Yak Fishing Kit - How to keep safe and warm on a Tassie Yak

John Pollard
Kayaks have boomed in Tasmania-especially over the last year, but with our fickle weather we do need to keep comfortable in a variety of conditions. John Pollard looks at what you need.

We are absolutely blessed in Tassie; we truly get our fair share of all four seasons: summer, autumn, winter and spring-quite often in the same day! All jokes aside we do have at times weather that can be very unpredictable, not just on the saltwater but even on the enclosed waters of the lakes and rivers.
This can present a bit of a problem for the Tassie yak fisherman, what do "you wear on the water?" I used to be dazzled by the enormous range of clothing designed for fishing available in Australia, and then I started fishing from a kayak. The choices just about doubled and every week it seems a new product is hitting the Australian market from the US, Europe or more to my taste Aussie made.

The first piece of clothing to look at is your PFD, which in its self can come in an astounding range of options; inflatable, vest style, harness style, PFD1 or 2 or even 3.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD) Type 1 - must comply with Australian Standard AS 1512. This will be clearly marked inside of the PFD, they also offer head support and greater buoyancy than other PFDs. They are also usually made from highly visible colours. Some inflatable PFDs on the market also meet this standard.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD) Type 2 - must comply with Australian Standard AS 1499. This will be clearly marked inside the PFD, they are normally manufactured in high visibility colours, but do not offer any head support. According to Marine and Safety Tasmania a PFD Type 2 may be substituted for a PFD Type 1 when operating in Smooth Waters".
Personal Flotation Device (PFD) Type 3 - must comply with Australian Standard AS 2260. Their buoyancy rating is often similar to that of a PFD Type 2, but does not meet the Australian Standards Association high visibility colour requirements. According to MAST "a PFD 3 can be worn by operators of kayaks, PWCs in sheltered waters and people being towed in the water".
PFDs in my book are a mandatory piece of kit and should not be ignored under any circumstances. Sure if you get the wrong one it may feel uncomfortable but, it still can and will save your life! In my research finding particular rules for PFDs and Kayaks is not easy. MAST produces a very good brochure with basic tips which includes the safety tip of "always wear a PFD (lifejacket)". MAST also state on their website that "A PFD 3 can be worn by operators of kayaks, PWCs in sheltered waters and people being towed in the water." (from their website at www.mast.tas.gov.au follow the links to Recreational Boating, Kayak or Canoe Safety Tips)
So let's first look at the extremely popular inflating style PFDs and at your choice of craft, a kayak. The thing about kayaks is, they are long and in most cases narrow. Which means despite how stable they feel when you are sitting still in one, or have got a regular pattern of paddling going, they do have the potential to roll. From personal experience this first happened to me when I was innocently trying to place a rod in my rear rod holder, I have one of the most stable and widest yaks on the market. Yet all it took was leaning a little too much to one side and splash I was in the water with an upside down yak and my kit floating all over the place. So what's my point here? If I had been wearing a "self-inflating" style of PFD it would have most likely gone off and blown it's self up, now the fact of the matter is I was only in five feet of water so my feet could easily touch the bottom. This would mean the PFD had gone off for no real reason and I would need to get my PFD recharged.
So that would obviously mean then that I recommend getting a "manual inflation" style PFD, well oddly enough yes and no. If I had been in relatively shallower water with a rocky bottom and hit my head on a rock, thereby knocking myself out I could quite probably have drowned and not be writing this article right now. I think the technology involved in the inflatable style PFDs is brilliant and in my opinion is best suited to being used on boats and larger vessels. I also strongly believe that they should all be self inflating, but that's a whole other debate. If you do choose to use an inflatable PFD on your yak, make sure it complies with Australian Standards AS 1512 (PFD Type 1) and keep up your manufacturer recommended maintenance of it.
