Texas Kayak Fishing School E-mail
Friday, 23 October 2009 08:50

I had the good fortune to be in Texas when Dean Thomas was having one of his classes. So I sat in on the entire class. Dean has a reputation of being one of the best fishermen on the Texas coast and while I’ve known Dean for years I never had a chance to toss a line with him. I was looking forward to it.

The class consists of both classroom and on water instruction. It focuses on information for the Aransas Pass, TX area (Dean’s home waters) but would be especially beneficial for any coastal Texas kayak fishermen. However anyone would learn a lot from Dean. The class runs Saturday through Monday and over 300 anglers have attended in the handful of years it’s been offered. Each morning the group meets at the shop and then heads to the water. All the fishing is accessed via the causeway that extends out from town towards the ferry to Port Aransas. It’s about a five minute drive from the shop. The class returns to land at 11:30 AM and the classroom session starts at 1PM. It was very windy Saturday morning so there wasn’t an on water session. I got to the shop early and checked things out. The shop offers rental kayaks and a few items for sale. The business features Wilderness Systems kayaks and Dean has been using them for many years. Both Dean and his partner and wife Jennifer each have a truck and they have a few trailers. Most rentals are delivered to the water and are usually picked up. It depends on what the client wants. Dean also offers guided kayak fishing trips along with flats boat fishing.

day 1

Dean uses a PowerPoint presentation along with a lot of
discussion for the classroom part of his school.

 

Day 1

The class started with an introduction to kayak fishing - the advantages and disadvantages of using a kayak. The obvious strengths of fishing inaccessible waters that boats or shore bound anglers couldn’t reach. The disadvantages discussed were of limited range since you’re limited to your own physical abilities. The restrictions of how much gear you can carry. He discussed how weather dependent kayak anglers are and the exposure potential. A great example was discussed. Several years back there was a kayak fishing tournament based in Aransas Pass. A system was due in the late afternoon and the participants and organizers were aware of it. By the time it was expected to reach the area the tournament would have been over. Participants were told of it and were aware of the situation. Weather is only predictable to a degree and is far from an exact science. The system radically altered its behavior and not for the better. When it hit Dallas it exploded and 70 mph winds quickly hit the Aransas Pass area. There was little notice and everyone was already on the water. No paddler can function in winds half this velocity. Dean as soon as he saw what was happening got back to shore ASAP and got his boat to aid rescue crews. The tournament was a disaster but luckily everyone was retrieved and nobody got seriously injured. A lot of gear was lost. Everyone learned a lot that day and Dean’s part of the class dealing with safety reflects this.

Safety occupied half of the first day. Dean discussed maps and a float plan. A float plan is leaving your basic itinerary with someone on land and when you anticipate returning. That way if you’re way over due and can’t be reached somebody knows where to tell the authorities to begin searching. It can mean the difference between surviving or not. He discussed what to carry. He broke down his first aid kit which he’s assembled through experience over time. There was a lot of discussion about hook removal and the tools one should carry along with proper wound cleaning supplies and bandaging. All the items in his kit were discussed.

Dean

Here’s Dean explaining tide charts by using a white board.

Dean talked about all the gear he takes on every trip. Items like a spare paddle, rain gear, some energy foods, water - the importance of having a PFD and when it must be worn. A great suggestion was to have your name and phone number written with permanent marker on the inside of your kayak. In case of rescue the authorities rarely take the kayak and it will help in getting it back later. Dean’s big on reflective tape too both on the boat and paddle. Also in the tournament disaster when people are hiding from the elements they’re hard to spot and be rescued. One item that stood out was safety tarps. Anglers who hungered down under their protection were very easy to spot. I carry one in my kit as they don’t take up much room and weigh next to nothing.

Next were paddles, what to look for and proper technique. An interesting tidbit was Dean had counted how many paddle stokes it takes to cover a mile of water. It’s a staggering 1000. This fact shows how important a good paddle is when you consider this. He’s a big fan of getting the best paddle you can afford and not scrimping on one.

