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here is a special achievement recognized among anglers across the country. Whether they wet a line offshore, inshore, on a mountain river or a massive lake, catching three species of fish in one day is called a slam. For folks slinging flies in a cool, clean mountain river, landing a brown trout, brook trout and rainbow will get kudos. On the West Coast, it’s a white sea bass, yellowtail and halibut. Inshore anglers hunt for trout, redfish and flounder while offshore anglers chase sailfish, king mackerel and tuna. Bass anglers have a half-dozen species to target. In most cases, scoring a slam will only get you back slaps and thumbs-up, but some trifectas are recognized with plaques and trophies. Inshore tournaments award the top prize to the angler who scores a slam with the longest total length. To pull it off, the angler must master the habits of multiple species, spend hours on the water, make thousands of casts and get really lucky. To bring the challenge down to earth, Kayak Angler polled five experts on the most popular species to share their secrets for scoring a slam.

Bass Slam

The ultimate achievement for bass anglers is hitting a three-fish slam. There are several species of bass and multiple locations across the nation to target a slam. In the rolling waters of the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers in southwest Georgia, Kayak Angler contributor Chris Funk shoots for a shoal bass, spotted bass and largemouth. “Anytime we are on the water, our goal is to catch all three species,” Funk says. Fishing with his son, Ethan, Funk hits the local river at every chance. “Catching a slam is always on my mind.”

Catching a largemouth is the first step in a bass slam. | Photo: Chris Funk
Catching a largemouth is the first step in a bass slam. | Photo: Chris Funk

One of my favorite slams came last year. After fishing most of the morning, I had caught several shoal bass and spotted bass and was looking for a largemouth. Ethan had a largemouth and spot, but no shoal bass.

We worked our way back towards the takeout when I split off and crossed the river. I made a cast across a sizeable log. As my buzzbait passed the wood it disappeared in a flash.

After a short fight, I lipped a chunky largemouth and finished out my slam. Shortly after, I heard “I’m on” echo across the river and turned to see Ethan’s rod bent over.

I grabbed the camera and triggered the shutter just as a decent shoal bass jumped next to Ethan’s kayak. While he was fighting the shoalie, I saw him grab another rod and do a one-handed flip. I knew there must be another bass following the fish he had hooked.

With his left hand, Ethan fought one fish and with his right he pitched and pitched to the follower without a strike. I kept shooting, capturing his effort to land two shoal bass at one time.

When I paddled over to him, he was unhooking a nice shoalie to cap off his slam. He looked at me and said, “The fish that came up behind this one looked like a submarine.”

I reminded my son, we don’t always win and the fish aren’t always big, but catching a river slam is a great day to remember.

The hardest part of catching this slam is the shoal bass; they have a limited range and like rapids and moving water. Our fishing areas tend to be a mixture of slow moving river and swifter shoals with gravel and boulders. We find largemouth in the slower water and the rocks and rapids hold shoalies. Spotted bass like everything in between.

We fish year-round, but if you want a monster shoal bass there is no better time than spring when the rivers are running hard and the fish are spawning. “The bass are thick and beautiful in the spring,” Funk lusts.

Ethan Funk shows off a shoal bass to fill his three-bass slam. | Photo: Chris Funk
Ethan Funk shows off a shoal bass to fill his three-bass slam. | Photo: Chris Funk

The Chattahoochee river is regulated by several dams that release water depending on the required power load. Whether they are operating can seriously change how the fish act and make access to certain areas difficult or even dangerous.

If the release is later in the day, we will paddle upstream and then ride the generation flow back to the launch. Through the summer, the water can get clear as a mountain stream. I keep my eyes open for shoal bass in the shallows and in pressure waves around boulders.

I look for a kayak that handles moving water well and allows me to stand and sight fish. The Jackson Liska is light and maneuverable with less rigging to get in the way. I often drag the kayak over shoals, so I leave electronics at home.

An anchor running through a trolley system helps me stop on a dime and make several casts to a potential hot spot.

I take three rods., each rigged for a specific tactic. First, a seven-foot medium-heavy baitcasting rod with a soft tip for buzzbaits and topwater. Next, I use a medium-action baitcaster for jigs and soft plastics. The third rod is a six-foot spinning rod to skip a weightless soft-plastic under trees.

