Tag Archives: the flying kayak

Post Season Bacon

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Depending on where you are in the country, hunting season has just about wrapped up. Deer season was months ago, and turkey season has pretty much come to an end. If you’re anything like me, you’re already counting down until opening day in fall. But don’t be so quick to put away the camos just yet. There’s one animal in particular that still offers hunting opportunity far later in the year, and year round in some cases: The feral pig.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

By this point in time, if you’ve never heard of the feral pig or wild pigs, you’ve probably been living under a rock. They’re extremely invasive and have spread themselves throughout almost all of the Southeastern United States. The pigs were originally brought in by the Spanish, and in conjunction with a series of farm escapes throughout the years, they’ve spread like wildfire.

Pigs pose a major problem to agriculture. They cause millions of dollars in damage to crops every year because of the way they feed. Pigs naturally root up the ground to dig for tubers and roots. Areas that’ve had a group of pigs come through honestly look like someone came in and dragged a tractor disk across the ground. They rip up everything, and when you add in their extremely fast reproductive rates, they’ve gotten out of hand.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

Over the past few years, states have begun to recognize the wild pig issue. All states that have feral pigs present have incorporated harvesting them into regular hunting seasons, but many have actually taken it a step further. States like Florida have unique laws. On specific Wildlife Management Areas, there are extra wild pig seasons that are open during various times over the summer. This not only allows the public access to many of these WMA’s during non-standard hunting times, but it also allows them the opportunity to hunt outside of the regular hunting season.

And let’s not forget private land. Depending on what part of the state you’re in, many counties allow for wild pigs to be harvested with the use of spotlight, night vision, or even the help of dogs. Hunting on private land for pigs also lasts year round; there’s no defined season. This has been put in place to try and help curb not only their spread, but also the amount of damage they can do to private land owners.

As with any outdoor activity (but especially hunting), be sure to check up and familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations regarding pigs as each state is different. Hunters should also be well-prepared as far as gear goes to hunt pigs. Many public land areas forbid the use of center-fire rifles during pig seasons. This means a hunter is restricted to either archery hunting or shotguns. Using a bow for pigs can be very effective, but it’s important to ensure a clean shot as they are extremely tough animals. With shotguns, I would avoid buckshots entirely and just stick to slugs.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

On private land, you’re usually welcome to use whatever you’d like. My personal favorites are either a 7.62×39 or a 30-06 when chasing pigs. There are obviously about a hundred different options for cartridges that will work for wild pigs, but that’s a discussion for another day. Just be sure to pick something that has a decent amount of knockdown power. Even a fairly small pig can be somewhat dangerous if cornered and wounded. If you’re planning on hunting at night, be sure to outfit your firearm properly. High-powered scopes are often difficult to wield when using spotlights, and finding your target in the crosshairs can be just as challenging.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

So if you’ve found yourself down in the dumps because hunting season is over, consider taking a look at wild pigs. Harvesting them isn’t just for hunting’s sake, it’s actually good for our natural environments and agricultural productivity. And let’s be honest, there are few things better than waking up on a warm summer’s day and cooking up some bacon for breakfast.

Back to Basics: Inshore Tackle

Inshore saltwater kayak fishing is one of the most popular means of fishing for a large percentage of the kayaking community. The ease of access, relatively safe waters, and challenging fishing draws thousands of anglers to chase inshore species every year. But while planning an inshore kayak fishing trip with a few friends a couple of weeks ago, a buddy asked me, “What should I bring?”

For those inexperienced with inshore fishing, the choice of tackle can be daunting. Aside from the obvious of live/dead bait, a beginner is faced with hundreds of options of artificial hard or soft baits, colors, shapes, sizes, etc. So I tore apart my tackle box and whittled my plethora of choices down to just a few options that I deem essential for an inshore fisherman’s collection.

