Kayak Fishing Basics
If you’re used to fishing from shore or from an open boat, than you’ll probably find that fishing from a kayak is an entirely different experience. Kayak fishing is more like sitting in the water–not on top of it–and you’ll first want to master the fundamentals of paddling a kayak before you take off on your first extended trip. And unlike fishing from a larger boat, you don’t have the luxury of a motor when you’re out on a kayak–which is an important consideration, especially if you find yourself in a treacherous situation.
Here is a short list of the most important elements when learning the sport of kayak fishing:
Depending on where you’re paddling and the time of year, the weather is almost always your first consideration. And just because the weather is sunny and calm when you set out on your trip, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way all day.
The wind is probably the biggest challenge when you’re out in a kayak. Wind gusts of fifteen or twenty miles per hour can come out of nowhere, and cause you to work twice as hard to get where you’re going. Even traveling a short distance in a bay or on a lake can be physically draining. And winds of that speed can kick up waves that can potentially swamp a kayak. Make sure your paddling skills are in order before you set out on the open water.
It’s a good idea to check the weather reports before you launch, especially temperature, wind and tide forecasts. And bring along a good VHF radio to check for updates throughout the day. Weather systems can move in quickly, and often with only a few hours notice.
If you paddle in cold weather, then hypothermia is a real danger. Remember, you can develop hypothermia in 40 degree weather, especially if you’re wet and not dressed for the conditions. See the section on clothing below for more on dressing for cold weather paddling.
And the sun can be a problem if you don’t protect yourself, especially if you’re fair skinned and burn easily. Always cover any skin that you don’t want to burn, or wear a good amount of waterproof sunscreen. And a large-billed hat and UV-filtering sunglasses are a big help on a bright sunny day.
A good rule of thumb when kayak fishing is to always dress for immersion. Even if you’re a world-class paddler, you can’t count on staying dry–there’s just too many things that can happen out on the water.
If you’ll be paddling in warm weather, and on warm water, then you probably won’t need a wet suit or lots of extra clothing. A pair of long pants–preferably loose-fitting nylon or some other lightweight, breathable fabric. Same with a shirt–either long sleeved or short-sleeved–just make sure it’s loose-fitting and won’t restrict your arm movements.
If you’ll be launching in cold weather, then your clothing choices will be more critical. You’ll need clothes that retain body heat–especially around your torso–or you could end up with hypothermia very quickly. Some paddlers opt for a wetsuit top with a waterproof paddling jacket over the top and a pair of nylon or Gore-Tex pants.
The layer of clothing next to your skin should always be of a material that wicks water away from your body–unlike cotton, which holds water in (so leave that favorite pair of jeans at home). Then add an insulating layer or two over the top, and a waterproof layer over that. Another good idea is to bring along a spare set of clothing in a dry bag just in case you have to make a wet exit.
A Float Plan
A kayak fishing float plan doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but you definitely want to let someone know where you’re gonna be, especially if you’re paddling alone. We recommend always going out with a group of at least two, especially if you’ll be paddling in unknown areas or in treacherous weather. But if you do decide to go out alone, always tell your spouse or a relative where you’ll be, when you’ll be returning, and who to contact if you’re more than a few hours late.
Skills and Training
Just because you’re a good fisherman (or woman), and you’ve been fishing for years, doesn’t mean you won’t need some additional training when you take up the sport of kayak fishing.
Kayaking requires a unique set of skills if you want to launch and return safely, and your best bet might be to take lessons from a qualified instructor if you’re in doubt about your paddling abilities. There’s nothing worse than getting yourself into a situation out on the water that you’re not prepared to deal with.
You’ll need to learn at least the basics of launches (in calm water and in surf), landings, the proper paddling strokes, bracing, wet exits and re-entry, and how to rescue yourself and others in case of an accident. And practice a few capsizes and re-entering your boat before you stray far from shore, especially if you’ll be fishing in a closed-hull kayak.
In addition to the usual fishing gear, you’ll want a good PFD (personal flotation device) and a high-quality paddle (with a spare you can lash to the deck). With paddles, lighter is usually better. And don’t forget a paddle leash to keep from losing your paddle during a wet exit or other mishap.
A compass is another important item. And a portable waterproof VHF radio can be a lifesaver in an emergency. And you’ll want a bilge pump in case your boat gets swamped. Also bring along an air horn and flares for signaling others in an emergency, and a good first aid kit.
One of the things that many new to kayak fishing overlook is the physical demands of the sport. Paddling is a strenuous activity, especially in bad weather. Out on the water, in the middle of a squall with 30 mph crosswinds, is not the time to discover that you’re hopelessly out of shape. And don’t discount the demands of lifting your boat onto a roof rack or other carrier (twice), and carrying it to the launch, which could be some distance from where you parked your vehicle.
If you’re a fairly inactive person, it might we wise to see a doctor and get a physical before jumping on a kayak. This is doubly important if you have a medical condition or other health problem.
And finally, always be aware of your surroundings while out on the water. A kayak sits low in the water, and can be hard for others to see, especially from a high-profile speed boat. Buy a brightly-colored boat that’s easy to pick out from the background scenery, and make yourself as visible as possible. And never stray far from shore–especially by yourself–without the proper training and equipment.
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