. When you are in super skinny water, you will not be able to reverse the fins. They need to be in almost a full upright position to switch. I did find that because of the reverse, I did not have a need to anchor all day. In fact, I think that I will fish without an anchor for a while to see if this holds true. If for any reason it doesn’t I have a PowerPole Micro ready to fill that gap. All in all, I really like the new drive and cannot wait to see if it is more rugged than the last model. Previously I had a bad habit of bending the fin masts. I am told that the new masts are stronger and less prone to bending.
Both the Pro Angler and Outback are industry leading kayaks and you really can’t go wrong with either. If I was forced to choose one, I would most likely choose the Pro Angler with the reversible Mirage Drive. That being said, I loved the Outback and look forward to fishing from it this year. Who knows, maybe my opinion will change. As of now I just like the in hull rod storage and overall layout of the PA a little better. I encourage anyone who might be interested in checking out these kayaks to visit The Backpacker or give them a call. They can get you into both of these models so that you can try for yourself.
In late May, I finally got to do a three day, two night, 50 mile trip on the Buffalo River from Ozark to Gilbert with my buddy Zach, who also happens to be our in house boat tech. Our goals were to see as much of the river as possible, catch some fish for dinner, scramble up some canyon walls, not flip the canoe and have fun exploring.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Wow, 50 miles seems like a lot in three days!” Well, it is; so I’m going to go ahead and recommend you to not do the same, unless you want to paddle hard. (Now, I’m not saying we’re hard core, although we certainly aim to be; we didn’t want to paddle hard but we wanted to see as much of the river as possible in three days; so we were definitely pushing it.) Under average river conditions, it takes about 4-6 hours to paddle 8-10 miles. Of course, this all depends on the water level, how you paddle, and how much fishing, hiking, climbing, swimming and resting you plan on doing. For a fun 25 mile run, I would suggest Carver to Baker Ford. In this stretch you will come across a cool rock formation called Skull Bluff, and if you so choose, you can climb to the top and jump off of this 60ft bluff. But I’m a climber, not a jumper. Also, on the south side (or right side) of the river is the Narrows Bluff (aka the Narrs) that you can hike up to and get a cool view of the Buffalo River and the Richland Creek Valley. And some of the best fishing is between Skull Bluff and Woolum. Although, I’m not the best fisher; I caught several baby brim, some trout (which I couldn’t keep because I didn’t have a trout license) and some small, small-mouth bass. But I did catch this one keeper!
Water safety, and knowing how to paddle and swim are a great plus; there are some small rapids, and sharp, rapid flowing turns, along with fallen branches where boats can easily flip if you don’t know what you’re doing. You should check the weather and water levels several days in advance; you could even call the outfitter you plan on using. May through July are prime time for paddling the Buffalo. If you are going to fish make sure you get a fishing license and know the legal size and quantity of what you will be catching. Arkansas has a general fishing license and then a whole separate one for trout. I highly recommend paying the additional cost for a trout license; we caught plenty we couldn’t keep. And remember, rivers have laws too!
We booked our canoe and shuttle service through Buffalo River Outfitters; they were very helpful answering all of our questions leading up to the trip. We camped only a few minutes from Buffalo River Outfitters at Tyler Bend the night before we got on the river.
Our first day on the river didn’t start till about noon. But that’s mostly because we both left straight from work at 7pm the day before and drove all night; so, everything we needed was in my car but it wasn’t organized. We slept about four hours at the campground (although seriously considered sleeping in the outfitters parking lot) and when we checked in at the outfitters around 9am they had our shuttle driver come meet us in the parking lot just a few minutes later. But the thing was when we opened my car doors, our gear just came tumbling out everywhere. It took us a good hour to organize what we were bringing and what we were leaving behind. Because after our three days on the river we were planning on doing some rock climbing and a waterfall rappel. When the driver saw how much gear we had, his eyes got really big, but he kept his mouth shut and just watched as we scrambled around. When we were finally done, the only comment the guy had was, “Wait, is that all the water you’re bringing?” as he stared at us holding only three water bottles total. We both just smiled, “No man, we’ve got a whole river!”
So, how did we narrow it down for three days, two people, and one canoe?
The 50L bag seen here in yellow carried our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent, 2 Marmot Nanowave 45 sleeping bags and 2 sleeping pads (Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus and a NeoAir Trekker) and 2 Helinox Chair Ones.
The 40L bag in orange was our kitchen: 1 Jetboil, 1 MSR Pocket Rocket, 2 pots, 1 pan, a cutting board, fillet knife, utensils, mess kit, coffee, spices, a handful of large ziplocks, Campsuds, olive oil, heavy duty foil, and fire starters for all of the damp wood we collected from the river banks. We used the grate for cooking, too.
