What's so good about kayak fishing?
There are many reasons for getting into kayak fishing. Maybe one of the most obvious is that it's got to be the most cost effective way to get waterborne. A decent kayak set up for fishing can be had for anywhere between $1000 and $2500, And that's it, no more to pay - no licence, no trailer with associated rego, no fuel bills, minimal to zero maintenance. The only fuel needed is the food you eat. And that leads me on to some of the other great benefits of fishing from a kayak.
You'll actually feel much healthier after a day out on the water paddling about searching for fish. But don't get the wrong idea; it's not all hard work. You can quite easily launch your kayak in calm waters and go for a gentle paddle and be in prime fishing waters in no time at all with minimal effort. But then if you feel like a challenge then you can go for an exhilarating surf launch and paddle out to a rocky headland, where you might find yourself getting a good feed of flathead and squid, or possibly give your arms another workout on some kilo-plus Aussie salmon.
Ease of use
If the weather's good on the weekend I might go fishing. It's just a matter of throwing a rod or two, a tackle bag containing some hard body lures, some jig heads and soft plastics, my PFD, paddle and kayak seat in the back of the wagon, then tossing the kayak on the roof racks and strapping it down. That's a few minutes spent getting gear in the car, and it'll take the same amount of time to get it all out on the water too. When I get back from a saltwater session I'll give the few metal fittings a bit of hose down and that's all the maintenance you'll ever need to do. So there you go, how easy is that?
Now you might be thinking it can't be comfortable or convenient to fish out of one of these things can it? But a good fishing kayak has been set up specifically with anglers in mind, and contains everything you need in just the right spot so you've got your gear in reach without being too cramped. And before you know it you've spent the best part of the day on the water chasing fish, and hopefully catching a few too. It's surprising how quickly the time can fly when you're enjoying yourself out on the water.
My desire to get a kayak probably started from my fishing trips down at my in-laws" place on the Tasman Peninsula. They have a small dingy and an open Canadian style canoe on their property, which has beach frontage onto Norfolk Bay. I found myself preferring to fish from the canoe over the dingy simply because of all the effort involved in carting the outboard down the paddock to the dingy. Then when the engine started to have mechanical problems and finally kicked the bucket that confirmed it for me. The convenience was just such a cool thing. In fact the dingy is completely impossible to launch when the tide is out since you'd have to drag it across 500 metres of sand flats to get it to the water. Whereas a canoe or kayak floats in 5 to 10 cm of water!
But there was one major drawback to the canoe. Being an open canoe it catches a lot of wind, and also being flat bottomed it doesn't track too well and doesn't handle waves well either. So the upshot of this was that it was only safe to paddle the canoe in calm conditions. If the wind was up I'd fish from the shore on the rocks. Then I started seeing more and more tourists popping up in sea kayaks cruising around the coast and this got the idea buzzing in my head. But these were all "sit inside" sea kayaks, which are great to paddle, but lacking in access points for easily storing rods, gear and fish. I really didn't like the idea of trying to stow a frenzied flapping flathead down the cockpit into some hidden bucket, all the while making sure all those nasty spikes didn't inflict damage on certain delicate parts of my anatomy.
Enter the "sit on top" kayak. These things started showing up a few years back now and have really become popular for paddlers and anglers alike. And it's no wonder too. They take the fear of getting stuck under water in a capsized kayak out of the equation. You can get swamped by a wave and don't have to worry about the boat getting full of water and sinking. The water will just drain away out through the scupper holes. I've had some fairly decent waves crash over the top of me in the surf zone and had no problems. The boat feels heavy and is more difficult to steer for a short period before the water all drains out, and then you're back to normal. And if you do capsize, it's a lot easier to get back on one of these SOT kayaks than get inside the cockpit of a SIK kayak. And the few times I've tipped a canoe have meant swimming it to shore to tip it upright to empty it.
So when the angler versions of SOT kayaks appeared that was the real clincher for me. I did some research to find the one to suit my needs and went and ordered it from one of the local dealers.
A good SOT set up for fishing will generally have:
- Built-in rod holders, as well as areas where you can mount other rod holders.
- Multiple storage areas, usually including a large well in the back to hold tackle bag and a crate or a bucket, and one or two in hull storage areas up front with water tight hatches to get at your gear, and a mixture of other useful areas such as cup holders for drink bottles and a tray or two for storing small tackle boxes and a selection of lures ready to go
- A comfortable seat that attaches to clip on points, providing good back support as well as enough padding to avoid a numb bum.
- Multiple clip on points for securing your equipment. Securing your rods with a leash to the kayak is highly recommended. I was fishing the Derwent for bream one time when a school of salmon turned up. I had just landed one and rested it on my lap along with my rod while I unhooked the soft plastic lure from its mouth. I had tossed the lure back in the water to get it out of the way while I released it on the other side of the kayak. Then some movement caught my eye and I saw my rod disappearing into the water. The bungy cord kept it attached to the kayak and I reached out and pulled it in. It had happened because there was another salmon on the end. The stealth of a kayak, means that fish tend to treat it as a floating log, so this salmon had come up and grabbed the lure which was freely dangling 50cm deep next to the side of my kayak!!!