The reels are spooled with 20-pound braided line. I keep spools of leader from six to 20-pound test. If the water is clear and the fish are skittish, I’ll downsize my leader and take my chances with the snags.

I can throw a topwater lure all day, my favorite is an all-white or black-and-blue buzzbait. I also like a Zara Spook or a River2Sea Whopper Plopper.

I use a jig or weighted soft-plastic to dredge deeper holes. Any soft-plastic shaped like a crawfish is welcome on my kayak.

A wacky-style, weightless worm or fluke is my meat stick; I cast it under overhangs to search for fish. I like dark colors on an overcast day and realistic colors on sunny days with clear water. Chris Funk

Offshore

Sea monsters ply the deep blue ocean. Catching three leviathans in one trip is the ultimate challenge. Fishing off Boyton Beach, Florida, pro guide Eric McDonald of Deep Blue Kayak Fishing targets a long list of species. “I’m always looking to catch my clients a variety of fish,” McDonald says. With king mackerel, dolphin, wahoo, sailfish and tuna on the menu, he has a wealth of slam options. McDonald says the most common slam is king mackerel, sailfish and dolphin or tuna. The ultimate slam would be king, dolphin and wahoo. “I’ve not achieved the KDW, yet,” he says.

Scoring a sail brings smiles. | Photo: Eric McDonald
Scoring a sail brings smiles. | Photo: Eric McDonald

Scoring a slam starts the night before the fishing trip. Preparation is key. I replace leaders, retie knots, bag extra rigs and double-check my gear to maximize my opportunities.

Start the trip early. I’m on the water as the sun comes up. Time is the greatest ally for catching a slam, more time with baits in the water equals a better chance of encountering multiple species.

An early start also gives me the best opportunity to catch fish near the surface. As the sun rises, and temperatures rise, the fish go deeper.

Ideal conditions would be an east wind at five to eight miles-per-hour creating a slight ocean chop. The east wind blows warmer, clearer water and bait closer to shore.

I start the day targeting sailfish and kings by pulling a live bait along the outside edge of the reef. Once I’ve checked those two off the list, I head deeper looking for rips, weedlines and baitfish that might hold tuna. When I find what I’m looking for, I drop a vertical jig.

My clients and I use Hobie Outbacks, which are stable to handle the surf and quick for chasing down a fish. There is plenty of room for rods and electronics with capacity to carry my bait tank. I can easily bungee a fish bag to the bow to store my catch.

To slow troll live bait, I use a seven-foot, medium action rod with a PENN Fathom 40 lever drag reel. The reel holds 300 yards of line and features a high-speed retrieve to keep up with charging kings and sails.

King of the slams. | Photo: Eric McDonald
King of the slams. | Photo: Eric McDonald

I spool the reel with 20-pound monofilament and a 15-foot leader of 40-pound fluorocarbon. The mono stretches to absorb the strike and violent runs while fluorocarbon is virtually invisible under water with higher abrasion resistance than mono.

I catch live bait on the reef and keep it in a bucket rigged with two battery-powered Marine Metals Power Bubbles aerators. To fish live bait, I use a stinger rig consisting of two No. 4, 4X treble hooks twisted into #5 single-strand wire.

For vertical jigging, I go with a six-foot jigging rod and 6000 spinning reel. The shorter rod is easier to jig. And a spinning reel hangs below the rod to make it easier to pull a large fish up from the bottom.

To work my jigs, I spool the reel with 50-pound braided line and a five-foot leader of 50-pound fluorocarbon. The braided line is more sensitive with less stretch to set the hook. Braided line is also thinner than monofilament, so it passes through the water with less resistance allowing me to use a lighter jig to reach fish deep below the kayak.

Recently, I’ve been favoring 120- to 200-gram Nomad Streaker jigs in pink and blue.

Electronics are one of my most important accessories. I use a combination GPS and fish finder to track the current, monitor my speed, find fish and circle over structure and marks. Electronics allow me to set my live baits or work a jig in the best direction. Eric McDonald

Inshore

From the mid-Atlantic to the Gulf Coast, inshore anglers strive to catch a sea trout, redfish, flounder and striped bass. While it is possible to catch each species on the same lures and in the same location, targeting a trio requires versatile fishing and careful planning. Redfish hunt the shallows, speckled trout are on a flat or along a channel edge and flounder lie on the bottom waiting for the current to bring a tasty morsel. Inshore tournaments award the highest honor and biggest payout to the angler who can score the longest total length of a three fish combo. Virginia Master Angler Rob Choi shares his favorite story of a well-deserved slam.

