Winter kayak fishing tactics

Winter kayak fishing tactics

This year the country experienced a number of extreme weather events, and it seems as if the whole cycle has undergone some significant changes. Global warming has certainly changed things around this year, but the warmer temperatures have seen the ‘summer season’ extended. Even now, the ocean’s occupants are doing things they wouldn’t normally be doing in ‘normal’ years. (Take the Hauraki Gulf, for example, with the snapper hanging around for longer.) On top of this, the weather forecast for the next few months predicts more settled conditions than normal moving into the winter months.

On that basis, we should instead make the most of the extra fishing time and decent weather on offer. After all, eventually the colder months of winter will arrive, then you can decide whether to continue and take on the interesting but rewarding challenges on offer for kayak anglers.

There are many reasons why we shouldn’t hang up the fishing rods once winter kicks in, especially as the modern apparel available can keep us protected from the elements. The next few issues will look at the various options available, including the locations, fish habits and the relevant techniques used to increase fishing success.

Why fish from kayaks during winter?

There are several reasons for getting out on the water during winter. The main one is the peaceful, quiet conditions, due to far less boat traffic around, enabling you to take full advantage of the kayak’s stealth ability.

Then, there is the habits of fish, especially in NZ’s more northern parts, where snapper can be found close to the shore in shallow water. Using the kayak’s stealth to get around such areas can be really productive and, depending on the techniques used, can be like hunting.

Bigger-than-average fish frequently hold close to the coastline in winter, especially species like snapper, kingfish and trevally. Others, like tarakihi, gurnard and even the occasional hapuku, move closer to the coast too, bringing them within reach of kayak fishers.

Yes, there is the weather, but even though the winter period is well known for cold, wet days, the flip-side can be periods of the most stunning conditions. Sure, the air temperature is colder on average, but with the right gear and proper preparation, it is possible to take full advantage of the fishing on offer.

Beating the winter chill

One of the most common reasons many kayak fishers decide to stay off the water during winter is because kayaks are open-cockpit vessels with low sides that offer virtually no protection from the elements. It’s therefore important to set yourself up to handle what Mother Nature can throw at you in this situation.

Owners of other vessel types spend good money on protection such as cabins and custom-made canopies; kayak anglers should consider doing something similar by spending money on specialist apparel.

Clothing that protects the body’s exterior from contact with water is a good starting point. Breathable fabric can keep you dry and helps to regulate body temperature, preventing overheating. Even during summer, when a dry top isn’t required, it can be stored away so it’s on hand in the event of rain.

Once you have this outer layer, it’s possible to wear garments underneath that provide extra warmth. Polypropylene is an effective and cost-effective option, drying out quickly if it does get wet. The only problem is its bulkiness, especially when conditions require several layers of clothing to provide enough warmth.

This is where technically-advanced clothing has advantages. Sharkskin, for instance, provides three layers of protection in the one garment. Not only does this product provide great warmth, it’s also less restrictive, the material effectively replacing several garments for the same results. It’s also possible to wear dry gear over a base layer of Sharkskin so moisture is wicked away from the body – the ultimate in comfort.

Protecting the head is another important consideration in colder conditions: try wearing a face-mask/buff in addition to your usual cap or beanie.

Your feet are particularly susceptible to the cold, especially when being used very little, such as when you are paddling. While neoprene booties provide some protection, you will require an extra layer under them in really cold conditions. Neoprene socks can work, but are often bulky and may cause the booties to tighten, cutting off blood circulation. This is where the technicallyadvanced materials used in Sharkskin can make the difference, providing the equivalent of three-millimetre neoprene for only onethird the thickness.

Your hands will also require better protection: using full-finger gloves in this situation is a good option.

Target species, timing and location

By the month of July, the small- to average-size kingfish depart to more offshore locations such as the Far North, Great Barrier Island and even as far away as the Three Kings. These areas are well out of reach for kayak anglers , with a mothership-based trip required to visit them. Fortunately, though, this month can be productive for anglers targeting reduced numbers of bigger kingfish in the coastal shallows.

Snapper provide a similar scenario, with the vast majority moving away (especially where the Hauraki Gulf is concerned), but a percentage taking up residence inshore. These fish will stick around until spring when the days become longer and the focus shifts.

Having said that, this year things are different, with the warmer weather staying longer, so many fish are only just beginning to depart. This sees good numbers of kingfish remaining in locations that would normally only hold them during late summer and early autumn.

While mechanical jigging is often used to target them and can be well worth the effort, I suggest using less popular jig shapes to increase your chances. This late in the season, many of the kings have encountered plenty of jigs before, so can tend to shy away from them. Slightly unusual designs, such as the Zest Spearhead, can make all the difference, especially as their extreme, fluttering actions are perfect for the shallower depths where kingfish are still residing.

Another aspect that often improves jigging results involves increasing the rod-lift’s height during retrieves to fully utilise this fluttery jig’s potential action. To do this, start with the rod fully lowered, the rod tip touching the water, then move the jig upwards until the rod is at a 70-degree angle towards the sky. To make the technique easier and avoid point-loading should a fish hit, lift the rod using your entire arm with the rod butt end tucked under the arm rather than into your armpit. That way, if a fish strikes, you can quickly lower the rod to a more appropriate 45-degree angle.

After making the lift, lower the rod again in conjunction with one wind of the reel. But resist doing this at speed – wind the handle just fast enough to keep up with the falling jig. Instead, the focus should be on imparting erratic movements to the jig. When done correctly, you will create plenty of vibration, movement and flash, which often fires the kingfish up enough to bite.

Finally, it pays to jig so the line angles away from the kayak, rather than under it, to help prevent tip wrapping.

In the part two of our winter kayak-fishing series, we look at our options as the colder weather cools the water and the fish move in closer.

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

July 2017 - Rob Fort
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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