Southern California's best kayak fishing destinations lie far beyond paddling reach. Those places are the thick kelp beds and rocky shallows of the windswept Channel Islands, spots the most audacious power boaters avoid.
The solution? Load a fishing kayak onto a larger boat, a floating home base if you will, then paddle deep into the weeds. Until recent years, intrepid anglers who wanted to fish the nooks and crannies of the more remote islands such as San Clemente crammed kayaks onto small private boats for quick there and back shots, or somehow rounded up enough of a crowd to charter one of the state's huge fleet of sportfishing boats. Also known as party boats, these vessels have full galleys plus bunk space for overnight sojourns.
Either way, the result was a lot of fun on the water, but getting over the pitching rail and onto the kayak and back was often hair-raising. Then there was the jumbled mess of gear piled haphazardly on the deck.
A couple of enterprising sportfishing captains determined to change things. Back in 2005, Shane Slaughter and John Coniff of the Islander took a gamble and fabricated a custom kayak rack for the boat. They already had a swim step for their new great white shark cage diving trips, so the concept wasn't much of a stretch.
Hardcore kayak anglers found a lot to like on the Islander. Rugged individualists soon discovered what passes for decadent luxury: comfortable bunks for overnight travel, three plus hot squares a day, bait and beer delivery via Zodiac, even steamy-hot freshwater showers. What a life – or at least a heck of a long weekend.
Oh yeah, the fishing was great too. We're talking virgin water, where the calico bass grow fat, big halibut hide under the sand just offshore of deserted beaches, and turbo-charged yellowtail and white seabass are always a possibility.
These days the Islander attracts enough business for a half dozen or so regularly scheduled overnight kayak mothership trips each year. All originate in San Diego.
If the commercial kayak fishing mothership concept hasn't exactly caught fire, it's been successful enough the Islander now has imitators. The most notable is the Qualifier 105, whose owner John Klein has run motherships of another stripe for a couple decades. In the Q105's case, the little boats in question are skiffs shuttled far down Baja's isolated Pacific coast. It was a no-brainer to add fishing kayaks to the mix.
The Q105 takes the Islander concept to near-expeditionary levels. Trip lengths range from three days to eight; with the luxury of time, the fishing stops are far-flung and exotic, rarely visited places such as Cedros Isle. The fish are the same encountered by Islander anglers, but potentially much more abundant. These waters are so rich a kayak angler can score a year's worth of big game battles in one action-packed day. There's nothing comparable anywhere in kayak fishing circles.
Of course, for the ultimate in flexibility there's the nearly do-it-yourself option. Jim Sammons of La Jolla Kayak Fishing offers 5-pack charters out to San Clemente or other fishy offshore spots on the Grander, a fast and comfortable cruiser. Kayak fishing from a 38-ft. Bertram offers more range and variety than the average freelance trip. In fall, a single trip could include trolling blue water for tuna, free diving for lobster, surfing isolated breaks, and kayak fishing giant kelp beds.
As the sport continues its rapid growth, kayak anglers can look forward to an ever-widening array of mothership options. Load 'em up!
2008's West Coast Kayak Mothership Offerings
The Qualifier 105: Go long! Three to eight day options.
619-223-2786 or www.qualifier105.com
3-day Baja coast / islands, May 1 and 15
7 or 8-day West Coast Baja, May 30, June 7 and 14
Islander Charters: Overnight Adventure
1.5-day trips via OEX Kayak Center
619-758-9531 or www.oeexpress.com
San Clemente Island, May 2 and 16
Todos Santos, Baja June 6 and 15
Grander 5-Pack: Make Your Own Itinerary
Book via La Jolla Kayak Fishing
619-461-7172 or www.kayak4fish.com
3-day San Clemente Island and offshore options