Swim/Paddle Tails

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

Used in combination with a small jig head, these soft plastics catch just about everything that swims around inshore waters. The rate of “wiggle” that the swim tail has depends solely on how fast the retrieve is. These are great for bottom bouncing to chase things like flounder and redfish, but can also be pulled in quicker and higher in the water column to entice trout and snook. Just remember to always bring extras. Toothy guys like mangrove snappers have a nasty habit of biting off the swim tail.

Weedless Jerk Shad

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

One of the biggest issues with inshore fishing is obstructions. Mangrove roots, oyster bars, docks, weeds, trees, etc. You name it, you’re probably going to get hung up on it it. And unfortunately that’s where most of the fish like to hang out, so you’ll find yourself casting near these things constantly. This is where weedless setups shine. Using wide gap worm hooks, an angler can easily make use of these weedless setups. Generally speaking, the soft plastic itself is heavy enough to cast, but if you’re trying to reach deeper water, or bottom bounce, a simple bullet weight can change how these are used. Twitch them occasionally for a mid-water column effect or very quickly to simulate something topwater. Set the hook pretty hard with these setups as you need to obviously expose the hook for it to work. 

Shrimp Imitations

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

Baits like DOA shrimp and similar are absolutely dynamite when it comes to inshore species. Their design also means that the hook is almost always faced upwards, which limits the amount of snagging that occurs with the bottom. They are unfortunately somewhat expensive when compared to other options, but I’ve encountered numerous instances where it’s the only thing fish will hit. Slow twitching works great, and sometimes all it takes is letting the bait drift down current for a fish to pick it up. It isn’t uncommon at all for fish to hit the shrimp immediately after it hitting the water, so don’t be surprised if you reel in the slack to find a fish on the end already.

Spinner Baits/Buzz Baits 

To many, this may seem like an oddball choice. Spinner baits and buzz baits are generally used by freshwater fisherman after bass. But in case you haven’t heard, redfish absolutely love them. They’re somewhat difficult to use since they aren’t weedless and require a bit of depth to the water, but since many inshore spots have poor water clarity, the vibrations of the blade attract fish. High tide and oyster bars are when I break out the spinner baits, and I’m rarely disappointed in their results.

red fish

This red fell victim to a spinner bait. [Image: Alex Vail]

Topwaters

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

As far as excitement goes, topwaters take the grand prize. There’s few things in life more exciting than watching your surface plug get annihilated by a fish from below. There are several options when it comes to these, but I almost always go with a lure that does the “walk the dog” action. These simulate a wounded baitfish on the surface and have an advantage over subsurface lures in that they rarely get caught on anything. The simple fact that they float means that glide right over the top of anything below, meaning they rarely foul. Use these early morning and late evening when it’s rather dark outside.

Popping Corks

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

The final piece of tackle I wouldn’t leave home without is the popping cork. Generally used when fishing with live or dead bait, a popping cork rig shouldn’t be overlooked when considering artificials either. Previously mentioned baits like swim tails, shrimp imitations, and jerk shad can easily be tied underneath a popping cork and used effectively. The nice thing about these is that the cork actually keeps the lure suspended and off the bottom. Tie a one to two foot piece of mono or fluorocarbon underneath the popper and then attach the bait. The quick popping action works the lure below and keeps it suspended. And in instances where a fish strikes, it’s immediately noticeable as the cork disappears below.

snook

Snook that fell for a DOA under a popping cork. [Image: Alex Vail]

So if you’re just getting into inshore fishing and trying to sort out the tackle box, consider giving these a try. One or the other, or a combination of them, all is bound to eventually work. Trout, reds, flounder, snook, and more are options for inshore kayak fishermen. With the right amount of patience, equipment, and luck, inshore kayak fishing can be one of the most productive ways to fish. Tight lines!

Kayaks and Kayak Accessories

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

By this point, we’ve all seen them—the fishing kayaks decked out with everything from GoPro mounts and livewells to sails and even motors. To the beginner kayaker, the amount of options to add to your kayak can seem somewhat overwhelming. Sure, you can add tons of stuff to your plastic yak, but where do you start? The following are a few basic accessories that can slowly turn your barren paddle craft into a much more functional piece of equipment without getting too crazy.

