Thursday, 24 February 2011

How to get started sea kayak fishing

Your Kayak
There are several ways to get into this incredible sport.  The easiest, safest way is find others who have already been doing it for several years.  No matter how much you research on the web, anyone who has been doing sea kayak fishing in your region for a few years will have accumulated a store of knowledge particular to that region that cannot be beaten.  Local knowledge is 80% of the battle.  Don't try and do the basics on your own.

That said, what are the basics?

Well, obviously a kayak for starters.  A sea kayak, as we're going in the sea, right? We're going in the sea all right, but perhaps surprisingly a traditional sea kayak is not our best option.  For sea fishing from a kayak, we need some of the characteristics of sea kayaks, such as speed, resilience in bad weather, tracking and so on.  But first and foremost, we need a platform to fish from.  That means somewhere stable to put your kit. Somewhere to put the fish you catch.  Somewhere to put the bits and bobs you use while you're fishing.  All those storage requirements are not going to be met by a sit-in kayak which are sleek, temperamental and wobbly.   The also have a big hole that can fill with water if it's not covered by a spray deck.

This narrows us down the fully sealed designs of sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks.  The problem with these is that most of them are not designed to be used for long periods out at sea.  Most are designed for freshwater lakes.  But don't let that put you off.  Even a heavy, short, SOT kayak can be used at sea if conditions allow.

There quite a few manufacturers out there: Ocean Kayak,Wilderness Systems,Heritage Kayaks, Hobie,Pelican, MalibuCobraRTM.

Ocean Kayaks are a formidable presence in the market, and also produce several kayaks that are popular among sea kayak fishermen.  They tend to produce quite heavy, stable kayaks, such as the Ocean Prowler. These rotomoulded plastic kayaks are among the most common in the UK.   They are relatively cheap, extremely tough, easy to get hold of and do the job.  They sit squarely enough mid-market.

At the other end of the market, perhaps closer to true sea kayaks are brands such as Kaskazi.  They produce some fabulous fibreglass sea fishing kayaks, with everything you could want with speed and stability to match.  Unfortunately they have a price tag to match as well.  But if you have the money, the Dorado is often rated as the best sea fishing kayak out there.

Lastly, there is the remainder of the SOT kayaks.  There are hundreds of SOTs designed for splashing about in the surf.  Such kayaks are often too short (i.e. slow) for long voyages across open sea.  Similarly there are many dedicated fishing kayaks that suffer the same failing: they are short, easy to manoeuvre but hopeless for paddling any distance across open waters.

What should I get?
In my opinion, you need 2 things to make a good sea kayak to fish from. 
  1. Length - one part of the equation that equals speed.  The ability to go fast is very useful when that big tide turns against you (the other part of the speed equation being width and weight - slimmer is quicker but less stable).  A longer kayak also gives you a slightly more comfortable ride over choppy waves.  A slow heavy kayak is at best, a sea kayak limited to benign conditions. 
  2. Stability - got to be OK in rough sea conditions, and stable enough to land fish from in choppy conditions.    
These qualities unfortunately go against one another, so trade-offs have to be made.  You can't have a super stable, SOT fishing kayak which matches the ultra quick lightweight form of a 5 metre sit-in sea kayak.  So compromises have to be made and the first is generally with your wallet.  Settle on a maximum price and try and get the quickest SOT kayak you can find.  With luck, you might find a version for angling.  If not don't worry too much - it is possible to convert plastic kayaks into angling versions by adding rod holders, etc..

After looking at what is still quite a restricted market in terms of choice (there are few genuine sea fishing kayaks - most are designed for freshwater lakes), and having to make a mid-price compromise, I settled on Ocean Kayak's Scupper Pro Angler:

It's relatively cheap and it's faster than most SOTs.  It's a pretty basic model - you'll need to get all the extras yourself (such as a seat, if you want to be comfortable while fishing - though notice I make do with a cheap bit of blue foam!).  But I can recommend this as a starter kayak.  If you love the sport, and have money burning a hole in your pocket, then who knows - perhaps a Dorado II out there has your name on it?

In my next post we'll look at some of the fishing tackle you  need.

Tight lines!

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