Florida – the ‘pontoons’ experience

It was mid-week when I received a phone call from Jose asking if I’d like to join himself, Chris and Justin for a spot of pontoon fishing. Fish the pontoons?, this was new terminology for me, I was beginning to sense a niche in the market for an American-British kayak fishing dictionary. Ah, fishing the jetties!, yup, count me in.

So, from what I could gather, this was going to be a totally different experience to fishing the flats, and potentially a very exciting one at that. Did I mention that it was going to take place in the dark?, I swear that these guys had it in for me.

I drove over to the designated location which turned out to be Chris’s house. His back garden drops straight off into a narrow waterway which leads directly to the sea. When I say it drops off, it literally does. A small garden gate opens onto the waterway which was a 4’ vertical drop directly below. I won’t lie, I looked at this quietly for a moment, realising that this was clearly going to entail a dockside entry to the kayak. Another first for me, though I would have preferred an 18” drop!. I sensed impending doom, embarrassment and wet clothes, though I kept this quietly to myself.

The kayaks were rigged up in the back garden, my ride for the evening was a Hobie Outback, a kayak which I’d really been wanting to try out for a very long time. I’d never had the opportunity to experience the ‘peddling’, tonight was the night.

The Hobie was standard apart from a set of ST Turbo fins, a paddle should it be needed. The tackle consisted of two light lure rods, one rigged with a jointed diving plug and the other with a top water lure. Jose’s Hobie Revolution can be seen next to the Outback.

With a rope around the from lifting toggle, the kayaks were lowered into the narrow waterway, heading down at a 45 degree angle, stern first into the water.I was second to launch, feeling a little happier with a ‘safety number’ floating next to the Outback. With a little trepidation I lowered myself down onto the kayak expecting the worst. However, I found myself standing quite comfortably, though I didn’t wish to tempt fate in the dark so I was soon seated and finding my way around the kayak. The Hobie Mirage Drive dropped straight into the mounting hole (basically a huge scupper hole) and was quickly locked into place with a couple of clips. Bearing in mind that I was totally unfamiliar with the kayak, everything was simple enough to sort out and adjust. The pedals were adjusted to suit my size, though they would be fine tuned later. The rudder is lowered quickly and easily lowered or raised with a tug on the required knobs situated just forward of the seat.

Anyway, once afloat we headed down the waterway towards open water. I’d been warned that the rudder was sensitive to use, though I found no issues with it, in fact it was a pleasure to use. Moving along without a paddle was proving to be quite an experience!

The narrow waterway came to an end and we headed into open water, following a narrow channel highlighted with some wooden sticks. Almost immediately there was several crashes around me as unseen fish jumped in the shadows, I was eager to get fishing!

As we headed along the coastline it soon became apparent what this pontoon fishing was going to entail. This was ‘millionaires row’, with one mansion after another heading along the coastline as far as the eye could see. Virtually all of these houses featured large wooden pontoons with many of them featuring underwater lighting which resulted in an eerie green or white glow emanating from the water.

So what’s great about this?, well it attracts large numbers of baitfish into the lights, this of course attracts the predators. The main quarry for the night was going to be Snook, well as far as I’d understood anyway. Paddling Peddling up to the first pontoon it quickly became apparent that there were large shadows cruising through the glowing water. Damn!, these were fish and there were several of them, exciting stuff!

Now I’d been well briefed by my guides, cast past the fish (I was using the underwater plug) and retrieve steadily. Should a fish hit the lure and become hooked, turn the kayak away from the pontoon and peddle hard!. The idea of this is to get the fish away from the structure before it gets the opportunity to turn its head and make a run for for the pilings.

However, it’s not quite that simple, certainly not for a first timer like myself. Not for the first time this week my inability to consistently cast accurately caused a few issues. Having to accurately cast a lure into structure at night isn’t exactly child’s play!. I struggle to place a lure within 2-3’ of its intended target, try doing this at night when you cannot even see the lure flying through the air… difficult, very difficult. You do eventually get a feel for it and my casting did improve considerably as the evening progressed.

On my second or third cast at the first pontoon my lure was hit hard, I was in!. Rudder hard over, peddling hard I manoeuvred the kayak away from the pontoon. It rapidly became apparent that I should have turned left!. I swung around to the right and came close to another pontoon, the fish was no doubt chuckling to himself and he grabbed the opportunity and swam into the pilings. The fish was lost and a valuable lesson was leaned, survey your surroundings and confirm the exit route prior to casting!

After several more fruitless casts the fish has clearly become lure shy so we headed off to the next pontoon. This is where this type of fishing excels, should one mark fail to produce you just head down to the next pontoon, you could literally fish the whole night, moving from pontoon to pontoon, awesome!

I wasn’t too long before I’d hooked up again, though this time there was to be no mistakes!. With a solid hook-up I peddled away hard and was soon playing the fish in open water. It wasn’t the biggest fish though it was incredibly lively!. As it neared the kayak it was quickly identified as a Snook, though these aren’t a fish to be rushed. They’re quite acrobatic at times and a lively Snook with a mouthful of treble hooks it something to be wary of!. With the lip grippers to hand the Snook was bought aboard the kayak and carefully unhooked.

