Setting up your kayak

By Jason WalkerNZ Fishing World
Setting up your kayak

Kayak fishos are extremely well catered for these days and the range of bespoke equipment available is growing all the time. Before you even think about your fishing tackle, it’s imperative that you look at safety first.

Okay, so it might not be the most fun stuff to go through but good safety gear could one day save your life.

Visibility is what gives you the biggest chance of being spotted by other watercraft users.

As kayaks sit naturally low in the water we need to add height to make ourselves stand out above any swell that may be running. The higher you can go, the better. 

The easiest way to do this is to get yourself a safety flag for your kayak. Most New Zealand kayak manufacturers have made sure they have a built-in safety flag holder on their kayaks - make use of this and buy a flag.

Kayak safety flags retail for around $30 so they won’t break the bank but for those who are looking for a cheaper option simply take a spare fishing rod and attach a bright flag on the top of it and put it in a rodholder.

Talk the talk

Next on the safety list is communications. You must take at least one form of communication out with you on the water, as an absolute minimum you can use your mobile phone.

Just make sure you make it waterproof as mobile phones and saltwater don’t mix well. If you need to contact the Coastguard in an emergency from your mobile they can be reached by dialling *500. 

Always remember signal strength varies the further offshore and more remote you are kayaking.

The next step up is a VHF radio; always go for a small handheld one you can pop in your PFD pocket over a fixed one mounted to your kayak.

When you do need to use it more than likely this will be because you have somehow become separated from your kayak.

If this has happened and your radio is attached to that kayak floating away from you, you’ll quickly realize your kayak cannot contact the Coastguard.

A small handheld VHF can be purchased for as little as $100 these days so it won’t break the bank either.

There are various types on the market and the more you spend the more features you get.

Some have rewind functions so you can rewind and replay conversations and there’s even models that connect to your mobile phone via Bluetooth so you can make and receive phone calls through your VHF radio.

Ensure the radio is submersible or buy a VHF dry bag. The radio can still be used inside the bag plus it prolongs the life so even putting a submersible in a dry bag isn’t a bad thing.

Sign language

If using a VHF you need to get yourself a VHF call sign from the Coastguard.  A call sign helps the Coastguard know who they are talking to and in the case of an emergency they know who and what they are looking for as the call sign is associated with your kayak.

For the top of the range in safety you can go for an EPIRB or PLB.  

This is a piece of kit that when activated will transmit your distress signal to satellites orbiting the earth which then relay that signal down to the local emergency service. 

They are available in various forms but those best suited to kayakers are the small PLBs that are no bigger than a mobile phone. I personally use a McMurdo FastFind as this model also has a GPS built in.

When it’s activated it transmits my exact location to within metres – without a GPS it uses triangulation from the satellites to estimate your location – the GPS ensures the services know exactly where to look and if you are in the water, time spent working out where you are is lost time.

A PLB/EPIRB can be picked up from around $650.

It’s an expensive piece of kit that you may never need to use.  However, if it all turns to custard, it could prove to be worth its weight in gold.

Where to store it

Whilst all the kayaks these days come with an area to store your catch for taking home, none yet come as standard with some way of protecting your fish from the sun or keeping it cool.

The fish need to be kept covered in some form to avoid food poisoning for you and your family; you have three options, which fit three budgets;

Well Cover

The simplest is an insulated cover. This is simply a foam-filled PVC cover that fits over the top of the storage well with bungees and fittings

Around $99.

Insulated Well Bag

These are an extension of the insulated cover but now all four sides are made from the same foam filled PVC material with a large zip on the top for getting the fish in.

$150 to $199.

Ice Box

The final option is a fully insulated roto-moulded icebox designed to fit in the well of your kayak.

This is in effect a chillybin for your kayak and the advantages over the other two options are that these will hold ice for a lot longer ensuring your catch is kept fresh, and you can leave your catch in the ice box while heading home. There’s no need to transfer your fish to a chillybin as these iceboxes are 100 per cent watertight. No smelly fish juice will escape into your car!

From $300   

Finding the fish

Here’s where you can spend a little or a lot on your kayak. Fishfinders can be a boon to any fishing vessel and angler and the features they come with these days are endless but are designed with one thing in mind – helping you catch more fish.

