South Florida, the offshore kayak fishing capital

extreme-kayak

Photo courtesy ExtremeKayakFishing.com

Kayak fishing is becoming more and more popular all over the United States, but South Florida has the rest of the country beat when it comes to offshore fishing. The waters off Broward and Palm Beach counties offer kayakers the chance to catch everything from sailfish and kingfish to tuna and dolphin without having to paddle very far.

The Extreme Kayak Fishing offshore tournaments held out of Pompano Beach attract anglers from as far away as Oklahoma, Texas, North and South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and even South Africa. Prizes include cash, kayaks, sunglasses, fishing tackle and trophies.

The circuit run by Joe Hector held the country’s first kayak sailfish tournament this past winter and a kayak tournament this past spring in the Bahamas, where one angler caught and released a 500-pound blue marlin after an 11-hour fight. Another released a white marlin.

When Hector and his friend Nathan Special started kayak fishing several years ago, it was primarily inshore for tarpon and snook. One day they went offshore to fish for snapper and grouper on a shallow reef. The current and wind carried them into deeper water, where they caught big kingfish. Since then, they’ve caught everything that anglers in powerboats catch offshore, including wahoo and sharks.

“We would go out there, and we would have so many people tell us we were crazy,” Hector said.

As interest in their catches spread, Hector and his wife, Maria, held an offshore kayak fishing tournament in Pompano Beach in 2011.

“We were nervous, Maria and I, because we didn’t know if anyone would show up,” Hector said.

That tournament was a success, and the Extreme Kayak Fishing Trail now includes several tournaments a year.

Hector was inspired by Bill “Kayak Willie” Tytler, who used to fish from his kayak while surrounded by powerboaters in the Pompano Beach Fishing Rodeo. Hector thought it’d be cool to have an offshore tournament just for kayakers. Little did he know what he was creating.

“I never thought in a million years that we would have the nation’s first sailfish tournament, the first international tournament in the Bahamas and the first summer series,” Hector said. “The whole sport has grown, but I never thought the offshore part would grow like it has.

“If you think about it, why we’re getting anglers from all over is because this is the place to fish offshore in a kayak. Paddle out a half mile to get big kings, paddle out a little more to get mahi, wahoo, tuna, sailfish. To other anglers around the country, this is utopia.”

And age is not a handicap.

“If you’re 60 years old you can go out there and compete with 25 year olds,” Hector said. “You look at our tournaments – I would say 30 percent of the fishermen are in their early 50s and late 40s.”

Hector said many of those getting into kayak fishing are boat owners. Several of his anglers regularly compete in local offshore tournaments.

“In the beginning we had a lot of kayak guys who weren’t fishermen. Now we have fishermen who are becoming kayak guys,” Hector said.

“When I ask these guys, ‘Why would you do it if you’ve got this big boat?’ they all tell me the same thing: ‘It’s all on me. I don’t have to share the credit. I’m not part of a team. I’m the winner.’ ”

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Steve Waters has been the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel since August of 1990. He got his start in journalism in Charleston, S.C., where he was a sportswriter and covered sailing. In his spare time, he fished for striped bass on the famed Santee-Cooper lakes with one of the high school football coaches he knew and later bought a bass boat so he could fish there on his own. When his sports editor at his next paper, The Tuscaloosa News, found out he had a boat, he asked him if he wanted to cover the outdoors in addition to covering the Crimson Tide. It wasn't long before Waters realized that writing about fishing was way more fun than covering Alabama football. He went on to cover the outdoors for two more newspapers and a TV station, as well as sports ranging from golf and baseball to NASCAR and the NHL, before writing full-time about fishing, boating, sailing, diving, hunting, powerboat racing and environmental issues for the Sun Sentinel.

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