Presented from Issue 101
A kayak can be a very cost effective alternative to purchasing a boat. In terms of fish catching ability, a kayak can also be more effective than a boat. The ability of a kayak to be taken in very shallow water, combined with the kayak’s overall manoeuvrability, are the reasons for this. It is also no secret that often these shallow, hard to reach places also hold the best fish.
It is no wonder that, in recent years, the sport of kayak fishing has taken off all around the world. In the United States, this style of fishing has become somewhat of a craze, and many anglers are embracing the sport with a similar level of passion here in Australia. We now have kayak- fishing tournaments that are a national affair, with regular coverage in magazines and on television. Tournaments aside, many recreational anglers are choosing to fish this way simply because its a fun, cost effective and a productive way of fishing.
With that said, where do you start? This is a question that I asked myself a few years ago, when I was contemplating the move from land-based fishing to kayak-based fishing. Without any knowledge on the subject, it was certainly a daunting task indeed. My quest for information started with some time spent searching for and watching kayak-fishing videos on YouTube. There were some real doozies on there and I was soon addicted to the excitement of kayak fishing. I am talking about some crazy stuff, such as catching sharks and tuna from a kayak. This excitement led to further research online on various kayak manufacturing websites.
Armed with more information, I eventually ended up on a couple of Australian fishing forums. This was by far the best source of information I had found. Everything was covered - from fishing techniques to choosing and setting up kayaks. Within a few weeks I had narrowed down my choices. It was now time to go out for a test paddle.
Choosing a kayak
If you go into any reputable dealer, you will find that there are literally dozens of kayaks to choose from. But on closer inspection, you will find that there are a few that are better suited to fishing. You may decide to go for one of the specialised American-made Hobie fishing kayaks, like I did. A Hobie kayak features the patented mirage drive propulsion system that enables you to fish with both hands free. Alternatively, you may prefer paddling, in which case a kayak such as a ‘Prowler’ or ‘Viking Tempo’ might be a good choice.
Ultimately, the first question you have to ask yourself is ‘paddle or pedal?’ With my Hobie, I can do both. Once you have answered this questions (or even if you haven’t made up your mind), the best thing that you can do is to have a ‘test drive’ of the models that interest you. Don’t limit it to one kayak or one brand. Test-drive as many different kayaks as you can. Like me, I am sure that you’ll know when you have tested the one that you’ll ultimately end up purchasing. After my initial research, I was fairly certain that I would end up buying the Hobie. The ‘test drive’ confirmed it.
Consider the suitability and ‘feel’ of the kayak in light of your fishing needs. Is it stable enough for me to fish out of? Is the seat comfortable? Is there enough room for all of my fishing gear? What specific ‘fishing’ features does it have that I like or need? Will it be suitable for the conditions that I intend fishing in?
The ‘fishing’ features that are at the top of any list are built-in rod holders. Purpose-built fishing kayaks will already have holes for this purpose strategically located somewhere on the kayak within easy reach. Then there are handy things like tackle storage systems, designated fish finder/transducer mounting areas, and fish storage compartments just to name a few. Some of the features of modern fishing kayaks can be mind blowing. Expect to find everything that can be found on a boat.
I chose a Hobie Outback simply because it was a stable fishing platform that I could fish hands- free from, with an effective propulsion system. This enables me to sit in the wind or current and remain relatively stationary. It means that I can fish a snag or a structure without drifting or being blown off my target. With the added luxury of built-in side storage trays and rod holders, I have ample room for many essential fishing tools. Items such as pliers, lures, my landing net, and even my lunch are all within easy reach - not to mention my fishing rods.
Whichever option you are considering, it pays to remember some of the things that I have mentioned. They are the ‘bread and butter’ considerations for kayak fishing. You must also remember that I am barely scratching the surface with the options for a fishing kayak setup. There are new inventions all the time, so keep your eyes open.
Understandably, your choice of kayak is often restricted by your budget. With this in mind, we need to remember that you do not have to spend a lot of money on getting yourself set up for kayak fishing. A standard kayak (although perhaps not ideal) can still be easily converted to a great fishing platform and, if you are prepared to do a bit of digging, you will eventually find a great second hand bargain with your name on it. Just make sure that there are no holes in it and away you go.
Preparing for fishing setup
Once you have purchased your kayak, take it for a test run on some water that you feel comfortable on. Firstly, get a feel for how to operate your craft. Once you are comfortable with the basic operation of your kayak, introduce a fishing rod and a couple of bits of equipment. If you are a beginner, don’t take your best gear - just in case it happens to go in the drink (I will discuss ways to prevent this from happening a little later).