So that brings us to the "traditional style" PFD, whether rated at PFD 1, 2, or 3. In my research finding particular rules for PFDs and Kayaks is not easy. MAST produces a very good brochure with basic tips which includes the safety tip of "always wear a PFD (lifejacket)". MAST also state on their website that "A PFD 3 can be worn by operators of kayaks, PWCs in sheltered waters and people being towed in the water."
Personally I have own two PFDs for my yak fishing, a PFD 1 and a PFD 2, though the vast majority of my fishing is done on "sheltered waters" (small bays, creeks and rivers) so my PFD 2 sees far more use than the other.
The PFD 1 has one very distinct advantage over the PFD 2, head support. One incident that every kayaker, whether yak fisherman, sea kayaker or pleasure yakker, is conscious of is the possibility of being hit by a boat, which is why we recommend high visibility coloured clothing and flags to all kayakers. I could not find a recorded incident of it every happening in Tassie and it should never happen, to quote our boating rules (powerboat): "No boat shall exceed a speed of 5 knots when within 60 metres of a wharf, jetty, mooring, the shoreline or other boat"
That "other boat" comment is defined as including sailing boats, canoes, kayak and rafts; however as we all know there are people who know all the rules that apply and adhere to them. Then there are people who either don't or choose to ignore them, either way there is a risk from both groups. Let's face it we sit in a craft which, though it is long as an average tinny, only sits 6 inches out of the water and can easily be hidden by a slight swell. It's not likely to happen, but if it does the likelihood of being knocked unconscious is there. With a PFD 1's head support you will have a better chance of survival in this rare and unlikely event.
My one tip whether you decide a PFD 1 or 2, or even both, make sure they are a high visibility colour. It is our responsibility as masters of our water craft to be as safe as possible, and also our responsibility to get home safely to our families. The more we make ourselves visible to other water craft users the more chance we have of being safe.
Specialty kayak fishing PFDs are also now abundant in the market place, they are easy to identify as they have a high back to accommodate the yak's seat, these PFDs are usually Type 2 or 3. They also come with an array of storage pouches; mesh pockets zip pockets and attachments. If I just wanted to dedicate myself to soft plastic fishing, I wouldn't take a tackle box with me as I could fit almost everything I need in my PFD pockets. I did an inventory after a trip one day to see what I was carrying:
- 5 packets of soft plastic lures
- 8 spare jig heads in an old film canister
- a 50 m roll of 10 lb leader line
- a pocket knife
- an emergency whistle
- my mobile phone in a waterproof satchel
- my camera
- braid scissors
- a squid jig (with barb case), and drum roll please
- an empty Mars bar wrapper (you get hungry out there sometimes)
(It's all there, except camera which I was using and the Mars bar wrapper, but I usually do take a couple of snack type items with me.)
Both the mobile and camera are attached to the PFD with a lanyard. There was still plenty of room left in the pockets and I am sure I could also fit a small lure container, with about 4 lures in it, in there if I wanted. My PFD 1 has none of these options, which is probably another reason I don't use it, unless I am heading out onto open water. However if there is a chance of a change in conditions I will take the PFD 1 stored in my hull just in case.
If you are taking kids out with you on a kayak, I recommend that they wear a PFD 1, as it will provide the best support in the water. It is also worth your while to teach them how to float themselves in a PFD and also make sure they have a whistle as well.
Okay so you can't just wear a PFD on your yak, of course there are certain beaches you can get away with that but let's not go there. As I mentioned at the start of the article we can have a variety of weather in one day, my best advice for going out in a yak is where what you think will suit most of the day's expected weather. Also remember your yak usually has storage options so take a dry bag with a polar fleece top in it and a change of clothes.

