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The fleet set out on a cold and blustery dawn, pushing through the swells and fog at the mouth of the Albion River to the dark, choppy sea beyond. The men and women aboard the craft, however, were undeterred by the inauspicious conditions.

They had a mission, and come hell or some very high water, they were going to fulfill it — catch some really big ling cod, cabezon and rock cod; get back to their friends and families at the campground; cook up their catch; and party long into the night. And, oh yeah, award prizes to the anglers who caught the biggest fish.

This was the most recent tournament sponsored by the NorCal Kayak Anglers, a convocation of Northern California outdoor enthusiasts who combine two sports — paddling and fishing — in a particularly intense and obsessive fashion.

Coastal kayak angling has been around for more than 20 years, but it has steadily increased in popularity thanks to the internet, and both equipment and techniques have evolved with the waxing interest. The Albion tournament drew more than 140 participants paddling in boats bearing such raffish names as Bloodbath, Cochino and No Soup 4U.

“If you look at it in one way, you could say it all started when abalone divers started using sit-on-top kayaks as diving platforms in 1980s,” said Craig Davis, the tournament’s organizer. “At a certain point, it dawned on us that we should be bringing our fishing poles out with us. But from another perspective, it goes back a lot further than that. We’re carrying on the traditions of the Inuit, who fished from skin kayaks for thousands of years.”

Those traditions are radically updated for the 21st century, of course. Today’s fishing kayaks bear little resemblance to the bare-bones crafts of the 1980s, let alone the skin boats of the Inuit. Made of tough roto-molded plastic, they are longer, beamier and heavier than the first sit-on-top kayaks.

Anglers customize their boats lavishly with electronic fish finders, racks for rods, nets and gaffs, even live bait wells. Many don’t even use paddles; their craft are powered by foot-driven underwater blades.

“It’s actually the best way to go if you’re trolling,” said Steve Takagi, an angler from San Jose who once caught a 30-pound salmon while trolling a “krippled anchovy” rig from his foot-powered boat. “It’s practically impossible to troll well if you’re paddling.”

North Coast kayak anglers also wear dry suits and personal flotation devices and carry two-way radios and GPS units. But while modern equipment certainly makes the fishing more efficient, it hardly makes it safe as milk.

That was evident during the Albion tournament, when the radio net crackled with emergency chatter shortly before noon. A highly experienced Sacramento paddler who goes by the handle of Mud Shark had capsized. At the campground, Davis and other event organizers monitored their radios anxiously, unsure if Mud Shark was OK. They relaxed visibly when they heard he had been rescued. His boat, however, had been lost.

Back on shore, a sodden Mud Shark shared his story. He had been reeling in a fish when a wave knocked him off the boat.

“I thought, ‘No big deal. I’ve been here before,’ ” he said. “So I flipped my kayak back over and saw that the hatch cover had been blown off. The boat was sinking, and I bailed. Luckily, another guy saw me and picked me up.”

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“Could have happened to anyone, bro,” said one angler, hugging Mud Shark with obvious relief while several others murmured assent. “It’s rough out there today.” Mud Shark’s kayak washed up on shore a couple of days later and was returned to his home by a fellow angler.

A deep camaraderie seems the most salient characteristic of the kayak angling community. The night before the tournament, anglers and their families wandered freely among each other’s camps, sharing prodigious quantities of freshly caught seafood, knocking back microbrews and swapping fishing yarns, some of which might have been true. At one site, a man handed out chunks of fried fillets from a halibut he had caught in Tomales Bay the day before. In another sprawling camp known as Shuland, named after founding brothers Dennis and Roger Shu, a huge pot of striped bass and Dungeness crab cioppino simmered on a propane burner while rib eyes sputtered on a grill. At Glen Armas’ camp, a groaning board of Filipino delicacies was arrayed for the delectation of passersby.

“This is a fishing competition, but it’s also a cooking competition,” said Armas. “If you go hungry around here, it’s your own fault.”

Indeed, the “competition” aspect of the tournament was in all ways underplayed. People were nominally interested in catching the biggest fish, but not in any Donald Trumpian “winning” fashion.

“When we first started, we offered $1,000 for first prize,” said Davis. “But we drew all these young single guys who were only interested in winning the money. They went around the camps eating everybody’s food but didn’t bring any to share. So we took the cash incentive out of it. We want this to be about friends and family.”

Davis displayed a rather lovely little watercolor of the Highway One bridge spanning the Albion River.

“This is first prize this year,” he said.

The tournament also featured a raffle for a trove of paddling and angling gear, including two new kayaks. The proceeds from the raffle, about $3,500, were donated to the Albion-Little River Volunteer Fire Department.

Despite the rough weather, plenty of fish were caught. Boats started drifting back into camp around noon for the 1 p.m. weigh-in. Anglers were restricted to entering their three best fish: one ling cod, one cabezon and one rockfish. There were plenty of big cabezon, and some very sizable vermilion and black rockfish. A few of the ling cod seemed the length and girth of an average human leg.

David Batt of Santa Rosa took first prize with a bag that weighed 22 pounds, 14 ounces in total. But the third-place finisher, Naoaki Ikemiyagi of Sacramento, had the biggest fish of the day, a leviathan ling that weighed in at 22 pounds.

A few of the anglers were skunked, but no one was complaining.

“We all come from different places, from different walks of life,” said Andy Gomez, who goes by the handle of Bait and Beer. “This isn’t about killing fish. It’s about love for the ocean, for a pure way of fishing and for each other.”