By Rich Holland
The year 2016 boasted a pair of the best kayak catches of all time, starting January 28 with Brian Fagan’s 74.2-pound white seabass pulled from winter waters off La Jolla, California and six months later more than doubled up by Nick Wakida’s 187.6-pound yellowfin secured after a brutal battle in pristine blue waters of Maui, Hawaii on July 6.
Launching at dawn that day and fishing several spots before he finally hooked up, Wakida believed he had something other than a tuna, a shark most probably, on during the early stages of a deep water tug of war. The kayak run was supposed to be a quick trip before work and time was running out and Nick just wanted to see what it was he had been pulling on for more than an hour already. Lifting the rod higher in an attempt to get the fish moving up in the water column only served to snap his rod in two. Still expecting to see the white belly of a grinner, the Hawaiian handlined the giant close to the kayak.
“Eventually I could see the yellow of the yellow fin and I started to get really excited!” said Nick. “I realized I needed to get my kagi to spear it, but it’s covered in the fishing line, so I had to scramble and pull the kagi out of the web of line. Luckily I made a perfect hit to the head, but there was lots of blood and right away two sharks started circling my boat.
“Now all I am thinking is how do I get this fish back to the beach safely, and that no one is going to believe my story if my fish gets eaten by sharks,” added Wakida “I got the fish to the boat and tied up as best I could and called my dad. He called Maui Sporting Goods, they called the nearest lifeguards and they came out on the Jet Skis to assist me. The ahi dragged me a couple miles out and a few mile up the coast. It’s a really dangerous areas where winds and currents are very strong. The wind was picking up, so I had to make the call.
“When the lifeguards first came up to me I could see a look on their face that said ‘okay, here’s some other guy that doesn’t know what he’s doing that has to be pulled in.’ Then they came around other side where the could see the fish, I pulled the head up to gill level, and they got excited and eager to help me out.”
Nick was fishing on a Hobie Revo 13 outfitted with a Hobie Ama Kit and said the fish was so heavy that even with the outrigger, pulling just the head up nearly brought the edge of the kayak to water level.
“The fish was so long I could not get a tail wrap on it, so I put a roped through the gill and left the gaff in the fish. The ahi was gut hooked, so I left that in too. The first thing the we did when the lifeguards got there was to get the fish better secured with a line on the tail. I had been pedaling towards the beach, trying to keep out of the blood slicks the whole time and the sharks weren’t around by the time the lifeguards got to me.
“Still, we got out of there as quick as we could!” notes Wakida, laughing. Nick’s yellowfin was weighed on an official scale at Maui Sporting Goods, an amazing 187.6 pounds. Then family and friends feasted on fresh ahi for days! The previous largest yellowfin from a kayak was achieved by Devin Hallingstad, who landed a 176.5-pound ahi off the Kona Coast of the island of Hawaii.
Brian Fagan, 2016’s other record breaker, also got an early start, heading in the pre-dawn darkness to catch some mackerel for bait and then make his way to the area off La Jolla that had been giving up a strong bite on big seabass in between the many storms early in the year. A veteran kayaker with many white seabass over 40-pounds to his credit, Brian was hoping for his first over 50 pounds — a fish known in local circles as a tanker — when at first light he sent down a little greenback mackerel pinned to a ringed 1/0 Gamakatsu circle tied to a 40-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader on 65-pound braid.
“The bait was down there about 5 minutes and I felt a tap tap and I thought a little calico bass was messing with my bait. I reeled real fast, missed the fish, and within a minute the taps happened again. I reeled again and hooked up.
“For a few minutes the fish didn’t move, it felt like bottom,” said Fagan. “Then the fish took off and that was a great thing to feel.”
He added the fish didn’t make a big sizzling first run, just a steady cruise with the kayak in the tow.
“The steady run and the fact I couldn’t lift the fish made me think I had a black seabass on, I have caught a dozen of them,” continued Fagan. “The fish took me around a boat that had been out there all night. I asked them if they had hooked any black seabass. When they said no, I told ’em that’s what I got.
“About 30 minutes later, I still thought it was a black seabass, it was just too heavy, so I didn’t even ready the gaff. Usually I take the tennis ball off the tip,” Brian says. “When the fish got to color, I just remember going numb. My first thought was that it reminded me of an aquarium, like I had just been dropped in a tank with this huge fish.
“I reached for the gaff, took off the ball, the fish came up right next to the boat and I stuck it perfectly right behind the gill just below in the stomach,” says Fagan. “Then I guess adrenalin kicked in because the fish was in the kayak and I don’t even remember pulling it into the boat. I’ve had back surgeries and usually I am really careful about lifting.
“With the tail of the fish at the tip of the bow of the 13-foot Revolution, the fish’s head was just under my chin,” he adds. “With the fish on the Mirage drive, it made it completely unusable.”
Fagan was able to paddle in, clinging to the big seabass when the Hobie tumbled in the La Jolla Shores surf. “It was the kayak or the fish — I chose the fish!” he laughed.
Once ashore, the immensity of the big seabass sunk in as astonished fellow kayakers told him that not only had he achieved his goal of a tanker, the white seabass he caught looked to be much larger. That it was, weighing 74.2 pounds on the certified scale at Dana Landing in Mission Bay.
While Fagan’s kayak seabass has the record for biggest weighed on an official scale, the kayak community still acknowledges Dennis Spike’s 75-pound Malibu fish that never made it to a weigh station as the largest ever caught from a kayak. That doesn’t matter to Fagan. “I got the fish I wanted,” he said.