Chris Ogborne takes a look at the rapidly growing sport of Kayak fishing with some
solid advice on how to get started
Take a week-end trip to Devon or Cornwall these days and you’d be forgiven for thinking
that the World has gone mad for canoes and kayaks. It seems that every second car
you see has a roof rack with a boat strapped to it. Of course, a lot of these are
the hugely popular ‘short’ canoes for surf riding but an increasing number are fishing
And it’s hardly surprising. Few areas of our sport offer such an intimate involvement
with the angling environment, allowing us to get right down there close to the water
surface and right in amongst the fish. Fewer still let us explore the true ‘hunter’
instinct, with freedom to paddle the angling platform into places denied to larger,
more intrusive craft. Going fishing in a kayak is an adventure, a special day out
and an absolutely unique experience.
Nobody can deny that the coastal waters of Britain are heavily fished these days.
Any traditional fishing port, any estuary and virtually anywhere with access to the
sea will have potential and will be used by anglers of all pursuasions. Whether it’s
a simple mackerel boat trip for an hour or so, beach casting, or rock hopping – there
will usually be an angler somewhere in sight. But a fishing kayak gets you away
from all that. You can paddle off into the evening to find a quiet cove, a remote
beach, or even an area of salt marsh that’s been forgotten by the locals.
The real trick is to be flexible. Rather than restrict yourself to just spinning
or flyfishing, you can gear-up your kayak to allow you to fish in a variety of ways.
Bait casting, drop shot, up-tide, plug or spinner and of course flyfishing – all
are options. If you get the right boat then it’s perfectly possible to combine all
of these things with a single days fishing.
And there are plenty of shops around now to advise you. From being a minority, specialist
sport just a few years ago, kayaking has grown with phenomenal speed to the extent
where virtually every coastal town has its own specialist outlet. They’re toy shops
for grown up boys, or boys and girls of all ages actually, with a baffling array
of boats and extras to tempt you. But be warned – it’s a bit like the options list
at BMW as you can easily ramp up the price if you’re not careful! Let’s look at the
Kayak: Don’t go for too small a boat. The best fishing ‘yaks are between 12 and 15
feet and as with most things in life it’s about compromise. You need stability as
a pre-requisite, but you also need good boat speed and tracking (straight line travel).
It’s also good to be honest with yourself and match the person to the craft – if
you’re 18 stone and well built then you probably wont be happy with the smaller models.
Short boats are slower but lighter, whilst the longer the boat the better the tracking.
Hull design is crucial no matter what the length and a decent keel (as with any watercraft)
will be a big bonus for most ‘yaks intended primarily for fishing. Cathedral type
hulls are good for stability but tend to give a lot of ‘water slap’ which can be
annoying when you’re stalking bass.
Paddle: Cheaper ones are glass and the better (and lighter) ones are carbon. Buy
the best you can afford, but without going for the unnecessary gimmicks. The ‘offset’
paddles may give better wrist action but you pay big money for the privilege. A
good carbon paddle with adjustability for right and left bias is ideal.
Also make sure you invest in a retaining lanyard for the paddle. Many ‘yaks have
side clips but with the potential excitement involved with fishing it’s easy to lose
hold and be left hand-paddling like a lonely surfer. A lanyard is the safer option.
Seat: If you’re planning full days out then make sure you buy a decent seat. Most
‘yaks have their own dedicated seat supplied, but it’s an area where an up-grade
can be very worthwhile. A good upright seat position will help your paddling but
you also need a degree of mid back support. A little bit of comfort padding can go
a long way.
Rod holders. Most yaks built for fishing have at least one rod holder incorporated
into the design but for my money you need at least two, and ideally three. You can
have spare rods stored in the hatch but that’s not a lot of use if you’re out on
the water and want to change quickly from spin to fly. Longer handled spin rods
can fit neatly into the recessed holders but a specialist holder (like the Scotty)
is better for fly rods.
Storage. Manufacturers have thought this out well on most boats but as with everything
in life there are some that are better than others. A good waterproof hatch is great
for spare clothing, jacket and tackle. If you’re planning on indulging in mixed fishing
then make sure the hatch can take the length of your favourite rod tubes. The secondary
hatch (often positioned in the footwell or nearer to you) is ideal for drinks, food,
bait and smaller tackle essentials. Most ‘yaks also have an ‘open’ storage area
with bungee cords to secure items like a large fishing bag (make sure it’s waterproof)
and/or your wheel transport system.
Bouyancy Aid or BA for short. Kayaking is a ‘wet’ sport and as such the full-on self-inflating
life jacket can be too much. However, no sensible angler goes afloat these days without
some kind of BA. Accidents can happen and no matter how stable your boat there WILL
come a time when you go swimming!
Net. If you’re serious about your fishing then a landing net is essential. This can
be secured with a small alloy karabina to stop you losing it over the side – these
karabinas, linked with either a length of bungee cord or nylon rope, are great for
all kinds of extras.
Compass: These might look a bit poseur, but in reality they can save your life. Sea
mists can come from nowhere and no matter how well you know your estuary its frightening
how easy it is to become disoriented. Compasses are made in kayak size these days,
they look neat and cool and they’re a no-brainer safety extra. So too is a hand-held
VHF unit: you may never use it (which is great) but on the one day when things go
wrong you’ll be glad you made the investment. There’s also the nice fact about boating
culture in that people tend to look out for others as well as themselves. You’ll
feel really good if one day you have to call-in a problem that you’ve seen at sea,
or when you actively help someone else in trouble because you’re the one with the
Aquapacs: These simple waterproof pouches are a brilliant invention. They can be
bought in a vast range of shapes and sizes and are the only way to keep mobile phone,
car keys and VHFs truly dry.
Clothing. As I said before, this is a ‘wet’ sport. By all means wear neoprene shorts
if you want to but there’s no need to do the full neoprene monty. You’ll expend a
lot of energy paddling (very real health benefits) so I prefer to travel light. But
equally I keep extra layers and a light waterproof jacket in the storage area.
Anchor/Drogue: Ideally you’ll need both. Kayaks are very light and they drift very
fast on the wind, so you need to control the chosen fishing location. The mini anchors
are ideal and take up little space - add at least 40 feet of light rope.
Extras: In truth, the above is everything you need for a great days sport. However,
the options list goes on. And on. Your budget will probably be the deciding factor
but even so it really isn’t necessary to go for customised cooler bags, drinks holders,
depth sounders or binocular tripods. If you don’t exercise a bit of willpower your
boat can very easily look ‘overdone’!
The real fun in kitting out your boat is the element of personalisation – you can
tailor the extras to your own spec, thus creating a unique craft that does precisely
what you want.
Finally, just a word about common sense. It’s not against the law for anyone, of
any age, to go and buy a Kayak, jump in and head for the ocean. It may not be illegal
but it IS daft. Get some experience before you tackle anything as potentially dangerous
as the open sea. Preferably get some training, most of which will probably be available
in the shop where you buy your boat. Start off in ‘safe’ areas, either around the
harbour or in a sheltered part of the estuary. Make your mistakes in shallow water
before you venture farther out!
Also be aware of harbour dues and launching fees – most ports have them. If in doubt,
have a word with the harbourmaster.
Size limits are critical as well, particularly for Bass. The EA take a very dim view
of anyone taking undersize fish and they can (and often do) prosecute.
For guided fishing/kayaking trips with Chris Ogborne in South West England visit
For kayaks and canoes in Cornwall visit www.ccak.co.uk