Yak Fishing Kit - What to stow when you go

John Pollard
In April-May (Issue 79) we covered what to wear on your body while on your Yak, this issue we will look at what else you may need or want out on the water with you. As previously mentioned we have very changeable and sometimes diabolical weather conditions, so what you take out with you on your yak takes some planning, consideration of your yak's storage capacity and good common sense.

A kayak is small
Beside the obvious, your rods, you need all the tackle; the hooks, swivels, oft plastics, lures, etc, but there is also a range of other equipment you need to consider. Some of it you may never want to have to use, but it is good to know it's there if you need it.

These pieces of equipment include some, if not all, of the following:

  • The "crate'
  • Fish storage
  • Trolley
  • Tackle box/bag
  • Leashes
  • Landing nets, gaffs and anchors
  • Rod storage and holders
  • Communications devices, and
  • Other useful safety items

The Crate
Let's start with the most bragged about and personally customized pieces of equipment a yak fisherman can possess, "The crate". Yak fishing crates are a bit of a personal thing and in some case not really a necessary thing. The most commonly used base for most crates is the every reliable "milk crate", it's the perfect size for most kayaks and you can cram a lot of gear into one. Many yak fishos will customize their crate to include extra rod or landing net holding tubes, a mounting for a knife, anchor storage, a small esky or cooler bag and of course a tackle box.
Now I did say up there that they are not always necessary and this is very true if you own one of the purpose built fishing kayaks. Many fishing kayaks come kitted out with so much easy to access storage these days that the crate isn't really a necessity anymore. When I combine the storage available in my fishing PFD and the easy to reach storage options in my Hobie Outback, I do not need a crate to store gear in. That doesn't mean that I never use one, in fact I use one on most trips, my crate is part of my fish storage option.
Other brands of kayaks have excellently laid out utility areas, both in the front and back of the cockpit. Kayaks like the Viking Profish and the Feel Free Mokken come with huge covered utility areas which can keep your gear secure. You would think these would completely do away with the need for a crate, however the people I know who own these craft still have a crate. It's kind of a "blokie" yak accessory, everyone "needs" one.

Fish Storage
If you are going out for a feed or competing in a fishing tournament you need to safely and humanely store your fish. So you have a couple of options, either a form of cool storage for your eating fish or a live well. Cool storage can take the form of an esky with an ice and saltwater slurry or a cooler bag with some ice blocks, either way you will want to humanely dispatch your fish prior to putting them in there. Most people will use some form of bucket in conjunction with this form of storage, that way you can catch a few fish and store them when you stop to clean them.
Live wells for kayaks are just like those found in many fishing boats, only smaller. You can find either purpose built units, which can fit either onto or into the hull of your kayak, or you can make one yourself. The purpose built units come with a full water recirculation system, which will continuously replenish the water in your live well.
Live Well
In a number of recent mainland kayak fishing tournaments it has also been okay to use a large bucker as a live well so long as the water was changed at regular intervals.

There is a number of options for kayak trolleys, again either prefabricated or D.I.Y. Some kayak manufacturers have created trolleys specifically for their kayaks, such as Hobie who have created three different model trolleys for their range of kayaks. Where as, third party trolleys such as the C-Tug will suit all makes and models of kayaks. Most of these also have the added convenience of being able to be broken down for storage inside the hull of most yaks.
One of the most commonly used trolleys is the D.I.Y. versions, usually made with a small hand trolley with pneumatic tyres (cheaply picked up from many auto parts retailers). Which after a cut or two with an angle grinder, a couple of pieces of pool noodle and a few cable ties makes a very sturdy and stable yak trolley for around about $40.

Tackle box/bag
How much tackle you take out on a yak with you is a question that dogs every yak fisho, and there is no straight answer for the question. I take what I think I need, then throw in a little more to be sure, you are only really limited by available space and weight capacity. On my first few trips I took everything I could lay my hands on, I have learnt over time what I do and don't use out on the water. My recommendation is to go light.
Most kayaks will have storage hatches on them and there are a number of options for tackle to go into these hatches. The trouble with storing things inside is that without taking the proper precautions things will move around. My tip is to go to some where like Chickenfeed and grab a roll of non-slip matting for a couple of dollars. Use some double sided tape to hold it down and place your small tackle boxes indie the hull sitting on the matting.
(You can also go the option of an 8" hatch tackle box, they come segmented and with a lid, they also sit in the lip of your 8" hatch. They are small, light weight and carry a fair bit of tackle. )
If you are going to go the option of a larger tackle box, you will most likely be storing it in your crate or behind your seat. If you do use a larger tackle box, please take these two pieces of advice:
1. Secure it to you kayak with some sort of leash, and
2. Try to use a waterproof tackle box, which you will find are reasonably priced, readily available and come in a number of sizes.
Because one day you will roll or tip your kayak and watching of a couple of hundred dollars worth of lures and tackle going down into the murky depths is heart breaking.
Everything should be secured into or onto your yak, this includes the crate, rods, landing nets, paddles, tackle boxes, your trolley (if you take it with you), communications devices, camera and anything else that doesn't float and might fall over the side.
A leash can be as simple as a piece of good quality nylon cord with decent knots tied, or you can go all out and buy full on pre-made stretchy cord leashes. Pre-made leashes can cost from $10 to $30, making your own can be as cheap as a few cents. No matter which you decide to use, just use some form of leash it will save a lot of heart ache and a lot of cash one day.

