I’ve started kayak fishing I’ve tried to do something new
and different as often as possible. I constantly want to try and push
my limits and the limits of the kayak. It has lead to me getting wet,
flipping over, and even losing gear, but I think that it is all part of
I’ve been taking my kayak into Diamond Shoals since I first got
the thing. I am not the first to do it, and I will not be the last, but
we who venture onto the shoals are few and far between. Each time the
weather has allowed, I’ve gone deeper into the shoals. With each
trip, I learn more about reading the water for danger and, most
importantly, for fish.
The danger parts are a no brainer. You can be picked up by an 8-foot
wave and smashed into 3 feet of water or have a 12-foot predator swing
in on your catch to take away your prize. You have to worry about
strong currents and unpredictable swells. This past week, the weather
and fish have been building to perfection for kayaking into the shoals
for a big red drum. After four days on the shoals watching red drum
swimming by -- along with huge predators—I felt like the time to
catch the first citation drum from the kayak for the 2010 season was
I just didn’t stop to think that it wouldn’t be me catching
this citation fish, but the excitement of it all was just as good as if
I had been the one.
On my fifth day straight of traveling to the shoals, I invited my
Ruddy Rigsbee from Chesterfield, Va., to join me. Ruddy is 58 years
old, has been in a kayak fewer than a dozen times, and had never made
an ocean launch. Now, Ruddy is a Vietnam vet, a Woodstock ticket
holder, and an all-round wide-open individual, whom I am proud to call
a friend. I think there is little in life Ruddy hasn’t tried or
been too scared to attempt.
Ruddy raised an eyebrow at the invitation to join me and was slightly
apprehensive, but barely hesitated before he said, “I’ll
I rigged Ruddy’s rods for the trip and we set out for the
adventure. The water on the south side of Cape Point was slick calm and
was like launching into a pond. The shoals were as calm as one could
hope for, the tide was low, and we had a light southeast wind.
Now, low tide on the shoals is a double-edge sword. In the lower water,
you can better read the break of the swells and there is also more
visibility in the water. However, shallower water means you could get
beat up badly if you flip over.
Nevertheless, Ruddy and I went straight to the shoals and started
fishing. Ruddy found a nice spot to warm up on the west side of the
shoals, while I went straight into a 100-foot wide cut in between the
shoals. I had been fishing this area for a couple days and had seen a
lot of life in there, though I had little luck thus far.
Whenever possible, it is actually better to drift around the shoals
with the wind and current. I think you are safer being mobile and able
to react to your surroundings than you are if you are anchored.
I‘ve anchored into the shoals from boat and kayak. The boat can
do this with a little more confidence because of its size and weight. A
kayak can get tipsy quickly when anchored in this environment.
I try to drift through an area once or twice before putting rods out so
I can have a little feel for what’s going on with the wind,
current, and breaking swell. But never think you are safe from the
break or that you are outside of the break. There is no such thing in
the shoals. Rogue waves can hit you from any direction, at any time,
and you’ll never know they’re coming. It has happened to me
several times every single time I’ve been out there, and the only
reason I didn’t flip was 100 percent pure luck.
Once I got a feeling for things, it was time to deploy some bait. I was
using a 7-foot, medium-action Ugly Sticks, and I like these rods for a
few reasons. The Ugly Sticks are notorious for their strength, so if I
flip in shallow water, the rods may have a chance of survival. The
7-foot length allows for plenty of rod to swing back and forth over the
bow of the kayak when fighting an aggressive fish. Being able to sit
back and maintain a good center of gravity is comforting in
unpredictable swell. These rods are not very expensive, so if I do lose
one, I won’t cry too hard. Also, they have foam grips that allow
the rod to float if you drop them, though I have leashes attached from
the kayak to the rods. And, finally, they are a two-piece rod that I
can break down and shove inside the yak if things get real crazy.
