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Kayak Fishing for Pompano in the RIP

One of the things that make the Gulf of Mexico beaches so appealing and exciting is the surf, waves are the heartbeat of the ocean.  We are naturally drawn to the rhythmic pounding of the waves as if returning to our primordial beginnings.  I can spend hours gazing out at the ever-changing shore.  The fresh salty air invigorates the body as the sheer beauty and dynamic interplay between the waves and beach captures the imagination and refreshes our psyche.  Also, nothing is more fun than jumping into the water and playing in the surf, feeling the power of the waves crashing ashore. Now that Kayak fishing has gone offshore we need to be aware of nature’s escalator past the breakers. Rip currents can help and hinder the transition to and from shore, it is important that we know what to look for and avoid trouble.

The Gulf Coast is characterized by beaches with long, gradually sloping bottoms, which generally prevent the build-up of the pounding surf on the beach.  The Gulf waters are usually placid to choppy so that big breaking waves only occur when there is an offshore storm or passing frontal system in the water basin.  When the water is clear and the surface calm, submerged crescent-shaped bars may be visible in the near shore area, close to the beach face.  Presence of this unique “rhythmic” topography of the inner bars sets the stage for rip current formation if large breaking waves approach the beach.

Panama City Beach is where the now famous Dr. Choule Sonu conducted research on rip currents.  He chose this area for his field experimentation because of the clear warm waters. Fluorescent dye was used to trace the motion and time the speed of the rip currents.  During 5-foot waves, which only rarely break on these normally placid shores, Choule measured maximum rip speeds at 2 to 3 feet per second.  

Rip currents can be found on many surf beaches every day. Rip currents most typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes .

By now you are probably asking what rip currents have to do with kayak fishing. When I was trying to figure out how to catch pompano, I learned about the cuts in the sandbars and how the current flowing through them caused the sand to be disturbed. The nutrients that are stirred up from the bottom included sand flees, a natural food source for pompanos. What I tried to do to optimize my fishing experience, included anchoring just outside of these rip currents  and present my bait at the edge, where I though the fish may be darting into the rip current to feed. Well my hunch seemed to pay off, but you have to be careful when using this tactic because rip currents change and the surf around you requires your constant watch.

Please continue to read the article so you will be able to recognize the locations and severity of the rip currents and with safety in mind make your decision. Remember the danger is real, especially if you loose your balance and end up in the water.

What is a Rip Current?

No matter how a rip current is formed, the effect is the same.  A large amount of water at the shoreline rushes in a narrow path back to the sea.  This path of water can extend as far as 3000 feet offshore, reach 90 feet in width, and travel up to four feet per second.
Rip currents, sometimes incorrectly called undertows, do not pull swimmers under the water, but can pull even experienced swimmer away from shore.  A rip current is formed when water that usually moves along the shore rushes out to sea in a narrow path. 

This can happen where;

  1. 1.) There is a break in an offshore sandbar.

  2. 2.) The long-shore current (a current that runs parallel to the beach) is diverted by a groin, pier, or jetty. When swimming in the ocean, have you ever wondered why you tend to be carried down the beach? This process is called long-shore drift and is generated by wave and current action.

  3. (3) When long-shore currents moving in opposite directions meet.
    A long-shore current is an ocean current that moves parallel to shore. It is caused by swells sweeping into the shoreline at an angle and pushing water down the length of the beach in one direction.
    Long-shore currents can sweep swimmers and surfers into rip currents, piers, jetties, and other hazardous areas. In many cases, the long-shore current is strong enough to prevent swimmers from being able to keep their feet on the bottom, making it difficult to return to shore.

Signs of a Rip Current

Stand on a high area, such as a sand dune or deck, and scan the water.  To spot a rip current, look for the following characteristics:

  • A streak of water that is a different color.  The streak may look more murky or darker than the surrounding water.
  • A gap in advancing breakers where the rip current is pushing its way seaward.
  • A line of foam extending offshore.
  • An offshore plume of turbid water past the sandbar.

What to do?

  • Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Never fight the current.
  • Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, of which you need to step to the side.
  • Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle -- away from the current -- towards shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.

Rip Statistics

  • Eighty percent of ocean rescues (over 70,000 per year) involve saving someone caught in a rip current.
  • A strong rip current moves at 3 feet per second, which is as fast as an Olympic swimmer in a 50-meter sprint.
  • Rip currents have been measured to have speeds as high as 5 feet per second at big surf beaches in Australia. Rips often occur at groins, jetties and piers; stay at least 100 feet away from these structures in the water to avoid these deadly currents and other hazards.  
  • About 100 people drown annually in rip currents in the United States.  
  • Breaking waves that approach 5 feet can generate powerful rip currents. The energy of a wave is proportional to its height so that a 3-foot wave is 9 times more powerful than a 1-footer.









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