By Billy Walsh
Taking a break from sandcastles and sunbathing, a small crowd gathers on a South Florida shoreline and trades questions among themselves while peering out over the choppy ocean.
"What's that red and fluorescent green speck on the horizon?"
As it neared shore, the speck moved skillfully through breaking waves, eventually materializing into a human being with several fishing rods–in a red kayak.
This crowd was about to have their curiosity satisfied by one of the best in the sport of offshore kayak fishing. Shark Zen sponsored kayak fisherman and expert fishing guide Rob Rodriguez gets questioned like this all the time, and for good reason. A consistent winner of offshore kayak fishing tournaments, hardly a trip goes by without an impressive catch. From sailfish to wahoo, on calm seas and rocky seas, this extreme kayak fisherman has made his mark on a rising sport and is on his way to accomplishing new feats that many would say are impossible.
Rob moved to Florida from New York about ten years ago. When he arrived, he wanted an easy way to get out on the water and keep active. He bought his first used Ocean Kayak Prowler and immediately noticed a couple of rod holders mounted in the back of it. It was a natural progression from there to his first big feat of offshore kayak fishing.
Imagine you're in a kayak in 4- to 6-foot seas with a small craft advisory, 15-knot winds, gusting to 18. Not exactly an ideal day for venturing out alone in any boat, let alone a kayak (Rodriguez will be the first to tell you he doesn't go out alone anymore). You rock your way out to 120 feet of water and land a small almaco jack and a bonito. The seas continue to build, but you do one more deep jig as a shot in the dark before calling it a day. The jig taps bottom and you start reeling up as fast as you can. BOOM, a freight train hits your line and the vertical jig instantly goes horizontal. As an epic tug of war ensues, a skyrocketing fish with vertical stripes down its sides draws your mouth open to yell "WAHOO!!”
That's how the first big extreme kayaking conquest unfolded for Rob; a 40-pound wahoo (shown above) that landed him in several news stories. But not everything comes so "easy" on the water for a saltwater kayak fisherman.
Kayaks aren't as visible on the water as larger boats, which means close calls from passing vessels run by inattentive captains. Once, while Rob was fighting a fish, a passing sailboat's keel caught one of his fishing lines. He tried to cut the line, but was too late and he was pulled out of the kayak.
“Now I’m under water with one hand on my fishing pole, being pulled by the sailboat and the other hand holding on tight to my kayak," Rob described. “After what felt like an eternity submerged, I was able to break my line free and re-board my kayak.” Situations like this demonstrate the need to have a clear, alert mind when on the water in such a vulnerable position.
From an overall safety perspective, the key is to let it be known where you are when on the water. Rob recommends multiple communication devices such as a cell phone, a two-way radio, a personal locator beacon, a flare gun, a signal mirror, and a whistle. He also wears bright-colored performance shirts that act as large, highly visible safety flags. For launches in the dark or with little daylight, he suggests bringing a light pole. Rob also brings a pump and duct tape in case of a leak.
With precautions like these, Rob believes the rewards of saltwater kayak fishing greatly outweigh the risks. In addition to the beauty of being in the middle of blue water on a small craft powered by human motion, a kayak provides a unique advantage when fishing because of its low sound and size profile. Fish aren't spooked as easily. Rob adds that there's something exhilarating about seeing big sportfishing charter boats pass by pointing and commenting to their clients as you haul a big pelagic fish to your kayak.
There's really no secret to the consistent kayak fishing success Rob has achieved. You've got to put in the time. He says "I'm never done learning, reading, doing research, attending fishing clinics and seminars, and listening to what works for others. Having a good network of anglers with clear communication is ideal."
This is part of the beauty of the offshore kayak fishing world, he notes. No one is trying to hide anything about how they find their fishing success. They're all open to sharing ideas, tactics, rigs, and locations to build each other up. This makes it more fun for everyone, and it ultimately helps Rob and other core leaders of the offshore kayak fishing community, such as Extreme Kayak Fishing Inc., grow the ocean sport they love.
What's the next big kayak fishing conquest for Rob? A yellowfin tuna over 100 pounds, a cubera snapper over 80 pounds, a goliath grouper unassisted, and at long last, the coveted swordfish. He’s going after them all, and something tells me the people on the beach will be waiting to hear the stories.
Billy Walsh is the founder of Shark Zen, which offers stylish sea life apparel, art, and accessories for fishermen, divers and those passionate about the ocean and its wildlife.