Kayak Fishing and Softbaits - the perfect combination!

Kayaks and softbaits are so well suited to each other for a number of reasons. Firstly a fishing kayak is like a stealth bomber and moves through the water without being detected by most fish life. Softbait fishing involves casting and retrieving a scented lure type bait which, when worked properly, is imitating a wounded fish. 

The obvious advantages are that you can actively move around, hunt down your prey with this style of fishing in mind and present the softbaits into areas were fish are either feeding or resting up. That includes places like in the shallows where kayaks can safely navigate and getting in close around structures can also be an special advantage kayaks have over other methods of fishing. 

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When kayak fishing you don't want to be leaching any bait scents out from your scupper holes as this can attract unwanted visitors like sharks. Softbaits have a number of advantages over traditional baits. There’s no mess and no smelly hands, you don't have to pre-cut your baits before you go out and also berley can be excluded if you know were to find the fish. All of that eliminates any unnecessary risk of extra attention from “The large men in the grey or brown suits”.

snapper on a softbait from a kayakMinimum amounts of tackle are needed and the softbaits are in small easily stored bags so further reducing the amount gear required. Even the rods and reels are relatively small and light weight. The variety of baits that you can carry without taking up much space is a real plus compared to the amount of normal bait you normally would need and also softbaits keep well so you can go away on an adventure without being concerned about your pilchards going mushy over a day or two.

Setting your kayak up for Softbait fishing

When targeting fish using softbaits it is recommended that you use specific equipment that for the type of fishing you will be doing.

john dory from a kayakAs with most kayak fishing the need to have the correct type of kayak (i recommend Ocean Kayaks as they are the leading manufacturer of sit on top fishing kayaks ), anchor, sea anchor (drogue) and stainless hook (for mussel farm) along with a running rig anchoring system. Also of benefit if wanting to fish unknown territory is to have a good sounder so you can locate good structure and fish life to target with your softbaits. Another useful piece of equipment is a GPS, if not included with your sounder a handheld unit is quite sufficient and can be helpful if drift fishing with drogue so you can track your drift line.

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When fish are located you can mark them on the GPS and return to the spot again or drift the same line. If drifting in shallow water it might be better to turn your sounder off, as this can effect the behaviour of the fish, making them less willing to attack your softbait. You will also need a scotty triple T bar rod holder to carry the required rods needed. Always make sure you have the correct safety equipment, PFD (lifejacket), VHF marine radio or cellphone at the least and first aid kit when kayak fishing.   

Terminal tackle

kingfish from a kayakStarting with the rod and reel it is recommended that you purchase good quality gear due to the fact that you will be using equipment that needs to be light weight and appropriate for the active style of fishing involved. The rod/reel will have to perform well, have a smooth drag system and be able to handle large fish.

The rod as with most kayak rods should not be to long and ideally be around 5'10" to 6"0". There are two options as far as rods go and these are dependant on your ability and budget. If first starting out softbait fishing from a kayak then the ABU Garcia Ultracast 2 piece 4-6 kg medium action rod with short butt is a good choice. If you are more experienced then you can't go past the Berkley Dropshot series BDS601 6-10kg Tropical Spin graphite rod with short butt is more than adequate and has a bit more strength than similar type graphite rods. Both these specialized rods for kayaks are available from Go Kayak NZ Ltd. Combine this with the ABU Garcia Cardinal reel and you are onto a winning combination.

snapper from a kayakThe reason for the reel choice is simple these reels have drag systems totally sealed with rubber washers and O-rings an important requirement for a kayak. Because when used in these conditions reels do come in contact with a lot of water splashes on a regular basis. On the reel you can back fill with 8lb mono and on top of this use Berkley fireline 8lb (4kg) which is a braid type line. Braid is critical in successful softbait fishing as you need to be constantly in touch with you’re your bait to feel the take and set the hook at the right time.

To tie the braid to the mono use the back to back double uni knot. Then on the end of the Fireline you will need to double the line with a  40 to 50 turn bimini twist. Once you have done this you will need to connect your trace. It is recommended you use fluorocarbon trace, the Berkley Vanish 20lb or 25 lb fluorocarbon is a good choice and tie this to the doubled Fireline braid using the 5 turn surgeon knot. Lastly the business end of the rig, the jig head, which come in a variety of weight and hook sizes.