AO 48 pack vinyl cooler: ice, some perishable foods, ziplocks and extra room for all the fish we didn’t catch, and of course whiskey kept in a Platypreserve Portable Storage Bottle (no glass).
The 35L clear bag carried all non perishable foods and rain jackets just in case. The clear bag is great for storing all your snacks, easy to see what your food options are and how deep you have to dig to get what you want. So keep the day snacks and hand sanitizer right on top; breakfast and dinner foods on bottom or maybe even in a separate bag.
The 120L Grand Trunk Duffel has two 20L bags with our clothes, toiletries and pack towels. Warmer clothes were needed at night; it got down to about 50 degrees. It was good that I also brought an extra shirt, because it was foggy and overcast most of our trip; so, when our clothes got wet, they weren’t drying anytime soon, even if they are labeled “quick drying.” And it rained on us the first night; it was drizzling all through dinner and then it rained into the middle of the night.The duffel also held a 10L bag of electronics: Goal Zero flip charger, phone cords, Goal Zero speakers, extra batteries, headphones. And then there was our tackle box and maps. We had two waterproof National Geographic maps that were great: Buffalo National River West and East. The West covers the beginning of the river up to mile 66. The Carver put in is at mile 63.5. The East covers mile 66 up to the end of the river at mile 152. The duffel also had an old pair of climbing shoes, we thought we’d use to do some deep water soloing on all these amazing cliffs!
And lastly, a 5L bag held a bandana, my phone, sunscreen, chapstick, harmonicas, and most importantly our Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter! My phone was in a case and used mostly for pictures. Cell reception was spotty, but the closer we were to towns, the better.
By: Eric Fey
Just a couple of years ago a few college buddies and I decided to give backpacking a try. Aside from being out in the wild and sharing these incredible experiences with some of my best friends, I had an ulterior motive. I knew that the mountain streams and high alpine lakes held some beautiful freshwater trout. Fly fishing in the mountains had always been a bucket list item for me. So prior to our first trip in the Weminuche Wilderness in southwest Colorado, I purchased my first light weight fly rod and got to practicing. I will never forget the serenity and excitement of fly fishing those crystal clear waters of the lakes nestled over 11,000 ft up in the mountains. The trout were hungry and in my success, fly fishing became a part of me.
The following year (last year) the same group hiked up into the eastern Sierra Nevadas in California in pursuit of golden trout. A very similar experience was had and returning to Louisiana to hang up the fly rod after dozens of mountain trout was always bitter sweet. There is an elegance to fly fishing that cannot be denied. It is difficult. And it is addicting. Even though I was spending at least one day almost every weekend on the water in Louisiana, I could not shake my desire to be fly fishing. But why couldn’t I be? Just a little research turned up an entire community of local fly fishermen who were targeting the exact species of fish that I was chasing every weekend. So I decided to take the dive.
I purchased a new 8 weight fly rod and reel and set it up specifically for targeting inshore redfish. After practicing my casting for a week or two, I set out on my first trip in the kayak with the new fly rig. I missed a couple of opportunities early in the morning due to inexperience casting from the kayak. Once the wind picked up I was unable to get any decent casts down so I picked up the conventional gear and finished out the day. I wouldn’t be defeated however. The following weekend I returned to the marsh. The wind was in my favor and the water was clean. Mid-morning I peddled the Hobie Pro Angler into a shallow pond and soon after spotted an impressive redfish cruising the bank ahead. I threw out my line and began my cast. The first one was a little short so I picked up and casted again. The fly landed just a couple feet ahead of the fish and on the first strip the fish reacted. The redfish began its pursuit and I continued to strip the fly. The fish lunged forward and inhaled the fly before immediately turning and running back towards the marsh grass. It pulled all of the slack out and got onto my reel in less than 1 second! The fight lasted around 6 minutes before I was able to get the grips on him and pull him into the kayak. This was my first redfish on the fly and I was ecstatic. The fish was approximately 29.5 inches and weighed somewhere around 10lbs. I took a few pictures and released him back into the water to fight another day. Luckily I was able to catch it all on video to share.
After this incredible experience of catching my first red on the fly, I knew that there was no chance of shaking this hobby. So naturally, it only made sense to take it a step further. And so began my journey into fly tying. I watched countless videos on tying different salt water patterns and equipment reviews before I pulled the trigger and ordered my own tying gear. I started out by only getting the materials that would be required to tie two different flies. I chose these patterns based on what I thought the reds would like during typically weather/water conditions for this time of year. One was a black and purple Lafleur’s Charlie pattern which is a variation of the famous Crazy Charlie bonefish fly. The other was a typical kwan pattern tied with blue crab colors. I received my gear and materials last Thursday and tied my first two flies that night. Happy with the results, I tied a couple more of each on Friday afternoon in preparation for the Saturday morning trip.
