Jax ‘yakers: Kayak fishing booms in the city “where Florida begins”
Jacksonville’s endless waterways to host country’s biggest tourney
By Dave Shively
It’s no surprise to Mike Kogan that the Jacksonville Kayak Fishing Classic has evolved into the world’s largest paddle fishing tournament.
Kogan, directing the May 11-12 event in its fourth year, knows it’s all about location, location, location. “Jacksonville is a kayak fishing Mecca,” he said. “There are zillions of put-ins for access to roughly 400 miles of coastline in a tremendously diverse estuary, from offshore fishing to inshore, saltwater marsh to freshwater rivers.”
Jacksonville, home to the largest urban park system in the U.S., currently plays host to the Southeast’s biggest bass tourney (Wolfson Children’s Hospital Bass Tournament) as well the country’s largest kingfish contest (Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament). “The city council’s running billboards on the Interstate with a guy in a kayak that say, ‘Come see our amusement park,’ and the mayor, John Peyton, who’s a big-time kayaker, was going to be an honorary captain,” Kogan said.
Kogan understands that these ripe waters explain the growth his tournament. This year, he expects well over 250 anglers fishing across the inshore waters of three counties for the one-day, catch-photo-release format contest. The finest floating anglers will be looking to retire the fattest Florida redfish, trout and flounder for bragging rights and a chance at one of 17 new kayaks.
“There are no cash prizes because we want to de-incentivize the cutthroat competition, but people are going to get showered in prizes,” Kogan said, pointing out that event proceeds benefit the Daniel Memorial children’s service programs.
Raising at least another $18,000 for charity shouldn’t be as tough as landing the entire slam of fish species – only six anglers managed the feat last year. Andy Stafford stayed true to his favorite fishing hole, no more than half a mile from the Guana River put-in, to reap his 41 inches of fish bounty. “There was 10 other boats when I got there, but they paddled off past me, I fished for probably an hour and a half and had the slam by 7:30 in the morning,” said Stafford, who caught the entire slam on the fly, no less.
Other local competitors hoping to repeat top honors are much less forthcoming with their double-secret locations. “I know my creek well, I was born and raised here and have been fishing here for 20 years,” said Jeff McLaughlin, who landed a tournament best 30-inch, 10-pound redfish last year. “All I’ll say is it’s near the St. Johns River and the Intracoastal Waterway — but there are a million little creeks and rivers all over with umpteen possibilities.”
Visit www.jaxkayakfishing.com for full tournament details and registration.
The spring tournament action will start a week earlier for other East Coast anglers. May 6 marks the fourth annual Jamaica Bay Kayak Fishing Tournament, where last year over 200 anglers showed to the New York City lagoon to slam striped bass, bluefish and weakfish. Visit www.kayakfish4conservation.com for more details.