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WHY KAYAK?

Nine reasons why the world’s smallest boats may be the ultimate Outer Banks fishing machine

Kayak Tip #247: Wear a mask to avoid sunburn. (And to look extra “gangsta” while killing fish.) PHOTO: Rhodes

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Mobility. I used to be obsessed with wading. I trekked for miles around Oregon Inlet and still saw unreachable islands I knew were holding. That’s when I realized, “If I had a kayak, I could get there.” To this day, whenever it’s too shallow for a motorboat or too deep to walk — or if a beach access sign says “No 4WD” — whatever situation says, “You can’t fish there from here” my kayak answers: “Yes I can.”

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Variety. My lifelong goal is to earn a citation for every fish possible. The kayak offers that potential. Some days I’m in the sound chasing red drum or flounder. Others, I’m hovering over a nearshore shipwreck hunting triggerfish or sheepshead. Last winter, I hooked a 25-lb rockfish trolling three miles offshore. This fall, I’m bringing my mask and speargun for diving some structures. And when everything saltwater is blown to pieces, I’m trying to pull bass from some backwater pond just to stay sane.

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Solitude. I’ve never caught a lot of fish standing in a crowd, but if I float off alone or with one friend, that’s when I get the greatest payoff, be it a bigger fish or just a better time. Plus, having no engine lets me sneak right up on the fish — and the occasional bird or snake — making every trip memorable.

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Adventure. Last year, some guys towed their boats out to the Gulf Stream to fish tuna with big rods. Set the drag right, let ‘em run, and you’re off on a Nantucket sleigh ride. I only recently started pushing offshore. Sometimes the beach is so far behind me that the houses look like sand dunes. The real danger is offshore winds, especially when you’re loaded down with a few fish and thirty pounds of gear. So, once the wind gets over 15 knots I’ll do a 100-yard test run before I commit to a couple miles. And I always wear a wetsuit and bring someone else — or at least a radio.

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Challenge. Some traditionalists enjoy alternating between paddling and fishing. I prefer my boat’s foot pedals and rudder system; it leaves my hands free to fish while I fight the current or track an embankment or shoreline. But playing the fish is probably the biggest challenge — even after years of practice on land — because you have to keep constant tension to find that balance. And that’s one of the factors I love most. It’s a daily reminder that life’s a constant struggle to keep balance; to give when something pulls, and pull when it gives.

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no gas bills. No maintenance. No polishing chrome. My will is my compass. My legs are my fuel.

Convenience. How easy is it? Easy enough that I’ll paddle miles out into the ocean instead of hopping a ride out the inlet. I’m fishing in 20 minutes instead of an hour. There’re no gas bills. No maintenance. No polishing chrome. My will is my compass. My legs are my fuel. Then haul it off the beach, throw it on the truck and head home. Cost. A new Hobie with the pedal system will run at least $1400. More basic models can be $450. But those sit-on-top surf kayaks are the perfect starter kit. They’re wide and stable, and rental outfits sell them second-hand each fall for cheap. Then go find yourself a milk crate to hold tackle — cut a second crate in half for a lid — screw 12inch PVC on the side for your fishing rods and bungee it on top. I even make my own rod-tethers from old cell phone car chargers and zip-ties. You can be ready to go for under $600. Catch enough fish and it’ll pay for itself. Fun. Ever see a kid on a Big Wheel? That’s what my kayak feels like. Sure, it helps to have some experience, but I’ve seen total novices have the time of their lives. At the same time I’ve also gone out there with years of knowledge and not gotten a bite. It’s not magic; it’s still fishing. But I never get bored. And I never come in mad. If I’m breathing fresh air on the ocean, I’m right. Opportunity. At just 30 years old, modern kayak fishing is still pretty new. Tidewater has associations with hundreds of members and cash-prize tournaments — Florida probably has thousands — but there are only maybe a dozen diehards on the Outer Banks. That gives local anglers first shot at pioneering all the different inshore and offshore opportunities. It’s really a perfect vehicle to push your limits while exploring your surroundings. And to me, that’s what fishing is all about. — Ryan Rhodes

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