Have you ever been stuck on shore with a salmon school turning the water to foam or rising trout just beyond casting distance? Maybe wondered about the fish hanging on the weed beds beyond your reach or in that inaccessible stretch of un-wadeably deep river protected by dense bankside willows? Can't afford a boat, nowhere to store it, don't want the hassle or the need for a bigger car just to tow it? A solution is at hand. Get yourself a kayak.
What started out for me as a means to access water I couldn't otherwise reach has now developed into a preferred way of fishing. I now own two kayaks, both fibreglass cheapies that I picked up for less than $150. The smaller 6ft model sees the most use, being able to fit inside the car so I do not even need to use the roof racks and at a weight of about 10kg being easy to carry over even fairly long distances to launch if needed. In rivers the smaller length and better manoeuvrability makes this smaller craft with its very shallow draft (about 5cm) ideal and on calm days, I have also used it for chasing flathead, salmon and lake trout. However, the larger 10ft model is better in more open areas such as in the salt or on open lakes when the wind is up. If these more open areas are your preferred locations then a larger sea-kayak would be ideal, some of these are very sea-worthy with several people having even used them to cross Bass Strait.
Though my two kayaks are both fibreglass sit-in models and are quite serviceable, some of the latest models are quite incredible. Almost all modern kayaks except some racing models are made from virtually indestructible plastics, which, though they will dent with sufficient impact, will not rupture, or crack and these dents can be simply popped back out.
When buying a kayak, the first choice is whether to go for a "sit-in" model in which you are fully enclosed or a "sit-on-top" model. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Sit-in models will generally give a drier and warmer ride and perhaps make the user feel more secure. As well, they provide easy storage of fish and other items, however any water that does find its way in will remain sloshing around until you land and tip it out. Sit-on-top models are self draining, give the user easier entry and exit, and in the event of capsize may be easily re-boarded. Additionally, with dry hatches available on most modern S.O.T. kayaks there is little loss of practical storage space. The other main advantage of a S.O.T model is the greater scope for leg movement and changes in sitting position, which will increase comfort in a long session.
Of the latest models currently available locally, there are three sit-ins and two sit-ons of particular interest to anglers.
The Otter by Oldtown canoes is a small sit-in at just 2.9m long and 17.7kg. With a large cockpit to accommodate anglers and equipment, this model would be ideal for small stream and river work as well as lakes and near-shore estuaries on very calm days. Substantially larger, the Loon 111 (also by Oldtown) is nearly 3.4m long making it a more versatile choice with greater stability and carrying capacity. A safer choice for lakes and estuaries though still small enough for smaller river work. The Loon 160T is much bigger again at 16ft (4.88m) long and with option of tandem or single use is a very versatile craft. Though quite long, this kayak would still be usable on smallish rivers and is seaworthy enough for lakes and open estuaries in reasonable conditions. With a huge cockpit and capacity of nearly 230kg, this would also be a good choice for extended trips.
For sit on top fans, the Ocean Kayak Scrambler and Scrambler XT at 3.4m and 3.7m respectively are medium sized sit-on models that offer fantastic stability (sufficient for scuba diving from according to the manufacturer) and plenty of storage and carrying capacity. From my own experience, the scrambler can even be stood up in, though I do not recommend this whilst fishing and whilst I was capable of capsizing this was not without considerable, deliberate effort. Both of these models are sufficiently seaworthy to be taken offshore in good conditions and can even be used in the surf (leave the fishing gear behind). With moulded rod-holders incorporated into the XT this would be an ideal fishing craft for one person in almost all potential environments. The other obvious choice for fishers is the Cobra Fish n" Dive. Slightly longer than the XT (12'6" vs. 12'), this is another sit-on model, which again is reputably stable enough to scuba dive from and seaworthy enough for sensible offshore work. Again factory rod holders are available and carrying capacity is nearly double that of the slightly smaller Scrambler XT. The Cobra Fish n" Dive can also be fitted with a bracket to take either an electric or small petrol motor for those who don't want the exercise of paddling.
