Open Ocean Personal Essentials

Josh Holmes provides some great information in his article on open ocean yakking. Safety is paramount for this type of fishing and some good tips are given.

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In many more ways than one, open ocean kayak fishing is a completely different kettle of fish (pun intended) to estuary or inland kayak fishing. If you’ve been cutting your teeth fishing inland waters and are now turning your attention to open water you need to know that the experience is really very different and for various reasons commands a different approach, both in terms of strategies as well as the type of gear you need to be equipped with. Before going on to be more specific about that, now is a good time to make mention of your level of experience. Without question, kayak fishing in open ocean waters is potentially more dangerous than doing it in inland waters, for all sorts of reasons. Before venturing out on your maiden voyage in the ocean you are well advised to be sure you are quite proficient at operating your kayak. To put it bluntly, if you still find yourself second guessing yourself while kayak fishing, you still find yourself making simple mistakes frequently or are in any way uncertain about how to use your kayak efficiently, you’re probably not yet ready to be venturing out into the sea on anything less than a picture-perfect day, and certainly not alone.

The following paragraphs are not going to bog you down with commentary on what kind of tackle you might need (that’s another article waiting to happen – look for it in the future), but I’ll offer a few generalisations on the subject. The very nature and size of some of the species you’re likely to encounter out there may very well dictate a larger net and or a gaff hook as well. Of course, the kinds of lures you might employ are likely to be bigger and a lot heavier, especially if fishing in deeper waters. Tougher leader lines are often a good idea and this may also include wire leaders if certain mackerel and shark species are on the bite.

Just like inland fishing, matching the hatch is a key to success and having a fair (but not over the top) variety of lure types will likely reward you. Large soft plastics, blades, bibbed and skirted trolling lures and jigs are all useful in the right situation. What catches fish for you in inland waters is unlikely to be as productive in the ocean and at times they’ll be of no use at all. The deeper the water you venture into, the windier it becomes and the bigger the fish get, the more true this turns out to be. However, more important than your ability to catch fish is your ability to fish competently and above all, return safely. So lets first address the equipment that you’re going to need for open water fishing, some of which you probably wouldn’t otherwise need for most or any inland kayak fishing scenarios.

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It goes without saying that the #1 essential item is a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or life vest / jacket. It almost doesn’t matter where you go kayak fishing for the PFD to be your most essential item, for legal reasons as well as for safety… the latter being a particular truism for ocean fishing. There are many kinds of PFDs that can be safely and legally used for kayak fishing and those factors aside there are several other characteristics you might want to look for. Most important of these is comfort; if that vest doesn’t feel comfortable there’s a good chance you’ll want to take it off or otherwise end your trip prematurely. PFDs come in various size and shapes, as do people, and there is no one fit-all, accommodate all solution.

Don’t even think about buying a brick-shaped vest for kayaking as it’s guaranteed to be uncomfortable in almost every way – they’re not made for paddling, let alone sitting in a yak. They may be type 1 vests (thus legal in all marine usage scenarios) and perfectly legal to use in a kayak but are imperfectly designed for the task, so forget about any ideas you had about cheaping out and using them. The same can be said for many other types of vests, especially those with big head buoyancy supports and those that push up into your chin when seated in a paddling position.

Also very popular among boaters are yoke-style inflatable vests, but unlike their above-mentioned chunky-foam filled brick-style counterparts these are (in many cases) perfectly suitable for kayak fishing and are very popular among yak fishos, mainly due to the comfort factor. Not only are they light, one barely knows they are wearing them and they are especially appreciated on a hot day, whereas a foam-filled style vest is more likely to over-heat the user. They’re a good choice for a lot of users but they come with their share of cons as well.

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For starters, if an inflatable vest is punctured, it’s not going to be of much help. And if you were to puncture it without knowing it, well, that could be bad (and is one of the reasons they need regular inspection). Also because their floatation has to be activated by the user (by gas-powered pull cord, or manual mouth pump) they are not going to be of much assistance if the user is knocked unconscious for some reason. Thankfully, this isn’t a scenario that is highly likely to happen, yet it is altogether possible (visualise a surf landing gone bad on a rocky shoreline, for example).

The reality is that in almost every instance, a good foam-filled kayaking PFD is a safer option, even if it’s type rating doesn’t match the aforementioned. Most suitable kayaking vests are typically rated in Australia as type 2 vests, but non-inflatable styles are not susceptible to puncture or failure in the event of user incapacitation. For kayaks with backrests, high-back style vests are generally considered to be the most comfortable, as the buoyancy pads at the back are clear of the backrest, allowing for a proper seating position. There are many of these available and once again, choosing the right one for you comes down mostly to how it feels. There is, however, one other very important aspect to consider and that is of utility.

For almost all kayak anglers, storage space is valuable real estate. There is only so much room on a kayak and only so many accessories we can comfortably store on them. This is especially true if we’re talking about important items that may need to be accessed quickly, or even in an emergency. The great thing about some PFDs is the storage and hitching options they give you. Many of them have pockets that can be useful for storing a variety of essential items, making them quick and easy to get to and the thing to remember here is that these items are on your person. If you were to get washed or flipped out off your kayak at sea and were unable to get back to your kayak, or for some reason it became swamped and or sank, it would be handy to have your most essential safety items at hand. That’s why you see offshore kayak anglers wearing vests fitted out with various mission-critical items, such as knives and multi-tools, whistles, radios and emergency lights.