I use cheap Daiwa reels for this because everything on this kayak is
going to get soaked in saltwater and the reel may only last several
trips in these conditions. So, expensive reels will die a horrible
death that will leave the owner’s wallet hurting.
I’ve been using 20- to 25-feet of 40-pound shock leader attached
to a12- to 14-pound main line. Some of my reels have a braided line,
and some have monofilament as main lines. I like the strength of the
braid but the forgiveness of the stretch in monofilament, so I use both.
I am attaching fresh-cut bait to a rig that has a 3-ounce egg sinker
sliding in between two small barrel swivels and 18 inches of 100-pound
test snelled directly into an 8/0 hook.
On this day, I entered the cut through, deployed my bait, and began my
first drift. I have two rods out -- one in the deep ledge just behind
the actual shoal and the other on top of the shallow shoal. The current
pulled me from the west side of the shoal to the east side and I was
just getting to an area that I figured would be a good spot to reel in
and reposition for another pass.
But, that never happened because one of my rods doubled over and the
reel was being smoked.
The bait drifting on top of the shoals had been bitten and was on the
run. I grabbed the rod and was fairly confident that this was a red
drum. I am no superhero angler, but I’ve put in my time and have
caught my share of drum. And I have a good handle for what the drum
feels like when it’s on the end of my line. However, you never
know until you actually see it.
The fish was running hard and fast, until it just stopped and came
straight to me. I reeled in rapidly and caught up to the fish, then it
surfaced and I confirmed that it was a red drum.
I saw that it was about 30 inches or more and had been eating
regularly. The fish took one look at me and was like, “I think
not!” It tore off right back into the shoals.
Once I confirmed the fish, I gave a few celebration hoots and hollers
to raise Ruddy’s attention. Ruddy was on the other side of the
shoal and I wanted him to move in my direction. I was thinking and
hoping that where there was one fish, there might be more.
I was trying to battle this fish while constantly looking over my
shoulder for rogue waves and while the fish was in his favorite
environment—the shoals. The fish had the waves and current to his
advantage and that adds about 20 pounds to its fighting ability.
The fish would drag me into the shoals to the point that I
have to loosen the drag, put the rod in a holder, turn the yak around,
and make a run for safer ground. I am trying to put as much heat to the
fish as possible to turn its head around and get it out of the shoals,
but this took four tries and 10 minutes to do.
I finally got the fish to the boat, and I was very happy to get a fish
on my first pass. I got the fish in the boat and took a quick photo. I
was thinking that Ruddy should be rolling up on me any second and he
could take a shot from his boat of me holding my fish. I look up and
around and say to myself, “Where is Ruddy?”
When I finally spotted Ruddy my heart sank, and I got into full
“this is it” mode. Ruddy was dead smack in the middle of
the shoals. There were 6- to 7-foot swells crashing all around and
directly on him.
I tossed the fish over the boat and battened down my gear in record
time. I got ready for the worst and to move to assist when it happened.
However, every time a wave would cover Ruddy up, I would still see his
bow come charging through the other side. After a few
minutes—Ruddy was sitting directly in front of me.
The 58-year-old newbie had just done something that would make a native
Hatteras surfer close his eyes.
Ruddy was soaked and he looked at me and said, “I don’t think that was
the way I was supposed to come.”
I was in complete awe and almost wet my pants with relief and laughter.
We sat and talked about both of our accomplishments for a few minutes,
caught our breath, and got back to fishing.
We made several more drifts over about 45 minutes and had no more
was starting to think that it was a rogue fish that I had caught and we
needed to move. I had just finished a drift and had reeled in my rods,
when I heard a hoot from Ruddy. I looked up and saw his rod doubled
over and his kayak scooting right along against the current.
I was wondering if Ruddy is hooked into a big fish or even
shark. I hollered to him to ask if he has seen what he was hooked into.
His reply was that he had not.
I was paddling as hard and as fast as I could and was barely able to
keep up much less catch Ruddy. So, I yelled out for him to slow down,
but Ruddy only laughed, because he was only holding on, as the fish
took him on a Nantucket sleigh ride through the middle of the cut.
