THE STAKES ARE higher when you’re fishing from a kayak. “It truly is as close to you against the fish as you can get,” says Jim Sammons, who runs La Jolla Kayak Fishing Adventures. A barracuda expert, Sammons has also landed scores of pike and muskies in a ‘yak. Here’s his method for handling heavyweights:
 Preparation The key is letting the fish get tired enough to handle—but not so worn out as to prevent a healthy release. Straddling the kayak will give you leverage and better balance. Make sure that all landing tools are within reach but out of the way. Because you’re so low to the water, a net is rarely necessary. With the fish beside the boat, turn on the reel’s clicker. Keep at least a rod’s length of line out; too much line tension loads up the rod and could result in getting yourself impaled by a hook.
 Execution It’s usually when you go to lift a pike or muskie that they thrash about. Keep your eye on the lure at all times. Holding the rod in one hand, grab the back of the fish’s head, just behind the gill plates. Sammons will pin especially big fish against the kayak. Once the fish is stabilized, pop the reel out of gear and set the rod in a rod holder. Use a Boga Grip ($120; bassproshops.com) or other fish gripper to lip the fish. Slide your hand below the belly to support the fish as you lift it out of the water.
Illustration by Mike Sudal