With your rod in hand, you should now be able to identify the most ideal locations for your rod holders (keeping in mind that some kayaks will have already made that decision, to some extent, for you). If you plan to invest in a sounder, this is also the time to think about the placement of the screen for the head unit. Think about where the most comfortable area to store gear is. Work out where you would like to store your catch if you intend to keep it. When you return to shore and dismount, remember the side you dismount on. Ideally there should be no obstructions to climb over or get caught on. This is important. There may be an audience on your arrival back at your launching site and the last thing you want to do is to get tangled up in some of your gear and end up taking a swim. This is especially awkward in front of a load of boat-owners.
As you can see, a short familiarisation session is definitely valuable. It will ensure that you work out the best setup for your kayak from the start, and it avoids possibly expensive, but definitely annoying changes later down the track.
In my experience, the best kayak fishing setup is one that will suit your individual style of fishing. To achieve this, the best place to start is on your garden lawn. If you don’t have one, then the lounge room floor, just don’t let the wife see you. Armed with the knowledge from your test ride, do a full set up on your kayak – that is with all of the accessories you intend to install, all of your gear and all of the other non-fishing items that you are likely to take on a trip. Now sit in the seat. Please note, that if you are sitting on your kayak in the lounge room, it is not cool to cast a line into the fish tank.
A non-permanent whiteboard marker is a handy item to have in your hand at this point in time. You can mark the location of items such as aftermarket rod holders and your sounder. If you make a mistake, simply wipe off with a damp cloth and start again. Sitting in the seat as you do this will ensure that the items will be in a position that best suits your style of fishing. The key thing to remember here is that everything should be within easy reach. The process is quite straight-forward and just sitting in your fully-loaded kayak on the lawn (or in the lounge room) only adds to the excitement of your first real kayak fishing trip.
Once you have the mounting points accurately marked out on your kayak, it is time to get your tools and start work. Remember to measure twice and be fully satisfied with the positions that you have chosen. If you still aren’t sure, this might be the time to take your kayak for another test run, with the positions of key items marked in pen. This way you can be sure that the positions are right for you. A kayak full of unwanted holes is an ugly sight and can be difficult to fix.
I have listed some ‘must have’ kayak fishing accessories below. These items will, without doubt, make your kayak fishing experience a safe, enjoyable and productive one.
There are many brands of rod holders specifically designed for kayak installation. If your kayak has built in rod holders, you may not need this accessory; however, if you like to troll lures they are an excellent addition to the one already built in. A rod holder like this can help you set your rod in the perfect position for trolling (i.e. parallel to the water’s surface and at 90 degrees to your kayak).
Two well-known brands that I would recommend are ‘Scotty’ and ‘Railblaza’. Both have their benefits and each brand offers several different designs. Think of your fishing style and what would be suitable for you. If you are going to be using your kayak in saltwater, then I suggest you purchase a rod holder with an extension arm to keep that expensive reel away from the saltwater spray.
This is perhaps the single most useful accessory on my fishing kayak. Take it away and it’s like fishing blind. I don’t use the fish finder to find fish. I use it, mainly, to find depth and fish-holding structure. In my opinion, if you see these things, you will be able to work a lure more effectively using the information about what is below the surface.
Most fish finders or sounders can be fitted to a kayak. You can even purchase a complete kayak kit that is ready made for the job. There are some great brands and your chandler can give some great advice. You can also purchase a cheap black and white $80 sounder and still get some good results.
Several fishing kayaks these days feature transducer mounting holes built into their hull. If yours does not have one, a transducer can be glued inside the hull. An installation like this is totally weed- less and it is how I have installed mine. There are other transducer mounting options available and the choice will depend on what suits your kayak. As for the power supply, if you purchase a kit, you will have the option of a waterproof pocket containing rechargeable batteries that sits inside the hull of your kayak. I have used a small 12V sealed alarm battery. It is rechargeable and will last several fishing trips on one charge.
The final thing related to installing a sounder/fish finder is the mounting bracket. The one you get with the sounder will not always be suitable for mounting on your kayak. You may need to make one or purchase an aftermarket one. My sounder is set up on a RAM mount that allows for a quick release and it is adjustable to enable you to position it for perfect viewing. These mounts can be fairly expensive, but will ensure that you get the best viewing angle possible.
I use an old esky for this, which simply sits on the rear of my Hobie. It can be loaded with ice to keep your catch in the best possible condition. Best of all - it floats. An old esky can even double as a fish ‘live well’ with the addition of a cheap aerator. If you are really serious, add a manual bilge pump to keep the water circulating. A setup like that will take some thought and a little labour, but is achievable.