Though only small and at first seeming quite unstable, with care and without taking stupid risks these small boats are quite versatile fishing platforms. In fact, after about 3 years of use, I have only capsized once and that was when attempting to catch waves in breaking surf in my smaller yak.
I mainly use my kayaks as platforms for drift spinning and occasionally fly-fishing. Drifting a river or lake with the current or wind and casting at bankside cover or over weedbeds is a very relaxing and often productive method of catching trout. Whilst drifting with wind or tide and spinning over sandflats, dropoffs and channels is a great way to pick up flatties, salmon and even bream in suitable areas. Additionally, when travelling, the slow speed and quiet, jerky motion result in an ideal trolling platform so that I will nearly always throw a lure out the back when paddling to or from a fishing spot and quite often go on deliberate trolling runs to locate fish holding areas, which are then given a more thorough coverage by casting.
One of the first things to notice when kayak fishing is just how easily a fish, even a quite small fish, can tow these craft or at least be enough to cause the boat to spin and reasonable fish can and do tow you around for some time. I have even been towed by a large squid. It is for this reason I do not think a kayak is the ideal craft from which to target bream in snaggy territory as you may find they will too easily drag you back into the snags unless you first tie or anchor up.
Whilst just jumping in a kayak with a rod resting on the lap or between the knees can be productive, a couple of very useful accessories will add immeasurably to the enjoyment and productivity of the exercise. Firstly, it is understood that a buoyancy vest or PFD of some form that allows free movement is a requirement, not just an option. For more fishing related accessories, a rod-holder of some form is a godsend whether to be used for trolling or just for rod storage. I have been using a clamp-on metal rod holder that I picked up from a tackle store special bin for about $7 and have found this perfect, after a bit of modification, either clamped on to the larger kayak or bolted to a wooden bracket I have added to my smaller yak. This keeps the rod and line clear of my paddle and with the rod parallel to the water to increase lure running depth. It is also in front where I can see the tip to watch for strikes or fouling of the lure. Another worthwhile investment is a tether of some form for the paddle allowing it to be dropped overboard without catastrophic consequences while fighting or landing fish, taking photos or tackle tinkering. The next thing I would strongly recommend is a landing net. Whilst I don't use one myself, landing fish by hand from a kayak is sometimes difficult and a net could be of great assistance if you can find a handy way of stowing it (deck bungee cords are good for this). A spraysheet is also very helpful if using a sit-in (as opposed to sit-on-top) kayak, this will keep you dryer and allow an eskimo roll if you are unlucky enough to capsize. The trade-off with this is that you will have a hard time accessing anything in the cockpit if you have a spraysheet fitted. However, this need not be a problem if tackle is stored in a vest and the rod is in a deck-top holder. Some form of anchor is also handy, with a brick on a rope being ideal in all but the fastest of currents, just be sure to have a cradle of some form for it when onboard to avoid dropping it through the bottom of your kayak (a piece of styrofoam box is ideal). Some form of drogue to slow wind drift is also a great idea and a tied off fabric bag may be used at a pinch though the smallest size commercially produced one will do a better job. "Wet-bags" are great for holding clothing, cameras, or a bit of lunch or anything else that needs to be kept dry. These can be picked up from canoeing/adventure stores. Electronics such as sounders and GPS can also be fitted and even a motor for some models, though I feel this somewhat counteracts the simplicity of the kayak concept and a motor would rob me of my "exercise" excuse for going fishing.
Finally, any paddle you use should also have drip-rings to prevent water running down the handle into your lap and a cushion is an invaluable comfort if your model lacks padded seats.
Whether you fish rivers, lakes or estuaries a kayak can greatly extend your fishing options, giving access to areas that cannot be reached by foot or even by larger craft while providing good exercise and great fun to the user at minimal cost. So head down to your local dealer to check out what is available or else you had better start scouring those trading posts.