Landing nets, lip grippers, gaffs and anchors
These are optional, however if I am trying to land a decent size fish I will always have my net at the ready, I lose more fish at the side of the yak when I don't use a net. The size and type of the net is entirely up to you, I use an Enviro-net purely for the sake of handling the fish as little as possible. Also when I leash my net I use a minimum of a 2 metre length of cord, so that I can have enough play to use the net all around the yak. Lip grippers are also a great alternative and these days there are a number of floating ones available for yak fishermen.
Gaffs are an option in a kayak in saltwater, they are however illegal to use in freshwater. The thing about a gaff is that they create a bleed point in your fish, which puts blood in the water, which in turn has the potential to attract toothy ocean going critters. If you are going to use a gaff, wrap and store you catch so that bleeding into the water is kept to a minimum.
Anchors and drogues are very useful pieces of kit. I only started using my anchor about 6 months ago when I got sick of drifting off of a good spot. A kayak drifts rather quickly in either a current or a wind so some form of anchoring device is desirable. Drogues are also handy in these situations, the one thing with a drogue; they can slow down your paddling speed if you forget you have it out there.

Rod storage and holders
Just like on a boat you need two types of rod storage, one for extra rods and the other for when you are trolling or drifting. Most fishing kayaks will come with in built rod holders; usually a moulded tube holder that goes into the hull and sits the rod at about a 60 degree angle, these are usually sufficient for most conditions. However if you are out on salt water and there is a bit of chop or wind about, your rods are only a couple of inches off of the waterline and they are going to take a lot of salt spray or a wave or two. The higher up your reel is off of the water line the better, again you can go down the pre-made track or you can D.I.Y. your rod holders.
D.I.Y. is a good option for holders to store rods; the simplest of these goes straight onto your crate, usually a couple of pieces of 32 or 40 mm PVC tube cable tied to your crate. Or you can create what is commonly referred to as a "rocket launcher", these are the apex of yak fishing D.I.Y. and are a site to behold sitting on the back of a yak.
A very good pre-made option is a product that is produced by a number of manufacturers, which extends the holding height of the inbuilt rod holders. These too can be made by some creative use of PVC tubing and a heat gun. Just remember to keep your rods leashed when they are in any rod holder.
If you fly-fish from a yak then a specialised fly rod holder is thoroughly recommended for these pieces of specialised and usually expensive items, a standard tube style rod holder will not do the job.
For trolling you can us the in-built holders or you may prefer to use a rod holder that will keep your rod as level as possible to the waterline, but still elevated above it. Most rod holder manufacturers make extenders for their set ups and these are commonly sort after accessories by yak fishos, however in Australia they are hard to come by and most of the yak fishing community source them from the USA. That is slowly changing as more fishing outlets take yak fishing more seriously.

Communications devices
Like diving, kayak fishing is something best done with a companion or two (or ten), not only for the safety reasons but also so you can have a witness to your capture of that elusive big fish and the sleigh ride it might have taken you on. Or in some cases someone to help you land that big fish.
A handheld two way radio makes staying in touch with your fishing companions easier on the throat than yelling at each other across 100 metres or so of water; plus it has the added benefit of being able to calling for emergency help if needed. These days there is a large range of relatively small and cheap hand held radios available; going out on the water with one is now cheaper and easier than ever.
Everyone has a mobile phone these days, as they saying goes "they are as common as ear holes, everyone has at least one" (well okay, I cleaned it up a bit). That aside mobiles should be treated as a secondary or back up device, restricted by your phone provider's coverage.
There is one benefit to mobiles in an emergency, no matter what network you are connected to, so long as your phone can see the other provider's base stations (has some coverage) you can make an emergency call. You need to remember however to dial "112" which is the International Standard Emergency Services number from a mobile phone, the equivalent of 000 from a landline phone. The problem with 000 is that not all mobile phones recognize it as a number.
With any standard two-way radio or mobile phone, you will need some form of waterproof satchel for it; otherwise it may be useless if it gets wet. There are also a number of waterproof two ways available.

Other useful safety items
First Aid Kit - even the most basic and simple first aid kit is better than nothing. You can go out an buy a small marine first aid kit for around $35 or you could create small on of your own for about the same price. Either way one of the most useful pieces of first aid equipment you can have with you is the old Triangular Bandage, every first aid kit should have at least one. If you can do a basic first aid course, it's handy to have those skills at work on the water and more importantly at home. A waterproof portable first aid kit can save you a lot of grief.

Emergency Items
These include flares, waterproof matches (and other survival items), emergency lighting and even EPIRBs. Some of these things may seem excessive, however they only seem excessive right up until the point you desperately need them. Personally I don't carry an EPIRB and my justification for that is that I don't head out onto the open waters off of the coast, or into remote lakes on the highlands. Once I start doing those things, then I will be investing in one. All the other items are commonsense basic emergency gear that every watercraft should carry.
In these two articles I have spent a lot of time talking about safety equipment and for a very good reason; I want everyone involved in the sport to enjoy it and be as safe as possible whilst doing so.
A lot of people look at kayak fishermen and think we are either soft for not owning a motored boat or just plain mad. In truth we aren't the previous most yak fisho's either used to or still do own a boat, but we probably are a little bit of the latter. If you are new to kayak fishing or never tried it before you might think it looks relatively easy and so long as you know your own limitations it is. But the second you move out of your limitations it can be more than challenging, if you take all the right precautions including fishing with mates, you will remove a lot of the risk.
For those of us with kids we know we have a responsibility to get home safely, for that matter even if you don't have kids there is someone waiting for you at the end of your fishing trip, make sure you get home to them safely.

John Pollard

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