The tide was still emptying out of East Bay near Hyannis, Massachusetts, when we pointed our kayaks east out of the mouth and into the teeth of a sustained 30-plus knot E/NE offshore gale. Then came the rain. Kevin Nakada and I had been chasing stripers that were feeding on bait under clouds of frantic, squawking birds in the bay, largely protected from the wind. During a brief break in the action we noticed the growing black wall of clouds gathering to the south. Hurricane Jose was quickly spinning his way toward us from the mid-Atlantic. It was going to be a burly mile and a half push back to Craigville Beach where we had put in.
Aside from being one of the most enthusiastic anglers I’ve ever met, Kevin is also the Fishing Team Coordinator for Hobie. He and several other Hobie colleagues had invited a handful of industry writers for a 3-day demo event at Bayside Resort, a comfortable and very hospitable 4 ½ star establishment in West Yarmouth on Cape Cod. The goal: get us in their fishing kayaks, and hopefully into some fish as well. This was my first introduction to their kayaks, and as far as introductions go, the early hurricane conditions ensured that the kayak and I were both going to get put through our paces.
The kayak line-up included a selection of Mirage Pro Anglers, Outbacks, and Hobie’s newest addition—the** Mirage Compass**. Each watercraft was outfitted with an adjustable mesh seat, H-crate storage system, durable bungee cord storage, rod holders, and pedal drive system. As someone who has fished for years out of a sit-in kayak on inland lakes paddling around by hand, the pedal drive system was an extremely welcome component of these rigs. With the ability to peddle forward or reverse, the MirageDrive 180 on the Outback I spent the most time in was my favorite. And the hands-free mechanical efficiency and power proved to be the difference between two consecutive full days on the water and calling it quits early.
Of course, simply pedaling around in off-shore rollers, insistent rising/falling tide, capricious chop, rain, and a wind that was increasing every hour was not the sole purpose of the event. We were there to catch striped bass, false albacore, bluefish, bonito, and as it turns out, king mackerel, too. And since I’m not one to make anything easier for myself, I elected to stick with my main passion and fly fish for them while everyone else used spinning tackle.
Honestly, the only two drawbacks to fly rodding out of these kayaks had to do with water and weather conditions more than design issues. If the chop weren’t as big (or if I was in the wider 14’ Pro Angler), I would’ve stood to make casting, retrieving, and setting the hook far easier. That said, I was more than comfortable casting from a seated position all day. Also, I knew going in that line management was going to be the biggest challenge. Even under reasonable conditions, fly line finds a way to get hung up on the smallest things, even itself. Again, if I were standing, this, too, would’ve been easier to manage.
The beauty of pedaling instead of paddling was that I was able to turn and move immediately in any direction at a near-sprint to chase fish and have my hands free to cast as soon as I was in range. It was completely quiet since I had no paddle banging against the hull while trying to stow it and get ready for a cast. I was able to close on fish that were just out of reach from shore, and chase them right along with boats in deeper water. I crested rollers, busted chop, shook off spray, chased birds, caught fish, and peddled confidently through all of it. And when the wind finally overtook my fly casting ability, I picked up a spinning rod and happily kept going. Because, when the bite is on and you know your kayak is going to get you back to the beach in a hurry when those black clouds roll in, that’s what you do.