Last month we talked about kayak types, paddles, PFDs and general safety items for paddling on our gorgeous Keys waters. This month I’ll share my thoughts on gear specific to fishing. I’ll assume that you’ll remember to bring your rods, reels and terminal tackle! After that, you have lots of choices to make your little boat more fishable.
Placement of rod holders is something I’ve found to be very important. Generally I like them behind me so my paddling motion is unobstructed, but having one rod holder in front of me is nice, especially when bottom fishing or drifting so I can see movement of the rod tip. Just check that you can still swing your paddle around without banging the rod or holder. One simple method for experimenting with rod holder placement is to use wire ties to affix them to a milk crate which is then fastened firmly behind you in the kayak. This is cheap and gives you the option of trying different setups without drilling permanent holes in your boat. Some kayak seats have rod holders built in and these give you easy access to the rods. Also, any rod holder to the rear gives you the ability to troll for fish while you’re paddling along, which can give an occasional nice surprise!
You’ll want a place to securely “park” your paddle and free your hands for fishing. Usually just slipping the blade under a bungee cord will suffice, but most newer model boats have very secure ways of keeping the paddle from getting away from you. Alternatively, a piece of line or bungee tied to both the kayak and the paddle (a “paddle leash”) is a cheap way to do it yourself, and you can let the paddle float next to you while you handle your fish.
Now I’ll list gear that you’ll want to have “at the ready”, i.e., easy to reach from your seated position while fighting / landing a serious fish. You don’t want to be looking for your misplaced pliers while a large barracuda is thrashing around boatside, so give careful thought to the specific placement of these often used items:
In a small mesh bag I carry extra spools of leader material and a hook sharpening stone. These don’t need to be “at the ready”, just accessible in a hatch or seat pocket.
In the excitement of wrangling fish from a kayak, it’s very easy to drop an expensive tool overboard, never to be seen again. Heck, I lost three pairs of pliers in the first two weeks I started kayak fishing! So SECURE your gear to survive the worst case (capsize), and you can fish worry-free. For example, I tie separate 4’ lengths of para cord to my pliers and lip grippers. My knife fits into a holster that’s attached to the kayak. You get the idea.
I often fish with bait. Live shrimp, crabs and pinfish travel well in a small floating bait bucket. Attach a 7’ length of thin line to the bucket at one end and the kayak at the other. You’ll need to bring the bucket aboard to paddle at normal speed, and remember to stop and refresh the water every five minutes or so. While fishing, you can let the bucket float alongside if you like. It also doubles as a sea anchor if you want to slow down your rate of drift across an area. Frozen bait like mullet and ballyhoo travel well in a small soft cooler with a frozen bottle of water. Don’t forget to pack a bait knife and maybe a super small cutting board.
I have two grapnel anchor rigs for fishing different types of water. One is 1.5 lbs. with 20’ of line for shallow water. The other is 3.5 lbs. with a short piece of chain and 70’ of line for anchoring in deeper channels or near patch reefs. Both anchor rigs have quick release brass clips and ski rope type buoys so I can release myself to fight large fish and come back and find the line later. When anchoring, please be careful not to anchor in strong current! I made this mistake once and found myself tethered to a kayak that was bucking like a bronco in a rodeo. After nearly capsizing, I had to cut myself free and come back at slack tide to retrieve the anchor and line.
If you plan to bring fish home for dinner, the best way I’ve found is using a medium-sized freezer bag you can buy at the grocery store. Put a few bottles of frozen water inside and your catch will stay chilled until you get home. This beats bagged ice cubes because it takes less space, melts more slowly, costs less and is less weight to carry.
Lastly, the salty ocean environment wreaks havoc on gear. Since we’re sitting closer to the water than in a power boat, the cockpit of a kayak tends to be wetter and our gear gets much more spray and splashing. So develop a routine to thoroughly rinse all your gear with fresh water after every trip and keep expensive tools well-oiled for longevity.
hope this helps you get your kayak geared up and ready to catch the big one!
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