Kayak on the beach loaded with gear.

Image: Alex Vail

Seats

This may seem a bit basic, but first things first, right? A good seat is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment you can “upgrade” on your kayak. Think about it: It’s where you spend almost all your time. Kayaking and kayak fishing is supposed to be enjoyable, and each trip can be much more enjoyable when you’re actually comfortable. Stock kayak seats are often extremely basic. Some even lack a bottom and are just a support to lean against. I personally suggest biting the bullet and investing in a nice seat. When you’re already staring at almost a full day in the yak or over 10 miles of paddling, the last thing in the world you want is to be cripplingly uncomfortable. 

Some kayaks don’t come with the standard cleats that are required with a seat. But with a few basic tools and sealant, it’s pretty easy to get the kayak ready to not only accept a new seat, but also make it comfortable.

Rudder

Another somewhat basic piece of equipment, but one that can make your life infinitely easier. I personally swear by a rudder—it’s far better to have and not need than need and not have. The advantage to a rudder is tackling windy conditions during longer paddles. The rudder helps the kayak track much more easily so you aren’t constantly trying to correct, and therefore alter, your paddling rhythm. A simple pedal-steered rudder can make life much easier while out on the water. These are advantageous in foul weather as well when you’ve been caught in the wind and have to turn around. Ask anyone who’s struggled with that, and they know the nightmare it can be. Finally, a rudder proves useful even in calm conditions on days when you’re out fishing. You can get the kayak moving with a few paddle strokes, and after picking up the rod, you can easily adjust the direction of the kayak with some simple footwork with the pedals. It’s even easier when the wind is at your back.

Much like the seats, installing a rudder just requires a few basic tools and obviously the equipment. Be sure to sit in the seat and measure out how comfortable you are and how far away you need the pedals to be based off of your leg length. If your rudder doesn’t already have it, I highly suggest using a steel cable to link the rudder to the pedals. My last rudder with steel cables lasted 11 years before finally needing any maintenance.

Closeup of kayak.

Image: Alex Vail

Anchor Trolley 

This is one that I don’t see many people using. In fact, I don’t see a ton of people using anchors to begin with. But the advantage to an anchor trolley is the ability to adjust the direction you’re faced when anchored up. With this very simple pulley system, a kayaker can change the facing and actual location of the kayak even while anchored. Need the pivot point of the anchor line to be off the bow? Just adjust it. Need to face the opposite direction so you can cast repeatedly into that hole? Fine-tune the pivot point to your liking. It’s proved invaluable for me on several occasions, and it wasn’t particularly difficult to install.

So if you’ve just recently dipped your toes into the world of kayaking, try and start small. The bigger, more in-depth accessories can wait. Focus on the basics first. With these simple upgrades, you can easily step up your kayak game. Just be careful: Upgrading the kayak can be a slippery slope. Before you know it, you’ll be latching on sails and livewells just like everyone else.

Winter Camping in the Everglades

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

When you think of camping and boating, generally an image of warm summer days and swimming come to mind. But let’s be honest—chances are that if you look out of your window right now, it’s far from a warm summer day outside. There is, however, a place in the U.S. where winter is the best time of the year to camp: The Florida Everglades are calling your name.

Sunset

Image: Alex Vail

Unlike the rest of the country right now, the Florida Everglades are actually comfortable outside, and winter is the best time of the year to go out there and camp. Generally temperatures range anywhere from the high 40s to the upper 70s from the months of November through March, which is perfect weather for camping. A large majority of the mosquitoes have also died off, so you can pitch a tent and not worry about severe blood loss. It isn’t, however, as simple as driving out there and pitching a tent. There are a few things to prepare for and keep in mind before venturing out into the ‘Glades.

Before You Go

Unpacking a tent.

