Articles & Reviews
At Christmas time, with family members sprawling around tables groaning with calories, declarations are made to get fit, trim down and spend more time fishing.
During one such lazy family lunch, the conversation turned to fishing, and the question was raised: “Have you ever considered kayak fishing?”
This drew several comments, ranging from the theme to Jaws being hummed, through to “We are heading for the 50m mark at Raglan tomorrow, see you out there”, and “It’s only a matter of time before someone is going to get eaten on one of those things!”
With our families having regular opportunities to spend time at the beach, the idea of sneaking out at dawn and returning with breakfast, as well as going some way towards fulfilling our Christmas resolution, appealed.
The following week the phone rang. It was my brother. “Grant here. How serious are we about getting into kayak fishing?” Answer: “Very serious.”
And so the plan was hatched. Grant was in charge of research and procurement, and I was in charge of finance and logistics.
The criteria when selecting our kayak was that it needed to be stable, as we are not the smallest of anglers, it should be good in the surf, cover the ground well, and be designed specifically with angling in mind.
The following week we had made plans with Viking Kayaks to take delivery of its latest fishing craft, the Predator Pro-Fish. Initially we were just going to get a basic hull, but finished up spending the money necessary to deck it out with all the essentials required to be safe and successful on the water.
Christmas Day was just one sleep away, and feeling like an expectant father I arrived at Viking’s Matamata factory to take home our ‘first born’. But, like most new arrivals, it wasn’t quite ready for delivery, providing a good opportunity to pick the brains of two of the most experienced kayak fishers in the country, Stephen Tapp and his offsider Shamus Brickland.
It became evident early in our conversation that when dealing with the team at Viking, not only do you get the latest in fishing-kayak design, set up by experienced kayak fishers, the company is also passionate about its sport and its product, accompanied by a willingness to pass on its knowledge – something that money simply can’t buy.
Finally the Pro-Fish was securely strapped to the trailer and we were ready for some paddling time.
The maiden launch was in the swimming pool. This was on advice from the team at Viking, to ensure that I could safely remount the kayak should I be unfortunate enough to take an unexpected dip.
Having passed this test, it was time to set off to Lake Ngaroto, a local peat lake (hence the reason for the remount test in the pool) on the outskirts of Te Awamutu. The lake has a shoreline of approximately 5km – an ideal distance for a first-up paddle. Setting out from the shore it was clear that the Pro-fish is extremely stable, and it tracked well with the aid of the Stealth rudder system. Within the hour I was back on the shore, well pleased with the performance of both man and machine.
Lesson #1 – trim
Due to high seas, the first week of our holiday was spent exploring the upper reaches of the Tairua Harbour. It was also a good opportunity to see how the kayak performed with varying weights in the front and rear wells. For this I needed weight, and it came in the form of my eight-year-old daughter.
It was soon discovered that too much weight in the front with a following sea caused the kayak to bow-steer and broach, in this situation weight was better stowed towards the stern.
Heading into the sea with too much weight forward caused the kayak to submarine (much to the disgust of my daughter) and bow-steer. And while too much weight aft would keep you dry and enable you to steer, the downside was a lack of speed caused by too much drag. So the conclusion of the experiment was to distribute the weight evenly.
Lesson #2 – the surf line
Finally, after six days of strong easterlies, the sea subsided enough for us to get out from the southern end of Pauanui Beach. The cunning plan was to set out at 5:30am armed with an array of soft-plastics and tackle, paddle out to around the 20m mark and fish soft-plastic baits while drifting.
Everything was going to plan: the kayak was unloaded onto the sand, all equipment was secured and checked, and the sounder stowed inside the covered cockpit hatch for the journey out through the surf.
However, halfway through the surf line, a wave came from nowhere and had me surfing backwards towards the shore, so I ended up as a wet heap in the shallows. This was not quite the introduction to kayak fishing I had hoped for!
While re-organising the tackle and restoring my damaged pride, I recognised a need to approach the surf with a bit more brain and a lot less brawn.
Back on board I decided to ‘idle’ in the small white water (similar to what you would do while waiting for a clear run crossing a bar) until a break in the surf appeared, at which point I would paddle as if my life depended on it. Sure enough – the plan worked.
