Several of my kayak fishing buddies and I put together a master plan for the weekend of the first Lone Star Kayak Series event, which is possibly the most popular kayak fishing tournament in Texas. The LSKS is a four part series. Each event has awards and prizes for the top finishers, and at the fourth and final event, the overall “Angler of the Year” is crowned based on the total points from all four events. The tournament is a Redfish only, and each angler may weigh in up to two fish. If at least one of the redfish is alive at weigh-in, the angler gets an extra half pound added to his/her stringer. The angler with the heaviest stringer wins. It’s a fairly simple format that is very popular in the Galveston Bay area.
Our plan was to make this a two-day event. We decided that we would fish the Cedar Lakes area near the mouth of the San Bernard River, just outside Freeport, TX. The tournament was on the Saturday of Easter weekend, so those of us who were off from work on Friday (Good Friday) went down to our spot early to pre-fish. I cheated (kinda) and went out in my buddy James’s skiff with our friend Adam to throw some flies at tailing reds, as well as check out all of the spots in the area I was considering fishing. My two friends and I saw lots of fish, but were unable to get any to bite on the fly. It was tough going because the lakes around Freeport where we were fishing are extremely shallow and full of oyster beds. Once you get into the lakes, you really can’t motor much faster than an idle, and the wind was making poling a challenge. Even though James’s skiff only drafts a few inches, we were still rubbing on oysters all day.
We called it a day around sun down with no fish to show for it. James and Adam headed home with the boat, and my kayak and I stayed in Freeport for the night at a motel, where I was meeting the rest of my kayaking compadres. There were six of us staying the night at the motel, and a few more joining in the morning. Three of us loaded in my SUV and set out on a pilgrimage to find some food. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon a Wing-Stop not too far away. Not exactly the ideal food for the night before you spend 6 hours in a kayak, but it was a hot meal and I wasn’t complaining.
After eating, we headed back to the motel and spent the rest of the evening rigging our gear, tying on leaders, exchanging stories, and showing off our most recently acquired lures and accessories. Some of my favorite parts about kayak fishing are the off-the-water times like these. We had a blast hanging out in our sketchy motel room drinking a few cold ones and talking shop. We made plans to be up at 4:30, so that we could be at the launch (just a minute or two down the road) by 5. Tournament rules state that you cannot launch until 6, so this would work out perfectly. We called it a night and each of us went off to dream about golden tails and tournament wins.
The next morning came in what felt like a few short minutes. I opened my eyes feeling like I had just closed them. I put down a quick breakfast, grabbed my costas, and was out the door. I pulled up at the launch about 5 minutes after 5 and was the first one there. Some of our group was headed up river, so they launched in the canal right by our motel. I pulled up next to the launch and started unloading my gear. Within a few minutes, a few more kayak anglers appeared out of the darkness and started prepping their gear as well. By 5:45, there were now 7 kayaks fully loaded and stacked up at the launch. Some of the motor heads were getting a little irritated that we were “in the way” but when we explained that it was a tourney and we couldn’t launch until 6, they backed off a bit.
As soon as the chime on my watch dinged for six o’clock, I gave the Cuda a push into the cold dark water, and we were off. Rex “RexDelRey” DeGuzman paddled off across the ICW in the first Cedar Lake, while Robert “YaknAggie” Field, Chris “YakRazy” and myself headed southwest, down the ICW towards Windmill Lake. We paddled for about 35 minutes before we arrived at our spot. We had already gone about 2 miles, but because it was flat calm, the paddle was a breeze. This would not be the same story later…
We arrived at the mouth that opened up into the first lake we were going to fish. I had seen lots of Redfish stacked up along the grass right at the opening the day before, so I decided to fish this spot first. Robert headed into the lake, and Chris stopped at a smaller little opening that was littered with fallen trees. I drifted along the small piece of marsh shoreline, and started casting my weedless rigged Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad towards the edge of the marsh.
After about ten minutes and five casts, I hit pay dirt. There was a push, a swell, and BAM, line started screaming off my Penn Battle 3000. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a sizable redfish, and he was headed directly into the ICW for deeper water. About three minutes into the fight my line popped and he was gone. I reeled in my line to inspect the damage and see what had caused him to get off. To my dismay, it was a failed knot, which drove me nuts. I was irate. After a few minutes of calming myself down, I tied on a new plastic, paddled back to where I began, and started drifting again. I was sure there had to be more fish in this spot. I drifted all the way down the shoreline, but nothing hit my lure. I saw movement, so I knew they were still there. Being as stubborn as I am, I turned around and paddled back for a third pass. After two or three casts, there was another swell, and I was hooked up again. Thank God, they were still here. This fish was not nearly as strong as the first, but was still peeling enough line to be a keeper. I took it easy on him and let him tire out to avoid another lost fish. After a few, he gave in and I had him in the net. He was a fatty Redfish that measured about 21.5 inches.
By this time, it was now after seven, and the sun was fully raised in the sky. I paddled into the lake to find Robert and Chris. I told them about the fish and shared my tactics. They were using a similar approach already, so they were on the right track. Robert and I decided to paddle further down the ICW to the next lake, which we estimated to be about another mile to a mile and a half. After another 30 minutes of non-stop paddling, the wind started picking up at our backs, and we still were not to the lake yet. We decided to abort this mission, as we were now too far from the launch to be comfortable. We decided to turn around and head back to Windmill Lake where we had started.
