Kayak anglers are routinely found six to seven miles off the Texas coast, but there are those who brave long runs and the potential risks awaiting 20 miles offshore. While being so far offshore does present conceivable hazards, this extreme form of kayak fishing opens up the doors to pelagic species found in the clear waters far from the safety of the shore.
YakGear Brand Ambassador William Swann hails from Texas City, Texas, along the waters of Galveston Bay. Growing tired of catching the same species each day, Swann eventually worked his way farther and farther out, and found a new world of kayak fishing opportunities. He has many tales of bobbing on rolling waves and being dragged for miles by some of the most coveted species offered by the deeper waters off the Texas coast.
Swann didn’t jump right into extreme offshore kayak fishing. The angler took incremental steps and now often finds himself 20 miles out.
“I started off by paddling out and dropping bait for sharks,” he said. “We would come back and hang out on the beach and wait for a bite. It kind of transitioned to, ‘Why don’t we just stay out here to catch sharks?’ Then we would go a little further out and started getting into better fish. Then it transitioned into what it is today.”
The angler’s offshore rig is purpose-built for 40-mile runs to find deeper waters in Texas’ shallow-sloping continental shelf. Swann’s Hobie Islander is equipped with a 16-foot sail, but he makes his long kayak fishing runs with a Suzuki 2.5 horsepower short shaft outboard.
While some offshore kayakers use a center console boat to get to their destination, a kayak/outboard combo is advantageous over a powerboat for several reasons.
“A boat has to find the nearest launch,” Swann said. “We just roll down to any beach in Texas and put in. It might be 30 to 40 miles from a port. Also, we probably burn through two gallons of gas while running 40 miles round trip. That’s less than $10 in gas.”
To get the most from his day of kayak fishing on the water, he plans ahead and designates two spots he will target – one near shore and another point far from shore. The near spot is usually 10 miles or so off the Galveston shoreline.
“For me, there’s really no reason to fish within 10 miles of shore,” Swann said. “At the 10-mile mark, give or take, we’ll check our first spot for cobia and maybe snapper if it’s there.”
Man-made reefs and wrecks are go-to structures to find fish. Oil rigs are also a popular stop for Swann.
“We’ll hit structure on the nearest rig or rock and get live bait,” he said. “Once we have bait and it’s a rig, we’ll drop live bait down and work lures on the surface to check for cobia. We aren’t worried about kingfish because we are going to pick them up on the way to the far spot. Our far spot is generally 15 to 20 miles out. When we troll to the far spot, that’s when we generally pick up our kingfish.”
Swann routinely looks to target structure during his time trolling from his near and far locations.
“We look for any structure during our troll between spots. If there’s a log floating, we’re going to stop and check that out or troll right by it,” he said. “Generally, we’ll set it up so we troll right by it and stand up and watch as we go by it. Just to see if there’s something on the surface. If we don’t pick anything up on the troll, we stop and pitch bait at it. It could be a weed line, a log and even trash, which we eventually pick up.”
Swann trolls a variety of baits including a Halco Max 130, Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows, Halco Twisty, Tsunami swim jig and just about any gold spoon.
At his far kayak fishing spot, Swann can have up to three active rods out with a back up to pitch to any schooled fish.
“If you run into a school of something, you want to be ready to get bait to them,” he said. “At the same time, I like to have one with a trolling setup for an artificial bait and one trolling setup for dead bait.”
While the multiple setups may sound complicated, Swann relies heavily on his RAILBLAZA rod holders to keep everything firmly attached to the boat and simplify his operation.
“I attach rod holders to the akas with a RAILBLAZA RailMount so my rods are far away from the kayak. It lets me spread my baits out further,” he explained. “Whether you use the RAILBLAZA rod holders on a regular kayak or on a Hobie Island, you’re able to lean your baits far away from you and keep them low.”
Once Swann gets to his offshore location, he begins his search for mahi and cobia – two species prized for their taste. The angler uses a mix of live baits including blue runners and bumpers. For trolling, Swann’s go-to bait is ballyhoo. For bottom snapper rigs, he uses squid.
Swann rigs his presentations to a FishStix MVP rod with Avet reels, including the SX and SX Raptor.
“For terminal tackle I just try to go with the smallest stuff possible; the smallest line and fluorocarbon I can get away with,” he explained. “I have spent a lot of time trying to get the perfect bait presentation, especially with ballyhoo. Nothing swims like a properly rigged ballyhoo.”
With no land in sight as they search, Swann and his partners bob and dip in the waves, facing the uncertainty that comes with kayak fishing so far away from the safety of the coast. He has a few words of wisdom to anyone looking to chase the horizon but are reluctant to take the leap.
“The same water that is out there is the same water that is in the bay,” Swann said. “It’s just water. Water is not what hurts you, being unprepared and panicking is what hurts you. Nothing good has ever come from panicking in a situation. You don’t just go, you make sure you plan and prepare.”
Swann recognizes the perils that come with running such long distances, but mitigates the dangers by fully preparing for just about any emergency.
“Obviously, running a motor, I keep a fire extinguisher on board,” he said. “I also keep a manual bilge pump on board and a sponge in the hull. You need to have a good first aid kit, compass, mirror, fuel reserve, tool kit, sandpaper to clean a spark plug, VHF radio, life jacket and cell phone. It boils down to making good choices like letting someone know where you are going and when to expect you back. And, it is important to go out with someone else.”
Swann goes against convention to not only fill his cooler, but to connect with nature.
“You’ll see different species of stingrays, sea turtles, jellyfish, big sharks and a host of life out there,” he said. “There are tons of different birds. It’s the greatest nature trail in the world and you’re four inches from the water. You get out there and you are in your own element. It is what you make it.”