Image: Alex Vail

Only about 1/8 of the available campsites in the Everglades can actually be reached by foot. Another advantage of it being winter is that water levels are down so actually walking to campsites in areas like Everglades National Park or Big Cypress National Preserve is a pretty dry trek. Try doing this in summer or fall, and you’re guaranteed to be wading through knee-deep water. The other 7/8? Those campsites have to be reached by kayak or boat. Almost all of the campsites along the coast, like the Ten Thousand Islands and the southern point of Everglades National Park, must be reached by water, either by power boat or paddle craft. Be sure to be wary of shallow water if you’re bringing a boat. Most of the water out in the ‘Glades is only about three or four feet deep. It’s entirely possible to get stuck for upwards of six hours thanks to extreme tides.

Preparation

You’re going to want to bring all of your usual camping equipment. If you’re going by paddle craft or hiking, however, weight is going to be of a big concern so cut down wherever you can. If you’ve also decided to camp within the Ten Thousand Islands, you’re going to have to bring all the water you need with you. Sun protection is still very important, even this time of the year, so sunscreen and long sleeves/face protection are an absolute must. Weather is still just as unpredictable as ever, so rain gear as well as rope to tie down the tent are a good idea, too. As far as navigation goes, you should always carry two different ways of navigation at all times. I prefer a map with a compass for standard navigation, and I carry a GPS as a backup. The last thing in the world you want is to get lost out there. Finally, even though the mosquitoes have died off quite a bit, they’re still a very real thing. Heavy applications of Deet and Thermacell are a good idea.

On Arrival 

One of the big kickers with camping in the Everglades is that campsites are limited to a certain amount of campers per site. This means they need to be reserved. However, you cannot reserve campsites beyond 24 hours in advance of your trip, which really translates into reserving them when you check into the ranger station. There are stations located in Flamingo as well as Everglades City, and they have maps and information inside that can be pretty helpful as well. The ranger will want to know where you plan to camp each night of your trip, and you’ll have to reserve one for each night you plan to stay. This is obviously for safety, but also for the simple fact that some campsites only fit so many people.

In the ‘Glades

It’s wild out there—be sure to consistently check your bearings and location to avoid getting turned around. There are generally three different types of campsites out there: ground sites, beach sites, and chickees. Ground sites are simple campsites on some of the sparse dry ground in the backcountry. These sites have picnic tables, a porta-john, and that’s about it. Since these are usually tucked back into the mangroves, the mosquitoes can be horrendous. You also can’t have fires at these sites, so keep that in mind when considering how you’re going to cook food.

Tent camping.

Image: Alex Vail

Beach sites are exactly like they sound: a campsite on a beach. But they aren’t really a sandy beach with coconut palm trees on them. The beaches are made up almost entirely of crushed shell and mangroves that are within just a few yards of some of the sites. There are no tables at these (they’d get washed away), and there aren’t usually any porta-johns (some have them, though). You’re welcome to build a fire at these using the abundant driftwood that washes up.

Kayak packed with camp gear.

Image: Alex Vail

Finally there are the chickees. These are essentially raised up dock platforms that are located randomly right on the surface of the water in many of the bays and estuaries. There’s a single roof on these, no walls, and enough room for your tent, a little gear, and a porta-john. That’s it. This is where the rope comes in handy to tie your tent to the dock since you can’t place stakes. You obviously cannot have fires on these either, unless you really feel like having an adventure and burning the whole platform down with you on top. The mosquitoes can be relatively bad at these, but my big thing is just comfort. Bring a sleeping pad for your tent as the dock platform isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world to sleep on.

Tent on a deck.

Image: Alex Vail

So if you’ve got cabin fever and are walled-in behind endless amounts of that white nightmare called snow, consider coming down to give the Everglades a try this winter. Keep these tips in mind, and you’re sure to have a great experience in the ‘Glades. Just don’t forget the bug spray.