Delacroix was extremely hot on Saturday morning but the water was very clean. Spotting the fish wasn’t the problem. Getting the fish to eat was the challenge. Most of the reds I saw gave the cold shoulder to my typical sight fishing lures. I soon realized why. I spotted a mid-20 inch slot red cruising the flats and made a few perfect casts with my conventional rod and reel that it simply ignored. But immediately after giving me the snub, the fish barreled into a pack of shrimp feeding furiously as they scattered away. The fish were keyed in on shrimp, and I had the perfect fly! My blue crab kwan fly was already tied on to my fly rod. I picked it up and made a blind cast towards some commotion near the grass line. During the retrieve I noticed a flash of red about 10 feet down the bank. I picked up the line and made a well-placed cast right where the flash was seen. On the third or fourth strip a red appeared out of the bank shadows and ferociously hammered my fly! I boated the fish soon after and achieved my goal of catching my first fish on a self-tied fly.
I consider myself very fortunate to have had these experiences back to back and so soon in my fly fishing adventures. I fear that I am even more hooked now than before. It is hard to explain, but being able to fly fish the coast brings a little of the backcountry down to Louisiana. It is a way for me to bridge my love for mountain fly fishing and sight fishing reds. Plus, it is awesome to be able to say that I sight fish redfish from a kayak with a fly rod! Whether you are an avid fly fisherman or never picked up a fly rod in your life, I implore you to give it a try. You might find that it is as addicting as I do.
By: Eric Fey
As the close of Spring creeps up and the hot summer days roll in, they bring with them the thick grass mats and clear water. The bait takes to the grass in attempts to claim sanctuary and escape the predators that relentlessly pursue. The redfish however, are not discouraged. In fact, for the first time since the cool weather began to set in nearly 8 months ago, they know exactly where their next meal will be. These reds nose their way through the submerged fields smashing every mullet, shrimp and crab that they stumble upon. The water is warm and clean. The sun rises high up in the high pressure, blue bird sky following the rain in the earlier part of the week. This day is perfect. It is perfect for these redfish. It is perfect for me.
These types of conditions are the most conducive for sight fishing quality redfish. These are the days that fuel my passion for chasing Louisiana reds. Last Saturday I made my way down to Delacroix, Louisiana. Delacroix is my favorite summer time fishing area for precisely the aforementioned reasons. For the last few weeks the grass has been growing thicker and thicker. The only three guarantees in life are death, taxes, and redfish in the grass mats. I launched around 7:30 and made my way down to my starting location. As soon as I started seeing grass, I started seeing fish. I casted to a few groups of reds with my fly rod hoping to get a topwater hook up on a gurgler fly. A couple of the fish rose up to the fly but didn’t commit. After missing a half dozen or so attempts, I picked up the conventional gear and proceeded to fill the fish bag. I will let the video show just how much fun the day ended up being. I ended up with around 10-12 reds, some of which were tagged and released. I also missed about 4 more.
I think I have adequately explained the benefits of fishing the grass, but I know actually doing it can be quite frustrating at times. Here is my attempt to ease that frustration, at least a little bit.
Lure selection is by far the most important aspect of fishing grass efficiently. A lot of people will say to fish weedless gold spoons all day every day. The problem with that plan is that weedless spoons aren’t really weedless, at least not in my experience. It seems like every other cast I am still reaching down to pull grass off of the hook. I will say that it is a good idea to keep a 1/8 oz gold spoon tied on to a back-up rod for those stubborn reds that won’t eat anything else. My primary rod will always have the same set up to start when fishing heavy grass. I fish 1/4 oz Owner Beast hooks with the retainer spring. I also swap the small springs out for the larger ones. It really doesn’t matter what swimbait you put on that hook, usually reds will eat it. If the water is crystal clear then definitely lean towards more realistic patterns if it makes you feel better. I can tell you with confidence that if you put a swimbait within a foot of a red’s nose, it won’t matter what the package says. Make sure that you skin the hook in the back of the swimbait for 100% weedless retrieval. Yes, there will be a few times that you will pull in a clip of grass. So maybe it is more like 95% weedless. Another incredibly fun way to catch reds in the grass is using hollow body frog. I prefer popping frogs but walking styles work just as well. The explosive topwater bite on a hollow frog will have you throwing that lure all day long hoping for another. And that’s it! If you looked inside my Pro Angler right before I launch at Delacroix in the summer you will see three rods rigged with each of those three lures. Truthfully, I will fish the swimbait 98% of the time unless the early morning frog bite is on fire.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to tackle. All the test data you could ask for is out there already. Look to the bass anglers. I like to fish 7 foot, medium heavy, extra fast action rods. I want to be able to horse a fish out or pin it to the mat to keep from losing a fish when the line picks up an extra 5 lbs of grass. I would say that you need a sensitive rod to distinguish bites from bumping the grass, but reds bite so hard and ferociously that it’s not commonly mistaken. I personally fish a Shimano Cumara and G. Loomis E6X.
