Kayak Fishing 101: An introduction to the wide world of ‘yak angling

Each year it seems the number of kayaks sold in Australia almost doubles, a large chunk of these new craft being bought by keen anglers, reports Jamie Robley.
Author Jamie Robley with a solid, yak caught flathead.

Author Jamie Robley with a solid, yak caught flathead.

As the ‘yak fishing boom continues, manufacturers continue to invest plenty of time and money into the development of new models, many featuring in built rod holders and other fishing friendly features. Yes, things have certainly come a long way from the old one or two person fiberglass canoes that keen bass or cod anglers used a few decades ago. Like many others, I also started out in one of those and at the time thought it to be quite comfortable and ideally suited to the small creek bass fishing and coastal breaming I was getting into back then. Over the years some newer and more robust polyethylene vessels started arriving on our shores. Pint sized craft like the first of the New Zealand made Perception Minnows or larger and reasonably heavy Nylex Pioneer canoes were amongst the first to gain popularity. My first poly yak was an Old Town Loon, which I still own after a dozen years of hard yakking. As someone becomes increasingly dedicated or involved in a sport or hobby, more specific requirements may arise. This often leads to the acquisition of more equipment. In the case of keen anglers this translates to extra rods, reels or lures and even a second or third boat. So these days my oldest yak, the Loon, is the back up or spare, while a larger kayak has been acquired specifically for open coastal lakes and another smaller model purchased for tight water bass fishing through the warmer months.

A matter of personal needs, taste and style

Kayak Fishing 101

A well set up ‘yak can be used as one of the stealthiest fishing machines around.

The above is an example of my personal needs as a kayak angler, but everyone has their own unique requirements or tastes. We see a lot of larger peddle powered kayaks around these days and many of those are used in tournament situations, where a live well is incorporated at the rear of the boat and quite a bit of gear may need to be stowed. The more serious offshore yak brigade may also be chasing exotics like marlin, so a live bait tank, water pump and good quality sounder are fitted. The majority though, will be using a kayak for much more modest fishing, such as casting a lure for flathead or soaking a bait for whiting. Some obvious needs when looking to purchase a new vessel are firstly that it suits what we want to do with it and secondly that it comes with a reasonable sort of price tag. No point spending $1600 if we can get away with something pretty good for $800. Looking around various websites, magazines or retail outlets, it’s very clear that sit on top kayaks are more popular for fishing than sit in yaks where the seat is closer to water level, inside a cockpit area. The reality is that this is largely a market driven phenomena, rather than the sit on top models actually being the better ones for kayak fishing. Another fact is that sometimes a sit on top is best, while in other cases a sit in is a better choice. My personal needs and taste lean towards sit in yaks, with a large open cockpit space and some storage area up under the nose of the boat so I can quickly access DSLR camera gear, take photos and then instantly shove it back up under the nose where it’s protected from the elements.

Propulsion options

Kayak Fishing 101

A stealthy sit inside style kayak.

Something else to consider is whether to go for a traditional paddle kayak or a more elaborate peddle powered model. Many are opting for peddle power these days, as it frees up your hands for casting or other tasks. Long distances are also covered quickly, which is handy on large lakes, the ocean or in a tournament situation. That said, peddle mechanisms add extra weight and start to become bothersome when negotiating ultra-shallow places or where weed growth is thick. A simple paddle kayak, with an unobscured hull is much more practical if you’ll be doing a lot of shallow flats fishing or dragging it over river rock when bass, trout or cod fishing.

A PFD is an essential piece of equipment to purchase when considering kayak fishing.

Weight is something easily overlooked, yet it’s a very important consideration, especially if you’ll be fishing by yourself more often than with others. A shiny new kayak may look appealing in photos or in a shop, but if it’s a touch too heavy to easily lift on or off roof racks and launch without dramas it could actually turn out to be a poor choice. Kayaks weighing less than 22 kilos are generally easy enough for most anglers to handle by themselves. Over 30 kilos in weight and things start to become difficult without assistance, then the larger craft of 40 kilos or more may even need a trailer and then they’re more like a small boat when it comes to handling and launching. So whichever type of vessel suits your needs more, always take the weight factor into account before committing to a purchase. Another thing that I would highly recommend is to spend a few minutes sitting in a kayak or if possible, even try it out on the water. If it’s your very first kayak then compare it with a few other models and sit in each of them. Bear in mind that any slight discomfort felt within a few minutes may be greatly magnified after a few hours paddling, peddling or fishing.

Time to accesorize

There’s a huge array of aftermarket kayak accessories available, so which are the most essential? Obviously, a basic fishing kit consisting of a rod and reel, with a tackle box, pliers, scissors and so on is the first consideration if fish are to be caught. Shorter rods, particularly those with quite a short butt section are much more manageable in a kayak, so something around the 6ft mark could be best to begin with, depending on the style of fishing or species sort. Keeping the tackle box to a bare minimum is a good idea as well, as there simply isn’t an enormous amount of space compared with a powered boat or when shore based fishing. Wearing a personal floatation vest or PFD is not only a very good idea for the new kayak angler, they are actually a legal regulation in some states. Other essentials may include a small landing net, extra seat padding, an anchor, rope, lanyard for your paddle or even a sounder to show you the depth, bottom structure and fish down below. There are a lot more accessories that may be of use, but the best idea is to spend some time on the water before deciding what to buy. It may seem appealing to go crazy and pimp up the yak quite a lot, but remember that the more stuff that’s added, the heavier and more complicated things become. Whichever way you end up going, the main thing overall is to simply get out there and enjoy your kayak fishing.
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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