Better Yakking

Jamie Robley takes us on an in-depth look into one if his favourite avenues to fishing when he talks about the ins and outs of Kayak fishing.

A lightweight kayak, with no accessories fitted is generally a lot easier and better top use when fishing small freshwater creeks for bass.

A lightweight kayak, with no accessories fitted is generally a lot easier and better top use when fishing small freshwater creeks for bass.

Kayak fishing is a global boom, which is perpetually increasing in every way imaginable. Of course being surrounded by an enormous variety of waterways, Aussie anglers have taken to it in a very big way. One only has to take a long drive or spend time around any patch of water that’s likely to hold fish and plenty of kayaks can be spotted, either on the water or being transported to or from an angling destination.

Five to ten years ago it was already a popular pastime with an impressive variety of kayaks, canoes and associated paraphernalia widely available. In 2016 though, the amount of people who regularly use a kayak for fishing has probably doubled that of ten years ago.

Vessel variety

When I first used an old fibreglass canoe for small creek bass fishing three decades ago, only a small percentage of anglers owned any form of paddle craft apart from row boats or those, like myself, keen on creek or river bass fishing. Lure casting for bream was still in its infancy back then, but some also used a canoe to access relatively untouched bream water. Further inland, cod were another species that could be targeted quite successfully with the help of a canoe.

The author’s simple, uncomplicated kayak.

The author’s simple, uncomplicated kayak.

Slowly though, newer vessels hit the market and many of these were made from much tougher polyethylene rather than fibreglass. These new canoes and kayaks, while being a touch heavier in weight, proved to be ideal for many fishing applications. So by the mid-1990s kayak fishing was really starting to take off.

Back then, two styles of polyethylene or ‘plastic’ vessel became the first choice of the keen freshwater or estuary angler; the perennial 12ft two person canoe and the much smaller and lighter, one person kayak. You either bought one or the other and of course, some anglers owned both.

Fast forward to 2016 and vastly different vessels have become mainstream. These are the sit on top style kayaks, which evolved from narrower kayaks used for riding waves at the beach. With wider hulls, stability is increased and most of them have a lot of space for storage, rod holders, sounders and other paraphernalia. Sit on top or SOT kayaks are so popular for fishing, that many major kayak outlets simply categorise these as fishing kayaks, while the more traditional sit in kayaks and canoes are considered as ‘recreational craft’, without fishing in mind. In truth, any style of kayak, canoe or similar small vessel can be successfully used for fishing. The choice is largely up to individual preference and budget.

When looking to buy a new kayak one of the most important things to consider is the seat.

When looking to buy a new kayak one of the most important things to consider is the seat.


Which Yak For Me?

Buying a kayak is much the same as buying a car, powerboat or piece of fishing tackle. A kayak that’s great for some styles of fishing may not be so good for others, and nothing really covers all options perfectly. Some important considerations are the sort of waterways to be fished, species to be targeted, your vehicle, budget and whether you mainly fish by yourself or with others.

A big, heavyweight kayak may look impressive in a showroom, but could end up being too problematic when it comes to transportation, storage and general usability. Large sit on top kayaks may weigh up to 50 kilos or more and if accessories are fitted the weight increases. So simply getting them to and from the water may end up being a difficult task. A trailer may even be required and with the overall cost and size of the unit and this is comparable to a small powerboat.

More modest kayaks may not look as flash, but chances are they’ll be more practical and easier to use for many anglers. This is especially so if you’re living in the city and running a small car or primarily fish by yourself. A simple sit in kayak that weighs around 18 to 20 kilos isn’t too difficult to transport and will cover a variety of species in creeks, rivers and sheltered lakes.

However, if much larger bodies of water, like inland impoundments or big estuaries are the main places to be fished then smaller vessels also have their limitations. If you’re planning to get into the tournament fishing circuit then starting out with a small sit in kayak is fine, but upgrading to a big, peddle powered sit on top will eventually become a requirement. In the majority of cases though, starting small and modest is a wise move. After some time on the water the picture becomes clearer and you’ll be able to make a better decision about things. Unlike many serious kayak anglers around the country, I greatly favour the simplicity and practicality of a lightweight, sit in kayak, rather than something more elaborate.

Another valuable tip when shopping for a kayak is to sit in the seat for a while and then consider what it may be like to sit in that same seat for a number of hours. A sad reality is that most yaks fall quite short in this department and while a few are fitted with excellent seating, most will need modifications or at least some extra padding. Leg room and overall comfort are just as important. The biggest individual piece of advice I would offer anyone on the lookout for a new kayak is not to be fooled by what it looks like or what you see other anglers using. It needs to be right for you!

One outfit and a small box of lures is all anyone needs for a half day’s fishing.

