The “Extreme” Side of Things

Eric “Oz” Ozolins
The “Extreme” Side of Things

As the scorching sun radiates down on the calm and reflective mid-summer waters along the south Texas coast, the surface action during this early-morning moment remains both silent and creepily eerie. Less than two miles offshore, a couple of us have ventured out in our plastic battleships seeking any obvious signs of ensuing chaos. The lack of sleep contributed from the previous night's tiger shark release from the surf keeps playing in the back of my mind and yet the still hovering and very active adrenaline fuels the morning's fresh adventure. With our ideal targeted water depth this time of year being anywhere from 30-50 feet, we manage to cover as much area as possible while trolling and are also readily available to cast various lures at any sudden signs of action. Primed up on high hopes and anxiety, we cruise around far BTB (beyond the breakers) seeking randomly appearing birds and bait. For those of you curious, my name is Eric Ozolins. Many of you know me simply as "Oz."

The clear pristine waters and the absurdly hot temperatures as such on this grease-calm morning truly define the dog days of summer. Fishing these dog days can, for lack of a better word, "mystify" one. It is without reason that our aquatic obsessions require us to be constantly mystified. On the water you need to be ready for virtually anything that may pop up in an unexpected instant. Fortunately for us on this ideal day in the kayak there are merging signs of life. Off in the vast distance there is a slight disturbance formulating on the surface. Only seconds pass before our curiosity grows and the first of the gulls reach what optimistically seems like an anchovy baitball rising from the depths. Still a couple hundred yards away, a buddy and I paddle furiously, not knowing how long the action will continue.

The closer we get to the frenzy the larger the predatory explosions that begin taking place. Armed with large tuna-style topwaters and slab spoons, we are about to meld within the madness. We throw our custom tuna poppers into the mayhem and Kevin instantly hooks up with a large and aerial king mackerel - launching like a vicious subsurface rocket. Almost simultaneously my oversized topwater gets slammed; not by a king but by another frenzying predator - a large jack crevalle. Several minutes after fighting this tireless marine bulldog I lead him to within feet of the kayak. Then, and most unexpectedly, an aggressive boil and thunderous splash appears. The result is the head-section of the 20 pound jackfish being the only thing that remains, still hooked to the lure. True - Utter - Chaos promptly ensues. This is what I live for. This is undoubtedly MY realm, MY uncharted and continually intriguing domain.

It is indeed moments like these that are the catalyst for the addiction that an increasing number of us are associated with. I have for years been linked to the sport of shark fishing and big-game kayak angling off the Texas coast. Having fished various parts of North America, in and out of the country, I have experienced many of the conditions that each area has to offer and all are very unique in their own right. Texas within itself is nothing short of a gem. The harsh months of brutally strong winds help protect and replenish our great fishery. Then when conditions do quiet down, the waters can come alive with uncanny activity. When the ingredients are just right, there is no other place on this planet I would want to fish and become a part of.

For well over a decade I have been targeting large sharks from the surf, often calling the Padre Island National Seashore my home and stomping grounds. Throughout my personal years of what historically may be considered short in terms of shark-fishing careers - I have landed, tagged, and released a great number of sharks, some of which are extremely rare for inshore waters. The mystery factor once again is what helps drive this unbreakable obsession. I've been honored and fortunate to be a volunteer while taking part in some recent groundbreaking studies by the Harte Research Institute and the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, involving satellite and acoustic tagging on appropriate candidates. There is something deep within my soul regarding the various shark species that has fascinated me since early childhood and it is only fitting that I continue to be thrilled and fascinated by each encounter. Every up-close experience like this delivers a mesmerizing rush that burns vividly into the fibers of one's brain. I am and will always be associated with chasing down big sharks from the shore.

However, there is more to my insane obsession than just seeking monstrous sharks from the sand... it extends just offshore in the kayak. In addition to playing the wicked game the surf has to offer, I have also actively been fishing from the safety of a thin wall of plastic for over a decade and helped pioneer big-game fishing from a sit-on-top kayak and what is also referred to these days as "beyond the breakers." While I did not coin the term, it truly says it all. When it all began there was great criticism regarding the fact of tangling with dangerous sharks and large predators from such an unproven platform (in reality it is very real and extremely dangerous). Ocean-going kayaks were just starting their early evolution and have not been around very long. For a span of a couple years an elite few of us were known as the ridiculous guys who targeted sharks and mackerel in this "extreme" method of fishing.

We never encouraged what we did; we just pursued the unknown while desiring an unrivaled adrenaline rush. The only real promotion we did was if an unknown individual was in fact considering fishing offshore in the kayak, it was important to note to them every possible safety measure to avoid catastrophe. Since the sport has grown so vast over the last few years, I try to do everything possible to educate the new and old regarding safety. Accidents do and will always happen. It is important to be prepared in every facet to minimize unexpected trouble as much as possible. Kayak fishing in the open gulf can be extremely dangerous and with any other extreme sport, it is not meant for everyone. I'd say only a handful of the individuals who are actively fishing beyond the breakers today are really physically fit and mentally alert for it. There is nothing I can do about this other than the idea of presenting a heavier focus of safety to these individuals in the future - which I will be doing here.

Whether in the comfort of a plastic boat or on the burning sand with large shark baits staggered over hundreds of yards, I thrive on the adventure that each presents. Fishing is all about learning from experienced individuals to build upon your own knowledge. For me I have learned so much from TSF's very own Capt. Billy Sandifer who has been an invaluable mentor to me. Unfortunately, in the world of kayak fishing, there were no real iconic figures at the time to learn from so I had to go simply by trial and error. Luckily I am still alive and have learned a plethora of knowledge over the years and enjoy educating anyone who requests information or help. I am deeply honored to be part of this great publication and am very excited that I will be able to bring many more great stories and adventures to life for all to enjoy in upcoming issues. For those who follow me on my Extreme Coast website, there are current online videos, reports, and information to help guide you on your very own adventure.

Have fun, stay real... stay safe! -Oz