The first time I ever tried flyfishing, or any kind of fishing from a kayak was back before Y2K on what has since become a nearly annual March trip to SW Florida to visit my father in Port Charlotte. These are always road trips as my wife does not fly, but we usually plan a side day trip somewhere along the route to break up the drive and get acquainted with a new part of the South and all of its rich culture and cuisine. As great as it is to see Dad, the truth is that the prospect of 80 degree sunny days and the tug of a fish in my stripping hand has become virtually vital to sustaining my psyche throughout the endlessly cold and often snowy months of January and February each year. Throw in a couple of Red Sox spring training games, and the lift these two-week Florida sojourns provide can carry me all the way through to late April, when the first outing for striped bass in the upper reaches of a Cape Cod estuary signals the beginning of the saltwater flyfishing season in my home waters.
I had tried wading some of the mangrove shorelines near Dad's place on prior visits, only to find that, for the most part, the soft bottom typical of these areas was not able to support my 200 pound frame. After twice having my flats booties sucked from off my feet in knee-deep mud, I figured there had to be a better way. So, purely out of frustration, and without enough scratch to hire a flats boat Captain, I walked into Grande Tours, an ecotourism and kayak sales and rental operation right on the water in nearby Placida, FL to rent a kayak. After recounting my wading ordeal, they set me up in a sit-on-top model and, after a short safety/paddling primer, handed me a map of Coral Creek and pointed me upstream toward its east branch where some snook had been obliging recent anglers. As I took my inaugural paddle strokes and began to glide silently along among the mangroves, I immediately got the sense that I was a part of this beautiful and exotic environment, rather than an intruder. Birds of all kinds and colors flew or roosted just overhead. Schools of mullet swam within a couple of feet of the kayak. Warm gentle breezes came and went in the same rhythm as my breathing, or so it seemed. This kayak and paddling thing was really cool!
Fast forward an hour. My back was killing me. My ass was wet. I had seen several snook under the kayak but not until I was right on top of them. Finally, as the sun angle got lower behind me, I was able to spot three snook moving along a deeper mangrove edge 60 feet out ahead in the back of a lagoon. As I attempted my first cast with the fly rod from a seated position with my legs outstretched and braced against the foot rests, nothing felt right. I got the floating line and the brown over yellow Clouser out there around 35 feet, but where do I strip the line? Into my lap, or overboard into the water!? I opted for my lap. Wait...where do I put the paddle? Better strip the line overboard. Miraculously, a few fumbled casts later, I actually hooked a 24 inch snook, which towed me right into the mangroves. I was able to land and release him. But the thrill of my first fly rod fish from a kayak was tempered by the discomfort I was feeling. After paddling back to the launch ramp at Grande Tours, I was so stiff and sore, I could barely climb into the seat of my truck for the drive back to Dad's place.
Years have come and gone since then. I still very much enjoy the economy, exercise, stealth, access to water and fish that flats boats cannot reach, and feeling a part of your environment that kayaking facilitates. Over time and with more experience, I have gotten a little more efficient fly fishing out of a variety of sit on top kayaks, but I have never been able to get really, truly comfortable in any of them. Being so low to the water, sight fishing is next to impossible, even with good sun. Although I can, on a good day, if I am very careful and deliberate, actually stand up in a couple of sit on top kayak models, in no way am I comfortable enough to flycast while standing in them without worrying about falling in the drink. And then there is the stiffness and soreness that always accompanies being confined to that confounded "L" position. The only choice one has to counteract the inevitable discomfort is to beach the kayak, assuming a beach is available, and get out of it to stretch for a few minutes every so often. Once again, I figured, there had to be a better way.
The kayak and canoe market has tried several approaches to address the stand up issue for fishermen, as it is this element that is so integral to fishing from any watercraft, and particularly to fly fishing. Over the past several years, we have seen various styles of outriggers and pontoons to retrofit existing designs. You have the Stand n Fish add-on apparatus which frankly defines the "Rube Goldberg" approach to the problem. Then came Freedom Hawk, with their integral deployable pontoons, their levers and cables and grab bar and pull rope to help you up and out of the dreaded "L" position. Can you comfortably stand and fish from it? Absolutely. But that capability comes at the expense of almost everything else you want in a paddle craft. Try paddling while standing to scout for fish with the pontoons even partially deployed. Even with the pontoons retracted completely, the boat paddes like a log. It comes in three pieces and has to be assembled each time you launch, broken down when you transport it, and reassembled the next launch. And I don't know how others feel, but, save for some adaptive devices that have utility for those with physical limitations, the only moving part in my paddlecraft should be me. Too complicated. Too many moving parts. Too many trade offs. I was still holding out for a better solution. The challenge was huge. A simple, sleek design that was comfortable to paddle, stable enough for anyone to easily and comfortably stand up and cast from, tracks well, and has plenty of dry storage. Then, one day, while searching the web for just such a paddle craft, I found what I have since become convinced is "THE ANSWER". I found Wavewalk. http://www.wavewalk.com/.