Shawn Barham from New Haven Connecticut checks in with Yak Outlaws on what got him into kayak fishing, and the story of his personal best striped bass.
My father and older brother got me into fishing at a very young age. My father was into salt water fishing mostly, targeting Porgy, Black Fish (Tautog), and Fluke. He occasionally fished for Bluefish and Striped Bass, but bottom fishing was his main thing. We used to rent boats on the weekend and head out into New Haven Harbor and catch tons of fish in the summer and fall. My older brother Melvin was also a saltwater fisherman, but he was also heavy into largemouth bass fishing. I was spoiled when it came to fishing, because if my father was tired and didn’t want to go I could always call on my brother. After a while I was always trying to fish with my older brother because he had some killer spots for Largemouth, and he was catching trophy fish on a regular basis. I really appreciate my brother, because I know I had to be a pain in the behind most of the time. I was only about 6-7 years old, but no matter when I called him to ask if he could take me fishing he never said no. Thanks Bro!
As I got older my fishing addiction never changed. All I ever wanted to do was be on the water. When I turned 12 my father eventually bought a boat. That was the best thing ever. It was docked in the Quinnipiac River and this is where I first fell in love with Striped Bass. All summer we would hang down at the docks and I would fish for Stripers and Bluefish all day long. This was when the bass fishing was really bad due to over fishing and a fish had to be 38” in order to keep. The fish I was catching were all schoolies, but I was young and very happy to be catching them.
Fast forward about almost 20 years and, as far as the fishing went, things were pretty much still the same with me. All my free time was spent doing it and I was still after Striped Bass. The only difference was I was getting a lot better at it. Even though I would do a little traveling, New Haven Harbor is where I fished the most. I guess you can call that my home field. I would chase fish in the flats and I knew a lot of spots like the back of my hand.
On one trip while I was fishing the sand flats, I watched the striped bass blitz on bait just out of my casting range. As I stood there praying for the fish to come within casting distance out of nowhere a dude paddles up with a kayak and sat right in the middle of the school and hammered the fish. As I sat and watched him catch fish after fish for almost two hours I knew right then that someday I was going to be a kayak fisherman!
Making the transition
It was early spring 2012 when I was doing some research on fishing kayaks and through some YouTube searches I quickly came across the Hobie Pro Angler. It looked amazing and extrememly fishable, but I wasn’t sure if someone my size would be as comfy as the dudes looked on YouTube. After going on the Hobie website and looking for a dealer I was led to the boat locker. I called and got the address and my wife and I were on our way to see just what the Pro Angler had to offer. I was shocked when I saw it in person and needless to say it was love at first sight. I got to sit in it and was happy that Hobie made a kayak that I could fit into. Not only was I impressed, but so was my wife and there was no issues in convincing her that I needed one. So in less than a week I was a proud owner of a Hobie Pro Angler 14.
Kayak fishing was even better than I thought it would be. The rivers were heating up with migratory fish and getting out on the water at dawn and throwing poppers was producing some amazing results. I was shocked at how the fish didn’t mind the kayak. They would chase a plug right up to the side of the yak and even run into it sometimes. I also loved how I was able to fish water that was inaccessible from boats and surf fisherman. I was literally in a whole new world of fishing!
I did a lot of research on YouTube and other sites on kayak fishing, and I was surprised at the amount of information that was available on the subject. I liked the fact that I was able to connect and learn from people who were not only fishing for the same species as me, but also fishing in the same general area. I learned many new techniques and what kinds of baits I would have the most success with and what tides to fish. I was able to apply what I was learning to my fishing and I was getting some very impressive results.
As I was getting deeper into my yak fishing one of the things that was very important was the rigging of my kayak. The beauty in rigging is the endless options that are available. I quickly figured out the equipment I fished with the most and those were the things that I would bring with me. The idea was to bring as little as possible but at the same time have the things that I needed in order to have a successful fishing trip. I rigged my kayak with a Lowrance Elite 4x DSI Lowrance fish finder and a few rod holders. I also made myself a fishing create for the back of my kayak to hold a little extra gear and that was all I needed for the fish I was targeting. I also had all the safety equipment I needed like a life vest, VHF radio, a Dry Suite for cold weather gear and YakAttack Visicarbon Pro so I can be seen by other boaters.
