Simplifying Saltwater Kayak Fishing
Hobie dealer and kayak guide offers expert advice for getting started in the sport
OCEANSIDE, Calif. (March 8, 2020) – No doubt, saltwater flats can be overwhelming. Driving the causeway, you look out and see infinite acres of seemingly redundant water. Maybe a row of channel markers, a couple floating cabins and scattered island reefs, but nothing that screams “fish here!” So, you randomly select a section, launch the kayak, and hope for the best. You might stumble on the needle in the haystack, but more likely, you’ll leave with tail between your legs.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Nobody knows this better than the proprietor of Fin Factory Kayak & Tackle, Capt. Mike Morales. His Corpus Christi, Texas kayak dealership is home to all-things Hobie, as well as a hotbed for kayaking knowhow and area fishing information.
Morales, who co-owns the dealership with his daughter, Naomi Morales, not only moves Hobie kayaks out the door, he also puts people in boats on guided fishing excursions. Since 2012, Morales has operated Fin Factory Charters, offering both kayak trips and motorized outings in his Hell’s Bay poling-skiff.
To begin at the beginning, before talking tactics, Morales suggests the perfect Hobie kayak for beginners to the sport. “The 12-foot Hobie Mirage Compass is the perfect starter boat,” says Morales, who recently opened a sister dealership in Mercedes, Texas. “It’s an incredibly versatile kayak, and lightweight, at only 68-pounds, making it easy to transport.”
The Mirage Compass features the time-tested MirageDrive pedal system with Glide Technology and new Kick-Up Fins. The patented Kick-Up Fin Technology takes the worry out of kayaking in shallow, structure-filled waters by automatically retracting upon impact. Outfitted with a breathable mesh seat, the Compass offers excellent stability and an oversized cockpit and flat deck for standing. A sharp turning radius makes this fishing kayak nimble in tight quarters, yet able to speed over open water in stealthy fashion. Kayak fishing features include molded-in rod holders, H-Track accessory mounts and a transducer cavity.
Although the Mirage Compass features the award-winning MirageDrive, Morales is quick to point out the need for a paddle. “Inshore flats can get incredibly shallow in a hurry. A paddle makes sure you don’t get stuck.” As all Hobie kayaks do, the Mirage Compass comes with a two-piece fiberglass paddle and included boatside holder.
Yes, we’ll get to the fishing part, but it’s hugely important to touch on kayak fishing safety first, especially as it relates to wide-open inshore flats. “You need to be seen,” Morales says matter-of-factly. “My customers prefer the brighter kayak colors for this very reason.” Papaya Orange and Seagrass Green being the boldest Mirage Compass colors available.
To that, Morales says to always wear a lifejacket, recommending Hobie’s USCG Type III Inflatable PFD. The lightweight, cool-in-coastal-heat and comfortable life-saving device features a manual inflator and zippered external pocket.
Morales closes the chapter on safety by recommending the Hobie Safety Flag/Light Combo, lending visibility by day and night, and wearing bright colored clothing. Although sight-fishing anglers have drifted toward waterborne camo colors, Morales says the motion of casting alone spooks more fish in clear shallows than a static color.
Okay, it’s time to get serious… Every successful fishing trip, be you a veteran or greenhorn, starts with good intel, the research part. Morales is a solid proponent of Google Map’s satellite feature, saying the color of the water imaged from outer space tells a story. “You’re looking for changes in color, even different shades of green.”
Examine your chosen inshore flats in Google Maps satellite. Study the color variations; those are depth changes. The channels and deeper pools appear darker green compared to the lighter colored flats. You might also see areas that go almost black, which are likely hyper-shallow areas, some even exposed during low tide.
The key in all of this is identifying transitions, says Morales. “You’re looking for structure, not shipwrecks.” Those structures, or features, are characteristics such as bottom transitions, say from seagrass to gravel or sand to rock. Transitional depths are equally as essential. “One- and two-foot changes in depth can be critical. It can represent a temperature change, which is important during the hot summer months.” Inshore fish, in general, are creatures of structure, too, often cruising and holding on edges.
Tides are a factor as well. In Morales’ home waters of Texas, the rises and falls aren’t substantial, but affect fish location and activity-levels, nonetheless. “Fish like moving water,” says Morales. “Current moves bait around, and in the right spot, brings the food to the fish.” So, look for moving water. Key on areas where narrows and boating channels spill onto a flat, as well as water curling around an island, reef or manmade structures like bridges, docks and piers.
Morales wraps up the topic of tides by saying, “The best fishing times are an hour before high tide and two hours after high or low tide. Those are sweet spots.”
In the final assessment, it’s all about the bait. Morales keenly and continuously monitors for signs of fish food. “Watch for things like schools of bait rippling the surface, shrimp popping and mullet jumping. And you can guarantee any bait skipping across the surface is being chased.”
Diving birds are the no-brainer. And more birds means more bait, and likely more fish. Seagulls and terns hovering and pecking at the water typically indicates the presence of fish fry, maybe shrimp. But when birds are piloting straight into the brine, rest assure the forage is larger. And nothing says big bait like Pelicans death-diving by the dozens.
