Paul Fisher rented his first sit-on-top kayak six years ago, bought his first one in ’97 and was another participant in the Mission Bay kayak fishing contest. “I can’t afford a big boat,” says Fisher, who’s assembled a fleet of four kayaks over the years. “Sit-on-tops are great because you can launch in a hurry and be out fishing right away. Plus they only take about 10 minutes to clean up. For me, sit-on-tops have taken the place of an aluminum skiff.”
Fisher, whose biggest catch is a 13-pound yellowtail, said he often fishes with his kids, who are 10 and 12. “I like it because I can stretch out on my own boat,” says Fisher’s 12-year-old son, Elliot. “And I caught a six-pound bat ray that towed me around in circles.”
“My friend caught a 115-pound thresher shark off Carlsbad that took him over an hour and a half to land”
Rick Hoolko runs the San Diego Sailing and Kayak Center in Pacific Beach and is San Diego’s missionary for sit-on-top kayak fishing. His shop once focused on board sailing, but in recent years has shifted its focus to sit-on-tops. Hoolko grew up fishing on New Jersey’s Rahway River but he left the sport behind when he turned 16. He began angling again last year-thanks mostly to advances in sit-on-top kayaks. Now he frequently fishes Mission and San Diego bays, as well as the waters off La Jolla. Moreover, he’s spreading the religion by offering bimonthly sit-on-top fishing contests out of his shop. Last year’s contest drew more than 100 participants ranging in age from 7 to 70.
“I hadn’t had a fishing license in over 30 years,” says Hoolko, who moved to San Diego 20 years ago. “But in 2000, I fished more than I did in the past three decades. I even caught a few spotted bass and calico. One of them turned my boat around and pulled me toward the cliffs in San Diego Bay when I was fishing off the tip of Point Loma.”
Hoolko charges $25 to enter the competition, which features more than $1,500 in prizes, including a $1,000 Cobra fishing kayak. And for those who don’t have a boat, he’ll rent one for $15 for the day, a significant discount from the $15 an hour he usually charges.
Hoolko says sit-on-top kayak fishing is gaining in popularity around San Diego because it is so easy and relatively inexpensive. “Other than standing on the bank and casting, it’s about the simplest kind of fishing there is because these boats are so stable,” he says. “We get fishermen who want to try something different and kayakers who have an interest in fishing.”