Author: Will Hay
Kayak fishing has captured the hearts of Kiwis across the country, and it's not just the cost-effectiveness compared to traditional boats or jet skis that seals the deal. The true magic lies in the ability to stealthily approach prime fishing spots, navigating close to rocky outcrops where you'd never dare to take a boat, all while being out there for a fraction of the cost of a motor-propelled craft and enjoying a bit of fitness too!
In the world of kayak fishing, simplicity reigns supreme. Armed with minimal equipment, you can hit the water and draw a closer connection with the wonders of Aotearoa than if you were whizzing by. However, like any waterborne pursuit, preparation is key, ensuring you have the right gear needed to safely paddle out and being especially mindful of the conditions prior to and during your trip. In this guide, we’ll go over the basic essential kit needed, as well as what to watch out for when planning and paddling out for a yak fish on the water.
Starting in the most obvious area, you will need a kayak adequate not only for the job but also for your skill level. When it comes to kayaks, there are two main types in NZ: Sit On Tops or Sit Insides. The latter demands higher skill levels and constant practice for self-saving and roll-over rescues, making Sit On Tops (SOTs) more desirable for the average kayak angler. Fortunately, there are several reputable manufacturers such as Viking and Ocean Kayak that make Sit on Top yaks specifically for NZ conditions. These kayaks are super durable, made from Polyethylene, which reduces weight but withstands the harsh UV and salt environments it's subject to.
Kayaks come in all different lengths, from as small as 2.5m to over 5m, with some equipped with rudders, fish finders/chart plotters, and even electric propulsion! The length of a kayak influences its speed and maneuverability and the ability to navigate more open waters. Longer kayaks with modest width paddle faster in challenging conditions, while shorter kayaks excel in maneuverability, making them ideal for creeks, rivers, and close-quarters fishing. Striking a balance is crucial, as unnecessarily wide or too long/short kayaks can pose challenges in adverse conditions. Speak to local anglers or retailers for a guide in your local area. The Kayak Fishing NZ online forum is also a wealth of knowledge specific to the area of NZ you live in. One final consideration when selecting a kayak is the seat. As you may be spending hours in this newly acquainted throne, having one that provides maximum support and comfort is just as vital as the kayak itself.
Like any venture out on the water, the right safety equipment is the first priority, especially when your craft is a lot smaller and its propulsion relies solely on your physical ability. Therefore, things like weight, restriction on movement, and easy accessibility without major weight distribution all play an important factor in what you equip. The most vital piece of gear will be your lifejacket, and having one that does its job but ensures you can get on and do yours is key. Hutchwilco has designed a kayak-specific lifejacket called the Pro Fish that allows maximum freedom while paddling and contains a bunch of storage features for PLBs, VHF radios, even a hydration pack. Not having to let go of the paddle or twist/reach to get something as simple as a water bottle seems minor, but during a morning's paddle back from the fishing spot, it makes perfect sense when you're locked in.
Communication is a must-have, especially if you get caught out in an unexpected situation. A compact handheld VHF that you can clip to your lifejacket is great, as is a mobile phone as backup (The Cobra HH350 from Marine Deals is great as it's not only cost-effective but also floats, a vital necessity should the worst happen, and you are separated from your kayak in the water). A worthy consideration if you are exploring wider or into more remote areas is an EPIRB or personal locator beacon. Again, a compact/floating variety like the ACR ResQLink 400 makes sense as it takes up minimal real estate and can be accessed easily. One vital yet different piece of equipment not to be missed versus a boat, for instance, is tethers. In other words, the bits that stop your other bits from floating away. In my younger days fishing off a small Viking Pacer, I hooked up to a decent snapper which, when I got it to the surface in the flurry of trying to net the fish, stamp the rod in the rod holder and not fall out, I didn't realize my paddle, which was tucked next to me, had bounced out. Once I had got the fish onboard, my feeling of pride quickly shot to demise when I saw my paddle floating about 30 yards upwind of me. Fortunately, with some long-lost balance, I quickly shunted onto my knees and surf ski paddled back to it, but the consequences could have been much worse. Investing in proper elastic tethers to secure vital things like your paddle, rods, and net to your kayak is a must-have as you may find yourself reeling in something else.
Times and Tides
Kayak fishing allows you to feel like you're at one with the water, but this proximity means you need to be extra careful about the conditions before and during your trip. Be especially mindful of the wind when coastal fishing; know what different wind levels feel like, what it does to the ocean conditions, and your ability to paddle with or against them. It's worth a few practice paddles close to shore in varying conditions before heading out wider, so you know what to expect. Remember, your ability to get home directly relies on your fitness and endurance, and while a 2km paddle in 5-knot variable winds seems like a cakewalk, a 500m paddle in 15-20 knots on the head may be out of your limits when weighed down with gear. Be wary of the afternoon sea breezes, especially if the land temps increase throughout the day, as this can cause localized pressure imbalances and surprise gusts that won't show on the normal wind apps.
Tides and currents, especially in different or new areas you're unfamiliar with, should be paid close attention to, especially before you head out. Paddling against the wind is one thing, but against a strong tidal current could be deadly, so plan your journeys around the tides accordingly and know when to come home. Don't forget you're especially vulnerable to the dreaded wind-against-tide situations that often plague fishing hot spots over summer. You may be out there targeting one species, but remember that others may surprise you. I've had the joyful encounter of dolphins frolicking as I paddle out coupled with the unnerving feeling of a pod of Orca cruising by. Being more ingrained into the surroundings while kayak fishing may lead to more frequent encounters to be mindful of. It's important to also remember your limits. If the PB Kingi you hooked up to on light tackle an hour ago is still dragging you out to sea, it may be better to swallow some pride and cut it off. Making it home empty-handed is better than not getting back to shore.
As always, if in doubt, don't head out. But if out and in doubt, head in or at least head closer to shore where you can make an exit should you need to. Bad weather is a lot more manageable in shallow waters than in the deep.
Kayak Fishing is a great way to get out on the water this summer while allowing you to have a different perspective than land-based or boat fishing. With a focus on prior preparation, adequate yet efficient gear and safety equipment selection, you'll be readily equipped to seize what our coastlines have to offer. There's nothing quite like stealth fishing and coming home with a day's catch while burning calories rather than combustion fuel is so much more rewarding!
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