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Kayaking

John Pollard
So you've read or heard about this new sport of kayak fishing and you want to get involved, but where do you start? Surely it's as simple as heading down to my nearest sports store, outdoor shop, chandler or fishing shop, grab a kayak and off I go? Isn't it?

Well no, it's not. Like people kayaks, particularly fishing kayaks come in all shapes and sizes, with numerous different features, stability ratings, lengths, widths, storage options and the list goes on and on.

Let's look at the types of kayaks, some people will tell you there are only two types, Sit In and Sit On. With the latter being the most popular choice for Yak Fishermen. Within the Yak Fishing fraternity we tend to be fiercely brand loyal and define types of kayaks by the model ranges within a given brand, which is even less helpful. But I am going to steer clear of recommending any brands in this article; you need to understand the basics first.

I break fishing kayaks down into 4 basic categories:
  • Sweetwater kayaks
  • Open water kayaks
  • General purpose/Hybrid kayaks
  • Two/Multi person kayaks

Sweetwater Kayaks
These units are usually up to 3 metres long and are excellent craft for negotiating small rivers, creeks and streams. They are also good for getting close into the shoreline of those hard to get spots. These craft are easy to manoeuvre in narrow streams and can generally handle large loads, making them an ideal choice as a river camper.
Open Water Kayaks
As the name suggests these models are designed for getting out into the deeper blue water, usually a minimum of 4.5 metres in length. They have a hull design that allows them to really cut through the water and maintain good speed in the process. The "Ski" style of kayak fits into this category.
General Purpose/Hybrid Kayaks
This is by far the largest group of Kayaks, with a wide range of lengths, widths and weight capacities. They range in length from 3 up to about 4.5 metres, averaging between 3 and 4 metres. At home in either open or closed waters, this group of kayaks is the one you will commonly find on the waters of Tasmania.
Two/Multi Person Kayaks
The ideal choice for a family person who wants to get either their children, partner or in some cases both, out on the water with them. Generally they are larger kayaks with heaps of payload capacity; most kayaks that fall into this category can usually be operated quite comfortably by one person.

Before laying out your hard earned money for a kayak ask yourself a number of very important questions, you may just avoid purchasing the wrong kayak:

  1. What sort of fish do you mainly want to target and where will you be fishing most of the time? Whether you're going to target species like Flathead and Australian Salmon to provide the family with a feed, or target Trout in narrow streams, or chase Bream in previously unfished estuarine streams. You will find a kayak that will suit your needs. Think primarily about: what will be the main use for your kayak and where will you be going? If you are planning on chasing fish in narrow water then a 5 metre open water kayak is definitely the wrong choice. DO NOT be lured into a purchase by all the bells and whistles, if the basic specifications of the kayak don't suit your needs.
  2. Do you need to be able to take two people out in your Yak? If you have kids you will find one day they will want to come out with you. If you want to encourage this, which I would like to, then look at the different kayaks you can get to suit this need. There are more of them out there than you think. I have made this mistake, when I purchased my kayak my son was 2, now he is 6 he is talking about wanting to have a go.
  3. How long will your average trip be? This is all about comfort, 2 hours on the water in pretty much the same position is okay, 6 hours on the water in a kayak takes some getting used to. Consider this when you look at features in a kayak such as; the seat and leg straps. Go for the best seat you can.
  4. How much gear will you need to take with you? Fishing is a collector's trap (or is that just me?), most fishermen I know have a fairly large collection of lures, soft plastics, jig heads and other terminal tackle. Not to mention rods, landing nets, dongers, knifes, pliers, etc. etc. With kayak fishing you need to give careful consideration to what you take with you, only take what you need, nothing else.
  5. How else do you want to use your Kayak? Do you want to be able to use it in the surf, to have some fun catching the waves? Use it to go camping into a remote river or lake? As a platform for wilderness photography? Or for any other outdoor endeavours? Answering these questions will help with deciding if a kayak has enough storage space, or is appropriate for everything you want to do?