On your body
As far as clothing goes it down to personal choice, in the warmer months I wear a pair of light weight, quick drying pants and a fishing shirt, such as a Columbia or Kokoda fishing shirt. In autumn or winter I wear a "long john" style wetsuit, where as some of my fellow yakkers go for the complete dry suit and others choose waders (I'll cover this option in some detail below), plus I still wear the shirt as well. As far as the shirt goes look for something that offers sun protection, many fishing shirts these days have a UPF rating of 30 or higher.
Wetsuits are tight (or snug) fitting, you basically just wear briefs underneath and they can be fun to get both in and out of, well okay fun probably isn't the best choice of words but it fits. The warmth factor is controlled by your own body heat affecting the small amount of water that penetrates the suit and you will need a change of clothes to get into once you get out of the water. I have been out in my favourite stretch of water in mid July wearing the wetsuit and not felt cold in the slightest. A well fitted wetsuit will keep you quite warm, despite being wet. Another distinct advantage is that they are relatively cheap, around $200 for a tailor made suit. If you do decide to go with a wetsuit, get your manufacturer to install a fly, just trust me on this it's well worth while. Oh yeah and they aren't necessarily the most flattering outfit to wear, especially if you are like me a bit on the biggish side of the line.
Unlike wet suits, dry suits are quite loose fitting, pretty comfortable to move around in and very easy to get on and off. You control your warmth with the clothing layer or layers you wear under the dry suit. The dry suit keeps your clothing dry but it doesn't provide much insulation in or of itself. This for me is the one drawback of a dry suit, if you over do the layers underneath, once you are out on the water it's a bit of a chore to fix the problem, especially if you are heading out onto open water. Dry suits are something you will need to spend a lot of time researching as they are an expensive piece of kit with prices starting at about $700 and upwards. They are however money well spent, if there is one thing that I do envy some of my yak fishing colleagues having, it is a Dry suit.
Now for the controversial option of waders! This is one of the most hotly debated topics in not only the Australian kayak fishing fraternity but also overseas in the USA as well. Search any kayak fishing forum, such as www.akff.net and you will find heated debate about wearing waders on a kayak. Yak fishermen in the States have even gone to the lengths of creating YouTube videos on the topic, search www.youtube.com with the words "waders" and "kayak" and you will find a few videos of people testing the theories.
I am no expert on the subject, but from the videos I have seen and the debate I have participated in on the subject, I am still torn on this option. However if you choose to wear waders on a kayak, you do so at your own risk. Make sure you know every safety recommendation there is for what happens if you fall into deep water wearing waders. One thing that does seem to be true however; you really should invest in a good set of waders. Not specifically for the kayak but also for wading, it's just as easy to slip into deep water from a lakes edge, as it is to fall out of a kayak.

As far as foot wear is concerned I wear wetsuit booties, they are comfortable and offer reasonable protection from spiky fish that may end up in your foot well or a rock lined shore or sea bed. Alternatively "Crocs" are becoming a popular choice especially when it is warmer, and then there are the various ranges of quick draining footwear designed with boaties and fishermen in mind. When fishing from a yak almost anything is better than bare feet or thongs.

What to wear on your head is just as important as the rest of your body, you will loose body heat from the top of you head quite quickly despite the rest of you being rugged up. So in the colder months wear something warm and waterproof, there is nothing worse than a soggy cold hat. In the warmer months go for something with a wide bream forget the baseball cap, it only does about a quarter of the job as the back of your neck is going to get rather burnt. Legionnaire's style caps are a good choice and the very popular "Arafat" cap is a very good option.

I am one of those lucky people, I don't really feel the cold all that much, some say it may have something to with an extra layer of insulation but I reckon I am just lucky. The only time I wear gloves is when I am handling fish that I am going to release, but I usually have a pair of neoprene gloves with me on the yak especially in the colder months just in case. You can also get light weight Gore-Tex type material gloves for sun protection or specialty kayaking gloves. What ever you do don't neglect this area of your body; it's hard to paddle with cold hands and fingers.

It doesn't matter if it's warm or cold, your eyes still need some form of protection, the glare off of the water can be quite bright and can in extreme cases it can cause some eye damage. A good pair of polaroid glasses will help with finding those elusive fish. One thing with eye wear, use a restraining device of some sort, I have lost a couple of pairs over board and it can get quite expensive.

John Pollard

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