Time to fish, and in total control of the kayak. “First timers want to cover a lot of water and set drift lines,” says Morales. That means patterning how the prevailing winds are blowing across the area you want to fish. Set up on the head, drift and fish across the entire area, unless, of course, you encounter a hotspot.
On the drift, Morales says to position the boat broadside, wind coming at the port or starboard, dictated by the direction you want to cast. Adjust the Hobie’s rudder to stay broadside and maintain the drift – that means cranking the handle left or right depending which side of kayak you’re fishing. Make rudder adjustments as necessary to maintain boat posture.
Flats fish can be spooky, too, so Morales always fishes the leeward side, casting with the wind, not fishing water the boat has already passed over. This affords a 90-degree casting range, from the bow to as far back as you can comfortably cast and retrieve.
Morales also keeps the fins up, pushing the right or left pedal to the floor. The drag caused by leaving the fins down can disrupt a controlled drift. That, and the fins can scrape bottom if you cross extra-shallow sections. Once he reaches the end of a drift, Morales circles back around the zone, not wanting to upset the area, and establishes a new drift line.
One last note on drifting… winds aren’t always favorable to drift speed. A perfect breeze lets you pepper the 90-degree casting range. Coastal flats are no stranger to stiff winds. In such conditions, Morales deploys a Hobie Drift Chute, aka drift sock. The underwater parachute easily attaches to a kayak and significantly curbs drift speed.
The spot is picked. Kayak is launched. Certainly, you remembered the fishing gear, right? Let’s assume so. And let’s further assume you took Morales up on his three-rod gear selection, which are in his personal kayak on all occasions.
“I like medium power, moderate-to-fast-action rods from 7’ to 7’6”in length,” says Morales. He deems that action, weight and length universal, whether casting jigs, topwaters or popping corks – Morales’ trio of tactics. An excellent starter rod to consider is the 7’, medium power, fast action St. Croix Mojo Inshore spinning rod (MIS70MF).
The greater rod length promotes casting distance, which is especially important in clear water. Moreover, Morales says it takes 7-feet to dance the rod tip from side to side, and around the bow, when you’re fighting an athletic fish.
For those new to kayak fishing, Morales promotes spinning reels. 2500 and 3000 size reels are preferred, being lighter weight and balancing well with his favored rods. Consider Daiwa’s Saltist spinning reel, an ideal match to St. Croix’s Mojo Inshore.
Morales spools the reels with 15- 20-lb. braided line. The thinner diameter yields longer cast, while braid’s general composition transmits super sensitivity.
Never tie braid straight to your lure, though. Firstly, it can turn off cautious, sight-feed fishing. Secondly, if you do get bit, hooks can come flying out of a fish’s mouth due to braid’s lack of stretch. To soften the blow and enhance invisibility, Morales ties in an 18- to 20-inch section of 20-pound fluorocarbon line. It pays to learn your saltwater fishing knots, too, especially fluorocarbon to braid. There are plenty of instructional videos on YouTube.
On his jig and plastics rod, it’s rare to not see a Z-Man Scented PaddlerZ. The 4-inch wonder dupes everything that swims Morales’ Texas flats. He selects dark colors in stained water; lighter colors in clear water; and always has versatile natural colors ready for service. Jig-wise, Morales throws 1/8- and 3/16-ounce Z-Man Redfish Eye and Trout Eye jigs.
His second outfit is for topwater fishing, arguably the most entertaining action on the flats. With the same braided line and leader combo, Morales ties-on a Heddon Jr. Spook or MirrOlure She Dog.
An excellent alternative to topwaters, especially if fish aren’t fully committing, is going to a twitch bait. They offer the same side-to-side action but operate just below the surface. Coast to coast, LIVETARGET’s Scaled Sardine Twitch Bait is an absolute fish slayer.
His third and final combo is dedicated to popping corks. The simplest presentation is also the most common. Why? Because it works. Tie a section of the same fluorocarbon leader material to the cork, trimming length to match the depth. Shorter is better than longer, too, as you don’t want it dragging on bottom. The same Z-Man Trout and Redfish Eye jigs are perfect for the business end. Dress them with a Z-Man Unrigged Easy ShrimpZ or Gulp! Shrimp. You can also use a Z-Man Rigged Easy ShrimpZ, where the hook and weight (adjustable) are built right in.
A lot to digest? Perhaps, but consider Morales’ advice as the perfect starter plan. And you can trust it coming from a Hobie dealer and kayak guide. Many of his clients are first-timers, and he never leads them astray.
For more information on fishing in the Corpus Christi area, go to visitcorpuschristitx.org.
Since 1950, Hobie has been in the business of shaping a unique lifestyle based around fun, water and quality products. From their headquarters in Oceanside, California, Hobie Cat Company manufactures, distributes and markets an impressive collection of watercraft worldwide. These include an ever-expanding line of recreation and racing sailboats, pedal-driven and paddle sit-on-top recreation and fishing kayaks, inflatable kayaks and fishing boats, plus a complementary array of parts and accessories.