Every year, winters sudden drop in temperature brings on feelings of excitement and anticipation for Rob Fort.
My preference is to head out on the water in the kayak for some fishing or diving because it can be the most challenging, yet rewarding, time of the year for these activities. Yes, there are more days on average when conditions are just too wild for time on the water, but it can also produce some of the most stunning moments. The fishing opportunities are what cause me to brave the elements, with trophy snapper on offer right up in the shallows, as well as around structures in deep water. Getting out in search of them can present a number of challenges, yet with the right mind-set and gear it can be a pleasant experience.
The colder months provide excellent opportunities for large snapper.
An inability to stay warm is one factor which stops a number of kayak anglers in their tracks during winter. The kayak leaves the user exposed to wind and water contact because it doesn’t provide any shelter. Accordingly, good materials are required to stay warm and protect the body. There are options to cater for all budgets, however, the most suitable can be more expensive. Investing in the right gear will pay off in the long term, providing many years of service if well cared-for.
At the minimum you should look at purchasing a suitable outer shell for the body that comprises of a dry pair of pants and a dry top. It’s a good idea to avoid nylon garments as this material won’t breathe which can cause overheating, unlike specialized clothing that uses technical materials. Most dry clothing offers wind protection and is waterproof because of a breathable material called GORE-TEX. GORE-TEX has microscopic holes in the membrane that allows heat to escape while also preventing water from penetrating the fabric.
The outer layer of dry clothing protection can be supplemented by the addition of warm layers that are worn underneath. If you are on a budget, this can consist of polypropylene garments which provide insulation yet dry quickly if water does make contact. If your budget allows then the best option is a product like Sharkskin technical watersport clothing. Sharkskin provide various options for the paddler but during winter any garments made entirely of the ‘Chillproof’ material are most suitable. The Chillproof material that has been developed for Sharkskin has a number of benefits due to its ability to provide three-way protection. This three-layer material has a water repellent outer layer and a membrane below that blocks out wind. The final layer on the inside is thermal, keeping the body warm while also wicking moisture away from the body. Sharkskin Chillproof material is able to do the jobs of many garments and also has the added bonus of being thin which allows the kayak angler to move freely. This is crucial to achieving maximum performance when paddling, pedalling and fishing. Although Sharkskin has water repellent abilities, experience has shown it’s best to use dry gear as well during heavy rain. If you are using a sit-on kayak that has you positioned against the deck, then dry pants are essential.
Your feet are also likely to suffer from the cold on the kayak so will need protection. Neoprene booties are perfect for the job. Booties with soft or hard soles provide protection from the elements, however, during winter the neoprene material may not be enough. Neoprene is not wind proof so wearing socks under them is one way of overcoming the chill factor. Three millimetre neoprene socks can provide further insulation, although the extra thickness can make the booties a tight fit.
The colder months are well worth heading out in for a kayak fish.
Gloves are also important during winter and will aid in keeping your fingers working. The types used during summer may not provide adequate protection at this time of year. Once again, Sharkskin is a good option, but purpose-made neoprene fishing or diving gloves with soft suede leather palms can also be used.
At certain times the head may also require extra protection. Beanies can work well when worn with other types of headwear. A jacket with a hood incorporated or a wide-brimmed hat can also provide shelter to the head. Face shields are excellent for keeping the neck and face areas protected.
With the body now fully protected it’s time to put this gear through its paces. Good gear doesn’t come cheap but after doing many winters it’s easy to justify the expense when it’s still performing ten years down the track.
Good cleaning practices are necessary to keep all that hi-tech clothing working well. The most important is the removal of any salt residue and soiling from fish contact. As far as the fish soiling goes, it’s best to clean it off on the water as it happens. Once back at home remove anything still on the surface and then completely immerse the clothing in a bath of fresh water. It’s also a good idea to use products like Salt Away to remove any salt build-up that can form in the microscopic holes of materials used in dry gear. It’s amazing where salt can build up so doing this can really make a difference to the lifespan of all your apparel. Neoprene booties will also require extra cleaning. By disinfecting them periodically any bacteria that can build up will be removed. Gloves are going to require the most cleaning because of the amount of contact with fish. Soaking them for extended periods to remove unpleasant smells can be necessary.
During winter conditions can change quite quickly so it is best to have a handle on what’s likely to happen. Checking the weather forecast is the only way to ascertain if conditions are going to be favourable for kayak fishing. It’s also a good idea to study a couple of weather websites plus the ‘nowcasting’, if available, on VHF marine radio. The ‘nowcasting’ is particularly useful because it gives current wind strengths. Know what your limits are as far as the conditions go and be cautious if a rising wind is on the horizon. Plan your trip to allow for changing conditions and be back on shore before the bad weather turns up. Choose locations that offer shelter when winds are up and use caution when offshore winds are likely. You are the best gauge when it comes to making decisions, so if in doubt head back to shore.
Kayaks ready for a short window of weather to fish for snapper.
Winter weather can challenge a kayak angler but with the right gear you are better prepared for the next step, which is, of course, getting your line in the water. When that line-pulling snapper is on and playing dirty it makes the effort all worth it.
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