Many of y’all know the feeling.
That¬†moment just before sunup when the only sound is a double-bladed paddle¬†stroking the surface of a calm bay. I experienced this last week.¬†¬†
It was¬†too dark to see the bay bottom, though I¬†knew the tide was transparent. One of my¬†paddle blades grazed¬†the floor, telling me¬†firm sand was below the¬†keel.
I steered a diagonal path toward an increasingly pink horizon, where horizontal strips of gray hovered over¬†sand dunes along the backside of Padre Island.
This wasn’t the first time I’d¬†noticed those¬†sea-level¬†silhouettes rise¬†like distant mountains against the familiar eastern glow.
An airborne mullet steals¬†my¬†attention. Then another, and another splashes barely a¬†rod’s length away.¬†
Then, suddenly, my left paddle blade¬†detonates a¬†violent swirl as wide as¬†my¬†kayak is long, shattering the calm¬†of¬†a windless lagoon and rocking my boat. Bracing against the wave, I stare at the escaping¬†wake of what I hoped was a dolphin.
“Did you see that?” I shouted¬†to my nearly deaf fishing buddy, who was maybe 50 feet away. “Must have been a sleeping dolphin. Guess my paddle woke him up.”
“Huh,” an oblivious and unconcerned Lefty Ray Chapa replied¬†without skipping a paddle stroke. “We’re almost there.”
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Almost where?¬†I thought. I didn’t know¬†we were paddling to a specific destination.
We’d launched in the dark from the boat ramp at Bird Island Basin within Padre Island National Seashore. Chapa stopped paddling about¬†a half-mile north of the ramp, and stood in a knee-deep tide.¬†
Admittedly, I’m not as enthusiastic about kayak fishing as I once was. Tendinitis in both arms is a distraction, and I don’t own a¬†Hobie pedal-drive boat.
If you’re thinking about testing the local kayak-fishing opportunities, now is a good time. Paddling and¬†pedaling are¬†especially easy during calm mornings, which generally persist¬†through October and into winter.
Several Coastal Bend outlets rent fully equipped kayaks with paddles or pedals. The day rates¬†are¬†reasonable, roughly from $50-$75. Wind & Wave Watersports in Flour Bluff offers several brands and both styles. Fin Factory Kayak & Tackle, also in the Bluff rents Hobie Kayaks with pedal-powered keel-fins at¬†Bluff¬†Bay Marina near the Boathole. Slowride Guide Services in Aransas Pass. Most rentals include accessories, such as rod-holders,¬†rudder, and tie-downs for transport.
Obviously, this is a matter of preference. Today’s pedal-drive kayaks are comfortable and easy to operate, but generally they are pricier. Keep in mind the fins protrude from the keel, so¬†they may scrap bottom at skinnier¬†depths, compared to¬†traditional boats. Try them both, then decide.¬†
The overwhelming majority of kayak anglers in the Coastal Bend prefer the sit-on-top style, whether they paddle or pedal. But brands such as Native Watercraft deserve a look. Find them at Roy’s Bait & Tackle Outfitters. These hybrid styles may provide a different level of comfort or stability, depending on your needs.¬†
Yesterday’s fabric¬†kayak seats¬†were a pain in the back. Today’s saddles sit higher above the water, allow your legs to bend and provide much better back support. Most have rigid aluminum frames with nylon webbing stretched across the adjustable seat bottom¬†and¬†back.
Of course, you’ll need a saltwater fishing license.¬†If you plan to launch or float¬†in the dark, Texas law requires a 360-degree, bright, white light clearly visible from afar. Canoes and kayaks also must¬†be equipped with a¬†Type I, II, III or V wearable personal flotation device¬†for each person on board. You also must carry an emergency whistle or horn.
Bait, tackle, lures, wading boots, water, maybe gloves and a stringer. A dry-box or dry-bag should carry a cellphone for emergencies. And be sure to tell someone where you plan to launch and when you plan to return.¬†
Bird Island Basin offers easy to wind-protected shallow flats.¬†But it‚Äôs important to understand the parking rules. The boat ramp parking lot has only four non-handicap spaces available for vehicles without trailers. And the consequences of parking illegally can be expensive. Additional parking is available at the far north end of the campgrounds. You may launch a kayak or easily park and wade just south of the ramp from the day-use parking lot north of the windsurfing¬†shop, except from January through April, when campers take over that area.¬†
Shamrock Cove/Wilson’s Cut is another favorite kayak area. There are several dirt roads along Highway 361 on¬†Mustang Island that lead to east Corpus Christi Bay, which offers¬†seagrass flats, spoils and bottom contours. Some of these roads require four-wheel traction after a rain. Towing services are expensive in this area. The east end of Wilson‚Äôs Cut provides a good kayak launch.
Directions: From north Padre Island, take Highway 361 toward Port Aransas and look for the dirt road entrance (double gate) directly across from the Sea Gull and Sandpiper Condominiums. Either park and launch at the end of the cut or take the road to the left of the cut where you should find several spots to pull over on weekdays to park and launch a kayak.
Nueces Bay Marsh Restoration Area¬†is just north of the old Gunderland Marine building along Texas Highway 181 in Portland, across the highway from Sunset Lake. The Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program has created a launch site with adequate parking at the 160-acre project area. You‚Äôll notice a series of grassy berms extended from the surface.¬†
Directions: From Corpus Christi, cross the Harbor Bridge and causeway. Take the first Portland exit (Moore Avenue) off Highway 181. Make a U-turn and exit at the Indian Point exit and look for the observation deck near the parking lot and turn in there
Little Bay North is a downtown Rockport site with¬†ample parking and convenient shallow-water access at the north end of Rockport Beach Park. This is a fair weather site, which means it is unprotected from wind. Good birding area.