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Kayak Fishing Basics

Written by Tim on November 5th, 2015.      2 comments

Getting to this point in your angling and kayaking career doesn’t come about by chance. Sure, there will be those of you who landed a good snapper on your very first outing, taking full advantage of beginners luck, but ask yourself “did it really mean that much?” I’m betting that it didn’t. I know this because I have been there. That kingi which thumped your jig in the final hour of a solid jigging session is the fish you will remember forever, not the one you scored on the first drop.

So what am I getting at here? What, I am trying to point out is that kayak fishing involves a process just like any other style of fishing, and when I started guiding recently I had to go right back to basics’. Friends and customers started asking questions like “what knot should I learn?” Or “how do I actually kill the fish?” These are things that seem obvious to the established anglers but I quickly realised one thing – most new kayak anglers aren’t coming from an angling background. You have probably started kayak fishing because you have heard a bit of the hype, perhaps seen the results in the pages of a fishing magazine, and I’m betting that there is at least one of you who will have those sorts of simple questions. The truth is that there are countless articles on fancy tackle, knots, and far away destinations, but there is very few that tell the aspiring angler where to start. Head down to your nearest tackle shop is a common suggestion, but we all know dangerous that can tackle to men is like shoes to women!

So in this article I’m just going to outline a few of the basic fishing items you need to start off with on your kayak fishing adventures; items that aren’t expensive but are often overlooked when you are staring at the top shelf filled with shiny reels. 