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A good knife is a quintessential kayak fishing accessory and these will typically get a lot of use in open water fishing scenarios, for a variety of easy-to-imagine reasons. Having one easily accessible and safely secured when not in use is best. Non-folding sheath knives are generally best for most potential cutting applications and are generally more reliable as well as faster and easier to access than folding knives. Make sure it fits into its sheath securely and if you can find a safe and suitable mounting point, attach it to your life vest. Obviously stainless steel variants will withstand the torture of blood & salt better than high carbon blades (remember, stainless steel means what it says: stainless, not stain-proof), and numerous reputable diving knives with high chrome content and secure scabbards are usually very suitable. Spyderco have some very interesting and highly suitable blades made from H1 alloy that are genuinely completely rust proof and are highly recommended.

It is advisable to carry some sort of multi-tool on a kayak as well, especially on more complex models such as pedal and sail-powered variants. If there are phillips head screws used in various parts of your rudder assembly, for example, it would be wise to be packing some sort of phillips head screwdriver – much like you might find on any Leatherman, Gerber, SOG, Spyderco, Victorinox or Wenger multi-tool. The pliers these typically come with can often come in handy, not to mention wire cutters, scissors and diamond files (great for sharpening hooks). All of them have knives as well, and some of them sport both plain edge and serrated blades, others being hybrid single blades and any of them being a good back up or emergency surrogate for a good sheath knife. Be aware however, that all current multi-tools are somewhat at the mercy of the rigors of salt water and need to be thoroughly rinsed after use and lubricated when they’ve dried out. Most multi-tools are compact to fit neatly into the pocket on most life vests, or otherwise clipped onto webbing with a pocket clip, caribener or snap-clip. Wherever you store them, keep them handy, but try to keep them protected.

Whistles are an obvious and easy addition for any life vest and are especially recommended for areas with high boat traffic, particularly in low-light situations. There are many to choose from though and it pays to be aware that pea-less style whistles are better than your typical football umpires whistle. There are numerous plastic pea-less whistles that serve the purpose nicely. Some of the better models will bellow out up to 120 decibels, are completely corrosion resistant, small and lightweight and don’t cost the earth either. Whistles can also be really very useful in alerting your companions in the event of hook up, or personal emergency, which is a strategy wisely predetermined on kayak fishing expeditions. Whistles are not just useful for trying to wake up impending powerboats that haven’t seen you, but actually much more useful for communicating between your fellow kayakers, particularly when you’re not within speaking or shouting range (in some winds that could be as little as 20 metres away).

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Radio communications can be equally useful, most often much more so. Again, not just for safety reasons but also for maintaining basic communications with your buddies and this is often very useful, especially when you’re widely spaced out in your search for the fish. If you’re the one who finds that school of fish and have no way of informing your buddies as you pull in the fish of a lifetime, not only will they not be able to get into the action, they won’t be there to capture the moment with their cameras!

For all sorts of reasons related to safety and convenience; reliable and waterproof radios are a great idea. The very topic of radio use in the ocean truly deserves it’s own article as there are several available options, considerations and implications when it comes to radio selection and usage. Suffice to say that ultimately VHF is the best option in terms of overall safety considerations, whereas UHF can work just fine for internal group usage. What is important is that they are truly waterproof, not overly cumbersome or heavy and easily enough attached to your life vest if need be. There are numerous models that currently fit this list of requisites, most of them reasonably priced and some of them even boasting GPS capability.

If not incorporated as part of your radio (or at the very least) fish finder unit, having a GPS unit handy is a great idea and if you’re able to fit it into one of the vest pockets, all the better… just in case. GPS units come in handy for all sorts of things. Most obvious perhaps their contribution to your safety, but they are also really handy for taking marks at points of interest such as reefs, hook up points and launch points (to make it easy to find your way back in darkness, or otherwise when changing tides have changed the landscape. GPS units can fail, however, so having a good compass attached to your kayak (if not in the pocket of your PFD) is a good idea.

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Binoculars are also quite beneficial at times mainly for spotting surface fish and or bird activity, finding your mates when and if you lose sight of them and also (of course) for whale watching. For best results on a kayak go for a magnification of 7 or 8, this should be a good balance between magnification and viewing stability.

There are a few other items that one should really consider packing for open ocean use and these should be fairly self-explanatory. The safe money is on packing a bilge pump of some kind, if not at the very least a very absorbent sponge. If you start taking in water, for whatever reason, you may need an effective way of getting it out.

Packing a first aid kit of some kind is also a very good idea and while it probably need not be overly extensive, it really is a good idea to keep that kit stored in an appropriately shaped dry bag or box and with individual items sealed in plastic for extra protection against the elements. There are quite a few first aid kits on the market specifically designed for kayaking use (and highly recommended), but anyone with a good basic knowledge of first aid could easily piece together their own custom kit, and many do.

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Last but certainly not least, if not for their potential usefulness for fishing applications, an anchor and or drogue is also a potentially useful safely measure. Not only will an anchor provide you the ability to hold position for reef fishing, or a drogue slow your drift for bottom bashing, either of them can help prevent you from being taken further offshore in the event of losing propulsion (such as losing your paddle overboard), minimizing the search area should you require rescuing. Be cautious about deploying anchors anywhere near the presence of whales however. They’ve been known to swim right into them and well, if a kayak were attached to the end of it, the results would be pretty disastrous to say the least.

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