One outfit and a small box of lures is all anyone needs for a half day’s fishing.

Simple Set Ups

Another area where I buck the general trend is to keep everything extremely simple and uncluttered, with no accessories at all. The reason for this is to maintain plenty of leg room, keep the cockpit area clear when a big flathead or other larger fish is brought aboard and to get on and off the water quickly, with minimal fuss. No obstructions also make it easier to cast and fight fish, with no chance of line being caught around anything. This is particularly important when using fly gear.

Small creek bass fishing is a prime example of when simplicity rules over complexity. The more paraphernalia fitted to the craft, the harder it is to drag or portage a kayak over sections of dry river rock or major obstacles. In the majority of cases, this is all about casting to bankside snags, behind boulders or through shallow pools, so a sounder isn’t required at all.

Once again though, this approach may not be suitable for everyone. Large inland impoundments or deeper estuaries are where a good quality sounder is definitely beneficial. While some fish attracting structure is dotted around the banks and quite obvious, there’s a lot of good stuff hidden down below.

Bream are possibly the most commonly pursued kayak fishing targets in the country.

Bream are possibly the most commonly pursued kayak fishing targets in the country.

It’s easy enough to use one rod and reel to catch plenty of bream or bass, but quite often it’s better to bring two or more outfits for big bodies of water. Light gear may be needed to catch livebaits, while something more serious may be required so send out those livies. Another outfit could be used for middle weight fish such as yellowbelly, tailor or flathead, while something with a bit of extra grunt is needed for Murray cod or mulloway.

Many anglers now like to mount an action camera to their vessel and some may go as far as an action cam and a still camera, both mounted and ready to go. Add the sounder set up, tackle and food storage and possibly a livebait well or navigation lights. While being much more elaborate than my preferred approach, setting up a kayak can be fun and help score bigger or better fish.

Bass are a very popular species among kayak devotees.

Bass are a very popular species among kayak devotees.

On The Water

Before actually hitting the water, be sure to check your state regulations about wearing a safety vest or PFD. Even if they’re not a legal requirement, it’s still a good idea to wear one when venturing onto larger or deep bodies of water or at least have one aboard, within easy reach.

If you’re new to kayak fishing it’s probably best to firstly fish smaller creeks and stick to the fringes of lakes or impoundments. Over time, confidence builds and taking on more demanding waterways isn’t so daunting. In any case, it’s always important to consider tides, weather forecasts, boating regulations and other kayaks or boats on the water around you. Being fully aware of the tides and forecast winds will help prevent getting stuck in those terrible situations where a long paddle or peddle back against strong current or wind is required. This sort of thing has been rammed home to me on several occasions and it’s not only annoying, it can be quite dangerous.

As with all forms of fishing, it’s generally best to have a particular species in mind.

As with all forms of fishing, it’s generally best to have a particular species in mind.

Species Specific

As with all forms of fishing, it’s generally best to have a particular species in mind and aim for that, rather than just getting out on the water hoping for the best. Doing some research on species, techniques and locations means the angler will be armed with the right gear and know when and where to go.

Kayaks just happen to travel at an ideal trolling speed for a lot of estuary and freshwater fish, so by all means drag a lure behind you when going from spot A to spot B. However, an understanding of exactly which species is likely to be encountered makes it easier to select the best sort of lure, line and leader for the job. Some commonly hooked species while trolling around saltwater include tailor, salmon, bonito, flathead, mulloway, trevally, barra and bream. In freshwater rivers or impoundments the list includes bass, trout, redfin, yellowbelly and cod.

Being on the water at the crack of dawn is much more enjoyable when sitting at water level in a kayak.

Being on the water at the crack of dawn is much more enjoyable when sitting at water level in a kayak.

The same principle applies when soaking a bait, casting lures or fly fishing. While one spot may be good for bream, it may not be so good for flathead or whiting. A dam could house plenty of yellowbelly and a sprinkling of cod so baits, lures and techniques suitable for those fish will work better than tactics more applicable for bass or trout fishing. Be specific and you’ll probably do well. Take a chance on whatever comes along and things become more of a gamble, rather than a sure bet.

Kayak fishing is largely about getting out there and having some fun, in a cheaper and less complicated way than launching a noisy powered boat. It also gives an angler the edge by being able to sneak around and explore places that may not be accessible to larger boats or by foot. With some extra thought and effort applied, kayak fishing can also prove to be much more successful than many people realise.

Jamie Robley

About Jamie Robley

Based on the New South Wales Central Coast, less than two hour’s drive north of Sydney, Jamie Robley started fishing around his local lakes at an early age. Bream, flathead and tailor were the main source of entertainment for a young Jamie but of course, like many other kids who’ve been bitten by the bug, he quickly became interested in other species and more advanced styles of fishing.

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