Next was a discussion of being quiet as most of the terrain in the area is flats. The technique of mud skiing, which is when you use the paddle to pole yourself through very shallow water was up next. This led into a discussion of terrain and opened with a great quote from Dr. Bill Harvey “Current is the engine that drives the bay.” Dean talked about grass flats, shorelines, oyster bars, scattered shell, sand holes, sand and mud bottoms, fairways and drains and how each related to current, conditions and off course fish. That’s where day one ended.

Day 2

We met at the shop predawn and got to the water as the sun was just peaking over the horizon. We setup and launched our kayaks. The winds were light but we knew it wouldn’t last. However by the time they built up we’d be off the water. We had a boat channel to cross to get to an extensive flat bordered by island clumps. Dean discussed how kayakers should only cross the channel and when fishing one to anchor on the edges. On the flat we fished I had a hit from what was most likely a red. Dean eventually set up the students on the edge of the main channel where there were drains. The trout were waiting. I continued to look for reds and worked sand holes. Once I determined the reds weren’t happening I found another lesser boat channel, staked out and proceeded to catch a few dozen trout. The wind started coming up and it was time to head back in so I worked my way back towards the launch. It was about 11:30AM and we’d be meeting at the shop at 1PM for the afternoon classroom session. I loaded up and grabbed a bite to eat.

Back in the classroom things started off with a discussion about the characteristics of water. It was both interesting and informative. Some of it I knew but some was new to me. After terrain, water characteristics were covered. How it functions in all its facets on the flats and adjacent water. How it gets heavier when in current, sound transmission properties, how water of different temps doesn’t mix well which leads to the formation of rip lines, etc. How deeper cooler water can hold up to 7 times more oxygen, about temperature and its relationship to each species. Next were slicks, what they are, how they’re formed and how to recognize them. The discussion on water finished off with Langmuir Flow, something I actually already knew.

The next subject was fish biology. I knew most fish were cold blooded but I didn’t know that they didn’t adjust to changing temps quickly. Instead they follow trends and like consistency. Fish don’t have brains like we do. They have brain stems which function instinctually rather than by thinking like brains do. When a fish adjusts to their environment it is physiological and they’re doing so in reaction to temperature and pressure. The change is caused by a chemical response within their biochemistry. Enzymes control the fish’s behavior. These behavioral changes are relative and vary. Critical barriers need to be made. It was a very interesting discussion and ended the technical stuff. The rest of the class was devoted to tackle.

Taking a break

Dean uses Wilderness Systems kayaks.

Again it started with safety as Dean replaces all his treble hooks with singles. He favors a Gamagatsu live bait hook with a ring. The ring allows it to sit in the proper position when attached via the split ring that’s already on the lure. If the hook doesn’t have a ring you’ll need to use 2 split rings. For most of his lures he uses a 1/0 and used a Zara Spook Jr. as an example. Like most guides Dean’s lure selection is simple. He uses what consistently works for him. He’s fishing a singular environment. The above mentioned Spook is the top water he carries. DOA shrimp are a mainstay along with paddle tail soft plastics. He likes a dark one and a light one to cover cloudy and bright days. He uses both appropriate jig heads and is a big fan of a Texas rigged un-weighted presentation for shallows, especially shallow grass. Flies are light clousers, spoon flies and top waters.
He favors 6.5 to 7 foot medium action rods with a fast tip. He uses 10-12 pound monofilament line with a 20-30 pound shock leader. He likes a line to line Uniknot to connect the lines and attaches the lure to fly with a non slip loop knot. He likes the freedom of movement a loop provides the offering. A 2500 spin reel will handle anything he catches on the flats and is light. He uses moderately priced reels from Shimano. Models like the Sahara, Sedona, etc. He personally prefers using a bait casting reel as he finds them less fatiguing. Opposed to spin reels where moderately priced gear is fine, in conventional gear he prefers the best stuff. He uses Shimano’s Core reel and Comera Rod. I like it too but that’s a MSRP of $600! However it is state of the art and the entire outfit weighs less than the spin reels. He recognizes it’s an expensive reel and feels most anglers will do fine with a Corado.

Day 3

Day 3 is spent on the water but I didn’t attend. Again the Texas wind machine was running and I had an appointment with Mark Brassett of Calmwater Kayaking in Louisiana and several hundred miles to cover.

 

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