Being lightweight and easily transported, kayaks as fishing platforms have opened vast new horizons for a variety of anglers.
Often it’s things like the challenges and sport of pursuing big fish from slender craft, their low cost (compared to most other boats) and easy access to extremely productive inshore fishing that receives the most attention. A key feature appreciated by all anglers is the kayak’s ability to be launched almost anywhere there is water – no ramp or special access point and just enough water to float.
Recently an opportunity opened to sneak out for a fish where kayak portability became the secret to success.
A narrow window of fishing time available meant the far-from-perfect weather was going to be bothersome. I called several contacts around the North Island for fishing reports, but everyone had hunkered down waiting for the wind and rain to blow through. Boats sat on trailers and land-based anglers had a very understandable distaste for foam smashed rocks or windswept beaches.
Everyone had a chuckle when I mentioned my need to go fishing – sympathetic, but not liking my chances. It was going to be a case of finding a manageable launch site with fishy water nearby in a location offering protection from the wind.
Poring over weather predictions and marine charts, I ultimately made the choice as heavy easterlies were closing out one coast and making it too risky to go too far from land on the other. The chosen spot takes these big winds on its shoulder, providing shelter and breaking the swells, but wouldn’t be considered as an option by most boaties.
The key to this location is taking advantage the kayak’s ease of launching from a river bank before paddling down to a 200 metre trundle across open sand to the coast. It’s not PWC or boat friendly, but no problem at all for lightweight kayaks.
As can be seen in the images, the high coastline surrounding the area blocked the storm and gave plenty of scope for exploration, and also had just enough angle to push the swells aside for a flat beach launch.
The adventure was on – a windy, wet couple of days might be keeping others from the water, but with kayaks on the racks, trundlers and bins full of ice loaded aboard, and with a veritable mountain of tackle set to go, we headed to northern waters, chasing the dream!
The day’s plan of attack was a familiar one for those spots where noisy boat traffic isn’t expected (the conditions were going to keep everyone else at home). Start by targeting morning kingfish – they’re hungry and on the prowl and much less wary at this time of the day. Later they’ve often had breakfast and become far more picky, following lures and teasing the angler without actually pinning themselves on a hook.
Once the arms have had a workout on the jig and popper rods (and hopefully a hoodlum or two), the next activity is to move on to targeting snapper. This gives arms and shoulders time to recover from working heavy lures, and ensures there’s power remaining for beating the conditions and getting back to shore again. There’s also a big advantage in not having to deal with thrashing green monsters at the side of the kayak if conditions get more challenging later in the day – landing kingfish from a kayak is when an unplanned swim is most likely!
For many this might seem the reverse of normal fishing practice: a more classic approach would be to hit snapper first (just after change of light) and then move on to predatory kingfish that can feed at any time of the day. In fact, provided there isn’t any boat traffic in the general area creating disturbing motor noise, I’ve found snapper will feed throughout the water column all day long. This trip was no exception.
One early piece of excitement was jigging up a nice kingfish in just 17 metres of water. A solid hook-up with heavy drag quickly had the kayak tracking after the fish. The secret to keeping these shallow water guys out of the kelp is to virtually lock the drag (clamp down on the spool) and play them with the kayak. They can’t dive deeper, so provided you stay directly over top and steer along with them, it’s possible to win the tug-of-war without fouling up or being dragged into the water. Maximum adventure!
This time, just minutes into battle, the fish took off with a whole new level of brute power. A stomp on one rudder pedal had the kayak turned and tracking correctly as it almost leapt onto the plane. Then the pressure came off and the wake died. My prime kingfish had been sharked, with a single bite separating head from body! The earlier activity had obviously caught the attention of the big boys: it was time to move out and chase a few snapper.
The next couple of hours saw us playing among big swells rolling along the coast. The snapper were feeding hard almost to the surface in more than 30 metres of water, causing great excitement as we tried to hold position on the moving mountains. Flattened barbs on our jig heads made it possible to release fish at the side of the kayak, and only the occasional photo subject or deep-hooked specimen was dragged aboard.
With a couple each in the bin to feed the crew, it was time to call it a day. We could have carried on, but it is wise to leave plenty of energy in your shoulders and arms for the journey home. Conditions on the beach could also have changed, requiring plenty of strength for a surf transition.
In this instance the weather had stayed as predicted, and while wind gusts pushed us around, it was a flat return to dry-ish land. What an awesome adventure on a windy, wet day that saw everyone else sitting at home!
As with any adventure sport, there’s an element of risk when heading out in less than perfect conditions. It goes without saying all the usual kayaking and kayak fishing safety rules apply. It’s also critical to remember swells and rough conditions are going to play havoc with communications. This will make it much more difficult to stay in touch or raise the alarm if you get into trouble.
For this reason it’s critical to stay well within your limits. A great way to discover these limits is to grab a mate or two and have a training day with the conditions blowing ON-SHORE. This lets you paddle off the beach, see how you handle the wind and chop, and be blown back to shore when you’re tired and have had enough. The key here is to set the kayak up, as much as possible, so it’s sitting on the water as it would be when fishing.
Part of the training should always be practicing rolling the kayak back upright, then getting back on board wearing your normal kayak fishing clothing and buoyancy vest (with the usual gear in any pockets). Practicing this with mates or spotters in a controlled environment, first where you can stand on the bottom, then in deeper water, is enlightening (especially wearing your normal fishing clobber, not just a pair of togs and your PFD). Adding wind and rough water to the mix can be a serious wakeup call for those who’ve only ever tried this in perfect conditions.
It’s also critical you do this with the kayak you normally fish from. Every kayak model has its own handling characteristics and suitable grab points. Remember, too, that a heavy, wide kayak that’s stable to fish from can be very difficult to get back upright in wind and chop. While these craft can inspire enormous confidence when sitting in the seat, they may be a totally different proposition if you end up in the water. There’s a very real risk for paddlers without the requisite re-entry skills paddling in conditions they shouldn’t be out in.
These are just a couple of the factors that can have you reassessing your safety limits. It is always best to discover these in situations where you’re not putting yourself or others at risk if things don’t go to plan. That said, it can also be surprising how just a little practice can make getting back on your kayak much easier and less threatening. Practice your re-entry, become proficient at it, and getting out in the rough stuff becomes a much more relaxed and adventure-filled experience.
This expedition shows how being prepared to travel and use your kayak’s portability makes it possible to find sheltered waters full of fish. Despite coastal conditions that kept boaties at home, we had a successful big fish trip. Next time the wind blows and the rain falls, find a sheltered nook to catch fish and enjoy the adventure of beating the storm and catching fish when no one else is out.
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