These Snook really are a hard fighting fish, a large mouth predator. The fish had been out of the water for a couple of minutes and needed a little resuscitation prior to release, though moving it in the water for a couple of minutes proved sufficient as it kicked away violently into the depths.


We moved from dock to dock, some were proving more difficult to fish that others. I cast in a traditional manner, an overhead cast, though this is not particularly ideal for fishing this type of structure. Add to that the odd overhanging tree, or boat suspended from a crane, and it was a times proving rather problematic for me!.

There was a moment when I managed to cast my lure across some wooden decking, it coming to rest under a cast iron table!. The hook dug in and the lure was all but lost. I’d have been quite happy to climb the 2’ onto the dock to retrieve my lure, however, Jose suggested that perhaps wasn’t such a great idea. Yup, everyone in the US owns a small arsenal of weaponry so perhaps venturing uninvited onto a private dock wasn’t such a great idea after all!. Jose demonstrated, with great effect, how to release the lure by putting it under a lot of tension before instantaneously releasing the line. The lure shot backwards, problem solved!

Meanwhile one of the guys was standing in his kayak. This really was something to behold, fly fishing at night into structure, crazy or what!. That said, he was soon hooked up and bagged himself a nice Snook. Every single trip has been quite educational in just about everyway possible. Both Chris and Justin were catching with some nice fish coming to the kayaks.

We continued to move throughout the evening, this was Justin’s territory and he called over that the next pontoon was a good mark for trout. First cast in I hooked up, guess what?, it was a trout!!. It was a decent size and another species for the session.

I’d found myself hooked up at the next pontoon, though this felt a little different as the fish made a couple of hard runs. With the lip grippers to hand I found myself lifting a small Redfish into the kayak, another ‘Slam’!

We eventually turned around the fished the pontoons on the way back to the launch site. The guys disappeared around the corner leaving me to fish a particular pontoon, though it proved fishless second time around. I decided to see what sort of speed the Hobie Outback was capable of, so I stored my tackle and peddled off hard into the darkness. I was totally astounded as I went past a pontoon at high speed, all I could do was grin like a ‘Cheshire Cat’. The Hobie was flying along, the stern was down in the water accompanied with a wonderful gurgling noise from the rear of the kayak. I reckon I was happily doing 7-8mph, though it wasn’t a speed that could have been sustained for long. That said, it easily cruised at 4-5mph, for such a wide kayak that was extremely impressive!.

Once back up the narrow waterway it was time to recover the kayaks. Jose threw a throw line down onto my kayak, requesting that it tie it off to the front lifting toggle!. ‘You have to be joking’ was my initial thought, venturing that far forward on my Big Game would most certainly resulted in a watery ending!. Though the stability of the Hobie Outback is simply stunning and achieving this task turned out to be simplicity itself.

So what an experience!!!, without a shadow of a doubt one of my most memorable kayak fishing experiences of all time, one that will remain fresh in my mind for many years.

I’d always considered the Prowler Big Game kayak to be somewhat unbeatable as a fishing platform, its combination of stability, room and rigging potential being a difficult combination to beat. However, the Hobie Outback had it convincingly beaten in all areas, a big surprise for me!. My mind was made up there and then.. in the future I wanted to be fishing from a Hobie kayak, watch this space!


Kester said...

Nice report - I tried for snook when I was in Florida. I could see them, but didn't hook up with any. Got a few trout though...

My mate has a hobie. It's reasonably fast, but not as fast my Scupper Pro. That said, he did get some longer paddles and they might make a difference. The problem for me is that when it starts to get choppy, you have to have your paddle there anyway. But it's swings and roundabouts - they are great for trolling lures, and holding yourself gently in the tide at a particular mark. Wish they did a faster, longer model!

Rob Appleby-Goudberg said...

I tried a couple of Hobies out whilst I was in the US. The Outback I used was equipped with Turbo fins and was particularly rapid!. I can push a Big Game along at 4.5-5mph on a flat sea. The Hobie was a LOT faster, easily 7mph when pushing it hard. I'm not sure where you're coming from reference a choppy sea?, I went through some choppy water and had no issues whatsoever, the drive is well below the waterline and therefore always in the water.

They do longer and faster models if speed is your thing, the Hobie Adventure is 16' long and 27" wide, how long do you want your kayak!. Stabilty and useabilty as a fishing platform are my main considerations, speed is somewhere after that. I found the Big Game similar in speed to many of the Ocean kayak models, though the Outback with upgraded fins was faster than anything I've ever paddled, by a big margin. So, for me at least, I've no concerns about its lack of speed.

I'll be providing a detailed review of the Hobie Outback over the next 2-3 weeks. I'll compare the performance of standard fins against upgraded fins as a matter of course.