Ambush specialists. | Photo: Rob Choi
Ambush specialists. | Photo: Rob Choi

The trip was supposed to be easy. No pressure to bring home meat, no trophy goals, no tournament, I was just going to enjoy a day on the water.

I started looking for speckled trout by working a marsh bank as the current flowed out. It wasn’t long before I landed a nice speck. A few more casts and I caught a few more trout.

As I drifted towards a point, I noticed a disturbance in the current. Moving closer, I recognized the tell-tale indicator of an oyster bed and a perfect ambush spot.

I switched to a walk-the-dog topwater lure to work over the oysters. On the first cast, after three pops of the plug, a copper head came out of the water and pounced on the lure. The signature redfish fight pulled me around in circles and 50 yards down current.

By the time I released the red and paddled back to the bar, the school was gone. I continued to drift in the current. With a great morning under my belt, I gave myself a break and ate a sandwich.

While I was scarfing down my gas-station special, a light bulb appeared over my head. I realized I had caught a red and speck. What if I could find a flounder and striper to make the slam?

I paddled to the deep mouth of the inlet where the current was ripping out. I tied a one-ounce bucktail below a dropshot hook and Gulp! Minnow.

Bouncing the bucktail and twitching the Gulp!, I hoped to instigate a flounder bite. Drifting through a deep hole dotted with rocks, I felt the famous tap, tap of a flat fish.

I slowly lifted the rod tip and felt the fish inhale the lure. Then, I set the hook so hard the small flounder came straight to the surface. I landed and released it, then caught several more. Even if the flounder were small, I was satisfied with scoring a three species slam.

On the way home, I decided to push my luck for a fourth species. Stopping by a favorite bridge, I found school-sized stripers playing in the streetlights. A couple casts of my dark-colored swim bait and I scored a grand slam with a striped bass.

In the red. | Photo: Rob Choi
In the red. | Photo: Rob Choi

I caught striper until my thumbs were rubbed raw and my arms were tired. It’s hard to know when and where I’ll catch a slam again, but when the opportunity rises, I want to be ready.

Anglers can encounter a slam almost any time of year, but fall is the best time to find all four species on the same day.

The versatility of an open-water Ocean Kayak Trident 13 helps me reach the shallows for redfish, drift for trout and go deep in the structure looking for flounder.

To find speckled trout, I cast along a channel edge, drop or broad flat where the fish hang in the current looking for a meal. A ¼- to 3/8-ounce jig and softplastic can be bounced along the bottom or worked midway through the water column. Slather the lure with ProCure scent for an extra layer of attraction.

Redfish hunt the edge of the water and shallow structure. Use a topwater walker to stay above the snags. Or, sight cast to fleeting reds with a jighead and plastic tail.

Flounder are the wild card. The flat fish wait on the bottom to ambush prey. I look for them in deeper holes especially around structure. A heavier bucktail and rubber tail will hit the flounder’s kill zone.

Striped bass are one of the most common fish in the mid-Atlantic. The scrappy fighters can show up anywhere and take any type of lure, but the best time to target striped bass is at night, especially below a light on a bridge or dock.

Each of these tactics can be fished with a medium-action spinning or baitcasting setup spooled with 10-pound test braided line with an 18-inch, 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader.

A fish finder exposes the drop-offs and structure these fish love. Combining the fish finder with a GPS allows me to track my drifts and work all parts of the structure.

Starting the day with intentions of scoring a slam may be foolish. One week before I caught the slam in the story, I was fishing a local tournament and couldn’t put together three species. No matter how hard I try, catching a slam still requires some luck. Rob Choi

River Trout

Most people wouldn’t put Georgia on their list of top trout slam destinations. That’s fine with Justin Powell, fishing manager at Orvis Atlanta. “Achieving the Southern Appalachia trout slam is a blast!” he snickers. Catching a rainbow, brown and brook trout in the warm mountain streams of the South East is a unique experience that will test the skills and patience of the most accomplished fly anglers. “Each species acts completely different,” he points out, emphasizing the importance of research and experience. Powell has pulled several slams, each required great effort and diverse skills.

