Winter Yakking

Winter may be here , but that doesn’t stop us Kayak Fishing . Jamie Robley prepares us for winter yakking and the excellent kayak fishing options and species which are available.

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Many styles of angling tend to be practised more through the warmer months of spring, summer and autumn, including kayak fishing. Of course, this is only natural, as winter can be a tad less inviting for outdoor activities at times.

On the flip side though, we’re very lucky to have quite mild winters compared with many other parts of the world. Depending on exactly which part of Australia you live, there are still likely to be plenty of calm, sunny days when it’s possible to drag the yak out onto your favourite piece of water or head off on a holiday, perhaps to a warmer area.

Wind is perhaps the biggest enemy of the kayak angler and the majority of the country cops a lot of strong southerlies, south westerlies and south easterlies through winter. Thankfully it’s also common for large high pressure systems to move slowly over the mainland, providing decent gaps of much calmer weather. So kayak anglers have the option of possibly fishing a sheltered creek or river with high enough banks to provide some shelter or make the most of those calmer periods to get out on lakes, bays or impoundments.

Aside from picking your time and place, perhaps the biggest difference with winter yakking is the need to rug up and stay warm. It’s not exactly the best time to be wearing shorts and dragging a yak through the shallows as is common when things are warmer. So picking a launching spot where it’s possible to remain dry as you climb aboard is a good way to start. If there’s no avoiding getting the feet wet though, a towel can soon fix that up.

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As for clothing, I normally wear a pair of thick socks while in the kayak and find it keeps the feet warm, while remaining more comfortable and flexible in the confined space than shoes. Wet suit booties are another good idea. Body warmth escapes from the feet, hands and head, so keeping your feet nice and warm is probably the first priority. Trying to put up with wet feet is a bad move, as it distracts the mind from fishing and when they get too bad you certainly won’t want to stay out much longer at all.

Decent quality, fingerless woollen gloves are another essential for early starts or colder areas and they really are a must if you’re a paddler, rather than a peddler. Most paddles have an aluminium shaft, which can be icy cold on bare hands. There are also various other types of gloves worth considering, some better suited to getting wet.

Much like rock fishing, it’s also important to consider safety when selecting the right clothes for winter kayak fishing. I have seen some people wearing full length waders in their kayaks. While they’ll certainly keep the legs and feet warm, waders aren’t exactly comfortable and they will definitely cause major problems should a capsize happen to occur. Yes that may be quite unlikely, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Wearing a PFD or life vest is compulsory in some states. They are nowhere near as bulky as those older style life vests and can actually help the body stay warm, much like a woollen or fleecy vest. There are even specialist kayak fishing vests available these days, fitted with extra pockets and so on, much like fly fishing vests. So that’s another idea well worth looking into.

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BREAM TIME

For many keen kayak anglers, particularly those living around the southern coastal fringe, bream are the main winter target. Both black and yellowfin bream congregate in certain places through the cooler months, either for spawning purposes or simply to move into slightly warmer water, where food is also available.

Along much of the NSW coastline and southern Queensland, yellowfin bream can be found in both size and numbers towards the lower reaches of estuaries. They either spawn right near the mouth or along adjacent beaches and headlands. At the same time though, many bream also move upstream and sometimes into smaller feeder creeks.

Conversely, large open lakes or broadwaters that may fish well in summer tend to house a lot less bream because they’ve moved into more favourable places. Still though, fish are fish and they don’t read our rule books, so a few bream may be found scattered here and there throughout a waterway. If in doubt though, head down towards the mouth as a first choice or much further upstream as a second option.

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The basic guidelines when casting lures for winter bream are to go deeper and slower. While they’ll still hit surface lures, you’ll do a lot better overall with sinking types like small vibes and soft plastics. A pumpkinseed, watermelon or camo coloured 3inch Berkley Gulp is pretty much unbeatable, providing it’s matched with a suitable jig head for the area being fished. In other words enough weight to get down without being swept away by the current, but not so heavy that it plummets like a bullet down to the bottom. A gentle, average sink rate is what we’re aiming for.

