'It’s a whole different feeling, being out on the water, not a ripple, so peaceful, quiet and relaxing,' says Richard Ofner when asked why he loves kayak fishing. 'I wouldn’t go out in a powerboat fishing.' Ofner, shown here on a fishing outing on the Grand River, where he caught this 28-inch steelhead, is involved with the Canadian Kayak Anglers group. (Photo courtesy Julie Nowicki)

Up close with nature:
Kayak fishing a fast-growing sport on Ontario's waterfront

News Archive BY GARY MAY
The beauty of kayaking is the tranquillity. Perched inches above the surface, you dip your paddle and slip effortlessly through the water, your bow silently slicing a path. Ripples spread in ever-widening curves behind you. Ahead, there is only peace and calm.  

And now there is fish.  

It’s been a while since kayak fishing first made a big splash in the United States. But with the high cost of fuel and the search for solitude, fishermen across Ontario’s waterfront communities are quickly taking to the sport as well. Kayak angling has been identified as the fastest-growing segment of paddling and fishing.  

As the sport grows, better products are being introduced, demonstrations are being held and blogs and online forums are cropping up everywhere.  

Recently, kayak anglers came together for the Border City Classic in Windsor and Richard Ofner, an organizer of the event, said besides the 30 or so who showed up that day, he was amazed at the number of people who contacted him afterwards to say they, too, have discovered the lure of kayak fishing. Until there was publicity for the border city event, he said, they simply didn’t know there were so many other like-minded individuals out there.  

“It’s a whole different feeling, being out on the water, not a ripple, so peaceful, quiet and relaxing,” Ofner told MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “I wouldn’t go out in a powerboat fishing.”  

Never heard of fishing from a kayak? You’re not alone. While the sport has been popular in California, Florida and the Carolinas for years, only recently has it started to pick up steam in Canada.  

Mike Malone, owner of Pelee Wings Nature Store in Leamington on Lake Erie, said kayak manufacturers are looking at ways to tap in to the huge fishing market. “With the high price of boat fuel,” said Malone, “people are realizing how much sense fishing from a kayak really makes.”  

Malone, a naturalist and birder formerly employed by Canadian Wildlife Service, said besides saving on fuel costs, there are other advantages to fishing from a kayak. The craft can get into shallow water that’s out of reach of motorized boats, “places where you wouldn’t dare risk banging up your propeller,” he said.  

Malone, who rents and sells various types of kayaks at his store on the road leading to Point Pelee National Park, said kayak fishermen ideally need a wider, more stable craft than the traditional kayak.   “Imagine having a rod in your hand and the fish goes under your boat. You’ll have to twist around quickly, and you need the stability of a broader platform.”  

Malone said angling kayaks often come with rod holders that secure the fishing pole at an angle and pivot around for convenience. As well, angling kayaks offer a higher seat position than traditional craft, and some even come with two seats, one for paddling and one for fishing. Some kayaks offer one seat that collapses out of the way.  

“Some kayaks are so stable that an experienced person can stand up in them,” he said.  

Special kayaks for your fishing gear

While angling kayaks are built differently, the price is comparable to a traditional kayak, Malone said, anywhere from $600 to $1,400.  

He pointed out that recreational kayaks are generally wider and more stable than the traditional type, and some anglers will choose one of them instead of buying one made specially for fishing.  

“The manufacturers want to expand the market,” said Malone. “They know there are millions of fishermen out there, so they’re promoting the sport big time. It’s potentially a huge market.”  

Ofner describes himself as a “casual fisherman” who took up the sport not because of the fish, but because of the craft. Back problems caused him to abandon golf and hockey, so he was looking for a good cardiovascular activity that would allow him to avoid lower back strain. He said he can sit on a kayak seat for hours and suffer no ill effects.  

“It’s also become a chance to meet new people and get out in the quiet of nature with friends,” he said. “Now it occupies most of my summer.”  

In fact, living as he does in the Town of Tecumseh in Essex County, which boasts Ontario’s most moderate climate, “I get out on the water by the end of March and I’m there until early December.”  

He has been active in the Canadian Kayak Anglers organization, which operated the Border City Classic. The Kayak Anglers group also organizes camping weekends and other kayaking events.  

Events are springing up all over the province. This year, the Ontario Kayak Fishing Series scheduled events on Belwood Lake and South River early in the summer, with events coming up in Gananoque Aug. 20, Haliburton Sept. 10 and Hamilton Harbour Oct. 1.  

Pulling in the big ones ...

Outfitters, too, are working hard to promote the sport. Pelee Wings owner Malone provided nine kayaks for newcomers to try out at the Border City event. Nomad Adventure Co. in Waterloo and Trailhead Outfitters in Ottawa offer introductory kayak angling clinics.  

Kayak anglers are fishing many of the same species as their motorized counterparts. In fact, earlier this year in the Ottawa River, there were reports that Ottawa kayakers were floating among the powerboats in search of shad, catfish, walleye and sauger. Ofner reports catching bass, steelhead and muskie.  

Being out on a placid body of water, with only the herons and other water birds around, is a wonderful experience, said Ofner. But he admitted care needs to be taken, because the weather can change in an instant.  

Over the July 1 holiday weekend, Ofner and some friends were kayak angling on Lake Erie two miles offshore. The water was calm when they noticed a storm building in the distance. They figured they had plenty of time to make it back to the dock. They were wrong.  

The storm blew in much more quickly than they ever believed possible and, within 10 minutes, they were coping with five-foot waves and a west wind that was blowing them off-course. Ofner’s craft was upended.

“It was a scary situation and a real lesson for us all,” he said. “The weather can change so quickly.”  

Scary situations take different forms for kayak anglers in other parts of the world. While Ontario kayakers don’t need to contend with sharks, Kayak Angler magazine reports several incidents off the coast of California, the Hawaiian Islands and Australia.  

The magazine’s editor, Paul Lebowitz, wrote in a recent edition: “I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with both of the kayak anglers who took the wildest ride imaginable, holding on for dear life as two tons of muscle used their kayaks as chew toys. After what must have been deep, soul-searching reflection, both ventured back onto the ocean.”  

For more information about kayak angling, including blogs, videos, equipment classifieds and businesses that cater to kayak anglers, go online to Canadian Kayak Anglers.  

MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — July 2011