For the ultimate challenge, try a southern trout slam. | Photo: Justin Powell
For the ultimate challenge, try a southern trout slam. | Photo: Justin Powell

Research is the key to achieving a trout slam. Before filming an episode of Drew Gregory’s Hooked on Wild
Waters
, I spent a week learning the water and noting how each species reacted to different methods.

I learned rainbow and brown trout prefer nymphs. The big surprise, brook trout wanted to crush big, meaty streamers. By the time we started filming, I had the slam dialed in.

The first step is to research stocking programs to learn the rivers where three species are present. The best locations are in North Carolina and Tennessee. 

Then, monitor the water level. To float these flows, I look for higher water levels. Also, trout rely on the current to bring them food.

I look for a calm, overcast day with slightly stained water. I focus on dry dropper-fly and nymphs rigs in faster, oxygenated shoal water. I also work heavy streamers on sinking line around dead falls and rocks.

To fish the shallow, narrow and swift rivers, I use Jackson Kayak’s Mayfly. The boat is designed for fly fishing with an open cockpit with nothing to snag my line. At 12 feet long and 35 inches wide, the Mayfly is wide enough to stand and fish and short enough to maneuver around obstacles.

I target trout three ways: Euro-nymphing, dry dropper rigs and big streamers. Each method requires a specific rod and line combo.

To start, I can usually find high concentrations of smaller rainbow and brown trout in the shoal water. These fish are growing fast and eating voraciously. I can pick off rainbows by wading the river and working the current with classic tight-line Euro nymphing. I use a 10-foot, 3-weight and 22-foot 3x to 4x- sighted to a tippet ring then terminal anchor and target fly.

The basic attractor patterns will bring the prize. I use smaller naturals such as worms, rubber legs and mop flies, to imitate local forage. I vary size and color of prince nymphs, pheasant tail nymphs, hare’s ears and midges.

Larger brook trout and browns prefer to sit a bit farther back to avoid the current. Brook trout are classic riffle feeders. They are a blast to sight fish with a dry-dropper rig. A nine-foot, 5-weight is hard to beat. For nymph and dry fly rigs, a nine-foot, 5x leader is ideal. Customize the terminal taper from 4x to 6x as needed.

In slower, deeper water featuring structure, I throw meat with depth-charge line and a nine-foot, 8-weight rod. My Orvis’ Helios 3D 8 with a 250-grain depth charge and seven-inch articulated streamer has fooled many brook trout over 20 inches.

When it comes to choosing a streamer, bigger is better. Classic patterns like Kelly Galloup’s 2/0 Sex-Dungeon in yellow, black and white is my favorite. I also stock my streamer box with a Grumpy Muppet, Lefty’s Double Deceiver and Blaine Chocklett’s Game Changer.

With some research and a little luck, South East anglers can target a brook trout, brown and rainbow slam. Fishing nymphs, dry flies and big streamers requires three targeted approaches but landing a trout slam is worth the effort. Justin Powell

West Coast Inshore

Some slams are easy to achieve and others are not. Catching a California inshore slam is among the toughest accomplishments. “I only know one kayak angler who has landed a yellowtail, halibut and white sea bass in one day,” admits Kevin Nakada, Hobie fishing team and events specialist. But that doesn’t stop Nakada from trying. “It’s about the most impressive accomplishment on the water for a SoCal angler,” Nakada says.

Two halibut and back. | Photo: Kevin Nakada
Two halibut and back. | Photo: Kevin Nakada

The best chance of catching a California slam is during the squid spawn. Yellowtail, halibut and white sea bass will converge to feed on the beds of mating squid. Squid spawns can happen anytime and anywhere, but we haven’t seen a good spawn in several years.

Yellowtail and white sea bass are most common, halibut is the hardest to achieve. The squid spawn can happen any time of year, but the cycle is hard to predict. When it happens, the fish come in focused on prey and it’s game on.

To find the squid beds, I first look for soft sandy bottom with my Lowrance HDS7 fish finder. Then, I expect to see spongy, puffy, hollow marks that look like speckles. That’s the squid.

I can use the same rig for all three species, too. I start with a medium-heavy, seven-foot Seeker 670 conventional rod and Daiwa Saltist 35 reel spooled with 65-pound Power Pro. To the end of the braid, I add a six-foot leader of 40-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon.