Tim’s Basic Equipment List
  1. Bait Knife
    It sounds rather obvious but you will be amazed at how many people forget to take a knife out fishing. Not only is it useful for cutting bait, but it is good for dealing with barracuda, bleeding kahawai, and trimming knots. It is also a mandatory safety item – if you get tangled in your anchor rope a knife might just save your life (I actually had this happen). There are many options available for the kayaker- they start at about $10 and progress to over $100. Choose one that suits your budget but just remember that you are likely to lose a few while you are and salt claims everything!
  1. Braid Scissors
    Most kayak fishermen will eventually get into softbaiting. This technique is particularly suited to the kayaker for a variety of reasons but it means you will have to start using braid as your main line. Braid is amazing stuff but it is extremely hard to cut. A proper pair of braid scissors will solve this problem and they are great for cutting all types of line (I even carry a pair in my pocket when game fishing). There are many options available, but from experience I have found they all rust so buy a cheap pair and just expect to replace them.
  2. Iki Spike
    An iki spike, pushed into any fishes head, is the quick and humane way of killing them. Yes it is a bit gruesome, but I reckon it is far nicer than letting them slowly die of oxygen starvation in your fish bin. If you have never done it before, find the soft place in their skull – where you think the temple might be – then quickly push in towards a point between their eyes. They should stop flopping around pretty quickly after that. Iki spikes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and price points but I just use an old screwdriver sharpened to a point...way cheaper on the bank balance!
  1. Landing Net
    If you are new to fishing you should use a net to land all of your fish. Many fish have soft mouths and if you try to pull them in, you may rip the hook out – john dory and trevally are classic examples of this. It is a heart breaking experience to lose a fish when it is right at the kayak so use a net whenever you can. Nets come in a range of sizes and most will be absolutely useless for a kayaker as they are long handled and designed for scooping fish from a boat. Luckily a number of manufactures have recognised the kayakers need and offer smaller versions. Look for one with a rubber net as these aren’t so inclined to get tangled up with your terminal tackle.
  2. Gaff
    Using a gaff to secure a fish might seem a bit extreme for all but the biggest fish, but I would disagree. I find it an extremely handy tool and I regularly use it on a variety of fish species. Why? Because it is quick and more escaping fish once that thing is driven home! It is also handy to practise using it because setting a gaff is a skill, and when you do encounter that trophy fish you want to be confident using it. There will also be times when you catch fish on multiple rods – don’t muck around with the one already in the net, just get on with fish #2 and use the gaff. When buying a gaff, look for one with the point running parallel to the shaft (easier to drive home), and one that is less than 800mm long. You don’t need the length as you are right next to the water.  
  1. Long Handle Pliers
    No matter if you are fishing with natural bait, softbaits, or jigs, sooner or later you will get a fish that absolutely swallows your hook (the technical term is called being gobbed). This is where a pair of pliers comes in extremely handy. I can tell you from experience that even a small snapper has very powerful jaws and if you value your fingers you will avoid putting them into any fish’s mouth. They are also useful when dealing with barracuda as you don’t want your fingers anywhere near those chompers. Starting at about $20, they are a great tool and a cheap present if the wife is looking for something to put in your Santa sack. 
  1. Leashes
    A leash is simply a length of string that you use to tie your equipment on with. Sounds pretty simple, but the first time you lose a rod over the side because it wasn’t tied down, you will see the rationale. Lanyards for rods and paddles are available from just about any shop that sells kayaking gear. These usually have clips and swivels involved, which makes using the rod easier. I suggest having 2 or 3 of these and leaving them permanently attached to your rods using a cow hitch around the reel seat. For your other items e.g. knife and iki spike, use a short loop of cord and a cheap carabineer to clip them onto either your kayak or yourself. One final piece of advice, if you ever arrive at the beach and realise you have forgotten yours, just use a length of your heaviest’s better than nothing and it has saved a few of my rods over the years.
  1. Fish Towel
    When handling fish that you intend to release, you should always use a wet towel to protect the slime layer that covers their skin. This slime protects them and is easily rubbed off by dry hands. If you intend to keep the fish, the towel is great for protecting your hands as almost all fish have spines that will jab into you at every chance – your hands are important tools when kayaking so make sure you look after them. My personal choice of towel is a small microfiber cloth that you can buy in a bulk pack at most hardware stores. These are real cheap, perfectly sized, and don’t get as manky as what a piece of old beach towel does. I drive a carabineer through one corner and this lives permanently attached to my lifejacket.   
    DSCF2936 - Copy(copy)
The items that I have mentioned above are just a few of the basic items that I take with me. Typically there is a whole lot more but this often depends on the target species. As you develop your skills as an angler and kayaker, you will learn what you do and don’t need for your own situation. So that you never forget these items, I would thoroughly recommend that you make up a list, laminate it, and stick it onto a gear bin. Please feel free to use the one below. There's nothing more annoying than arriving to your favourite spot only to find that you have forgotten the bait knife. To help you out, I have included my full gear list bellow.

Paddle hard everyone, Tim.  

Item Checked
  1. Kayak
    - hatches should be closed
    - battery for sounder installed
    - sounder clipped in and working
    - ice box, bag or insulated cover
  1. Life Jacket
  1. Paddle clothing
    - jacket and thermals
    - pants or boardies
    - hat
    - sun glasses
    - gloves
  1. Paddle
  1. Sea Anchor and/or grapnel anchor
  1. Kayak Seat
  1. Fishing Rods
  1. Rod Leashes
    - one per fishing rod
  1. Fishing Kit
    - jig head selection
    - bottom fishing tackle
    - mechanical jigs & top-water lures
    - slow jig selection
    - braid scissors
    - fluorocarbon and nylon trace
    - long handled pliers
    - gaff
    - net
    - fish towel
    - salt ice
  1. First Aid Kit & sunblock
  1. Emergency kit
    - VHF
    - Flairs
    - EPIRB
  1. Food & drink
    - food for on the water
    - food for off the water
    - drink bottle and/or thermos
  1. Towel & warm cloths
  1. Camera
  1. Phone and dry bag
  1. Fish filleting equipment
    - table and bucket
    - knives & steel
    - plastic shopping bags 


TaLe says ...
This list is a very good idea. Cheers mate...
Graham says ...
good idea to have a check list that way you do not forget anything.

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