Kayak Fishing is an adventure on so many different levels: sneaking up on a big fish, getting right in amongst the rocks and, of course, there's the 'Neptunes's sleigh ride" after hooking the big ones and getting dragged all over the ocean.
There’s also the fun of exploring all sorts of new waters by making use of a kayak’s portability; it’s easy to throw a kayak onto roof racks and head off to new launch sites accessing magical locations.
Possibly the ultimate adventure is to load kayaks onto a larger boat. This greatly increases our range by cutting paddling times, and allows paddlers of varying fitness levels to experience kayak fishing they couldn’t otherwise access.
Another advantage is having the safety of a support boat nearby. This makes it possible to push the boundaries a little, and provided good communication is maintained with the mother ship skipper, it can be all adventure and no stress.
Thirdly, mother shipping allows us to make use of much smaller weather windows. It can sometimes be difficult to find suitably long periods for accessing remoter inshore and offshore locations. The speed of a larger craft transporting our kayaks and placing us within ‘spitting distance’ of our destination makes it possible to fully utilize some of the short but awesome lulls at this time of the year.
It’s extremely satisfying to have done battle and be back on a warm deck and homeward bound, hot coffee in hand as the conditions change behind you. No grinding away on the paddle battling the seas, no freezing spray, and no waves sluicing the cockpit as you slog for home. In other words, there’s nothing to take the gloss off a fantastic mid-winter expedition chasing anything from snapper and tarakihi to kingfish and hapuku.
Mother ships can take various forms: smaller boats towing kayaks astern, inflatables (I’ve had mine strapped to the side of a Thundercat as we skimmed the water at nearly 30 knots!), and larger charter boats. Whatever the craft though, there are a few common themes worth keeping in mind…
Towed kayaks like surfing wakes – and they also have a habit of letting air get under their hulls. This makes them more prone to flipping unexpectedly, so make sure someone aboard the mother ship is specifically assigned to watch the tow. They must also be able to rapidly communicate with the skipper if something goes awry. Another good idea if attempting to tow at speed is to remove expensive electronics and make sure everything aboard the kayak is secured well enough to cope with a tumble.
These work well for short tows at lower speeds (less drag pressure on the handles), but it is a good idea to add dedicated tow points if you intend to do this often. The strongest is a heavy-duty stainless saddle just below the bow with a backing plate inside the hull to disperse the load. The most practical for many is a RailBlaza StarPort on top of the bow with a RailBlaza 25mm eye inserted. This keeps the area under the bow clear for sliding the kayak aboard, onto roof racks or trailers, and onto storage racks at home.
When towing several kayaks, consider linking them in line astern – but it can also be a very good idea to run a drag rope off the stern of a single kayak being towed. This puts drag on the kayak to help keep it tracking straight and helps reduce any habit of surfing the wake. Using this system can also allow faster tow speeds if conditions allow (but make sure any gear left on deck is totally secure).
These are great for getting kayaks on and off deck and make it easy to stabilize the kayak while the paddler gets aboard. Simply doubling the rope by passing it through the handles is easy (even when reaching down to a kayak moving on a swell or chop), and letting go one end of the rope makes it easy to release the kayak when the paddler departs for another on-water session.
These offer great protection for both mother ship and kayak. Designed to fit over roof-rack bars, they slot over gunwale grab handles and provide secure support for kayaks strapped across a runabout cockpit. On bigger boats they can act as cushions against the deck, fittings and cockpit sides. I also make a habit of taking tie-down straps or short ropes with me to secure kayaks in place if conditions roughen up.
This is one item that goes on every mother ship trip. Make sure it’s a good quality product (stronger and stickier than the budget versions) and you’ll find it sticks to virtually anything, including notoriously difficult plastic kayaks. Duct tape is the kayaker’s best friend when it comes to making all sorts of running repairs to kayaks, tackle boxes, paddle clothing etc. It can also be used to secure loose items and stop them moving during rough passages aboard the mother ship.
Ensuring everyone is VHF equipped makes a huge difference to keeping each session stress-free. Most importantly, it’s then easy to keep the mother ship skipper up to date as to where all the paddlers are and if plans change. When deep water fishing it’s very comforting to radio the “Hooked up!” call and have the crew keep an eye on you while doing battle with a fish heavier than your own boat!
Since each kayak is effectively a self-contained fishing boat, we tend to load more tackle and gear aboard the mother ship than a normal charter. This makes it imperative to have your gear organized. It’s worth discussing this with the skipper to find out how much space is available and how best to stow everything. On larger boats with plenty of deck space, stackable fish bins can work, but in most situations a single large dive-bag works best. Pre-tying fishing tackle also makes sense, as it allows rapid resupply trips to the mother ship when fishing is full on.
Loading kayaks on and off bigger boats often entails a bit of rock and roll, so it makes sense to have everything strapped down. My rule of thumb is to have everything secure enough to be able to tip the kayak completely on its side. Rods and any gear that can’t be strapped down need to be handed down once the paddler is aboard. This rule also applies to any gear stowed in the center-well area. I use lidded containers with terminal tackle sorted into zip-lock plastic bags to keep everything from being ‘reorganized’ if the kayak is put on its side or rolled over.
Using a team approach makes sense when mother ship tripping. It’s a great idea to have someone along with previous experience to help with transitioning to and from kayaks on the water. It’s also useful to get a confident paddler on the water first so they can offer assistance to those following. When targeting big, hard-pulling fish like kings and hapuku, it’s a very good idea to pair up so each angler on a fish has a spotter to keep an eye on them. This makes it easier to communicate with the skipper (the spotter acts as radio operator), and immediate assistance is close by if needed. Remember, it’s not always about the risk of ending up in the water; it can simply be the catch is too big to get aboard on your own!
One of the biggest secrets to having a successful mother ship trip is working with your skipper. Plan the on-water sessions so everyone knows where everyone else will be. Advise your skipper as to who has experience and who is new to mother shipping or kayaking. Sort out a plan of action for handling big fish before the kayakers hit the water (i.e. is the mother ship going to the kayakers or the kayakers to the mother ship?). Critically, find out from your skipper and deckie where they want kayaks to approach the bigger boat. Remember, kayaks can be impossible to see as they get close to the bow, so it’s usually best to approach from either side or the stern
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written by Stephen Tapp - 2013
Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News