Consider what will happen when you set the hook into the mouth of an upper slot redfish in a pocket in the middle of a grass mat. It will make a run straight to the grass with the force of a freight train. Odds are you will not be able to stop it before it gets there. But what you can do is limit the extent of that run. 5 feet into the grass is much better than 50 feet in. I recommend always fishing baitcasters if you are proficient with them. Often you will spot a fish in pitching or flipping distance. Casts with baitcasters also tend to be more controlled and accurate casts. Go heavy on the drag. There will be times when you need to pin the fish to the underside of the mat until you can get a net under it or grips in its mouth. If a bunch of grass is weighting the line, it will sometimes give enough slack at the hook to allow the fish to shake it. You can see that happen to me early in the video. My heavy drag reels for the grass are a Lews BB1 Pro with a 14 lb drag and a 13 Fishing Concept C with a 22 lb drag. I prefer reels that I can pick up line quickly with so I fish the Lews with a ratio of 7.1:1 and the 13 Fishing with a ratio of 8.1:1. These speeds allow me to pick up the line quickly and re-cast if the fish changes directions or if I see a different fish all together.
Redfish are not shy about line selection. You will need a line that can hang with the tensile forces that you are about to subject it to. I am a huge fan of braided line. I love that it has no stretch and is therefore extremely sensitive while still being incredibly strong. It casts smoothly and is very abrasion resistant. I personally fish Sufix 832 in 20 or 30 lbs. FINS also makes some great braids for chasing reds in this heavy grass. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to line color. Try to match the water color as best as you can. Remember to back the braid with some mono of similar diameter to prevent slippage and to fill the reel. Also pay attention to the knots that you use. “Fisherman’s knots” tend to slip when using lighter braids. My fishing buddies and I argue all the time about which is better, the improved uni or palomar knot, but they are both great knots for braid. I will always use the improved uni with 6 turns for 30 lb braid and 8 turns for the 20 lb.
Benefits of the Kayak
The kayak is the ultimate vessel for fishing deep in the grass mats. I use my Mirage drive on the Hobie Pro Angler 14 to get me out to the mats. Once I arrive, I take the Mirage drive out or use the cord to lock them in the up position where the fins are flat against the hull. After I pick up the retractable rudder the kayak will just glide over the grass, even when it is sticking up through the surface. I normally don’t fish any deeper water than just a couple of feet. I will use my paddle to propel myself around the mats while in the standing position. Redfish will nose through the thick grass but pay close attention when the grass opens up into small holes. These pockets are normally where a see most of the fish that I catch. The edge of the grass is also a great place to patrol. Not all of the reds will be way back in the grass. With amber lens, polarized glasses spotting redfish is easy in the clear water. They actually stand out against the yellowish-green grass backdrop. Set the paddle down gently, pick up the rod and cast a few feet beyond and in front of the red. Time the retrieve to be about a foot in front of the fish when it crosses the lure. Then just get ready to set and hang on! Another benefit to the kayak is that it’s a kayak! Who cares if you get a bunch of grass and mud on it? Just hose it off when you get home and hang it up wet. Kayaks are very low maintenance and happen to be perfect for shallow water sight fishing.
If you do plan on taking your Hobie out in the grass, just know that peddling through the grass puts a good bit of stress on the fins. Don’t be afraid to pick up the fins and paddle. It is good exercise, but if you do choose to use the Mirage drive in the grass then it is a good idea to keep spare parts in the front hatch just in case you have any issues. All the kayaks and parts you could ever need are kept in stock at The Backpacker. Drop in and talk to the team about what would be good to keep on hand.
I hope that I was able to clear up some of the questions or concerns that you might have about fishing heavy grass for redfish. It truly is my favorite way to fish. If you have any other questions about grass, redfish, or kayak fishing in general please don’t hesitate to contact me or anyone at The Backpacker. Our main goal is to promote the sport and share it with everyone who might be interested. Good luck!
By: Eric Fey
There are tips and tricks that you can be told, and there are some that you just have to learn. My frog flopped down on the sheltered side of a grass patch, safe from the 20 mph north winds that were set to plague the day. The small bank looked “fishy” enough to draw my attention. Pop, pop, let it sit, pop, sit. I cannot explain what tipped me off to the redfish that was lurking just below the surface other than that I noticed a disturbance along the grassline that I’ve seen time and time again. It was a disruption in the rhythmic rippling of the water that was wrapping around the island. I readied myself, popped the frog three times and let it sit once more. The water erupted violently around the frog, and once the splash settled, the frog was gone. I tightened the line with just a couple of turns of the reel and set hard. I was met by the oh so sweet feeling of a hooked fish that just realized it’s time to run. And oh what a sweet feeling it is, especially on tournament day.
