Hooked on kayak fishing
by Tom Chillemi
Jay Ward of Deltaville has been kayak fishing for 7 years. It’s peaceful, quiet and you can get into shallow water.
“They are perfect for stalking,” he said. Fish like to chase their bait into shallow water and run it close to shore. Being in a kayak allows Ward to go after the fish in shallow water, where fish are more visible and he can “sight cast.”
Ward’s kayak is pedal-powered, which frees up his hands to work his rods and reels. Ward fishes mostly in Jackson Creek in Deltaville. The creek has a narrow deep entrance with shoals on one side. The natural funnel is an ideal place to kayak fish. A lot of fish tend to stay on the edge of shoals where it drops off.
Fish tend to venture into shallow water when the sun is low in morning and evening. With so many osprey hunting from above, the “survivor” fish swim to deeper water when the sun is high. “If they are in shallow water at noon, they are going to get eaten,” said Ward.
He used to fish aboard his center console but now prefers his kayak. He even has a battery-powered live well for bait on his kayak.
Mike Zarecky of Oak Tree Outfitters in Gloucester said kayak fishing is about going to where the fishing is the easiest without harming the environment. “You can sneak up on fish a lot easier with a kayak than you can with a power boat,” he said.
Kayak fishing requires being organized. Your gear and bait needs to be at arms length. “You need to know where all your equipment is. You have to be prepared,” said Zarecky. “When you have four rods and you want a certain bait or tackle, you need to know where it is.”
Knowing your kayak’s limitations is paramount, said Zarecky. Some kayaks are wide enough (34 inches) to stand in so you can sight fish. Narrower kayaks require you to stay seated.
Zarecky had never fished before and when he got ready to retire he thought it would be a lot of fun to kayak fish. He hasn’t been disappointed.
He first tried saltwater fishing and then freshwater fishing, so he has the equipment for both types. For freshwater fishing, Zarecky likes Beaverdam Park, a 600-acre freshwater reservoir in central Gloucester. “If you buy a yearly pass you are allowed to launch at the upper end by Fary Mill Road,” he said.
Beaverdam Park rents basic fishing kayaks, which are the “sit on” type as opposed to “sit in” kayaks. Many find the sit on kayak more comfortable.
There are numerous coves and downed trees that attract fish at this freshwater reservoir.
A freshwater fishing license is required at Beaverdam Park. Licenses can be purchased at Walmart and other places.
Beaverdam Park, which also includes hiking trails, picnic areas and more, is open from 6 a.m. to sundown. Call 693-2107 for more information.
Art and science
Fishing is an art and a science. Zarecky uses a fish finder to see what’s on the bottom, where the structures are. Water temperature is also important. Fish go into deeper water in certain times of the year.
Safety is the top priority of Oak Tree Outfitters, said Zarecky.
He tried a pedal kayak at first but realized it was too heavy for him so he bought a 13-foot trailer. Some kayaks can be loaded on top of a car with use of a mount.
This past winter Zarecky concentrated on getting the correct rods and reels for saltwater and freshwater—freshwater in the summer and saltwater in the fall, aiming for rockfish and speckled trout.
Bobby Mizelle of Kilmarnock has fished all his life, but only recently he discovered kayak fishing and now you could say he’s obsessed.
Fishing is a passion for Mizelle, who prefers his pedal-powered kayak to his 25-foot Parker powerboat. The freedom of gliding quietly in a kayak allows him to stealth-fully sneak up on fish.
Compared to boats, kayaks are nearly weightless on the water. Mizelle once hooked a skate, which pulled his kayak through the water for 15 minutes before making off with a $10 lure.
Pedal propulsion allows him to keep his hands free to handle the rod and reel and he can “chase” the fish he’s hooked.
Pedaling is also a form of exercise says this 60-year-old long distance swimmer. Kayaks are easier for one person to handle.
Since he and his wife Cary moved to Kilmarnock about a year ago, he has fished three or four times a week, often hitting the water at 5 a.m. before work. “I’m always thinking I’m going to catch something good,” said Mizelle. “Even when I have a phenomenal day, I think I’m going to catch something better.” He said he releases 95% of the fish he catches.
Mizelle estimates he’s caught several hundred rockfish from last fall through this spring in the area in and around Tabbs Creek on Fleets Bay on the north side of the Rappahannock River. Rockfish are often found waiting by a sandbar for the tide to carry them food. “I think they have moved out now,” he said recently.
The croaker are coming in.
Mizelle catches 70% of his fish while trolling as he pedals to find where the fish are.
Whether on the water or land, Mizelle is thinking about the wind, tide and that next catch.