Only one kayak fisherman has been featured in the hallowed halls of the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) museum, a repository for the history of sportfishing.
The exhibit displayed news articles, artifacts and a fiberglass, sit-on-top kayak hanging from the rafters. The humble subject of this exhibit is “Kayak” Willie Tytler of Pompano Beach, Florida.
Not only was Willie a pioneer, he used his paddlecraft to catch powerful game fish with impossibly light line. Willie shares his history with Kayak Angler.
“I’ve been in Pompano Beach since 1963. I grew up on the canals crisscrossing town. I spent most of my free time on the water and dreamed of fishing the ocean. In the early 70’s, I acquired a kayak, one of the first sit-on-tops ever made.
The boat was 16 feet long and 22 inches wide. Very fast. I don’t know who built the kayak. I sat with my butt directly on the bottom of the kayak just inches off the water. The cockpit was a bathtub. When the boat filled with water, I had to bail it out.
I used a nine-foot paddle, strong enough to handle the speed of my kayak. The long paddle also improved my stability. I started paddling offshore and noticed nearby boats were catching sailfish. I wondered how I could catch one.
I caught my own live ballyhoo. The hardest part was getting off the reef where I caught my bait before a barracuda would eat it. On my first trip, I was using six-pound line. A 24-pound blackfin tuna hit the bait and pulled me from Pompano pier to the Lauderdale pier, about eight miles away.
I (Tytler) ran three rods:
One long, one deep and one mid-depth. I trolled with the rods on a tripod in front of me. Using this system, I caught sailfish, wahoo, tuna and king mackerel.
On super calm days, I would run the bait on the surface. I’d make my paddle pop to bring the fish up right behind me.
Sometimes the fish would pull me so fast I’d use a sea anchor to slow down. The kayak was so slim and light the big pelagic fish had no problem towing me for miles.
The more fish I caught, I started to think I could fish against motor boats in tournaments. I joined the Pompano Beach Fishing Rodeo, one of the biggest tournaments in Florida. I wasn’t in it for the money, I was in it to have fun.
I (Tytler) fished against 250 boats. At first, people didn’t think I would catch anything.
I was using 20-pound test, heavy line for me. I lost a few sailfish and caught a kingfish, wahoo and sailfish. Everybody respected me after that. My story was in magazines and newspapers.
I wasn’t proud because these were kill tournaments. Anglers had to weigh the sailfish to win. Today, the angler who releases the most sailfish wins. We don’t kill sailfish anymore.
I built my endurance until I could paddle from Pompano to Boynton Inlet in four hours. That’s 24 miles, averaging six miles an hour. By then, my kayak was getting old and brittle. I went to Seattle to a major kayak dealer to have a kayak made. I told them what we need for the East Coast. They laughed at me.
I didn’t know kayak fishing would become a big thing.
Everybody started getting into it. The new kayaks are set up for fishing. They are wide and stable, but a little slow.
I should have been the first person to make a fishing kayak. I had designs in my head. I would have made it a little wider and 17 feet long to handle six-foot waves off the edge of the shelf.
I’m 67 years old. I’ll never be able to fish a tournament again. Now I go to the beach to watch the Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament. For a quarter mile, from one end of the beach to the other, kayaks cover the water. With the sun coming up, it’s quite a sight.”