There are only a few kayak fishing tournaments a year that draw out the big crowds. The first of those tournaments is quickly approaching and fishing it requires a bit of preparation. On April 23rd, Top Water Marina will host Paddle Palooza XIII in Leeville, Louisiana. Over 250 kayak anglers are expected to take to the fish infested marshes from Galliano to Grand Isle in search of the biggest Cajun Slam. A Cajun Slam in this tournament consists of a three fish bag: one slot redfish (16 – less than 27”), one speckled trout (12” minimum), and one flounder (11” minimum). A complete slam will always be seeded above 2 fish stringers. There is also a category for heaviest leopard red which is the slot red (16 – less than 27”) with the most spots. In addition, there will also be single fish categories for overall heaviest slot red, mule trout, and saddle flounder. All baits and tackle that are legal according to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries may be used. Backpacker has been a main sponsor of both the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club as well as Paddle Palooza from the very beginning and they are offering up some incredible slam prizes. The first three places in the Cajun Slam category will take home the following prizes courtesy of The Backpacker:
Grand Prize – 2016 Hobie Pro Angler 14
2nd Place – 2016 Hobie Outback
3rd Place – $1,000 Gift Card to The Backpacker
More than $15,000 in cash and prizes will be handed out to both tournament and raffle winners. Other sponsors include Cabela’s, Hobie, KC Kayaks, and dozens more. With the big money comes the big anglers. Not only will this competition draw the best kayak anglers in the state, but it will even pull in some from out of state. And they are all here to accomplish the same goal, catch the biggest Cajun Slam. So how is that done?
Formulate a Plan
If the grand prize is what you want, then you’re going to have to work for it. Every year a handful of slams are entered and those slams automatically are placed above any two fish entry. This means that like it or not, you will have to commit to catching all three species. Before hitting the water make sure to take the time to develop a thought out plan. Despite every bone in my body trying to fight against it, I will share my plan to give you a bit of an idea. As of right now, the tidal forecast for the area I plan to fish shows a rising tide of 0.7ft from around midnight to 2:00 PM. As long as the wind isn’t too strong out of the N/NW then it shouldn’t be too difficult to find good moving water. Since the tournament is in late April, I will hope for sunshine and plan for rain. I have an area that is proven to hold quality redfish and flounder so I will make that location my primary fishing area. On the way I have several locations picked out where I have had success picking up a few trout on an incoming tide. So my plan as it stands is to attempt to pick up a trout on my way to my hunting grounds. I will then try to bag a flounder until 9 or 10 AM. Hopefully by then the sun will be up and I can sight fish around for a few quality redfish. If/Once I get a good 26”+ red in the bag I will resume my pursuit of flounder and/or trout.
What I am about to tell you is extremely important! DO NOT spend all your time trying to upgrade your catch in any one category before finding all three. There are some exceptions to this rule and it will be up to you to decide which ones apply to you. A few of my exceptions are as follows:
- If I catch a trout less than 15” early in the morning, I will throw in that area a bit more in attempt to upgrade. Typically where there is one trout, there are several. I will not spend more than 10 minutes fishing an area where I managed to pick up one trout. I will move on to flounder.
- If I catch a redfish less than 24” soon after beginning my search for reds, I will try to upgrade if I have good sun and clear water. If not, I will continue my pursuit of flounder or trout.
- If I catch a flounder soon after I begin to target them, I will fish in general area in attempt to upgrade. I anticipate spending most of my fishing time trying to locate and bag a weighable flounder.
There will likely be times when you hook into a redfish while targeting flounder or trout. Or visa versa. This should not be your plan, but rather a bonus. Now that my plan has been laid out, let’s discuss targeting each species individually.
I plan to have at least three different rigs ready to go for trout initially: a soft plastic on a 3/8 oz jig (color to be decided based on weather and water conditions), a “walk the dog” style topwater bait, and a popping style topwater bait. Remember that ALL types of baits are allowed. The tried and true method of catching all inshore fish is shrimp under a popping cork. I prefer not to mess with live or dead bait so I will be sticking to artificial. I will hit each of my pre-planned areas, assuming that the water is moving as I will have planned for. I like to start with the topwater baits because they are loads of fun and I personally average larger trout on them. I will spend 5-10 minutes in each area, fishing all rigs and moving my casts a few feet at a time ensuring that I cover the entire area. Keep in mind that jig weight may need to change based on the level of water movement. If I do not pick up a trout in any of those spots, I will look for other areas with clean, moving water but I will not deviate from my plan to head to my main fishing grounds.
