Fishing Deeper Waters from a Kayak

Spring - at this time of the year my calendar normally has as many weekends as possible blocked out in anticipation of the snapper run.

Light tackle is tuned and grab bags made ready to take advantage of any weather window to hit Bream Bay, the Bay of Islands or Doubtless Bay. The attraction of having large, fit snapper dragging rod tips deep into the water beside the kayak usually has me thinking of little else (much to the irritation of some colleagues I work with!).

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This year it’s a little different, though. With the exception of a trip wide of Cuvier Island and a few drops at moderate depths, it’s been a long time since I’ve kayak-fished waters where baits and lures need more than a couple of minutes to reach the required depth. For a change of pace this spring, we’re going to focus on the challenges of fishing deeper waters.

To kick things off, we’ve booked a mother-ship trip with Rick Pollock aboard Pursuit. If the weather will allow, the plan is to get the kayaks out to White Island for a look at the spring run of big kingfish, then perform some drops on one or two of the many knolls for bluenose, hapuku or other deep water ooglies. It may even be possible to add to the list of species caught from kayaks in New Zealand waters.

Another attraction of this trip will be the opportunity to put a secret weapon through its paces: a new kayak that’s been designed with mother-ship trips in mind. The culmination of more than 12 months of work, it will be great to see it in action doing battle on heavy gear (test paddles have already proven it more than capable).

As mentioned back in September, we’re also looking at paddle-from-shore deep water missions. The plan is to head out from Lottin Point or Hicks Bay to try for bluenose on the drop-off. Last time I fished wide of Lottin Point (reported in the August 2009 issue of NZ Fishing News) I only dropped one bait, and was promptly taken on a Nantucket sleigh ride over the drop before finally being spooled. This is unfinished business, and I have a few new tricks to try!

Tackling up

Since my last true deep-water missions, I’ve had opportunities to put a few theories to the test, resulting in changes being made to my approach in some areas. In a nutshell, it’s all about the fact we’re fishing from kayaks rather than bigger craft, which gives us a few advantages and disadvantages compared to fishing from larger boats.

By far the biggest difference is that we’re much easier to tow around. Talk to any kayak angler and you’ll get stories of how even modest fish drag us about – that’s part of what makes this sport so exciting. When fishing shallow water, this is of huge benefit, as it allows us to quickly get over the top of a fish, reducing line angles and minimizing the risk of a reefing.

In deep water the ability to wind the kayak on top of a fish and keep it there, is less about staying out of structure and more about keeping in contact with your catch. This becomes very important with fish like hapuku, which can float off hooks if sufficient pressure isn’t maintained. It also means that kayaks tend to stay close over the top of the fish throughout, unlike bigger boats on breezy days, which can drift a long way by the time the catch surfaces.

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Another huge advantage is that we’re able to drop slightly lighter gear, as we’re not fighting the drift of a larger vessel in addition to the fish hooked on the end of the line. As a result, while I still have a 37kg braid outfit for extreme fishing, most of my deep water rigs are a mixture of 24kg and 15kg line classes. After more than two years fishing these lighter classes out to 150m, I have yet to suffer a bust-off. Yes, I’ve occasionally been reefed, but in those situations it wouldn’t have mattered if I was fishing 37kg – or even 60kg; these fish would still have had me amongst the stones with little chance of staying attached.

So what’s the benefit of fishing lighter lines in deep water? For a start, I find getting baits and lures to the depth required is often much faster. This makes it easier to stay on the mark or calculate how far you need to be up-current to ensure your terminal gear ends up on the spot. It also means much less work is expended when winding up to re-bait or reset for another drift (this is especially important when doing paddle-from-shore missions, as you need to conserve enough energy for the paddle home).

Using lighter lines also makes it possible to fish deep water with smaller reels. The increase in braid capacity dropping from 37kg to 24kg is very significant, and makes it possible for anglers to use reels they may already have on hand. This helps make trips more affordable, as there’s no need to purchase specialized sets that will only be used occasionally.

Rigs and breakaways

One disadvantage with fishing from kayaks is our limited lifting power. While our mobility on the water can reduce the chance of getting fouled, sometimes there’s no substitute for sheer brute force. When bottom bouncing beyond 200 metres, there’s a temptation to put down multiple hooks (if one bait gets stolen there are still others working for you), but in this situation there’s also the serious risk of a multiple hook-up.

The classic example is some of the commercial three- to five-hook bluenose rigs available. A single 8-15kg fish from 200 metres is easily manageable (though work enough); a double hook-up is going to have you build up a real sweat by the time your catch hits the surface. Having more than two serious fish on at the same time could well see you unable to budge them, especially if they happen to be hapuku or bass. For this reason I keep my rigs to a two-hook maximum when targeting bluenose and gemfish, and single hooks when targeting bigger species.

Another absolutely essential addition to my rigs is a breakaway for the sinker. It need be nothing more than a heavy rubber band or a loop of 6-8kg mono. I have to admit to a very embarrassing battle, spending a good 15 minutes ‘fighting’ a reef in really deep water. There was enough oceanic swell to take line off me, which I’d then battle back on the reel, only to lose it again to another ‘run’ a couple of minutes later. It took me the 15 minute battle to work out it was simply the same piece of line going backwards and forwards in time with the swells!

Locking up for several minutes resulted in nothing more than the kayak moving on top of the ocean, and when the sinker finally popped free, I wound both baits back to the surface. I was one very puffed angler staring at a badly scratched sinker, while kicking myself for all that wasted energy.

Egg-beaters and free-spools

This has become a perennial question following the advent of strong, reliable fixed-spool reels with the drag performance and line capacity for the job. I confess to preferring free-spool reels on kayaks for two main reasons:

Since the line feeds off the spool without the loose loops of a fixed-spool, you have much better sensitivity for detecting bites on the way down.
As free-spool reels sit on top of the rod, it’s much easier to use the top of your thigh as a rod rest during battles. This takes pressure off arms and back, and helps conserve
energy for paddling.

The big appeal of fixed-spool reels is that they’re virtually impossible to overrun (birds-nest), and there’s no need to lay the line evenly on the spool. When fighting long battles that involve lifting fish from the depths, not having to lay line evenly is a huge advantage, allowing anglers to grip further up the rod for more leverage, and allowing the use of a straight arm to take the strain off tired muscles.

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The negative with having a fixed-spool reel hanging below the rod is that care must be taken in the close confines of a kayak to ensure the low-spinning bail arm doesn’t contact anything. 

It’s not always about the glamour species: the humble gemfish is fun on lighter line and makes great table fare.

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

November 2014 - by Stephen Tapp
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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