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kayak fishing - The basics

18 August 2015
kayak fishing - The basics

While some kayaks look like mini battleships, getting set up after the initial purchase doesn’t have to be a complex affair. A few important basics can get you into the fish and home again safely. When looking at some of the kayak fishing rigs of the hard-core kayak anglers, they seem to have all the bells and whistles.

Multiple appendages stick out all over the kayak, pieces of rope and bungee every where, hatches spotted all over the kayak, enough electronics to require a small power station to supply enough power and so many rods they start to resemble hedgehogs rather than a kayak.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad with these set ups and you’ll often find me paddling kayaks rigged just like this. However it doesn’t have to be like that - you can strip them back to basics. Don’t let these full on rigs put you off giving kayak fishing a go, you don’t need to take more gear than your local tackle store stocks just to head out for a feed gathering mission – keep it simple.

Fishos are all very attracted to the latest shiny new tackle and over time many of us end up with lots of rods, reels and tackle for every possible occasion, species, and fishing technique - but does it all need to go out with us each and every time we go fishing?

For many fishing out of boats and some on kayaks, we do take it all out. You never know when that jigging rod, lightweight softbait rod, new slow pitch combo, or even that old glass trolling rod will be needed. So when you head off for a day’s fishing, out it all comes and gets loaded on to the boat, a couple of large tackle boxes, with at least half a dozen rods and reels as a minimum!

Leash it or lose it. Rods and other items can be lost over the side ten different ways if not secured correctly.

Where are you heading? Just to those worm beds less than 1000m from the ramp for a spot of bait fishing on anchor targeting snapper for the dinner plate. Yes you are way over armed, but hey, why not take all your toys with you on every trip – you know, just in case?

The scenario above is all well and good when fishing on a boat but how do you do it on a tiny little fishing platform like a kayak? The quick answer is you can’t, it’s not possible to take all of that with you, as there simply isn’t room. So cut it all back and go back to simple. How simple can you make it, what is the bare minimum for kayak fishing?

The kayak Lets start off by looking at the kayak itself.  There are many, many kayaks on the market and choices have increased exponentially in recent years. Particularly with the strength of the NZ dollar meaning we are seeing a lot of imported kayaks that are made in China.

NZ Made

Fortunately in little old New Zealand we have several of our own companies manufacturing kayaks that are not only made in NZ but also have been designed specifically for the open ocean fishing that we do here. This is unlike many of the over sea’s designed kayaks that were created with more flat water use and fishing in mind.

It’s not only the kayak design, but also the materials that are used for manufacturing the kayak. New Zealand manufacturers ensure that they use plastic that is UV stable to ensure you have a product that will last you a lifetime rather than several seasons of use. Where possible, it’s always a good thing to support our local businesses.

Sometimes you don’t need much gear or need to go too far before you are into the fish.

Fishing kayak only? If you intend on doing lots of kayak fishing then you can probably justify the investment in a dedicated fishing kayak with all the bells and whistles. If your budget, or bank manager won’t stretch that far, what are the options? You can fish from many recreational kayaks that were initially designed for family use.

You need something with enough space for you, a couple of rod holders and somewhere to store your catch if you intend on taking it home for a feed.

Ensure you check on the suitability of the kayak for fishing and the weight capacity of the kayak with the sales person before you purchase, or hit the Internet to see if others have successfully used the kayak for fishing. Another option is to purchase yourself an older model second-hand off the likes of TradeMe. With so many people wanting the latest and greatest kayak there is a good supply of used kayaks on the market. So even on a limited budget, you may be able to get your hands on a dedicated fishing kayak.


Whatever you do, you must ensure you are safe when out on the water in a kayak. Being so close to the water and on a very narrow watercraft, it is very easy to find yourself in the water so you MUST always wear a lifejacket or PFD (Personal Floatation Device).

One that correctly fits and is designed to be used by the wearer. Kid’s PFDs don’t fit adults and adult PFDs aren’t suitable for kids either so please ensure each person using the kayak gets the correct PFD.


Whenever you take out any vessel, be it boat or kayak on the ocean you must ensure you have at least one form of communication and one that is suitable for the area you are fishing in. Whilst a mobile phone should be the absolute minimum they don’t always work on the water.

The far better option is a VHF radio, you can purchase yourself a handheld VHF now for under $100. A VHF will operate virtually around the entire coast of New Zealand. A VHF will not let you contact your better half to let her know you are running late but it will put you in contact with the coastguard when everything may not be going to plan. Contact your local coastguard for information, training and what channels to use in your region.

Leash it or lose it! Drop anything in the ocean and most of the time it’s going to be lost forever. To stop this happening to your brand new rod and reel or more importantly your means of propulsion (your paddle) then ensure it is attached to your kayak with a leash!

Leashes come in many different forms but they all serve the same purpose and operate in a similar manner. Normally you will find a loop at one end and a clip at the other. The loop attaches to your rod, paddle, etc and the clip is attached to your kayak, grab rope, or seat strap. Using a leash will ensure that anything dropped over the side isn’t lost.

Catch storage

If your intention is to go out and bring back a feed for family and friends then you need to think where you will keep your catch on the kayak. There are options from kayak manufacturers and accessory suppliers that fall into three categories; insulated cover, insulated catch bag and moulded chilly pod / box. All of these products will help keep your catch fresh before you return to shore.

There are other options; insulated food bags, the common chilly bin, or even the classic wet hessian sack. They all work, to add to their efficiency, add some cooling, either using salt ice or cooler blocks. The quicker you chill your catch the better, if you have gone to all the effort and expense of catching your fish you want to look after it the best you can.

Drift chute

Drift fishing has become more popular since the advent of softbait fishing as it allows you to cover more ground and prospect an area looking for fish. An ideal size drift chute or sea anchor for a kayak is 90cm (36”). Too small and it will be ineffective, too large and it will be simply cumbersome.

Also look for a kayak drift chute that has some method of floatation built into or attached to the chute. This is to ensure the chute is not allowed to sink below the surface. A sunken chute on a kayak can easily see your kayak flipped and you ending up in the water.

The best way to attach a drift chute to your kayak is with a running rig or anchor trolley. These are effectively a loop of rope that runs from bow to stern with an attachment point for your drift chute. This enables you to set the chute in a position that will allow you to drift in the direction you wish to fish.

Fishing technique

We are talking about keeping it simple, so keep your fishing simple too. Pick one technique that you are familiar with, one that doesn’t need you to take a whole tackle shop out with you. One of the most common techniques amongst kayak anglers is softbaiting.

Not only because it is very successful but also because it’s clean and tidy compared to fishing with traditional baits such as pilchards and you can do it with a minimal amount of gear. For a softbait session all you need to take out with you is a spool of leader, jig heads, braid scissors and of course a few packs of softbaits, that’s it!

You can easily fit all your gear in a small plastic box or may be even your PFD pockets – it doesn’t get much more simple than that.


Something that should always be part of your standard kayak fishing gear is a knife. It will become useful in so many ways; you can use it to dispatch your catch by using it to iki your fish, cut line if you drop your braid scissors over the side and as a safety device should you become entangled in your kayak rigging if you fall overboard.

Find a place where you can attach it to your kayak or your PFD and always put it in the same place. If you do need it in an emergency you’ll instinctively know exactly where to find it.
Keep it simple All of the above equipment will get you safely on the water and hopefully catching fish.

Of course when you next walk into your local tackle shop to tell the storeowner how successful your last trip out on your kayak was, he’ll quickly hook you with the latest and greatest shiny fisherman catching product. One you must buy and take out on your next fishing trip – welcome to the slippery slope!

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