Kayakers fish, cook and party on the north coast
The fleet departed on a cold, windy dawn, pushing through swells and fog at the mouth of the Albion River to the dark, choppy sea beyond. The men and women on board the craft, however, were not deterred by the adverse conditions.
They had a mission, and what the hell or very high seas they were going to accomplish – catch really big lingcod, cabezon, and rock cod; meet their friends and family at the campsite; cook their catch; and party late into the night. And, oh yes, reward the anglers who caught the biggest fish.
It was the most recent tournament sponsored by the NorCal Kayak Anglers, a convening of outdoor enthusiasts from northern California who combine two sports – boating and fishing – in a particularly intense and obsessive way.
Coastal kayak fishing has been around for over 20 years, but its popularity has grown steadily thanks to the Internet, and equipment and techniques have evolved with the interest of waxing. The Albion tournament drew over 140 participants who paddled in boats with garish names like Bloodbath, Cochino and No Soup 4U.
âIf you look at it a certain way, you could say it all started when abalone divers started using sit-on-top kayaks as dive platforms in the 1980s,â said Craig Davis, the tournament organizer. âAt one point we realized that we had to take our fishing rods with us. But from another point of view, it goes back much further than that. We carry on the traditions of the Inuit, who have fished with skin kayaking for thousands of years.
These traditions are drastically updated for the 21st century, of course. Today’s fishing kayaks bear little resemblance to the rudimentary boats of the 1980s, let alone Inuit skin boats. Made from durable rotomolded plastic, they are longer, wider and heavier than early sit-on-top kayaks.
Anglers generously customize their boats with electronic fish finders, brackets for fishing rods, nets and gaffs, and even live bait pits. Many don’t even use paddles; their boats are propelled by foot-driven underwater blades.
âThis is actually the best solution if you are trolling,â said Steve Takagi, an angler from San Jose who once caught a 30-pound salmon dragging a rig of âkrippled anchovies. “from his boat on foot. âIt is practically impossible to troll well if you are paddling. “
North Coast kayak anglers also wear drysuits and personal flotation devices and carry two-way radios and GPS units. But while modern equipment certainly makes fishing more efficient, it hardly makes it as safe as milk.
This was evident during the Albion tournament, when the radio network crackled with emergency chatter shortly before noon. A very experienced paddler from Sacramento going through Mud Shark’s grip capsized. At the campsite, Davis and other event planners anxiously watched their radios, unsure if Mud Shark was okay. They visibly relaxed when they learned that he had been rescued. His boat, however, had been lost.
Back on shore, a soggy mud shark shared his story. It was spinning a fish when a wave knocked it off the boat.
âI was like, ‘No big deal. I’ve been here before, âhe said. âSo I turned my kayak upside down and saw that the hatch cover had been blown off. The boat was sinking and I was bailed. Luckily another guy saw me and picked me up.
âIt could have happened to anyone, my brother,â said one angler, hugging Mud Shark with obvious relief as several others whispered their assent. “It’s tough over there today.” Mud Shark’s kayak ran aground on shore a few days later and was returned to his home by another fisherman.
A deep camaraderie seems to be the most salient characteristic of the angling kayak community. On the eve of the tournament, fishermen and their families roamed freely between each other’s camps, sharing prodigious amounts of freshly caught seafood, flipping microbreweries and swapping fishing lines, some of which might have been true. At one site, a man distributed pieces of fried fillets from a halibut he had caught in Tomales Bay the day before. In another sprawling camp known as Shuland, named after founding brothers Dennis and Roger Shu, a huge pot of striped bass and Dungeness crab cioppino simmered on a propane burner while rib eyes crackled on a grill . At Glen Armas camp, a groaning plank of Filipino specialties was laid out for the enjoyment of passers-by.
âIt’s a fishing competition, but it’s also a cooking competition,â Armas said. âIf you’re hungry here, it’s your fault.
Indeed, the âcompetitionâ aspect of the tournament was underestimated in all respects. People were nominally interested in catching the bigger fish, but not in Donald Trump’s âwinningâ way.
âWhen we started, we offered $ 1,000 for the top prize,â Davis said. âBut we attracted all these young singles who were only interested in making money. They went around the camps eating everyone’s food but didn’t bring any to share. So we took the cash incentive out of it. We want it to be about friends and family.
Davis showed off a cute little watercolor of the Highway One bridge spanning the Albion River.
“It’s the top prize this year,” he said.
The tournament also featured a raffle for a wealth of paddling and fishing gear, including two new kayaks. The proceeds of the raffle, approximately $ 3,500, were donated to the Albion-Little River Volunteer Fire Department.
Despite the bad weather, a lot of fish were caught. The boats began to drift towards the camp around noon for the 1 p.m. weigh-in. Fishermen were limited to grabbing their top three fish: ling cod, cabezon, and rockfish. There were lots of big cabezon and very big vermilion and black rockfish. A few lingcods appeared to be the length and girth of an average human leg.
David Batt of Santa Rosa won first prize with a bag weighing 22 pounds, 14 ounces in total. But the third, Naoaki Ikemiyagi of Sacramento, had the biggest fish of the day, a leviathan weighing 22 pounds.
A few of the fishermen were skunked, but no one complained.
âWe all come from different places, different backgrounds,â said Andy Gomez, who calls himself Bait and Beer. âIt’s not about killing fish. It is about love for the ocean, for a pure way of fishing and for each other. “