Make no mistake about it, redfish will be the most important fish of this tournament. It is tough to make that statement since a flounder will usually put an angler in the money or take him out of the running. But it is only fair to say the same and more about a redfish in this particular tournament. If you do not bag a red, you still do not make your slam. They may be a little easier to catch than a flounder, but the last thing you want to do is show up to the table without a redfish. A quality redfish will offer you several chances to leave with a significant prize. Your redfish will likely make up most of the weight in your slam. A 26-15/16” redfish can weigh up to 8+lbs! It is fairly unlikely that you will catch a trout or flounder that is 8 lbs. They probably will not weigh that much combined. In addition, a big redfish will put you up for the Big Redfish category. If you happen to catch a redfish with the most spots you could be heading home with a brand new KC Kayak. For redfish, I plan to spend most of my time working the flats near big water. If the sun is out, sight fishing a swimbait on a 1/4 oz jig will be my go to set up. If the sun is not up, I will likely rotate between the swimbait, a jig rig with gulp or other soft plastic, and some type of flash (spoon or spinner). AGAIN, dead shrimp on bottom is a killer setup if you want to go in that direction.
First of all, notice that I do not have a picture of me holding a flounder. That is because I never target flounder so naturally this is the fish that I am least proficient at catching. In fact, the only flounder that I have ever landed in a kayak came on a clouser minnow with my fly rod. I do happen to know that flounder frequent the flat that I plan to target for redfish due to its proximity to deeper water and the scattered structure that holds bait. Locating the flounder will be key so I plan to fish the deeper edge, the drop, and the flats. I will swap to a slightly heavier bucktail jig and bounce a curly tail gulp along the bottom. It will be important to work this bait slowly. Many times when a flounder picks up a lure, it will grab the tail and swim a bit before sucking it down. I will have to practice patience when I know a flounder has picked up the bait. I will keep tension on the line and once I feel it choke up on the jig, I can lay into my hook set.
Last Minute Gear and Other Considerations
First let’s talk safety. If you plan to take full advantage of the time fishing time allotted, you’ll be launching before daybreak. In addition to a PFD you will also need a 360 degree coast guard approved light. It is highly recommended that you also have a high vis flag attached to your kayak as well. Get the light and flag up off of the kayak a few feet so it is visible over the marsh grass and not blocked by any gear. Share your float plan with others who are familiar with the area and give them a general time that you will arrive back at the launch. Bring some water and a snack for on the water if you plan to spend all day out there. Consider bringing some rain gear and an extra set of clothes if the weatherman calls for wetness. Insect repellent will save your life if the gnats are hungry, which they always are.
Tournament days are rarely ideal days. Not to be a pessimist but I fully expect to see 15 mph winds and cloudy skies. Make sure that you have a good way to keep your kayak stationary. At least two species that I plan to target will require me to anchor for some period of time to allow me to fish slowly, especially should I find an area that seems to hold several fish. I have chosen to go with a simple anchor trolley and stakeout pole. Anchor trolleys allow you to position the boat to face any direction with only one anchor point. Two other common options are the Power-Pole Micro (the Cadillac of kayak anchoring systems) and a retractable weight on both the front and back of the kayak.
BRING A NET!!! Landing a fish by hand or with lip grips is fine and dandy until your flounder throws the hook at the boat while you’re trying to get a hand on it. Bring an ice chest or fish bag large enough to hold the fish you plan to weigh plus your cull fish. You can bring two redfish to the table, one for the slam and one leopard. But if you get all three fish early and are able to upgrade, you’ll want cull space in your bag. DO NOT ever try to release a fish that has been out of the water for any significant amount of time. It likely will not survive and that is a very unethical practice. If you plan to sight fish for those reds once the sun comes out you will need a good pair polarized sunglasses. I would also recommend bringing a pair of pliers for hook removals.
Every kayaker will be fishing a slightly different set up and yours will likely be a little different as well. I encourage you to stop into The Backpacker and talk to the crew about your rig. They have everything that you could need to get on the water and do so safely. With almost 300 anglers that all share the same passion for kayak fishing, you are bound to have a good time. So come out to enjoy an incredible atmosphere, catch a bunch of fish, eat some good food, and meet some great people at Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club’s Paddle Palooza XIII.
By: Eric Fey
I was well into my second wind by the time I arrived at the area that I wanted to fish this past Saturday morning. I was about 3 miles away from the launch at this point and the sky was growing darker by the second. I knew that I wouldn’t have long to fish before the weather got too rough for me to stay. I threw my Rapala Skitterwalk to the edge of the grass and began to walk it out towards the open water. The water underneath the lure erupted and the lure was sucked down below the surface. My line tightened and the rod bent over as the bull made her initial run down the edge of the bank before breaking into the open water. I was able to get a few cranks on the reel before she felt the pressure and took off. My drag was screaming and I leaned into the butt of the rod to slow her down. She would pause for only a moment before her second run. I was fishing 12 lb flourocarbon on my “topwater/jig rig” so I knew there was a limit to how much I could tighten my drag. I was in for a hell of a ride, and she was driving.