Gearing Up for Archery Season

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Fall archery season is right around the corner, and in some places, like my home state of Florida, it’s already under way in a few areas. Now is the time to start preparing and thinking about how you’re going to turn this season into a successful one. But before you go racing off into the stand, there are a few things to keep in mind that can not only help make your season more successful, but also a little safer.

A view from the bow looking over a river.

[Image credit: Alex Vail]

Gear, Gear…And More Gear

Let’s be honest, most of us haven’t really looked at our hunting pack since last season. It’s beyond time to go through it and make sure you have everything you need and that those items are in good working condition. Things like plenty of reflective tacks/tape, batteries for your flashlight, first aid kit, etc. There’s nothing worse than getting out into the field only to discover you’ve forgotten something vital at the house because you haven’t updated your pack.

A camo-colored backpack.

[Image credit: Alex Vail]

And we shouldn’t forget about probably the most important piece of gear for archery season: The bow itself. It’s vital to make sure that your bow is functioning just as it should. Ensure that each arrow you’re carrying with you hasn’t (somehow) received some damage over the course of the year and that all the fletching is in good condition. All of this, however, should be taken care of LONG before it’s time to hunt because it’s past time for practicing. It doesn’t really matter how well you’ve got your gear together when you’re out of practice in the actual shooting process.

A bow and arrows with a target.

[Image credit: Alex Vail]

Water, Water Everywhere

Depending on what part of the country you’re hunting, archery season can be anything from pretty warm to downright hellish. Here in Florida, it’s the latter. It’s practically still summer here, and scouting/trudging around in the woods looking for deer isn’t the coolest activity one can do in 90+ degree weather. Always make sure to carry more water than you plan on drinking. And don’t stop drinking. As a good rule of thumb in the heat, if you stop sweating then you’re already dehydrated.

Speaking of water, this time of the year still brings plenty of rain. Many roads will be flooded thanks to high water levels. Remember to never drive into water when you don’t know how deep it is. It seems like common sense, but I’m shocked every year at the amount of flooded trucks I see from people who’ve done just that. And it isn’t just roads that get flooded. In many instances, the woods will be too. If you’re hunting any low lying area, just be sure to have footwear that can get wet. Just because the area was dry during scouting season doesn’t mean it’ll be dry on opening day.

A view from the bow looking into the woods.

[Image credit: Alex Vail]

Naturally with rain comes thunderstorms, and with thunderstorms comes lightning. This time of the year, afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence. If you’re lucky enough to have cell signal from your stand, be sure to have some sort of radar app downloaded and check it often. If not, don’t be a dummy and sit in a tall tree during a lightning storm. Seek cover immediately.

The Deer Themselves 

You can, of course, do everything right and still not see deer. This time of the year is rather unique. The deer have been unpressured for the past nine months so they won’t be exhibiting those highly pressured deer patterns. They won’t, for the most part, be completely nocturnal. However, it is still very hot out. Just like us, animals don’t want to get too hot. This time of the year, they will lay low and ride out the heat of the day in order to come out in the late evening and early morning. Don’t kill yourself by being in the stand for too long in the morning or too early in the afternoon. The bucks also haven’t really begun showing signs of rutting activity yet. You can expect to find a few rubs here and there, but rarely any scrapes. Bucks will often still be cruising around in bachelor groups this time of the year, so try and take that into account when picking a stand. It’s hard to pattern a single animal during early archery season.

So if you find yourself, like many of us, chomping at the bit to get out in the stand with a bow, just take all of these things into account before you leave. Make sure your gear is in proper working order and you’ve got everything you need. Feel confident with your shooting abilities, and always keep an eye on that weather. With any luck, you may very well be staring at a bachelor group of bucks in the near future—there are few ways to better start off a season than with a successful hunt.

Boatless Angling

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Florida is one of the top fishing destinations in the United States. People flock from all around the country to chase the wide variety of both saltwater and freshwater fish species that our state has to offer, particularly in the summertime. However, upon arrival, a person doesn’t have to look long before they start spotting big offshore fishing boat, flats boats, and bass boats. It’s easy to feel as though there’s no other option for fishing in Florida if you don’t have a boat. However, with the right know-how, a fisherman can easily take advantage of the many boatless angling opportunities here in the Sunshine State this summer.