I was learning a lot while kayak fishing and I was very pleased with the amount of quality fish I was able to catch. I fish for just about anything that swims in Long Island Sound, and with the kayak it allowed me to access very productive water. In the spring I would fish for the Striped Bass early in the morning and then go and fish the flats for fluke in the afternoon. During the summer I would fish for porgy near the reefs and when I had enough for dinner I would then live line and target Striped bass over the reefs. In the fall it was time for some Tautog fishing. This was some of my favorite fishing and doing it from a kayak was a blast. It was also very effective, because it allowed me to get right up into the rocks and target fish that didn’t get a lot of pressure because it was too dangerous for boats to get near them. The Bass and Bluefish are also very active in the fall. There’s no telling what you’ll run into when going on a trip in the fall, but there aren’t too many dull moments when on the water during this time of year.
Like many New England saltwater fisherman, Striped Bass is top on my list. I spend most of my time fishing for them and when I’m not fishing for them I’m usually thinking about ways to catch them when I get back on the water. Before I purchased my kayak, my personal best Striper was a 38” fish that I caught while fishing one of the local rivers. Once I was in a kayak I was quickly catching bigger fish and had beat my best fish a few times with fish from 40-43 inches. Even though I was happy catching fish this size I still wanted to hook and land a cow. I had a few buddies I met through my fishing adventures who were well known for catching some monster bass from their kayaks. I was fortunate because they had made me a promise that they would take me out one night and try to put me on some big fish and they kept their promise…
My Day Finally Came
It was early June and one afternoon I got the call I had been waiting for. According to my buddy, everything was looking perfect for a night trip and my best shot at a trophy fish. I was excited and I couldn’t wait to get on the water. I went to a local bait shop and purchased some eels and a few other items that were going to be needed for the trip. I went over all of my gear and I was off to meet my buddies at the spot. We met up right at dawn, quickly setup our kayaks and we were off to the water. This was one of my first fishing trips at night and we were fishing some fast running water on an inshore reef.
We were on the water for a while and had landed a few fish but nothing to brag about. After about an hour the tide began to slow and one of the guys I was fishing with got on the VHF and announced that we should get ready because the big fish should bite soon. Almost on queue I got a sharp tap and was tight on a fish. I replied “I’m on!” over the VHF as the fish took off on a blistering run. I fought it back to the kayak and I could tell that this was a monster. As it got closer to me I turned on my head lamp so I could get a good look at the fish but only got a glimpse because once the fish saw the light it took off on another run. I was excited but trying to keep myself calm because I didn’t want to make a mistake and loose this fish. The battle went on and as I got the fish close to the yak again it stayed down deep and didn’t want to budge off the bottom. After a few minutes of this I slowly started to gain some line back and then I saw her. As she rolled on her side next to my kayak I reached down and grabbed her bottom lip. It wasn’t until that moment when I realized how big the fish actually was. It’s hard to describe the feeling I felt once I had landed the fish, but extremely excited and accomplished would be an understatement. I had never caught a fish this size in my life and I felt so good about getting it in my kayak. My buddy asked me over the VHF “how big is it?” and I replied “I don’t know! I think it might be 50lbs!!” They quickly paddled over to me and helped me get the measurements from the fish. She was 48” with a 28” girth. That put the fish at over 40lbs. After the measurements we got a few pics and I revived the fish and sent her on her way. It felt good to finally get a fish that size and it felt even better to release it.
I can only pray that I’ll be able to hook into a few more fish like that in my lifetime. I do want a 50+lber one day and I know it’s possible to accomplish this from my kayak. My last few seasons of fishing have been amazing from my kayak and I love what kayak fishing has done for me. It has helped make me a better fisherman and a better person in general.