Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Advice: 5 Tips for Kayak Fishing (once in a while)

Kayak fishing has grown into a popular subcategory of kayaking activities. Many folks who ordinarily would not be kayakers have come into the sport specifically to fish. The advantages of not having to purchase or maintain a powered boat, or to rely on paid excursions - plus the capacity to access areas where powered boats can't go is appealing to many fishermen/women. In most cases that results in the purchase of a fishing-specific sit-on-top kayak. These are wide, stable, built with multiple rod holder locations, and typically have some flat deck space to carry coolers, bait boxes, tackle boxes, etc. All of these features make sense if your primary intention for kayaking is to catch fish. Some of these fishing kayaks even come with an insert that fits a pedal driven propulsion system into the middle of the kayak - keeping hands free to manage a rod, while not needing to paddle for forward movement (great for trolling a few lines behind you as you go). The down side of these fishing-specific kayaks are that they are heavy, slow over long distances, expensive (depending on how they're fitted out and whether used or new), and probably not "rollable" - if you tip over, you will have to climb back on board, and getting that heavy kayak reoriented will not be easy. This could be a safety issue in very cold water (see my post Safety is a Mindset).

But, what if you're only interested in fishing from your kayak "once in while"?. I have done so on several occasions, accompanied by my kayak fishing partner in crime, Mike. Mike has the full fishing-specific rig (minus a propulsion system - he just paddles), which comes in handy for holding an extra rod I can use, plus a cooler on his back deck. I am on my Sea Dart sit-on-top kayak most times, but have also been inside a closed hull touring style sea kayak (see my post Which Kayak Should I Buy?). How do I manage that? As I mentioned, I have the good fortune of fishing with a true kayak fisherman, so I can take advantage of some of the features of his boat. However, I use some tactics that could be helpful for the kayaker who does not have the benefit of such an arrangement:

1. How are you going to transport your fishing rod? This may seem simple, but it's not. It's not a good idea, in general, to get your reel wet with salt water. It's going to happen at some point, but minimizing that occurrence, and keeping your reel from getting dunked, if possible, is a good idea. You can stow your rod underneath deck lines, you can have it partially disassembled inside your cockpit, or you can stow it disassembled in your dry storage/flotation compartments. All of these are reasonable choices, but all of them make accessing your fishing rod difficult when you're on the water. You would be best to stop somewhere to get your rod set up, then proceed back onto the water (maybe with the exception of the deck line storage). Otherwise, you're looking at installing a fishing rod holder assembly.

2. How are you going to hold/manage your fishing rod while paddling? This is where real decisions have to be made. Fishing rod holders come in various designs that include deck mounted options, or options that penetrate the deck and reside inside the cavity of the boat. Each has it's advantages and disadvantages, not the least of which is adding penetrations through your deck - either with the screws or the holder itself. These can be leak points, and need to be sealed thoroughly when the rod holders are installed. Some deck mount assemblies have a couple of parts to them, so most of the assembly can be easily removed when it's not needed. Some deck mounting systems are modular, so you can attach something like a cup holder instead of a rod holder when you want to. How often you will be fishing, and what type of rod holder is right for you deserves consideration. The simplest method, which I have used, is to unbuckle the top buckle of your PFD (life jacket), and slide the rod handle inside the front. This can work if your PFD fits snugly - but take caution to keep the reel away from your face with the handle away from you, so it doesn't whack you if you get a bite. And remember, if you do go for a rod holder make sure to mount it where you can comfortably reach it from your seated position. Sit in or on your boat and play with the motions of releasing your paddle and grabbing the rod handle to (hopefully 😏) reel in a fish. This will help you properly locate the rod holder, so you don't mistakenly create any unnecessary deck penetrations.     

