Blue Water 'yak Action
TARGETING big fish in a kayak in offshore waters defines the adventurous spirit of the modern sportfisherman. MARK WILLIAMS recounts the appeal of bluewater ’yak fishing.
OVER the past 12 months I’ve spent lots of early mornings pedalling my Hobie kayak towards the morphing rays of a beautiful offshore sunrise in the pursuit of bluewater gamefish. On many occasions, those golden dawns heralded the beginning of a day packed with hot fishing action where the silence of the ocean’s swells was punctuated by reels screaming in protest as yet another powerful sportfish powered off against a labouring drag system.
I’ve caught my share of big fish off the rocks and out of boats, but the challenge of pursuing large and powerful sportfish from a kayak really is something else. I wish I’d gotten into it years ago. The great appeal of this style of fishing is that it’s just you against the fish. It’s a tremendously satisfying experience to hook, fight, land and then ultimately return to shore with a sizeable gamefish from a kayak.
Offshore kayak fishing isn’t going to be for everyone. It requires dedication, an affinity with the ocean and a reasonable level of fitness. My progress in this specialised style of fishing has been greatly accelerated through the support and guidance of Grant Ashwell and Louis Swart, both of whom are good friends and gun kayak anglers.
Grant and Louis are two of the most widely respected guys in the offshore kayaking community – you only have to go to www.theyakshed.com to find images of the mind-blowing array of black marlin, striped marlin, sailfish, wahoo, cobia, mackerel and tuna they’ve landed. There’s a tremendous camaraderie amongst offshore kayak fishos. I’ve found them to be amongst the friendliest groups of anglers I’ve come across. You only have to look on kayak fishing websites such as Yak Shed to witness the good will and freely proffered advice and guidance.
The following is a rundown of the lessons I’ve learnt offshore kayak fishing over the past year, along with various insights I’ve gained from fishing with some of the best blue water kayak fishos around. It should hopefully provide some guidance for anglers looking to get into offshore kayak fishing and may possibly help some of those currently ’yakking offshore to improve their results.
Key factors to consider when buying a kayak for offshore fishing include the type of fishing you want to focus on, the areas you intend to fish and, most importantly, your launch locations. Surf launches such as those regularly undertaken by offshore kayak fishos based around Coffs Harbour and in South-East Queensland are ideally suited to sit on type paddle kayaks or skis. Popular brands that are in regular use with offshore kayak fishos include those from the Stealth, Ocean Kayak, Viking and Perception stables. These paddle type kayaks are ideally suited to trolling lures and live or dead baits over shallow inshore reef complexes.
Many of the Hobie pedal kayaks featuring the ingenious Mirage Drive System are also perfectly suited to offshore fishing. Favoured Hobie models amongst the offshore kayak fishing fraternity include the Revolution 13, Pro-Angler 12 and Pro-Angler 14. I believe Hobie kayaks are best suited to calmer water launch locations such as those at South West Rocks plus many locations around Sydney and the NSW South Coast. Where the Hobie Mirage Drive kayaks really shine is fishing the deeper inshore reef complexes where being able to have your hands free to jig for bait or deploy a live bait off a downrigger is a tremendous advantage.
Tackle & Techniques
Prime big fish target species for kayak anglers include snapper, mulloway, yellowtail kingfish, Spanish mackerel, spotted mackerel, cobia, longtail tuna, yellowfin tuna, southern bluefin tuna, wahoo, black marlin, striped marlin and sailfish. A variety of techniques such as trolling, casting or drift fishing using live baits, dead baits or lures can be employed. Quality overhead or threadline jigging outfits in the 10 to 15kg range seem ideally suited to the pursuit of most game species from a ’yak.
In my opinion, kayaks are superbly suited to the trolling of either live or dead baits. Trolling baits is the primary fishing technique for many experienced kayak fishos. These anglers set up their kayaks as trolling machines with rod holders, live bait tanks/tubes and high performance fish finder/GPS combos. You can be sure that many of these switched-on anglers will also have lure rigged casting or jigging outfits aboard their ’yaks to take advantage of schooling fish opportunities, but the majority have set their craft up for the slow trolling of baits or lures. The reason for this specialised approach is that both paddle and pedal type kayaks cover the water at an ideal speed for bait trolling.
Live slimy mackerel are the No.1 bait in my book, but other effective baits include yellowtail, pike, squid, tailor, small tuna and bonito. It’s incredible how many big Spanish mackerel are caught each season by kayakers trolling dead pilchard baits on highly innovative wire rigs.
Lure trolling is also a very effective technique when offshore kayaking, but it’s critical to find lures that work most effectively at speeds that you can consistently maintain over long periods of paddling or pedalling. The most popular bibbed trolling minnow for offshore kayakers would have to be the Halco Crazy Deep Scorpion, particularly in the famed red head/white body colour pattern. These lures swim perfectly at comfortable kayak trolling speeds and get down deep to draw strikes from mackerel, kingies, tuna and – surprising as it may seem – snapper. Other quality bibbed trolling lures worth checking out for kayak fishing include Rapala X-Raps and Samaki Pacemakers.
It’s critically important when offshore kayak fishing to be well organised as there’s no one to assist you when your reel screams and the big fish hook up you’ve been craving occurs. As I found out when I hooked a 26kg wahoo off South West Rocks earlier this year, it’s easy to become mesmerised by your reel spinning like mad; but you don’t have time for that stuff – you’ve got to get your other outfit in and get some pressure on the fish before it spools you. You have to work fast, be organised and get after that fish.
It pays to be prepared and take a conservative approach when heading offshore in a kayak. My first couple of practice trips were undertaken in near perfect calm weather in the company of my good fishing mate Eugene Partridge. We both had good quality PFDs and mobile phones in water proof cases. I’ve since purchased a waterproof hand held VHF radio which is on my PFD at all times. Some experienced offshore kayakers I know also carry a personal locator beacon (PLB), which is a great idea definitely worth considering. The other piece of equipment that I consider is of high importance when offshore kayak fishing in areas of significant boat traffic is a safety flag. A high visibility flag mounted on a pole on your ’yak allows boaties to see you even when there is a swell running. If you’re going to be regularly fishing amongst boats offshore I strongly recommend you make yourself up a safety flag to improve your visibility to other craft.
Finally, know your physical limits and if conditions begin to deteriorate head for shore. Always take enough food and drinks to stay hydrated and maintain your energy levels. Modern technology now allows anyone with a smart phone to access up-to-date weather information and warnings so take advantage of it and don’t get caught out.
I’m sure that most truly keen anglers have either read Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella The Old Man and the Sea or seen the wonderful movie starring Spencer Tracy as the old Cuban fisherman Santiago. Chasing big fish from a kayak offshore is the closest any of us can come to reliving that classic tale of the old man battling the giant marlin from his small timber sailing boat. Anyway, that’s how it feels to me, when I’m out there on the bluewater and my ’yak is being dragged around the ocean by a big crazy fish …