By applying constant pressure, I was able to turn her around and work her in closer to the kayak. As a general rule of thumb, you do not want to bring a big red with a bunch of energy too close to the boat or she might dive under it. If this happens, you run the risk of losing the fish or damaging your equipment. But make no mistake about it, some times she will dictate where the fight takes place. In this case, early in the fight she chose to swim closer to the kayak. It is important to always keep pressure on the fish, so when she swam in, I was forced to pick up line until the fight was at the kayak. In the clip you will see me pick up my retractable rudder. I also flattened out my mirage drive fins which you cannot see. That way, if and when she chooses to dive under the yak, there is nothing for the line to get tangled on. You might also notice me tightening my drag during the fight which some believe to be a “no no”. One benefit to using a modern baitcaster is the star drag. I just recently read a great article that I will refer you to on lafishblog.com called You Need to Start Using a Baitcaster that explains some of the additional benefits of using this type of reel. The star drag, to put it simply, consists of a combination of carbon and stainless steel drag washers that are stacked on top of one another. When you tighten down on the drag it compresses the stack of washers. The tighter they are together, the more friction exists between them when the drag is paying out, ergo heavier drag. If I am going to adjust my drag during the fight, I normally wait for the fish to pause between runs. Be sure to know what your line poundage is so that you do not over tighten your drag and pop your line. Only make adjustments when necessary. For instance, tighten the drag if you are running out of line or want to quicken the fight. If the drag is set appropriately (about 2/3 the line weight is what I like) then the drag should never need to be loosened.
During the fight, try to maintain a rod angle of approximately 45 degrees. If the fish is running straight away from the kayak, lower the angle and let the drag do its job. When the fish takes a dive under the kayak it’s decision time. NEVER release the spool. If you can swing the rod around the front or back of the yak that will be your best bet. This is something to consider when deciding how to store extra rods. If they are sticking up in the back of the yak it may make it tough to pass your rod over during a fast run under the yak. Sometimes the only option will be to maintain that constant pressure and try to turn the fish back to the side that the rod is on. You will notice that several times during the fight I readied the net when I thought that I might have a chance to land her. It is very important to do your best to get those big reds to the kayak before they have reached exhaustion. It is possible that a fish can be so tired out that it dies upon release. Although this is more common in the hot days of summer, it can happen year round and should always be considered.
Anytime I show a picture of a big red to someone who does not kayak fish I always get the same question. “That thing must have pulled you around quite bit huh?” Well, yes! And that is half of the fun. In the kayak fishing community, a ride on the back of a big redfish is known as a Cajun Sleigh Ride. If you are going to be anchored out then you better make sure that your drag is well tuned. Otherwise, pick up the anchor and let that big girl drag you around for a little while! Just make sure she won’t pull you into a pod of redfish that you would then spook off. So the question becomes, “where do I go to find big reds?” That depends on how big you want to go. While fishing the interior marshes, you will often find reds that get up to about 30-32″ long. If you want the 20+ lbers then you need to head a little further towards the coast. I caught this red in Cocodrie in a bay that is open to the gulf. Grand Isle is a common destination for kayakers in search of giant bull reds and every year several 40+ inchers are landed. In fact, Grand Isle is home to an annual kayak fishing tournament appropriately named Ride the Bull. Hundreds and hundreds of kayakers stack up in Caminada Pass hoping to hook into a 30 lber. Leeville is another big red location and so is Hopedale.
I fought the beautiful redfish above for what seemed like an hour. In actuality it was just under 6 minutes. She was bigger than my measuring board but I am estimating her to be somewhere around 35-36″. The BOGA grips put her weight right at 20 lbs. When the fight was over and the pictures were taken, she was released with plenty of energy. I, on the other hand, was exhausted.
I hope this helps you to land your next big red or maybe even your first big redfish from a kayak. I am positive that I didn’t address all of the questions that you may have. So if you have any questions or are interested in getting started, stop into The Backpacker and talk to the crew about how you can get in a kayak and after these big Louisiana redfish.
Join our Backpacker crew to paddle and pedal the coolest kayaks and SUPs on the planet from Hobie, Wilderness Systems, Yolo, Perception, Mad River Canoe, KC Kayaks, and Dagger! Times subject to weather cancellations. Get updated information by following us on our Facebook page or get more info by contacting out store.
Demo days are free. Anyone under the age of 18 must have a waiver signed by a parent or guardian. Noone under the age of 10 is permitted on the water.