It was not long before the 20m mark was reached, the drogue deployed to the rear of the kayak, and the first soft-bait dispatched. Within seconds of it entering the water, it was hit, and a few minutes later a legal snapper was alongside the kayak. Talk about chuffed! Even so, being the first fish it was given a stay of execution and returned to the sea.
Twelve casts later, five further snapper had been boated, with four kept after being humanely dispatched with the aid of a lead-filled priest. However, although the thought of staying out and catching a limit bag was tempting, a strong southeasterly was building, so being the first real sea trial and having secured enough fish for a feed, we decided discretion was the better part of valour and set a course for home.
Feeling like a cross between Bill Hohepa, Ben Fouhy and the proverbially Great White Hunter, it was time to re-enter the surf line. The shore was lined up, a good set came through, and I started surfing toward the beach.
All was going well until the wave broke onto the back of the kayak, turning it sideways and resulting in another broach and can-out – this time shared with an appreciative audience.
Lesson learned: pick your time for re-entry the same as you would for going out – and should you get turned, lean into the wave and keep the paddle flat on top of the wave to keep yourself upright!
Lesson # 3 – check your gear
The Pro-Fish is equipped with a convenient centre-well that can be covered to keep essentials dry and secure.
The well also has two bunged scuppers. This is ideal for clean-up after a day’s fishing, but remember to replace the bungs or you will have a rather unpleasant surprise on your next voyage when you lift the lid – what
was meant to be kept dry will now be swimming.
Lesson learned: check your bung.
The Pro-Fish has been set up with front and rear insulated well covers which, during its two-hour maiden sea voyage, kept the catch cool and in top condition.
The thought of not keeping fish on ice for this period of time was a worry, since I’m an advocate of dispatching fish and icing them down as soon as possible. I was pleasantly surprised to find when filleting the fish that the flesh was firm, cool and translucent. Also, the front well cover is ideal for securing the C-tug beach trolley if you are reluctant to leave it unattended on the beach while out fishing.
Built into the rear-well cover is a pocket designed to house the drogue, which is connected to the running rig, a pulley system that allows the drogue to deployed and retrieved from the bow or the stern of the kayak, dependent upon the type of drift and fishing style.
The use of a drogue is essential for drift fishing. Kayaks are light and do not have much hull in the water relative to the amount of windage, so can drift quicker than a small runabout. Sea anchors also keep the bow pointing into oncoming waves, and in the event of hooking up on something substantial, will aid in the fight.
Our drogue has a small foam float attached to its apex, which stops it from sinking under the kayak should the wind drop. This float is also handy for emptying the drogue during retrieval.
The Pro-Fish has also been fitted with the latest Stealth rudder system, which does not require a pulley system to raise and lower it, meaning fewer ropes and pulleys on the deck. If there is one fault it is that the D-shackles connecting the steering lines to the rudder can get hooked over the rudder bracket if the rudder is pushed hard to port or starboard. This is caused by vertical play in the hinge; to overcome this, a small piece of plastic tube was added as a spacer to take out the play. Problem solved!
A fish stringer has also been added, allowing the catch to be secured, as well as a clear cockpit hatch cover, and two Canon rod-holders joining the four strategically-positioned rod holders to show off the artillery.
To help find the fish there was an unexpected gift under the Christmas tree in the form a Humminbird PiranhaMax 210 sounder, which was promptly fitted, ready for our first expedition.
The approach to kayak fishing is not too dissimilar to boat fishing. The key is to be prepared and to turn down your ‘fishable conditions dial’ until you’ve gained confidence – the consequences of getting it wrong can be cold, wet, embarrassing and expensive!
Initially, less is best on a kayak, as space is at a premium. It may look impressive steaming out through the surf looking like a floating tackle shop, but believe me drowning an arsenal of expensive reels in sandy saltwater leads to an afternoon of time-consuming reel maintenance.
Be seen. During the Xmas break several boats travelled close to me at speed – it required plenty of frantic paddle waving to warn one of them I was in their sights.
As I become more familiar with the kayak, I expect to venture further afield. Many of the fishing techniques we use fishing from a boat can easily be adapted for kayak angling.
At the moment Grant is claiming a shoulder injury is keeping him out of the kayak and in the comfort of a trailer boat. I look forward to seeing him go through the same learning curve, especially the one involving the surf zone – pass me that camera!
- © Fairfax NZ News