Towing the Line

First excursions into kayak fishing

Perhaps only rivalled by whitebaiters, kayakers are among the most passionate of fisherpeople. There are countless forums on the internet where kayakers discuss their gear, spots to go and of course how superior kayak fishing is, how it means going places and catching fish that no one else can. For the kayak fisher, there is simply no other way to be.

I've only been kayak fishing on my own twice and despite my lack of experience and the general strangeness of trying to catch a fish while straddling a piece of flimsy plastic, both trips were successful. I have to admit fishing from a kayak by far outperforms any other type of fishing I have tried.

The first time was in April on the East Cape, the shoulder season for tourists. A scruffy guy with paint on his jeans appeared from a workshop under his house, twisting his knuckles through a dirty rag. He refused payment for the use of his kayaks. 'Just take 'em' he said and pointed offshore. 'There's a reef about 100 metres out. Always a few snapper around there.'

Two hours later, I had a couple a shopping bag full of medium sized snapper. The fishing had been easy, the water so clear you could see the fish nibbling on the bait.

My second attempt proved to be a bit tougher although no less rewarding. Early on a summer morning while kayaking halfway between Paraparaumu and Kapiti Island I stumbled across a school of kahawai. I quickly baited my line, threw it in and paddled around trying to imitate the movements of sprat.

Despite the sheer number of kahawai there were no bites and I figured they were busy being chased by something else or playing aimlessly, my knowledge of fish behaviour starting to peter out. I kept trying. Replacing my bait, paddling faster, slower, casting it out, letting it drop straight down. Nothing worked. The morning wore on and an offshore breeze, which had been non-existent a few hours earlier, started to stretch its legs.

I decided to head back. It was a good kilometre or two through a waves and current meant I had to paddle hard just to make decent headway. Exhausted, I finally made it to the beach and dragged my kayak over the sand. My line was still out and I reeled it in through the surf. It was heavy and I thought I must have snagged some seaweed, cursing myself for assuming it was current that was slowing me down. But no, it turned out to be a large kahawai, equally exhausted, flopping lazily on the end of the line.

Kayak fishing can be hard and cold and wet but, if you're willing to trust your luck, you might end up converted to this unique form of fishing.

In my two quick trips I have picked up a few tricks that might help you out on your first trip.

  • Tie everything down. Either with bungee cord, or if you don't have that, short lengths of rope.
  • Go for a small rod, no more than a few feet long, or a reel. Don't be tempted to take your long casting rod. You'll spend most of your time wrestling with it and swearing as a hook and sinker swing dangerously in front of your face.
  • Find yourself a waterproof box for holding all your odds and ends and tie it to the kayak between your legs.
  • If you have a choice, choose a kayak with a rod holder that places the reel and and dangling line just in front of you, within easy reach. The best one I found was a holder between my shins and angled back toward me at a steep angle, I could reach everything and paddle at the same time while the line went nicely over my head when trawling.
  • Pre-chop all your bait.
  • Keep a small knife handy. I was a bit paranoid about getting snagged on a rock and somehow capsizing or, I'll admit it, hooking up some kind of huge shark and being taken for a ride. I felt safer with a knife to cut the line at a moment's notice.