Luckily, the fish stayed away from the shoals and we never had to worry
about flipping over.
I was starting to catch up with Ruddy, when I heard him yell joyously
that it was a big drum on his line. The fish had slowed its roll and
was circling the boat. I watched with great amusement as Ruddy spun his
seat in all directions to keep up with the fish. I was taking a few
pictures and laughing uncontrollably.
The fish finally had enough. Ruddy got the fish to the side of the
kayak and was looking at it and commenting on how he could into the
kayak. He tried to lift the fish by the 100-pound test, and I freaked
out. I trust my rigs and knots, but I highly doubted that the line
could have handled this size fish.
I screamed to Ruddy to not do that. I instructed him to stick his leg
into the water, slide the fish in between his leg and the kayak, then
use his leg to flip the fish into the kayak. Remember, BIG sharks are
in the area and on the prowl. Ruddy frantically looked at me yelled an
expletive. Finally, he did as he was told and the fish was lying nice
and pretty across his lap.
We are now both absolutely freaking out. My man has just pulled off a
heck of a feat for a newbie kayaker who has never been in the ocean,
and I am just happy my rigging held together. But, everything came
together and Ruddy had a 42 inch citation fish, so I fired a bunch of
pictures and the fish was released to fight another angler, on another
We revisited the moment during a 10-minute break and started to
maneuver back into position for another drift. I was ahead of Ruddy by
about 150 feet as I paddled back into position. I looked down in five
feet of water and I saw nothing but bluefish and silverside minnows.
There were thousands of 2-pound-plus bluefish absolutely annihilating
everything that moved. Now, I am not sure if it was the kayak or
whatever that set them off, but no sooner had I dialed into what was
going on and that the fish went off.
I was now dead smack in the center of the fish exploding all around me
for a 50-foot radius. In a matter of 30 seconds, I was soaked from
tails flipping out of the water. I reached behind me, grabbed my lure
rod, and fired 15 feet in front of me. I was instantly hooked up.
Ruddy was paddling in from behind me with a bewildered look on his face
and asking what was going on.
“Bluefish blitz!” I exclaimed.
Ruddy started taking pictures, as he watched me in the middle of this
I was pulling bluefish after bluefish into the kayak, and every one of
them was spitting silverside minnows all over me, along with blood and
everything else. It was no place for a weak stomach, but for a true
fish hunter, it was absolutely awesome.
Ruddy and I were hooting and hollering uncontrollably. Neither of us
had seen a bluefish all day, but now they were here they took over. No
bait, rig, or lure was safe from the chomping. So, drum fishing was out
of the question because our rigging was being cut off as fast as it hit
So we just proceeded to bust the bluefish until we were out of lures.
Finally, when we couldn’t reel any longer, we decided to go home and
celebrate this remarkable day.
There were plenty of people on the beach who stopped by our trucks to
investigate our exploits after hearing us hollering. We both gladly
shared our story.
Sitting at home an hour afterwards, I was rapidly posting some pictures
on my Web site when I was reminded that I had spent a day in the
shoals. I was swaying in my seat like I had just spent the day offshore
in 10-foot swells, and I've got to admit that I love that feeling.
I’ll never forget what Ruddy’s response was to my question about what
he thought of that adventure.
He said, “I used to sit on the beach and look out into the shoals
and I would wish I was fishing out there. Today, I sat in the shoals,
caught fish, and looked at the beach.”
I hope you will do pursue whatever adventure you think will fulfill
your dreams, whether that is kayaking in the shoals or skydiving. Just
be sure to be aware of and respect the dangers that are involved.
The kayaks we used are not your average rentals. So don’t call
the local rental store thinking this is what you are going to do on
vacation. If this is up your alley and you consider doing this, then
make sure to do your homework and have the proper gear.
And, don’t even think of going by yourself.