Then there are a couple of more personal questions, which require honest answers:

  1. How tall are you? Kayaks come in different shapes and sizes, and so do people. If you are 6'4" tall you are going to be looking at a vastly different kayak to some one who is 5'4". Some brands cater better for tall people than others. Another thing to consider with height is that you have slightly higher centre of balance, which can affect how stable you feel in your kayak.
  2. How much do you weigh? Yeah, okay now I am getting personal and the questions get more personal from here on in. But it is a critical question, but let me give you a real life example of why I ask this. My kayak has a weight capacity of 181 kilograms, which means it can carry a lot in addition to my weight of 110 kilograms. With myself and my gear in it, I reckon it has a payload of 125 kilograms (maximum) and it sits quite stably in the water. If however I weighed in at 75 kilograms, it wouldn't sit as well in the water and would feel somewhat "wobbly" to some one of that weight. While I really like my kayak I don't always recommend that particular model to everyone.
  3. How fit are you? Do you have a bung knee, or dodgy back? There are a couple of kayak propulsion methods available, including the traditional paddle style, the innovative pedal style, sail style and of course the ability to use an electric motor or small outboard. Even if you have a condition that stops you doing other things there are a number of ways to overcome many physical conditions.
  4. How strong are you? Remember you are buying a kayak that is usually carried on your roof racks and it has to get up there somehow. Do not make the mistake of buying a kayak that you can't lift by yourself. As always having a second person to help you lift the kayak is the ideal situation, but there are going to be times it will be just you. You need to be able to lift your kayak over your head by yourself. Or else have some sort of loading mechanism.
Choose the right Yak and you could be chasing monster Bream, Trout or even Pelagic species in comfort.

There are a number of other considerations you need to follow as well, you don't just buy a kayak, you also need the necessary safety equipment, some of it is required by law, others are just a damn good idea:

  • PFD, kayakers are supposed to follow the same rules as all other boat users. PFD1 in Open Water and PFD2 or PFD 1 in Closed Waters. Wear a PFD not doing so is just dumb.
  • Lights, if you are going out early morning or of an evening you need lighting on your kayak. There are a number of systems available to choose from.
  • Safety Flag, think about it in a kayak you have a very low profile in the water. A bright orange Safety Flag on a flexible pole will help other water users to notice you.
  • First Aid Kit, just a small one, basically every Fisho should have one with them anyway, mine is 10 cm wide and long and 3 cm deep, it takes up very little room.
  • Handheld two way radio, these things are nice to have but need to be kept dry. If you and your fishing mates are spread around in the water, it's a great way to stay in touch and find out where the fish are.
  • Waterproof container, great for storing handheld two way radio, car keys, mobile phone and camera.
  • Hand operated bilge pump/sponge/bailing device, if you have a hatch open and get broadsided by a wave you are going to take on water.
  • Flares and/or EPIRB, consider these items especially if you are heading out in to open water.
  • Anything else you can think of, face it if it is going to help you return from the water safely, then you can find room for it.

Okay so you have all of your Rods, Safety Gear and Fishing Tackle, now where do you put them all?

Many of the bigger kayaks come with a large amount of storage options these days, trap door hatches, clip on hatch covers, flip up lids, utility areas, fish storage bays, rod storage slots, rod holders, side trays and even drink bottle holders.

Another favourite of all kayak fishermen is the "crate", whether they are homemade or shop bought they hold tonnes of gear. When deciding where to put things in your kayak, practice at home first, don't get on to the water and suddenly realise that putting your spare soft plastics in the rear hatch was a bit silly.
Put your kayak down on the ground and start placing things in it. Think about what items you put where and how likely you are to want to reach for that item.
Then sit in your kayak and see how easy things are to reach, you might feel like a goose at first but you will be thankful you did this once you get out on the water.
Make sure everything is easy to reach, practicing on the lawn may look silly but it's worth the embarrassment on the water when you flip your yak from over reaching.

One other tip before you hit the water: Use tether lines for all loose equipment that doesn't float. This tip alone will potentially one day save you hundreds of dollars in lost equipment. They don't have to be anything fancy, just a reliable and strong cord. Make sure you know how to tie a good knot and don't forget to tether your fishing rods.

So now you have your kayak set up ready to go and are as keen as mustard to go catch your first fish. But by now you should already have started asking yourself "what happens if it rolls over in the water?" The simple answer is roll it back over, but do you know how to?

On your first trip it is worth going out for a 15 minute paddle to get your sea legs and to practice falling out of your kayak, before you load it up to go fishing. Spending time to get to know your kayak without all the gear on board will be time well spent and is almost as enjoyable.

Over the next few issues we are going to explore a number of different kayaks that are available for purchase in Tasmania. We will review them from the perspective of the specification and features, but we are also going to be reviewing them from the perspective of 3 very different people. First you have the "big fella" of the group weighing in at 110 kilograms and just over 6 foot tall, then there is the "middle fella" he won't say his actual weight but I am guessing about 78 kilograms and then there is the "little fella" at a sprightly 54 kilograms he is our lightweight.

John Pollard