Most small vibe type lures work brilliantly on bream, but once again something needs to be chosen to match the environment being fished. In larger rivers metal vibes like the Ecogear ZX30 or 35 sink quickly, without being hampered by tidal flow. In shallower water with little or no current some of the lighter plastic vibes could be better. My current favourite in such places is Daiwa’s Tournament Baby Vib.

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Sometimes though, when simply catching a few bream for the dinner table is the main goal, then it’s hard to go past good old fashioned bait. An enormous variety of bait will interest bream, but when chasing any fish at any time of year, it’s a good idea to use top quality stuff. So fresh or live bloodworms, sandworms, pipis, pink nippers and fresh fish flesh baits are some well worth considering. If you don’t mind getting a bit messy then mullet or luderick gut is also a prime winter bream bait.

In many places the water could be extra clear at this time of year and bream are quite wary. So if the water is noticeably clear it can pay to use a fine, 2 or 3kg fluorocarbon leader or perhaps spool up the reel full of fluorocarbon. Some anglers may go as far as using one kilo fluoro, which is fine, but from my experience there’s simply no need to go that light, and two kilo just provides a fraction more pulling power should any larger bream run for snags.

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OTHER FAVOURITES

Flathead are another reliable winter species in estuaries, likes and coastal rivers. As is the case with bream, many flathead will be found in deeper water through the cooler months, particularly in upstream areas, more so than the lower reaches. While techniques largely remain the same at any time of year, I’ll always favour soft plastics bounced slowly along the bottom when it comes to winter flathead.

Salmon and tailor are much more abundant around most estuaries through the cooler months, especially larger lakes and bays in southern regions. While some may scoff at catching salmon, others greatly value their hard fighting abilities, which make for a lot of fun with lighter bream style gear.

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Whiting can also be quite common in some places during the winter months. As mentioned ,for bream and flathead, deeper water houses more whiting now, as opposed to the shallows these little fish love so much during summer. Bloodworms, sandworms, pink nippers and soldier crabs are excellent baits for winter whiting. As for lures, try Ecogear ZX30s or 2inch Berkley Gulp worms in the camo or motor oil red fleck. You won’t go wrong with those two colours!

Luderick, mulloway, hairtail and trevally are some of the other fish to be expected in some estuaries during winter. Of these, luderick and silver trevally are quite common in my local lakes, but other species are likely to be more common elsewhere around the country.

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FRESHWATER

don’t usually come to mind when we think of winter kayak fishing, but some of the larger, well known impoundments can provide some great fishing for those willing to put in the effort. Places like St Clair, Glenbawn and Somerset, as well as other smaller dams fish best when a big high pressure system moves overhead, creating chilly mornings and clear, sunny days.

Although it’s possible to score fish here and there by randomly trolling or casting along the edges, better sizes and numbers are likely to be found further out, sometimes suspending over deep structure. So a decent quality sounder is a must in order to locate these fish and GPS tracking also helps stay in touch with them or mark spots for future reference.

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As is the case with lure casting for winter bream, it pays to use lighter fluorocarbon leaders for these bass. The water is cold and clear, so they’re not always the same aggressive biters as they may have been several months earlier. I’ve even known successful tournament anglers to go right down to reels spooled up with one kilo fluorocarbon to help them score more bites.

Jigging over these suspended bass is standard practice. A variety of small offerings ranging from spinnerbaits to soft plastics to flies can be used for this, however ice jigs and small Berkley Gulps are often the most successful. Still though, each waterway is different and it may take some experimentation to bring results. Keeping an eye on the sounder and persistence are two main keys here.

Cod, trout, redfin and carp are some more freshwater options worth considering, depending on where you live or may you be thinking of heading to, to escape winter’s chills. Whatever the species or area, at least we do have an excellent variety of kayak fishing options through the colder months. So rug up, stay safe and get out there!

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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