Join our Baton Rouge crew to paddle and pedal the coolest kayaks and SUPs on the planet from Hobie, Wilderness Systems, Yolo, Perception, Mad River Canoe, KC Kayaks, and Dagger! Times subject to weather cancellations. Get updated information by following us on our Facebook page or get more info by contacting out store.
Demo days are free. Anyone under the age of 18 must have a waiver signed by a parent or guardian. Noone under the age of 10 is permitted on the water.
By: Eric Fey
The winter months of January and February are two of my least favorite months to fish. The wind is always howling and the water level is so low that most of my summer honey holes are inaccessible. The mornings are cold and the fish are lethargic. The launches are packed with duck hunters and boats taking advantage of stacked trout. But through all of these challenges, I will experience growth as an angler every time I float out into the marsh. Every adventure presents an opportunity to learn about how the marsh changes with water level extremes and heavy winds. Opportunities that allow you to learn about how the fish change, or rather, how their patterns change. Being able to adapt and mold your game plan to fit the changing environment will mean the difference between slime on the deck and an empty chest.
Here are two inevitable facts about fishing in the winter time: 1) The wind will be strong and the water low. Strong winds and low water often means muddy water and low visibility. 2) Big fish come out to play. Most of what I write about is personal experience and my own observations. This is no different. So far January and February of 2016 have been challenging months to fish. January started out really hot with Minimalist Challenge in Leeville and 1200lbs of fish weighed. Afterwards I refocused back on Delacroix. Plenty of reports were coming in from boaters about loads and loads of trout. While I wouldn’t mind catching a few specks, reds are always my primary target. I made two trips down to Delacroix and both were almost identical. I peddled an average of 12 miles to find clean water and never could. Now I am not a numbers guy. I would rather sight cast a few good reds than blindly catch two limits of 18”ers. The hunt is the best part and the take is even better. So I would still consider those two trips successful purely on the fact that I was able to land a few impressive fish. But those few catches were not where the learning took place. The low water, although dirty, gave me an incredible opportunity.
On those days the water was over a foot lower than I am used to fishing. Using my 12’ Yak Attack Park n Pole that I got from The Backpacker, I was able to pole the extremely shallow flats and make invaluable notes. I was able to see structure and channeling. I was able to find new flats that had just enough grass to hold bait which will in turn attract reds. I was able to force myself to scout rather than blindly cast around for fish because I knew the conditions were not ideal. It is extremely important to take the time to scout to find new hunting grounds and the low, dirty water days are perfect for it. And even though the bulk of what I accomplished was my scouting, I was still able to land a few quality fish.
This past weekend I went back to Leeville with a couple new buddies from the forum. When we stepped out of the truck the wind almost knocked me off balance. It was for sure the windiest day that I had fished in awhile. We had a plan, a good one as it would turn out. The plan was to take the guys to a flat that I had fished for Minimalist Challenge. Given the direction of the wind I knew the flat would likely be protected. I estimated the water to be a little lower than MC so the flat would have still had plenty enough to sight fish around. As long as the wind hadn’t beaten it up, the water would be clean. Given that the temperature was in the low 50s and the water temps in the mid 50’s, we knew the sun would need to come up and warm the flats before the fish became active. We worked our way to the area that we planned to fish and fought the wind the entire way. It was brutal to say the least. We fished around on the way there without a single bite. We reached the flat a bit before noon and only saw one redfish for the first hour. But the water was clear and this is what we expected! The sun got high in the sky and I could feel my self beginning to get warmer in my hoodie so I knew the water was feeling the same way. Not long after noon I spotted a red slamming some bait fish up against the grass on the edge of the flat. I slowly peddled over and stood up. I saw him sliding off of the bank back down into a deeper underwater channel. I threw my Spartacus Vortex Shad about ten feet past him and time the retrieve to be about a foot ahead of him once they met. As soon as I could tell it was in his view, I let the lure sink straight down to the bottom. Before it could hit the mud the fish inhaled it and turned right towards the kayak. I quickly picked up the excess line, buried the hook, and muscled him into the net.
After the first couple of fish, the reds started pouring onto the flat. Groups of 2, 3, 4, and even 5 were seen cruising along together. Many of the reds appeared to be over the slot limit. We chased them around while frequently changing color patterns trying to figure out what they wanted to eat. As it turns out all of my fish came on the same Spartacus color. Even though the water was clean and the sun was up, the reds seemed to prefer the darker pattern. All in all I would consider the day to be extremely successful given the conditions. In fact, it was one of my more successful days of this winter. Rest assured that I will be visiting that flat again. Tight lines!
The following video is a compilation of a few of my better reds from January and February of this year. ENJOY and come see us at the Backpacker!!! There is no better time to get into kayak fishing than RIGHT NOW!