- A rudder to help you track straight in windy conditions - you can also use it to position your boat around likely snags, and provide extra sideways pressure when you get onto that fish of a lifetime.
- A bungy strap and clip for tying down your paddle to the side of the kayak to get it out of you way while fishing.
Okay, assuming you've got all these features and done whatever modifications you desire, it's time to get out there on the water and go fishing.
Fish those spots you could never reach when land based
If you've been a shore based fisherman up until this point, the kayak has now opened up a whole new world of fishing opportunities. I clearly remember fishing from the rocks casting to moving fish that are just that little bit beyond casting distance. Major frustration! Oh what a pleasure it was when I came across my first school of feeding salmon in the kayak. I was able to paddle out to them in very short time and then just drift towards them for the last few metres while I got a rod out. Cast after cast was attacked by the salmon. And I was able to follow them as they moved along the coast. At times I've had massive schools of salmon swim directly under me so close to the surface that I could just about reach out and touch them. You can see every detail of blue and green with flecks of black in their backs through your polaroids. It is scenes like this that provide the exhilaration that motivates me to go fishing.
A kayak allows you to work so much more water than you can from the shore. This is especially the case when fishing some of the larger rivers, which have their banks choked with crack willows. Rivers such as the South Esk and the Derwent are prime examples. In some of the prime stretches of these rivers, you'd be lucky to find a couple of metres of bank to stand on. And there you'd have to stay, because there is no opportunity to wander up the bank.
Pre-kayak I had fished just such a spot on the Derwent near New Norfolk. Although I did see the odd small fish come within my casting range, the majority of the fish, especially the larger ones, were frustratingly out of range, slashing at schools of whitebait hard up against the willows. I now fish these spots from the kayak and can easily target the moving fish right up against the willows and reeds and cliff faces. My favourite method to do this is to troll a hard body lure such as a bibbed minnow while paddling upstream. Then paddle to the other side of the river and drift down that side while working a soft plastic stick bait along the edges. If the trout are working on the surface this can be exhilarating stuff, especially when you cast towards a rising fish and you cast lands just where you want it to and a few jigs and winds later you feel a powerful tug on the end of the line as a wild sea run trout smashes you lure. Things can get a bit interesting and testing here as the trout uses all the tactics in its arsenal to get off. Including heading for the snags around the bank such as any drowned timber, diving deep under your kayak looking for cover below and jumping and thrashing its head. This is exciting stuff and at times the fish will do all that and more, requiring good use of your rudder to help steer your boat towards the middle of the river. You may also have to place your rod deep into the water at times as the fish dives deep under you kayak.
Your kayak will also allow you to fish those spots where the beach is too shallow and the rocky shore around the edges of the beach is too dangerous or too awkward to fish. This will get you into some of the most productive flathead spots around our shores. I have fished countless spots like this from the shore where I have generally managed to catch a few flathead and maybe 10 or so on a good day. But fishing these same spots from the kayak has yielded at least 3 or 4 times this amount of fish in the same amount of time. Probably the major advantage of fishing from the kayak for flathead is that you can drift along slowly and bounce a bait or soft plastic along the bottom until a flathead engulfs it. Often this is the sign that you're over a patch of fish and you may catch a few in quick succession before things go quiet. A quick paddle will get you in position for another drift over the same spot. You can use a small sea anchor to slow your drift down when the wind is pushing you along too quickly.
Go where no boat can go
Even a boater can enjoy the benefits of a kayak. If not for the reasons already stated, then for the fact they can be used to get to places that are otherwise inaccessible by boat or land based angler. I have fished some small coastal rivers and lagoons, which are impossible to launch or use a boat in, and provide only a small area of shore available for the land based angler. There are some surprisingly large bream in some of these small waters, which provide great sport on light tackle. I vividly remember getting to the headwaters of one of these rivers, where I could hardly paddle any further as the river became as wide as the length of my kayak and was about half a metre deep. It was at that "one more cast" spot before I turned around, that I cast a lightly weighted soft plastic lure over the other side of a drowned log. I had to wind it in fairly quickly to avoid snagging up on the log. But suddenly my line started heading off at an angle as an agro bream grabbed it and headed for cover. A bit of creative side pressure on the rod was needed to get the fish out of the snags and give it the comfort lift into the yak for some photos before releasing it.
The whole experience
All of the features I've described make a kayak a great platform for getting waterborne while fishing. But wait there's more! It's the X factor. Paddling a kayak is a whole of body experience. You become a part of your kayak and a part of the environment. It can be incredibly peaceful paddling on glassy calm waters and yet fully invigorating when crashing through the waves in the surf. You're so close to the water that you feel a part of it. And the fish and other creatures often see you the same way. I have paddled with a few pods of dolphins, one in particular included some very curious dolphins who circled me at close range a few times while swimming on their sides so they could eyeball me. Totally awesome stuff! Then at other times I've observed at close range all sorts of fish from large eagle rays to schools of baby flathead and flounder in the shallows. For me this is one of the best things about kayak fishing. It's about being out there amongst the elements and getting immersed in it all - stalking fish, taking in your surrounds, catching a feed, having some fun and even getting some exercise.