There aren’t any real rules as to which ones do or don’t work on a kayak other than you want to make sure they are waterproof and not just splash proof. They must be submersible - JIS8/IPX8 should be your minimum requirement.

There are very few that do not meet this requirement these days but it’s always worth checking as on a kayak it will get wet and can be exposed to a lot of water and even the odd breaking wave.

Resolution is by far the most important aspect to consider for kayak fishfinders. Resolution refers to the number of pixels (dots) on the screen.

They are referenced by pixels across the screen (width) by pixels up the screen (height). The height is the most important as the more pixels you can have in the water column, the easier it is to read. The rule is simple - the higher the resolution, the better.

your very minimum should be 240 pixels high but, as with everything, more costs more. You can score yourself a black and white basic entry-level unit for around $300.

Question of colour

The next common question is, do I need a colour or black and white/grey scale fishfinder? This will depend on budget. Colour is much, much easier to read than a black and white unit. So yes, if the budget allows, get a colour unit but not at the expense of a lower resolution.

Many fishfinders now boast GPS. Often called a fishfinder/GPS combo, this now adds the ability for you to track your position and more importantly your drift when fishing.

If you find that hotspot while drifting you can now view the track and paddle back to the start of your drift so you can re-fish that same hot spot time and time again.

You can also mark your favourite spots with waypoints so you can return to the same spot on another fishing trip, or program in spots from other sources. Adding GPS functionality to your fishfinder will add around $500 to the cost.

An option on some Fishfinder/GPS combos is the ability to add detailed marine charts from Navionics via a chart card. These are a great addition so you can see the depths, contour lines, structure etc in the area where you are fishing. It’s like having a paper marine chart there with you on the kayak!

A Navionics chart card for New Zealand starts at around $400 so they aren’t cheap but they can be added at a later date as your unit will still operate without one fitted.

World of options

There’s a world of options that are dependant on the depth of your pockets.

Screen size – entry level units have 3.5” screens, high end units have up to 10” screens (although these are difficult to fit to kayaks).
Down Imaging – a function that rather than showing you a simple series of dots of what is under your kayak, it displays these dots as an image that can show weeds and other structure under your kayak.
Side Imaging – a feature that goes further than simply showing you what is directly under your kayak by showing what is up to 150m either side of your kayak, drawing a picture of the bottom structure as you paddle along. It’s great for finding structure if you are nowhere near it. All of these features can mean you are spending thousands of dollars on your fishfinder.

This writer uses a Humminbird 998CX HD SI. It boasts all the bells and whistles and then some more on top, a fishfinder/GPS combo, Navionics Platinum Chart card, 8 inch screen, down imaging and side imaging in a unit worth more than $4,000.

Get moving

So you’ve got your kayak to the beach, now how do you get it from the carpark to the water? You’ve got a few options. The first and by far the cheapest is to simply carry it.

There aren’t any kayaks on the market yet that you can carry fully rigged to the water so you’ll need to find a mate to help you, but fishing with others is always a good thing.

Alternatively if you don’t have any mates or are on your own, then a kayak trolley is the way to go.

There are a few on the market but the most common is the C-Tug trolley, a great New Zealand-designed and made product.

It’s made mostly of plastic so it’s pretty indestructible and will break down so that you can store it in the front hatch of your kayak rather than walking it back to the car.

You will find the C-Tug for sale at around $170.

The top of the line in kayak trolleys is the Wheeleez kayak cart with 30cm balloon tyres. It makes light work of soft sand and you simply lose all the struggle, but this too comes at a price of around $390 and unfortunately the trolley cannot be broken down for storing in your kayak so has to be returned to the car.

Sit at peace

Your comfort is one of the most important things. If the fishing is good but you end up with a numb bum or backache then it’s not going to be enjoyable.

Your kayak will come with a seat but there is always something better out there. The after market seats normally have more padding and features like extra pockets and storage on the rear for stuff like water packs.

There are a few seats on the market ranging from $200 upwards and the latest seat to hit the market is the Big Catch from Ocean Kayak here in New Zealand. This retails for $199 so isn’t too hard on the pocket.

Complete the Coastguard VHF course so you know how to use your VHF correctly. The course can now be easily taken online, see or call 0800 40 80 90 for more details. 

It’s always a good idea to learn correct Coastguard call procedure so it is second nature if you do need to call them in an emergency, and so that they recognize your call as an emergency.

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