My personal favourite is the Berkley Nitro 3/8 jig heads these are a good all round size for most types of fishing. Tie this to the fluorocarbon trace using the lefty's loop, this allows the jig head and softbait to swing around freely. Match up your jighead weight for the conditions and depth. The slower the sink rate you can achieve the better, however it is important to be able to get to the bottom as that’s where the snapper tend to be most of the time. Be ready for a take on the way down however as often you’ll get one as the softbait sinks.

kayak fishingIt is important that you become familiar with using the correct knots, so get the proper information on how to tie them. It is a good idea to have two rod setups as previously described and the reason for this is that you can pick up the other rod if you have a bust off and continue fishing, this can be really beneficial when it is running hot as you might miss out because of the time it can take to re-tie your new rig.

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Carry your spare tackle in a Berkley Softbait pouch and have a good range of different size jig heads along with a spool of Vanish fluorocarbon, Braid scissors and a selection of softbaits. Your preference to the softbaits is up to you, but a good idea is to have the 5" Jerk Shads in various colours along with some 4" Swimming Mullet to name just a couple.     

Finding your prey

When it comes to finding your target there are a number of different types of terrain you can fish. This can range from structure (pinnacles), to shallow calm waters, white water wash, deep drop offs, mussel farms – all good places to start.

The techniques for softbaits

snapper on a soft plastic from a kayakSoftbait fishing as mentioned previously is an active form of fishing. A good method is to cast, flick the rod tip upwards and wind up the slack, then flick, wind etc till the rig is retrieved back to you, repeat.  To be successful you must work the lure and what you are trying to do, is replicate a wounded bait fish. This in turn will bring out the predatory instinct of fish resulting in some larger than normal hits. 

Hook ups

The most important part to softbait fishing is to always keep in touch with your lure and this is made easier with the use of the braided line. With Berkley Fireline the line diameter is a lot thinner than nylon, so there’s less wind and water resistance. I have tried other brands of braid but in my opinion Fireline is the best suited braid for this style of fishing. The braid, unlike nylon has little or no stretch and this allows you to keep in touch with what is happening, allowing you to feel every movement on the end of your line.  Fish will often hit your softbait on the way down, so if this happens you must be ready to strike immediately, do this by flicking the bail arm over and lifting the rod tip at the same time.

Make sure you have your drag set correctly as larger than average fish will often go for the softbait lures and if done up to tight you may be bust off with the sudden pressure exerted by the fish. Be sure when playing your fish not to lift the rod vertically so as to high stick the rod, this will result in snapping the rod tip off and a good fish lost.

Handling fish kayak side

kayak fishingThis part of the fishing can make or break every other part of the fishing effort you have applied to catching your fish. Firstly don't be in to much of a hurry to get your fish up from below, wear the fish out by playing it slowly so that when it does come up the fish doesn’t have so much fight in it. If you are using a graphite rod this is especially important because the last thing you want is the fish struggling hard at the surface and kicking hard downwards causing you to hi stick the rod.

Loading up your rod in this way will cause your rod to snap at the tip. When you have tired the fish out then you must decide what you are going to do with it (keep or release). Some kayakers use a net to secure the fish and then there is the gaff both work well and the choice is your own preference.   If a gaff is used it should never be connected to the kayak with a langyard.  A float should be attached to the end of the handle, should it fall off the kayak and can be retrieved. If you’re bringing it onboard to keep (Iki) or remove the hook and release have a damp towel handy to wrap the fish to minimise damage to the fish itself and keep spikes out of important parts of your anatomy.

Storing your catch

go kayak nzOnce your catch had been landed and dispatched it should be placed on to a stringer.  A stringer consists of a stainless steel thread rod connected to a length of cord with snap clips at both ends.  The thread rod will need to be positioned in a handy location, on the cockpit edge near your hip is a good place. The second clip at the end of the cord can be clipped to a saddle fitting located at the rear of your well.  Disconnecting the stainless thread rod and inserting it through the gills and out of the mouth of your catch and then reconnecting the thread rod to your kayak will have your catch well secured should you capsize.  

kayak fishingThis also aids in the movement of your catch from your lap to the well area by simply sliding the fish down the cord until it flips in to the well. 

An insulated well cover will then protect your catch from the heat of the day.  Salt ice or a frozen bottle of water in the well keep the fish in top condition ready for your dinner table.

Tightlines and enjoy fishing from a kayak!


Written by Rob Fort and Jackie Dainton from Go Kayak NZ LTD



 An original article written for The Fishing Website - Fishing.net.nz Ltd

It may not be re-published elsewhere without express permission.

Copyright Fishing.net.nz Ltd. All rights reserved 


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