Wade Fishing

Fish caught on a lure.

This trout was caught on a wade fishing trip. [Image: Alex Vail]

What’s one of the nice things about wade fishing in Florida? You can wear your swimsuit to wade fish almost eight months out of the year. The state has countless opportunities and places for anglers to take a step into the water and immediately begin chasing big fish. Most state parks have easy inshore wade fishing access for places like mangrove creeks and sea grass beds, but obviously not all areas can be wade fished—a combination of oyster bars and chest deep mud usually snuffs that. But even so, there are a wide range of places to choose from (particularly along the Gulf Coast) if you’re looking to get a little wet while you fish. Just remember shoes! Many of the grass beds are home to sea urchins, and that’s the last thing anyone wants buried in their foot.

Beach Fishing

A fishing rod in the sand on the beach with a sunset in the background.

[Image: Alex Vail]

What’s more relaxing than the beach? How about fishing while relaxing at the beach. Beach fishing (or surf fishing) is an extremely easy and fun way to get your fishing fix without ever having to step on a boat. With the exception of the Big Bend and Ten Thousand Islands areas, beach fishing is a perfectly reasonable way to catch a wide variety of fish. Talk to local bait shops and ask what is running in during that time of the year and in that place, and you should be able to get a rough idea of what to expect. Just remember a cooler full of ice and a lawn chair, unless you prefer sitting in the sand.

Pier Fishing 

If you don’t mind fishing alongside other anglers, pier fishing can be an extremely effective method here in Florida. A quick Google search or looking at a satellite image of the coastline will point out the piers—they’re scattered all along our coasts. Do note, however, that just like some state park entrances, getting onto most piers comes with a small entrance fee. Pier fishermen in the Gulf or Atlantic can expect to catch anything from redfish and pompano all the way up to sailfish and tarpon depending on the place and time of the year. Don’t cross off inshore pier fishing, either! Most bridges in the state have been updated in the past few decades and many of their old ancestors have been converted into piers.

Canal/Bank Fishing

A peaceful photo of a canal with trees along the sides.

[Image: Alex Vail]

It’s easy to focus primarily on saltwater fishing when one comes down to Florida. We do, after all, have plenty of it to go around. Freshwater fishing shouldn’t be overlooked, though. In fact, Florida produces some of the biggest largemouth bass in the country. Freshwater fishing without a boat isn’t ideal, but it can definitely be done. Unfortunately in the Northern and Central regions of Florida, freshwater fishing from the shore won’t be too enjoyable. Most lakes or rivers have limited access or small piers. Wade fishing in freshwater isn’t the greatest idea, either, unless you don’t mind getting friendly with our resident alligators. Southern Florida, however, actually does have quite a bit of freshwater fishing access in the form of bank fishing. South Florida is riddled with canal systems that cross the state in almost every direction. Many of these can be accessed right off of the side of the road. Inland canals are home to largemouth, bream, catfish, and even exotic species like cichlids and peacock bass. Canals closer to the coast often get landlocked tarpon and snook as well. It certainly isn’t uncommon to reel in a bass only to catch a snook on the next cast. Just be aware that not all canal levees have public access, but they’re generally well-marked with signage explaining just that. Also note that, however sad it might be, the crime rate in many areas of South Florida is extremely high. When fishing in some of these urban canals, be conscious of your surroundings and be sure to lock your vehicle and hide/remove any valuables from your car while you’re out fishing.

So if you make your way down to hot and sunny Florida this summer and want to fish, don’t get discouraged if you don’t have a boat. There are opportunities everywhere around the state to fish without a vessel. Be it fishing in waist deep water for trout or casting for cobia from a pier, anyone can get down to the Sunshine State and still have a great time on foot.