3. What will you do with your paddle? You only have 2 hands, which will both be required to reel in a fish - one to hold the rod, the other to turn the reel handle. So, no hands will be available to hold your paddle. If you have a dependable paddle leash, you can just toss your paddle into the water, and pull it back in after you have the fish caught (and released most times - be a good steward). If you're dexterous, you might be able to slide your paddle blade under deck rigging before attending to your bent rod and spinning reel, but you have to be quick - a big striped bass can pull you on a "sleigh ride", and maybe even pull you off balance. I like having my paddle quickly accessible to deal with any unforeseen issues, like getting pulled into a boat lane for instance. So, you might want to consider a paddle holder system. Like rod holders, there are many designs and configurations - just make sure anything screwed in gets sealed, and that your paddle is held securely, but still easily retrievable. 

4. Where will you keep additional gear? Sure, you can stow tackle, bait, pliers, a knife to cut line, and any other gear that makes baiting a hook, or getting the fish off your hook, possible in a storage compartment. But, will you have easy access to these items when you need them? You will need them secured to your boat, but accessible - which probably calls for some kind of deck bag storage. Most deck bags can be rigged to your deck lines temporarily - so they won't be in the way when you don't need them. As with the rod holder location, play with your deck bag location to see what works best. You might want it closer to you than you'd otherwise think, to make for quicker access to items as you need them.

5. Understand that you have added complexity. Paddling a kayak in ocean or river conditions can be challenging enough. Adding the complexity of managing a fishing rod, casting your line, abandoning your paddle temporarily, unhooking the fish for release - all without catching the hook on your earlobe...well that's another level altogether. Maintaining balance and your location awareness should you hook a big one is a new kind of challenge. But when you get that fish in, and realize you were much closer to the action by being right on the water, you'll know why you came. Just take the time to think it through beforehand, and set your gear up in a way that makes sense. Then, you won't have to think about it when you're in the middle of that "sleigh ride", and you and the fish can meet somewhere in the middle.

I'm not a big fisherman, but I do like to take the occasional fishing excursion with my kayak. It adds another dimension of enjoyment to the overall kayaking experience. I will never be able to manage more than one line in the water at a time with my boat, but that's OK with me. Truth be told, most of the time kayak fishing is a reason for Mike and I to get together out on the water. Trolling lines through a wide marsh river for stripers is a great excuse to watch the birds, listen to the wind, and watch for that rod tip to bend. If it does, then the real fun starts - even with "schoolies" like this one... 

Catching a small striped bass on the Hampton River in New Hampshire
Catching a "schoolie" sized striper on the Hampton River

- TB on the Water       




Unknown said...

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TB on the Water said...

Thanks for the heads up on Chrome issues. I use chrome as my primary browser, and have viewed my blog on it - I haven't been able to replicate any problems, either with desktop or mobile. Were you using a desktop or mobile version?

- TB on the Water

Kate said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us! These tips are truly helpful, I definitely need to show them to my husband. He always has got so many troubles with his kayak fishing. Maybe you can also give us a piece of advise as to choosing the best model of a pedal kayak? You may navigate here to find out the models we like. What do you think about them?

TB on the Water said...

Hi Kate,

Thanks for the compliment! Unfortunately, i don't have any experience using pedal driven kayaks, although I have checked a couple out. The pedal mechanisms can be pretty heavy. Were I looking to purchase one, I might consider the following: 1. how heavy is the kayak overall, and how heavy is the pedal mechanism in particular? 2. How complicated is the pedal mechanism - how likely is it that parts will fail over time? 3. How much draft under the kayak will I need to accommodate the pedal drive? 4. How complicated will it be to transport and launch the kayak with the pedal drive in use? 5. What are my options for using the kayak without the pedal drive in use?

I would definitely consider taking a couple models for a test drive if possible, and maybe consider which model has the best resale value should you decide it's ultimately not for you. Also, consider how you might manage multiple lines in the water, as you will surely be able to troll with at least 3 lines going.

Best of luck in your search, and on the end of your line!

- TB on the Water