If you have no room for an esky, then a purpose made fish storage bag can be purchased from any reputable dealer. Bags like this are insulated and designed to be filled with ice. They generally conform to the shape of a kayaks bow and feature a zip to allow easy access to your catch. I have also seen ’homemade’ versions made from those insulated shopping bags that you get at the supermarket.
Landing net A landing net is a great accessory to have onboard, just as you would have on a boat. I sometimes have the pleasure of lifting fish out of the water with my hands while kayak fishing; however, not all species are well behaved enough to allow you to do this, and some have very sharp teeth. So the ‘fingers in the mouth’ option is definitely out of the question.
Again, you can purchase several styles of landing net and, as with sounders, there are ones specifically designed for kayak fishing that float. Any net that you have will do, but the floating ones are the best for obvious reasons. Storing the net is the biggest issue for many people. A smaller net can often be stored upright in a rod holder. Personally, I use a longer handle style net with a handy fish measure printed on the handle - ‘Berkley’ make a good one. To store it, I clip it to the empty paddle keeper on the side of my Hobie. Also don’t forget that you can easily stick one of those free DPI sticker measures to your paddle if you don’t have one on your existing net.
This is a very important accessory that every fishing kayak should be fitted with. A rod leash is simply a lead that connects your fishing rod to your kayak, with the aim being to prevent your expensive gear from being lost overboard. Anything that is not tied down on deck or doesn’t float is at risk of being lost. I have had some of my best gear saved on several occasions by this simple accessory. You can make a cost-effective leash by purchasing some thin, but strong cord. Your local outdoor or marine store has plenty of this stuff. It can be as simple as cutting the desired length of cord and tying either end to secure your item. I suggest you make a ‘quick release’ version with the addition of a snap clip to the leash. This makes life easy when assembling and disassembling your kayak.
Rope and anchor
You should always have a length of rope onboard your kayak. It’s handy if you want to tie off to a branch or tree and fish in one position. You will find it especially useful when conditions are windy - the wind is usually the number one enemy for anyone on a kayak. If you are looking to go a step further and require an anchor, a heavy weight on the end of your rope is all that you need. A small dumbbell or weight plate is ideal for this purpose. For those of you that like beach fishing, a sand anchor can be made by attaching a canvas bag to the end of your rope and filling it partially with sand. A cheap canvas bag from your army disposals store is ideal for this. The sand can be emptied very quickly once you are finished using it.
Personal Flotation Device
It goes without saying that safety is your number one priority. It is law to wear a PFD while operating a kayak in Tasmania. This is one of the first items that you should purchase. There are several styles of PFD that are well suited to kayak fishing. I would recommend buying a purpose made vest for kayak fishing. They have the added benefit of handy storage pockets, which will accommodate a lot of your gear. Items such as small tackle boxes and your mobile phone can be stored within easy access.
My personal choice was an inflatable yoke style PFD, like you might wear on a motorboat. The reason for this was that it was a cooler option during the warmer summer month. It doesn’t have the storage capacity like the PFD designed specifically for kayak fishing, but I have managed to add a couple of essential accessories that make life on the water so much easier.
The equipment that I am referring to is a pair of braid scissors and a pair of forceps - two items that I use a lot (for obvious reasons). Items such as this can be attached to almost any PFD by means of a retractable keeper. Stationery supply stores such as ‘Officeworks’ stock these nifty little gadgets. They should only cost you around $5 each and are a great investment.
First aid kit
No matter how small it is - make sure you have one on board. Store it in a snap lock lunch bag.
Handy in an emergency and also when the wife calls (well maybe not so handy). Either way, store it in a waterproof pouch or container and keep it within easy reach. Food and water Always take plenty of food and water with you. This style of fishing is great exercise and will burn up more energy than sitting in a boat all day. Most kayaks will have the room to accommodate a lunch box inside a hatch or somewhere out of the way. The hatch between my legs on my Hobie is great for storing my lunch. I can literally eat on the move without wasting any fishing time.
If you are contemplating setting up a fishing kayak, I hope this information has been useful. I must stress that this has only been a general guide on the subject. There are literally a multitude of options available out there. Talk to people first and do your research. The single most important thing to remember is to set your kayak up so that you feel absolutely comfortable fishing from it.
Good luck with ‘building’ your kayak and I hope to see you on the water soon.
If you are after more information, please have a look at the websites below. These were my starting points years ago and contain a lot of useful information: www.akff.net (Australian Kayak Fishing Forum) www.kfdu.com.au (Kayak Fishing Down Under) Don’t forget to also visit our local Tassie forum: www.tassiepaddlers.net (Tassie Paddlers)