Rafael Vargas and his family are hooked on fishing. It’s as simple as that, unless you add in the fact that their type of fishing involves paddling miles off the coast of Guam in a custom-made 14-foot kayak in search of game fish. So maybe it’s not simple. But for the Vargas family, it’s simply fun.
Vargas is a kayak fisherman who has fallen in love with Guam and salt-water fishing since his arrival on island more than three years ago. He started Guam Yakers, a group of like-minded individuals who jump into souped-up kayaks and fish off shore and in the rivers of Guam. The group has a Facebook group called “Guam Kayak Fishing - Guam Yakers” for those with the same interests.
The Air Force lieutenant colonel’s fishing exploits have been chronicled in Stripes Guam during his time on island, but since he has made kayak fishing a family affair, we thought we’d catch up with Vargas and Angelique, his 13-year-old daughter and fellow kayak fishing fanatic, to discuss the joys of fishing off the shores of Guam.
They tell a fish tale or two, but the duo can back everything up. They’ve got it on video.
Q. So, you’ve live on Guam for close to 3 years, and just got extended. Fish better look out, right?
Raf: I have been extremely lucky to live in such a cool place for nearly three years now. I can only hope that I get to land a big marlin from the kayak before I depart in 16 months.
Q. You and your daughter Angelique are proud Guam Yakers, aren’t you?
Raf: Guam is by far, the coolest assignment I ever gotten in 21 years in the military. The water, the scenery, the people are all a huge part of the why this place is amazing. I introduced my daughter to kayak fishing when she was eight years old. In no time, she was catching her own largemouth bass from the back of my kayak while fishing Nebraska waters. When we found out we were headed here, you could see her excitement about fishing in the ocean. I remember her first mahi off Guam. It was a Saturday morning with calm winds as we put in the water right before sunrise. As we pedaled our Hobie tandem kayak, we could hear sea turtles coming from the deep to take a gasp of air in the morning darkness. We decided to go five to six miles from our launching point to get into the deep water off the west side of the island.
The fish finder stopped marking roughly after 2,000 feet and I knew exactly where the mahis were. As we searched the area for nearly five hours, we had zero luck. I finally told her that we had about two hours of pedaling back to the shore and that it was time to get back. Wind and rain were our worst enemy.
She endured over six hours of kayak fishing with no mahi. As we got within a mile from the beach, her fishing rod went crazy with a fierce strike. Her fishing reel was getting spooled and I turned on all of my GoPros to record this precious moment. I caught her monologue as she was fighting and reeling in this feisty mahi.
“I am freaking scared.” Those where her words while smiling and fighting the fish. The mahi put up an airshow, breaching water and taking some fish line. Angelique fought for nearly 20 minutes or so and once we got him close to the kayak, I assisted her with the landing. Her sense of pride was amazing. An 11-year-old catches a Mahi from a kayak … I mean, this was no small achievement for this little girl. We got home and painted the Mahi with non-toxic paint and made a gyotaku print to preserve a memory of its actual size. That evening we fixed mahi tacos for the whole family.
Q. Angelique, sounds like you’re quite the Yaker. Tell us what makes it so much fun.
Angelique: Yaking is so much fun because you get a sort of excitement while anticipating what kind of fish you might catch. I also enjoy relaxing and watching the waves and the creatures that lurk below. It’s almost like a game, and to win, you have to catch fish.
Q. So, who’s the best fisherman in your family?
Angelique: The best fisherman in my family is my sister (Aurora). When we were little and would fish off the shore, we would compete to see who would catch the most fish. Every time, she would win. I guess she is a fish whisperer, but doesn’t like to admit it.
Q. Raf, not only are you hooked on kayak fishing, but you also are pretty good at making videos. How the heck can you video while your hauling in a shark or a huge wahoo?
Raf: We have all heard our share of fish tales. Well, I let my cameras tell that story as it happens. I typically have three GoPros running when the action happens. One attached to my life vest, one attached to what is called a YakAttack BoomStick, which provides me with great angles from the side or back, and lastly, one GoPro on the front. There is a lot of moving parts when you are fighting a big fish from a small plastic boat. But being able to share these experiences, not only tells a story of how awesome the Guam waters are, but how kayak fishing provides anybody with limitless options when it comes to fishing any type of waters.
Q. Is kayak fishing catching on?
Raf: Have directed a couple of kayak fishing tournaments here on the island with the last one taking place last October. The local support was enormous. Local lure makers and businesses pitched in. The help was overwhelming. We had over 30 people in an all-day event on a river targeting Mangrove Snappers. We are hoping to make this a yearly event.
Q. A couple of years ago you said catching a shark on your kayak was the scariest scenario you encountered while fishing off Guam. Has anything scarier popped up?
Raf: Sharks continue to be uninvited guests from time to time. I certainly don’t target them, but I have hooked several. I respect them and always try to remove hooks as safe as possible. Last shark was a 6-foot plus Bronze Whaler shark. Although I make contact with sharks, I have respect them and do not feel threatened by them. My biggest fear is un-forecasted ocean conditions while I am miles off shore.
Q. Hey, we’re talking about beautiful Guam. But the water off Guam can be unforgiving, can’t it?
Raf: Sometimes, not matter how much you plan, a storm can pop up and bring heavy rain and giant swells. The swells’ size and their frequency is what could make a relaxing day of fishing a sporty one. I always wear my life vest, with a whistle and a VHF marine radio. I always look at several forecasts to include the swell direction and winds. The buddy system is a good way to enjoy the sport while staying safe. Every time we decide to go six miles out, we bring a big group to watch over each other.