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Putting on the Brakes

Staking poles, drift chutes and how to slow down really big fish. by Peter Hinck

Hooking a large fish on a kayak opens a whole new challenge: the kayak sleigh ride. Kayak sleigh rides can be a blast; they can also take you miles from where you want to be or into a jungle of mangroves and dock pilings. Knowing how to put the brakes on can save you the fish of a lifetime.

Good planning and fast execution are keys to a great catch. In shallow water to four feet, stake out poles are a great way to put the brakes on fast. They come in 5- to 8-foot sizes and may be bungeed along the kayak when not in use. Manufacturers like Crack of Dawn and Stick It make great stake out poles. You can also use 1-inch PVC with the end cut off at a 45-degree angle for softer bottoms. You will have to be fast putting the stake out through a scupper hole or through an anchor trolley. This will help keep you from being pulled into structure. If the fish turns and makes a run for deeper water, pull up the pole and follow.

In slightly deeper water (5 to 10 feet), an anchor may be your best bet. A folding grapnel or mushroom anchor works well. Make sure that you have at least 30 feet of line with a crab float and a quick release clip. Have the release clip hooked up to your trolley and your anchor, ready to deploy when needed. The anchor may not always stop the kayak, but it will slow it to a point where you have a good chance to stop the fish. You may need to chase the fish and will not have time to pull up the anchor; that is where the float with clip comes in. Unhook the anchor line from the kayak, chase your fish and then return to pick up your anchor.

Offshore sleigh rides open up new challenges: big tarpon off the beach or wahoo in the Gulf Stream can pull you for miles, depending on the current. Poles and botttom-holding anchors are not much good out there. Drift chutes, or sea anchors, are a great way to put pressure on large fish in open water. Hook the drift chute to your trolley or have it on a 7-foot line clipped to the back of the kayak. Keep the chute behind your seat until needed. When hooked up, drop the chute over the side of the kayak. The chute will deploy and add a lot of drag to the kayak. When you are done, use the trolley to bring the drift chute to you or back paddle to get the chute on the 7-foot line. Manufacturers like Crack of Dawn make drift chutes for kayaks that have flotation on the top and weight on the bottom. This allows the chute to open in a flash.

Pedal power kayaks, like Hobie with its Mirage Drive and Native Watercraft's Propel, have an advantage when fighting large fish. They both allow you to power your kayak while you fight the fish. Inshore, you can pedal with your feet, leaving your hands free to fish. Once you hook up, you are able to use the drive unit to pull your catch away from structure. Native's model allows you to pedal in reverse. This can be a big help when a snook is taking you into the mangroves. Hobie's can be reversed, but you have to take the Mirage unit out and turn it around. Not much time to do that when a big fish is on. It's best to hit a hard right or left with the rudder and drive yourself away from the structure. You will have to work the rudder with one hand from time to time to keep the kayak moving in the right direction. After you have landed your fish of a lifetime, you can use the pedal drive to swim the fish if it needs to be revived. - FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Feb. 2013.

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