Local kayaker lands large rockfish during bay tourney

CHESAPEAKE BAY, MD -- Every time a fisherman tells a tale, his fish gets bigger, stronger, or more vicious to pull into the boat.

Except this time, it was a kayak angler with an almost 50 inch rockfish on small bait.

Abel Fabian’s 46.5 inch rockfish catch won him first place and $2,300 at the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association (MSSA) 33rd annual Championship on the Chesapeake hosted April 29 through May 1. 

The kayak angler knew he needed to catch two fish to total between 33 and 37 inches. He used an Ocean Kayak Predator Big Game 2, Abu Garcia Villain 2.0 rods, Abu Garcia round catfish reels, and a 6-inch swimbait paired with a green bucktail the first day of the tournament.

“Not all big fish want big bait,” said Fabian. “Judging by last year’s tournament results, I knew I needed to get two fish over 35 inches to place somewhere in the top. I was catching smaller fish when I started that morning. I worked an area until I heard my right rods’ drag screaming, and about half a mile back I noticed a huge splash. I wasn’t sure if it was this fish or a gannet diving.”

The fish managed to pull the kayak around 180 degrees and took Fabian for a ride.

“After he realized something was up, he decided to dive straight down into about 60 feet of water. I fought him vertically 5 times, and I would manage to bring him up to the kayak, and he would sprint back straight down,” Fabian explained. “In a kayak, you have to fight the fish as much as you can in order to keep him from flopping around in the kayak. Once he was tired and resting besides my kayak, I grabbed my fish grips and tried to set them on his lower lip.”

The fish grips would not close because of the fish’s huge mouth, said Fabian.

“I had to grip it from the side of the mouth. I tried to slide him into the kayak to take a picture of it but it was too heavy and was afraid to lose it or flip the kayak. My only option was to paddle this beast to the nearest beach to get a picture of it,” said Fabian.

While it sounds easy, the fish added 40 extra pounds to one side of the kayak.

“It slows you down a lot. After about an hour and a half of paddling, I make it inshore, Velcro-ed the fish to a board, and took the photo for tournament officials. The fish measured in at 46.5 inches,” said Fabian. “I called the tournament's point of contact, Dave, and explained what had happened. He recommended that I bring the catch to the check-in station to have it officially measured,” said Fabian.

Nobody had managed to catch a fish quite that big that day, and there were two days left of the tournament.

“The MSSA rep was amazed of (sic) the fish I brought in. After they released the numbers for the day, I realized no one had caught a fish close enough to mine. Other contestants had two fish totaling (the length of) my one fish. But I still needed another fish,” said Fabian.

That Saturday was not as productive, with the biggest fish Fabian caught and released being only 19 inches. Sunday featured choppy waters and was the worst day of the tournament, according to Fabian.

“The nice thing about kayaks is that we can go to shallow covered areas. I began to cast into some areas and managed to bring in a 25.5 inch rockfish,” said Fabian.

Fabian came in first place with a total of 72.25 inches of fish caught.

“Even if I hadn’t gone out Sunday, and only had submitted that 19 inch fish, I would’ve still been up at 1st. I just wanted a bigger margin since I did not know if anyone else was fishing that Sunday,” said Fabian.

This was the first time Fabian had participated in this event, but he has been a kayak angler since 2012. He is now a paddle sports kayak fishing affiliate and an Atlantic Coastal Tackle Company representative.

“I didn’t really have time to pursue the hobby until after I got out of the Navy in 2014,” said Fabian. “Since then I’ve had plenty of time to fish, but did not want to participate in tournaments until I felt I had the odds in my favor.”

There are no words to describe the feeling; one just has to experience it, said Fabian.

“Being on the water, is about being patient. Just enjoy your time out there without any expectations,” said Fabian. “If you expect to catch a big fish, you get the pressure on. Being under pressure in a kayak can lead to you turning over quickly.”

Fabian doesn’t rely on a good luck charm when fishing.

“I do not like to brag, but I’ve had my share of ups and downs. It’s not called catching for a reason, fish may be around but may not want to eat,” said Fabian. “Sometimes they want a big meal, or a small one. I think the timing was just right.”

The lack of bigger equipment didn’t stop the fish from biting on this hook, said Fabian.

“While I do not have the capabilities to troll big umbrellas, as some of the boats mimic bait being chased by a slightly larger fish, color combinations play a big factor in the waters you fish as well. Knowing the area you’re fishing in is also crucial.”

When Fabian isn’t fishing, he’s studying environmental management and biology as a full time student at University of Maryland University College.

“I want to work in the marine field, something along the lines of conserving the fisheries. I could say fishing is my passion,” said Fabian. “While I don’t keep all the rockfish I catch, I find myself keeping all the white perch. It is actually funny because when I met my wife, she could not stand fish, wouldn’t eat fish. Now she asks for different types of fish and wants to become a pescetarian.”

Fabian described the perfect day to fish. It's one with temperatures in the mid-60s and sunny skies. He said that fishing is about getting out there and trying it.

“It’s trial and error, I’ve spent a lot of money on fishing gear to find out simpler is better,” said Fabian. “Sometimes big fish are on shorelines, and people always assume bigger fish are in deeper waters. I’ve caught 30 inch fish casting into a beach and retrieving my lure and having a trike in about 3 feet away from shore.”

Fabian’s favorite kind of fish to catch and eat is white perch.

“It has to be white perch on ultra light tackle. They seem like little monsters when they strike, zooming left and right. They are the favorite dish at the house,” said Fabian.

Fabian was at the CCA Maryland’s Kent Narrows tournament for rockfish on June 4. He did not place in the top 3 spot, but caught plenty of fish.  

“The best fly and light tackle anglers in the Chesapeake Bay will be there. This will be my first year participating in this tournament,” said Fabian.

Contact Jacqui Atkielski at

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