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Fishing's Fast Lane

Kayak anglers have several advantages, and when they hook up, it's quite a ride


BUENA VISTA, Mexico — With the shout, "Coming through!" Dennis Spike embarked on one of his patented "Baja sleigh rides," over a glassy sea glimmering with life, but with the stench of death filling the air.

The scene was as surreal as it was comical. A virtual armada of cruisers and skiffs had converged around the rotting carcass of a whale that had been discovered floating offshore a few days earlier.

Beneath the whale were thousands of dorado, Baja California's most colorful and acrobatic game fish, which love to congregate under floating objects, particularly those so large and blubbery, and in deep decay.

And there was Spike, atop his white plastic kayak, following the lead of a fish he had hooked moments earlier, being pulled swiftly through an obstacle course of boats that actually belong so far out at sea.

It soon became clear, however, that Spike and his four companions, all from Southern California, were not in over their heads, after all. They were very much in their element.

Spike soon had alongside his vessel a radiant bull dorado, flashing neon colors of gold and green. It was gaffed and quickly picked up by the crew of the cruiser, or mother ship, that delivered the fishermen and their vessels to the whale.

Greg Chasten then matched that with a fish just as big, one weighing about 35 pounds and measuring half as long as his kayak. Howard Rose and Brian Campbell were next, taking sleigh rides in opposite directions, Rose landing his fish and Campbell losing his.

What was remarkable about this was that the bite had been excruciatingly slow for the fishermen aboard the bigger boats, presumably because there had been so much fishing pressure, and so much boat noise, in recent days.

Only the kayakers were hooking up. And while the other fishermen were amused early on, they were soon cursing under their breaths at the sight of another dorado-powered kayaker whizzing by, following the bend in his rod.

"This is what we do," Spike said, after the fifth and final fish--the largest was a 42-pounder--had been pulled aboard the mother ship. "The kayaks give us stealth and mobility, which they don't have. Plus, we're so low that we're able to better present the bait [in this case live sardines], and we almost always out-fish the bigger boats."

The Kayak Advantage

Spike, 43, is one of kayak-fishing's pioneers. A former chiropractor and a trained tobacconist, he owns Coastal Kayak Fishing ( in Reseda. It features equipment sales, discussion boards and guided trips, including occasional excursions out of Rancho Leonero Resort in Baja's East Cape region.

"This is absolute nirvana for the kayak fisherman," Spike said of the East Cape, because of the abundance of large and powerful game fish both offshore and inshore.

But the kayaks, he added, have the same advantages in Southland waters.

Spike made his first trip off Malibu 14 years ago, with Rose, his cousin and a producer who has a home in the area.

"I caught a 25-pound halibut and we caught a slew of calico bass, all released, and from there I was hooked," Spike said.

He fished 150 days that year, at an average cost of $7 to $10 a day, "including our fuel to get there, our food and our bait and tackle." A daily trip on a half-day boat, with all factors considered, can cost three times that.

The kayak-fishing tackle is the same stuff you'd take on a party boat--conventional reels spooled with 10- to 30-pound test, depending on the fish being targeted, and standard hooks and lures.

The bait is caught with a light-line multi-hook gangion and stored in plastic bait wells dragged alongside the kayaks.

The kayaks are open, sit-on-top vessels, some with hatches that serve as fish-storage wells. They're outfitted with rod holders behind the seats, and are sturdy enough so that catching 50- or even 100-pound fish is within the realm of possibility. A kayak thus outfitted sells for about $1,000.

Spike's most memorable experience north of the border was during the spring of 2000. Squid had flooded into an area along the coast in northern Malibu, and with them came an enormous school of predatory white seabass.

Spike and Campbell were first on the scene. Spike was slow-trolling a live sardine; Campbell was pulling a lure. Spike hooked up first.

"My rod went bendo, I set the hook, put my feet back up on the deck of the kayak, because I had been sitting with my feet over the side, and I went for a 1,000-yard sleigh ride," he said. "After four tremendous runs, the fish came to the rail and it was a 75-pound white seabass, two inches short of five feet, 32 inches around. The fight was 35-40 minutes.

"[Campbell], while following me, got hooked up and landed a 58-pound white seabass. The next 10 weeks produced a bite that, while it was reported, was never appreciated by anyone but us on our kayaks. I went on to catch six over 60 pounds, five over 50 and a handful of 40s, 30s and 20s. It was the most epic white seabass bite we had ever seen."

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