There's no question that fishing from a kayak has become extremely popular, both here in the Lowcountry and throughout the U.S. It puts you almost in the fish's element. If you target big fish, you may get taken on what is often referred to as a "Nantucket Sleigh Ride," where the fish tows you around at will. The biggest draw, however, is that it can be an inexpensive way to get you on the water, fresh or salt.
"You don't have to spend an arm and a leg on a kayak. There are some expensive kayaks out there on the market. But if it's plastic and it floats and you can paddle it or peddle it, you can get out there and enjoy the skinny water," said Lewis Brownlee.
"You can get back there in the swamps where the big bass are, where a lot of boats can't go. It's a really nice hobby that can be rewarding for the emotional benefits of fishing as well as for the exercise."
The lure of kayak fishing is something Brownlee, 37, fishing partner Darrell Olson, 59, and several others are trying to spread with the formation of the Lowcountry Kayak Anglers.
Meetings are being held on a monthly basis, alternating between Haddrell's Point Tackle and The Charleston Angler. Brownlee said more than 40 different people have attended the meetings thus far. Seminars conducted by Brownlee and Olson have been well attended. They also get the word out through their Facebook group or through posts on the kayak fishing section of charlestonfishing.com. The group regularly holds Meet and Fish outings, gathering at different launch sites, allowing participants to learn new fishing areas.
Brownlee, who grew up in the Charleston area and works for CSX Corp., said this is his fourth year of kayak fishing.
"I was going to get a paddling type of kayak to do a little exercise, maybe fish out of it. I wasn't thinking about fishing, but I stumbled across a kayak fishing website that doesn't exist anymore. It was a treasure trove of information .That's how I ended up buying my first kayak," said Brownlee, who now is a pro staff member for Hobie Kayaks.
"I've been fishing all my life. Fishing out of kayaks really invigorated my desire to fish and my love of fishing."
Olson, who moved here from Minnesota and now works for Boeing, said he was dating his wife, who liked to go kayaking, and the two went on a kayak date.
"After paddling around, I thought there's no reason I can't take a fishing rod. The next time we went out I took a rod and that's how it started," said Olson, who is a pro staff member of Jackson Kayaks.
Since taking up kayak fishing, Brownlee and Olson both have trophy catches any fisherman would be proud of. Brownlee's is a 38-inch redfish he caught and released on a trip to the Charleston Jetties. Olson has a couple of which he is proud, a 16-inch peacock bass caught in Florida that qualified for Kayak Wars and a 41-inch redfish caught in Bulls Bay.
"I caught (the 41-inch red) during a Meet and Fish with all those people around. Most of the time we're not catching fish, we're socializing. But on this occasion we caught fish. And I got to out-fish Justin Carter, a local guide who is a world class kayak fisherman so that made me feel even better," Olson said.
Brownlee and Olson touch on a number of topics when they talk kayak fishing, from how to decide what kayak is best for you to fishing tips, but one thing they stress is safety. They plan to leave their fishing tackle at home during an upcoming seminar where they will practice surf launches and deep water rescues. They will purposely dunk the kayaks to practice reentries and learn how to ride the waves back to shore.
"It's very easy to get into kayak fishing," Brownleee said. "The first time I good a demo and went out fishing, before I got on the water I was thinking sharks and toothy critters. When you get out there and start paddling, you're close to the water, and all your fears melt away. It's about getting out and enjoying the outdoors. It's easy and affordable.
"We go basically everywhere power boats go. It just takes us longer to get there."