As water temperatures rise in the Santa Monica Bay, local fishermen are now loading up their boats with gear and hitting the ocean for the barracuda, rockfish, calicos and many other species that are showing up in greater abundance.

With the rise in fuel prices, what is also being seen in greater abundance in the Bay is kayak fishermen. Now more than ever, a trip around our local waters can’t be made without seeing a man sitting in a small kayak, surrounded by fishing gear with poles jutting out, patiently waiting for his desired prey. They have sacrificed space and speed for stealth, economy and, more than anything, a very different fishing experience.

“The quality of the catch and the experience changed my life as a fisherman,” said longtime kayaker Dennis Spike on his Web site, www.kayakfishing.com/. “For many, kayak fishing becomes more than just a hobby or a sport and quickly turns into a lifestyle pursuit.”

Spike and another local kayak legend, Jeff Krieger, have been proponents of the sport since the early ’90s. While both men enjoy fishing many types of fish, Krieger made his mark catching thresher sharks from the small precarious plastic platform. While his target of choice is halibut, Krieger is known throughout the fishing world for his pioneering forays into kayak shark fishing. He has landed a 256-pound thresher shark and has fought and cut-off what he guesses was possibly 350 pounds.

The bigger one actually dragged Krieger five miles off the coast at around seven knots for two hours when he decided he didn’t want to battle anymore. He finally got the fish to the kayak, but was so exhausted he cut the line and set it free.

The first time Krieger caught a shark from a kayak, he admits he was surprised at the process.

“I was not expecting it,” Krieger says of his initial experience. “The first shark I caught completely caught me off guard and really surprised me. I thought, here we go with a sleigh ride, but then, now what am I going to do? I have a shark on the end of the line and I’ve got to deal with it.”

Krieger dealt with it through the years by continuing to develop techniques and he also invented a strong rod holder called the Rhynobar in 1995 that retrofits to fishing kayaks for big game pursuits.

As proof of the growing popularity of kayak fishing, last year’s Halibut Derby made a special division for the group with a kayak-only jackpot. There were solid numbers in the division, and as it becomes more expensive to gas up the boat, kayak fishing is sure to grow.

“As fuel prices continue to rise, there are definitely going to be more kayak fishermen,” says Krieger, laughing. “There’s guys with huge boats that don’t want to go out for a $500 cruise with the boat, but want to go out for a couple of hours of fishing.

“What’s the cheapest way to do it? On a kayak. It’s the fastest-growing segment of the fishing industry and the kayak manufacturing business.”

Beyond the cost-saving advantage, what is drawing more and more fishermen to the sport is the more direct relationship with the water and wildlife. A kayak is typically between 12 and 16 feet long and just inches off the water. There are no smells of gasoline and sounds of loud motors.

Like surfing, there is a solitary meditative connection with the environment that people are being drawn to.

“It’s way more hands-on and on the water,” Krieger says. “You get a workout, you catch your dinner — it’s stealthy and you’re more in tune with nature.”

To learn more about Krieger’s guided kayak fishing adventures from entry level to advanced in the Los Angeles area, visit www .rhynobar.com.

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