Kayak fishing - using sails

Kayak fishing - using sails

No one would say Stephen Tapp’s lazy, but if you had a way to make reaching far-off destinations easier on the arms, surely you’d take it...?

The kayak angler’s greatest enemy is the wind. At any time of the year wind can be an issue, but it tends to cause us the most grief during winter. Even a modest breeze makes paddling harder and means it’s harder to get baits into a prime fishing spot’s strike zone.

Even with a sea anchor deployed, drift speeds may be too quick, and when at anchor the kayak can swing so much it becomes difficult to stay in touch with baits, leading to lost baits and more frequent snagging.

However, given winter can offer spectacular fishing, we shouldn’t let the wind keep us from the water – provided we stay safely within our paddling abilities of course. So let’s look at a couple of ways to beat the conditions and even gain an advantage from all that wind. And okay, maybe it’s not strictly kayaking, but it’s damn good fun!

Paternoster what?

In recent times there’s been more of a focus on lure fishing, straylining and running live baits from kayaks, but when the wind is blowing, it can be hard to go past the good old Paternoster rig. For those not recognising the term, the Paternoster is most commonly 
seen in New Zealand as the ledger rig, with the sinker at the bottom and two or three hooks on droppers above.  

For windy day fishing from a kayak, especially when chasing a winter feed instead of trying to focus on a trophy capture, this rig offers several benefits:

  • Ledger rigs work at a range of depths, from just a few metres to as deep as you want to go. They will also work when on anchor, paddling on station, or drift fishing – arguably they’re the most versatile kayak bait-fishing rig.
  • Multiple baits create a nice broad scent trail without berleying and risking the arrival of the razor gang.
  • The ledger still works well when rigged with a little more weight, making it easier to free-line baits into position from a rod holder or with the rod across the cockpit as you paddle to stay in position. This makes it possible to avoid using the drift chute when winds and tides are moving in different directions.
  • Having the sinker at the bottom of the rig reduces the risk of tangles while paddling over the top to stay in position (the wafting baits of a stray-line rig can wrap the trace around the main line on a vertical drop).
  • With a sinker on the bottom you’re more in contact with the baited hooks, so firm strikes can be made in response to bites even when conditions are choppy.
  • A rig with multiple baits presents more opportunities to hook fish for each drop/drift, ultimately meaning less paddling back onto the mark and helping to conserve energy.
  • In windy conditions it’s easy to foul any rig when fishing near the bottom; with the ledger it’s easy to tie the sinker on a lighter section of breakaway, so if the worst happens there’s less re-rigging required back in the kayak cockpit.

This rig shouldn’t be underestimated though; numerous trophy fish have fallen to its performance. More than once I’ve seen kayakers quickly scrambling to grab a bending rod that’s been quietly resting out of the way behind them – and struggling to keep their kayak upright! 

Sail systems - using the wind to your advantage

One aspect of kayak fishing can get pretty monotonous: the repetition of one paddle stroke after another. While this helps define us as kayakers (sitting facing forward and using a doublebladed paddle to propel ourselves along), the continuous motion can get pretty boring. Throw some wind into the mix, especially when covering longer distances, and the paddling progresses to become simply hard work!

One way of reducing monotony and effort – and making the whole kayaking experience more enjoyable – is to use a sail. With good forecasting and trip planning, sails can considerably reduce the hard work and speed the journey along, especially when on offshore missions. It’s possible to make an early start before sunup to make the most of the morning lull when paddling is easiest. Once out wide, you can get your fishing done before things chop up – then get a free boost home from the on-shore conditions as they develop later in the day.

Like most things, kayaking sail systems can be as simple or as complex as you want to make them. One of my first experiences started as a bit of a joke when fishing Bream Bay. After some banter with a couple of friends, I kitted myself out with a mediumsized wind-buster umbrella and used it to capture light breezes to make paddling easier. It worked (at least until the salt ate the umbrella frame), but anything more than a light gust had it inside out and wrapped around any rods in the front rod holders.

The next step was a ‘Wind Paddle’, which was nothing more than a purpose-designed fibreglass hoop with a bowl-shaped sail fitted to the middle. Like the umbrella, these require minimal fittings on the kayak to make them work, and can easily be furled and stowed so there’s no interference with fishing. While both systems have the convenience of easy storage, their major restriction is that they are best suited to running before the conditions. Once the wind comes in at an angle they quickly loose efficiency, and paddling without them becomes a better option.

However, the relatively uncomplicated twin-mast V-shaped sail system made by Pacific Action is currently gaining in popularity. In addition to being efficient down-wind, the sail can be twisted to gain performance from side winds, greatly broadening its usefulness. Better still, with faster kayaks fitted with a broad rudder blade, it’s possible to sail at almost 90° to the wind.

An appealing feature of this twin-mast system is the way it can be pulled down and furled alongside the kayak when not in use, leaving the front of the kayak clear of obstruction for casting baits and lures.

The process of raising and lowering the sail is also rapid, making it possible to respond quickly to changing conditions. This also makes it eminently suited to trolling lures, when strikes need a rapid response before the opposing pulls of sail and fish can potentially cause grief.

I use two Pacific Action sail sizes: the 1.5sqm sail uses longer masts and is useful in light breezes, the extra area giving the kayak more speed. The downside it that it can be a little ‘tippier’ in blustery conditions (gusts quickly have you wide awake and paying attention!). For most of my sail-fishing trips I use the 1.0sqm sail. The smaller surface area is much more forgiving if conditions unexpectedly change, and the shorter masts take up less space along the the kayak’s side.

Beyond the Pacific Action sail system there are versions utilising fixed masts and/or leeboards for even greater efficiency. Systems utilising leeboards are even capable of sailing into the wind, but this performance comes at a cost – they are both expensive and much more complex to install. I also consider all the extra hardware a distraction from the comparative simplicity of kayak fishing. But for those with a passion for harnessing the wind, these systems are capable of covering incredible distances without a single paddle stroke required.

One thing we all need to keep in mind with kayak sail systems: they’re most effective downwind. Once the wind is in your face, you’ll need to pick up the paddle again, even with the most advanced sail systems. This makes proper trip planning critical to ensure the paddling required to get you home stays within your capabilities. After all, the greatest risk when using the sail to reach a destination is that it can be so much fun you forget about how hard it might be to paddle back... 

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

September 2016 - By Stephen Tapp
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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