We arrived back at the lake, and I spent the next two or three hours paddling to the back of the lake, then slowly poling myself around the shore line in each direction, fishing the edge of the grass as I had done earlier in the morning. This was not producing. I noticed that as I was paddling across the lake, I was spooking some nice sized Reds that were just hanging out solo over oyster beds. Solo reds are hard to target, but luckily, this was the kind of fishing I excel at. Growing up as a fly fisherman, I learned that the best way to catch solo fish that are not actively feeding is to sight cast. The lake was shallow enough and the water was clear enough that I could do this pretty easily while standing on the Cuda. I paddled to the back of the lake again, and began to drift across while searching for those big red blurs in the water.
After a few minutes, I came upon my first red, but the wind was howling at this point, and I was tearing across the lake so fast I couldn’t cast at him without running him over. I paddled to the back of the lake again after scaring off the biggest fish I had seen all day, and began my drift again, this time with the use of a Yak Gear 18” Drift Sock. This slowed me down to a crawl, which was perfect for the situation.
One my second drift across the flats and oyster beds, I saw a nice sized Redfish burying his nose in the muddy bottom. This was my shot. I first saw just a cloud of mud and dust, but as it cleared, I could clearly see the fish feeding off the bottom. I was only about five feet away. I underhand tossed my lure just past him, and as gently as I could, I slid it under his nose. The fish sucked it up, and turned to face directly towards me. I stood there in my kayak, drifting towards him, holding my breath as my heart beat out of my chest. The fish swam right up to my kayak until he was less than a foot away. I couldn’t tell if he still had the bait in his mouth or not, so I lifted my rod tip ever so slightly to see if there was tension. The Red must have felt the cold steel in his mouth, because as soon as I moved my rod, he took off, screaming across the flat.
This turned into one of the most enjoyable fish fights of my lifetime. I was standing up in the Cuda, with nothing but space on all sides. The Redfish was big and strong, and he showed it with three impressive runs. I sat back down so that I could release the drift sock and let the fish pull me where ever he wanted to go. As soon as I was off anchor, I turned the rudder towards the fish, and took a miniature “Texas Sleigh Ride” across the lake while tiring this fella out. After about 20-30 minutes, the fish was finally starting to tire and I was able to get him close. Chris had seen the fight and me waving at him, so he came over to watch. I landed the fish, and Chris snapped this picture:
It was now almost 12:30, and I had two fish on the stringer. Robert had one fish (Check out his video of the catch here) and no one else had caught any. I took this to mean it was time to play it safe and head back to the launch with my two. Knowing my luck, if I stuck around and kept fishing, something would go wrong and I would lose my fish or miss the weigh in. I decided to pack up shop early and head back to the launch. It was a 35 minute paddle from the launch to where I was, so that would put me back at the ramp around 1:00 PM. It was an hour and ten minutes from the launch to the weigh in, so this would put me there right around 2:30pm. Weigh-in was from 2:30-4:30, so that was perfect. I paddled out of the lake and back into the ICW, turning northeast to head back up to the launch.
No sooner did I make the turn into the ICW then the wind whipped up from the north so that it was blowing directly into my face at 15-20 knots. Great, just great. Not only was I dragging a stringer behind me, dealing with the current coming at me, and navigating the wake caused by the passing barges, but the wind was blowing so hard that if you stopped paddling for even a second, you would immediately start drifting backwards. 90 minutes and the most painful paddle of my life later, I was finally back at the launch. It was now around 2:00 pm. I immediately started throwing my gear into my SUV as quickly as I could. Chris and Rex showed up soon after; also totally beat down by the wind. We loaded up and tied down the yaks, and just as we were pulling out of the parking lot, Robert made it back to the launch. I was really concerned he wouldn’t make it back in time if there was traffic.
I made it to the weigh-in at Louis Bait Camp right around 3:45 PM and pulled my two fish out of the aerated cooler in the back of my SUV. I bought them over to the weight-in and handed them over to the weigh master. The first fish (the smaller one) was dead. Even though he was only 22.5”, he was a fatty, so he put up around 4 lbs. The second fish was 25.5” and was a solid 6 lbs. He was still alive, so I got the extra half pound bonus on my total weight. This put my total stringer weight at right around 10.5 lbs, which was good for third place in the time with 45 minutes to go.
Robert, Rex, Chris, and some others headed over to the restaurant at the bait camp to chow down while we waited for the weigh-in to conclude. My third place didn’t hold, and I ended up in 8th. I took home $135 and a new floating net, so all in all, I was very happy. This was my first tournament, and I had out-fished 82+ anglers. No complaints there. I’m sure if I had managed to land that first fish, I would have been better off, but oh well. You can’t count the fish you don’t catch.
The whole weekend was a great time. It was great to see all of my fishing buddies, the tournament was extremely well run, and the weather was perfect. You really couldn’t ask for a better weekend. I’m really looking forward to the next three events in the series and all the good times we have ahead. A big thank you to Dustin for hosting such an awesome tournament. The Lone Star Kayak Series is a first-class kayak fishing tournament, and if you can make it down for any of the next three, you should totally join in. The entrance fee is only $65, and the top 18 or so got their money back. The top 11 all got back at least $100 and there were all kinds of raffle prizes. It was a fun atmosphere and a great time was had by all. Also a big thank you to my sponsors Yak Gear, Railblaza, and Columbia Sportwear for providing me with the tools to get the job done. See you on June 7th for round two!