To fish the squid spawn, I use a Savage Gear 3D Swim Squid. I tip it with a couple of real squid and drop it to the bottom. The rig resembles squid mating and the fish gobble it up.

White sea bass and yellowtail, two out of three. | Photo: Kevin Nakada
White sea bass and yellowtail, two out of three. | Photo: Kevin Nakada

I drift across the squid bed, dropping the rig to the bottom and working it back to the kayak. I sit over the squid bed where each drop could produce a different species.

Even though the squid spawn is a hot bed of activity, catching three glory species is almost impossible. I’ve landed a yellowtail and white sea bass in one day, but the halibut is always the clincher. Anyone who lands a yellowtail, halibut and white sea bass in one trip gets big respect from the whole fishing community. Kevin Nakada

Flat Slam

One of the most coveted slams in fishing combines three of the most coveted species. For sight-fishing anglers, there is no better satisfaction than catching a bonefish, permit and tarpon in one day. Along the Florida Keys, these three glory species mix and mingle within paddle range. Flats guide Alex Tejeda has scored several slams and put his friends and clients on their personal best bone, permit and tarpon. “That’s the big three,” he says.

Permit are the toughest fish to score in a flats slam. | Photo: Alex Tejeda
Permit are the toughest fish to score in a flats slam. | Photo: Alex Tejeda

My buddy,Chris “Tex” Lewis, and I were going to the Keys on a mission to score a slam. I was fishing from my Jackson Kayak Big Rig with Torqeedo electric motor. Tex was on his BOTE paddleboard.

We started the quest for three with bonefish. Tex and I hit a flat that is reliable hot spot. In a few hours, we each caught several bonefish.

When the tide broke down, we switched to a place I figured we could find permit. After a couple hours fishing, I was heading back to the launch. When I passed my friend, he was chest deep in the water holding a permit over his head. Now, we knew a slam was at stake.

As the current changed, we made another move to a honey hole for small tarpon. When we arrived, hundreds of fish were rolling on the surface. Within minutes, we each had a tarpon.

The story blew up on social media and I’m still using photos from the day. Tex is the first person I know of to catch a flats slam on a paddleboard.

To catch a bonefish, tarpon and permit in one day requires a lot of running and gunning and a few minutes fishing. I’ll spend two hours at one place before returning to the launch, loading the boats and driving to another location.

For the bonefish and permit, I want an incoming flow with a low kicking out. The permit will push in on the weak water and hang on the edge of the flats in five to six feet of water.

As the tide continues to rise, I’ll find bonefish hunting the flats. Once the tide floods, it’s time to move on.

I look for tarpon by searching channel edges on an outgoing current. As the water drops out of the back country, it carries bait to waiting tarpon.

The tricky part is timing the tides. For example, on the flood tide, I will move from the Gulf side of the island to the Atlantic side where the current will still be coming in. Then, I’ll run back to the Gulf Side to catch the ebb.

The best time of year to pull off a flats slam is spring to early summer before and after the permit and bonefish spawn. Tarpon will be active at first and last light. Bonefish are feeding morning and afternoon while the permit like the middle of the day.

With all the running and gunning, a paddleboard can be an excellent platform for catching a slam. The board is light and easy to load and transport. Packing less tackle requires less time to rig and prep.

I carry three fly rods: two 8-weights and a 9-weight. For the permit, I use an 8-weight with Rio Permit line with a clear tip. I add a 13-foot leader and tie on a heavy Merkin or Perez crab pattern.

Bonefish require an 8-weight rod and Rio Bonefish line. I use high-vis quick shooter line and nine- to 12-foot leader to make quick accurate casts to fleeing bones. They’ll take a shrimp or crab pattern.

I need a 9-weight rod with quick shooter line and a nine-foot leader to cast a tarpon cockroach or bunny fly.

To sneak around the shallows, I recommend a push pole. I don’t use electronics and I keep rigging to
a minimum.

To catch a slam, everything has to come together. Tide, current, time-of-day and the fish: each piece must fit into the puzzle. Alex Tejeda

This article was first published in Kayak Angler Issue 43. Subscribe to Kayak Angler’s print and digital editions here, or browse the archives here.


Scoring a sail brings smiles. | Photo: Eric McDonald

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