By Jerry McBride
Texas kayak angler Tod Johnson has made his name fishing the oil rigs miles off of the Texas Gulf coast. But his obsession starts long before that, on smaller waters. In Texas, it’s only natural that kayak fishermen seek out offshore oil rigs. “When I was 3, my father bought me my first Snoopy pole and the obsession grew from there,” he says. “Dad built antique airplanes at a hangar in Spring, Texas. Each day he would drop me off at the pond next to the runway.”
Who taught you the most along the way?
I taught myself through trial and error until my teens, when I was taken under the wing of my Bandera neighbor, Phil Kindla. He taught me more than I could ever learn about the bays and offshore, and took me fishing with him a few times. Much of my offshore experience has come from Tino Mendietta and Glenn “Professor Salt” Madden, as well as local guide Scott McCune.
When did you take up kayak fishing, and why did you choose to take up the sport?
I started fishing from a canoe when I was young, but that phase passed during junior high and high school. Girls trump fishing. When I moved to San Antonio in 2008 to return to school for engineering, I began wade-fishing the local hot spots in Corpus Christi. I found that I was wading farther and farther to find peace and quiet. I had an epiphany–fishing plus a kayak would not be as hard on my budget as a boat. In a stroke of genius I joined the Texaskayakfishermen.com forum, also known as TKF, and purchased a used kayak. In short, I got into kayak fishing to get away from the stress of the engineering program.
What was your first kayak catch?
My first kayak catch was a dink speckled trout, followed on the next cast by my first over-slot redfish.
What was your biggest kayak fishing disaster?
Us Texas boys prefer to call a trip like this a baptism at sea. On my first trip to the rigs I borrowed a kayak to make my maiden voyage to the Mayan Princess Rig Cluster. Seas were forecast for two feet at six seconds with winds at around 10 mph. As everyone knows, the weatherman gets paid to lie 90 percent of the time. This was not a 10 percent day. I made it out of the gauntlet of surf without a scratch and was met by solid 3-footers at five seconds with a few waves pushing five feet coming from an off-angle every four sets. I learned the term “washing machine” that day.
At two miles I hooked my first king, a nice 44-inch schoolie. As we approached, I watched all of the salts grab their sabiki rods to begin working the rig legs for bait. I forgot to tie a sabiki. In 4-foot seas with rogue rollers, I made a rookie mistake. I looked down into my bag of leaders and was hit broadside by a roller. In that moment, every loose hook I had on all three rods sank into my PFD, shirt, gloves and collar. I looked like a bad case of the muppets except I was upside down pinned in the kayak covered in fish blood. I was able to get air from my tank well briefly, and then went to work trying to get free. I submerged and began methodically ripping chunks out of my shirt and gloves as I tore the lures and leaders free.
I righted my kayak about two minutes into the ordeal. Big mistake. My rods were still in the rod holders and the topshot of heavy mono had wrapped around the kayak with the rod at full bend, and my PFD had me pinned against the kayak. Tino made his way to me as quickly as he could, and with the help of another kayaker, Justin Poole, they were able to use wire cutters on the steel leader.
Glad you walked away from that one. What part of the Texas coast do you primarily fish?
I have found a home and my peace of mind fishing offshore out of Corpus Christi. Given the opportunity and conditions though, there is no telling where I will fish next. I am blessed with great kayak angling friends from around the world who have all extended invites.
How far out are those oil rigs you fish off the Texas coast?
The rigs in the Corpus area vary greatly. They generally range from two to seven miles from shore. Sadly, these rigs are being demolished. Rig fishermen are losing their “reefs.” They cut the rigs down to the water surface and then cut them off below the sea floor, leaving no trace of artificial structure as a “Shipping Hazard,” even though these wells were capped years ago. In return, each year a ship is sunk to replace the destroyed habitat at about seven miles. We have lost two major rig structures in the past year alone. It is sad, but the fish will always be there, just not nearly as concentrated.
Had you tested the new Viking Kayak Profish Reload kayak inshore prior to taking it on the offshore kingfish run we saw in the video, or did you just rig the camera and throw it in the surf?
Short story, yes, I threw it in the surf and fired up the cameras.
I had taken the Profish 400 out for a few minutes at a local demo, where I was instantly hooked on the efficiency in comparison to my previous kayak. I ordered the 400 for my wife and the larger Reload for myself, knowing that the 400 would arrive long before the first shipment of Reloads. The day I picked up my 400 from YakGear, I drove straight to McFaddin to fish with a group of close friends for shark and bull reds. A month later I received my Reload and took it straight offshore to one of the rigs and limited out on kings.
What would you consider your best kayak catch so far?
If I had to point my finger to one catch, it would be a big blacktip caught knife jigging the rig legs in a ripping current this past season. The fish destroyed a 5-ounce jig and immediately went air-born, eight feet out of the water, spinning like a top. He did this about six times before shaking the hook, which promptly stuck in the dorsal section of his back. It took 2.5 hours to drag him back up to the surface to cut the leader short. The next best would be the mahi I hooked in Pompano in January for the Extreme Sailfish Smackdown side pot. Luck prevailed and my first mahi paid for my first fishfinder.
More action from the rigs, with Chris Castro and Reuben Pena courtesy of Next Level Fishing.