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Kayak fly-fishing - the sequel
I have been fishing in the ocean from a kayak before, but these days my motivation is not mobility but rather immobility and my needs are different.
When I bought my first kayak I was going to use it as a replacement or supplement to my float tube, which I used a lot for fishing in the ocean.
I bought it as a means of increased mobility, enabling me to move fast along the coast and to access places that weren't accessible wading. I would sail, drag the kayak on shore, fish wading, sail and wade again. I fished wading more than I fished from the kayak itself. Unlike much of the ocean kayak fishing I see practiced in the tropics or in North America, Canada and Alaska, the idea here was not to reach deeper water or move great distances, but to be able to move fast to new or inaccessible coastal locations.
I used it quite a bit, but in the end had to conclude that while it did bring me some nice experiences and surely enough brought me to new and less accessible locations, it didn't increase the quality of my fishing - or the success for that matter. I didn't catch more or larger fish from the kayak, which I had honestly expected. Deeper water, more water covered, new and exciting places. But no, my classical wade fishing from the beach was still way more productive.
So I caught less, but had more logistics when going fishing. The kayak was a lot of trouble to prepare, pack, transport and use, and at the same time as it opened up new opportunities, experiences and locations, it limited me in many ways. I will return to that aspect of kayak fishing later in the article.
The result was that it first wound up upside down in my backyard and then was sold.
But things have changed around here, and after having become an MS patient and loosing a lot of mobility in my legs as well as balance and the ability to fish wading, I have once again bought a kayak - this time motivated by immobility rather than mobility if you will.
I have used a pontoon boat for some years for the same reasons, but the one I bought was a low quality model, and it has been severely marred by saltwater and my rough treatment. It's also a hassle to put together and take apart with many loose parts and many steps.
There were local alternatives, and I had long been glancing sideways at an Anderson Pontoon, but the price kept me from buying one. The prices are fair for a quality product, but also quite high, in the 2000 USD$ range depending on the model. The Anderson boats are traditional metal frame boats, but made to very high standards. Lars Damgaard Andersen, the guy behind Anderson, even made one for a wheelchair user as seen in this video.
I also looked for a pontoon boat with no metal parts, and during my search I bumped into inflatable kayaks, and thought that such a vessel might be a solution for me.
I found the Straightedge Angler from Advanced Elements, and the manufacturer had a Danish distributor who had the kayak in stock. I tried one during a demo arranged by the dealer and he made me an offer, basically enabling me to get the kayak for close to a third of what the locally produced high quality pontoon boat would cost. I bought it.
My kayak is from American manufacturer Advanced Elements, who specializes in inflatable kayaks and they have a very wide range of different models including the one I acquired, which is designed for fishing.
It's a so called sit-on-top model with easy access and not the usual hole and skirt you use in most sea kayaks. It's fairly short and wide, giving great stability, but not as much speed as the more slender sea kayaks with firm hulls.
But I needed something that I could pack in the back of my car rather than have on the roof. My legs won't let me lift 25 kilos or 50 lbs onto a roof rack anymore.
Durable... and then again...
Being inflatable also means vulnerable. No matter how hard manufacturers try, the bladders in these things will puncture, and I have had to mend at least three or four punctures already during my first season with the kayak. Mending is easy, but it's a pain in the *beep* to discover a leak in a main chamber once you have prepared everything and sailed 15 minutes in expectation of a full fishing day.
The local dealer has replaced one of the small stern elements that leaked already when I bought the kayak, but I have had leaks in one of the main hull elements as well as in all three of the stern and bow support elements I've had. It's a pain, but not a big issue and seems to be part of having something inflatable.
When you set up the kayak, it's basically a question of rolling it out and inflating it. You can fit the gear bar that comes with it, but don't have to. The seat clicks on easily and once all five chambers are inflated, you are basically ready to sail.
I usually mount the accessory bar, which allows me to attach rod holders and a camera onto the kayak, and leave everything assembled apart from that and the seat, meaning that the kayak can typically be set up in 10 minutes. I can't do it that quickly myself, but a normal person would have no problems. Pumping can easily be done with a foot pump, but an electrical pump with sufficient pressure is a nice help.
The kayak is light enough for me to be able to drag it from the car to the water provided the distance isn't too long and the terrain isn't too rough.
Using the kayak
The kayak is great to sail and fish from. It is exactly what it's sold as: a very practical, stable fishing kayak with easy access and absolutely acceptable sailing properties. It packs down to a very compact package, and even though it can be cumbersome to fit into the bag it comes in, it does go in there with some work. Once packed it measures 30 x 17 x 10 inches or about 75 x 45 x 25 centimeters, which with its weight of about 18 kilos or 41 lbs. makes it a large and heavy package, but easy to fit into a car trunk.
Entry and exit is easy, even for me who needs to have a wading stick or a cane for support. Once you're in the seat, the position is comfortable and the seat can be adjusted to give good back support. It even has an extra "lumbar support", which you can inflate with you mouth and adjust on the fly. I haven't used it, but had fine back support just the same.
Like in any kayak you sit with your legs stretched, but unlike the closed ones, you can move your legs freely and bend them to change position now and then.
The kayak is pretty stable, and I haven't capsized or even felt like I was going to... yet. I haven't been out in really big waves yet, and don't intend to, but I have ridden a few waves from larger boats and haven't felt the least insecure.
While fishing the kayak is stable enough and you can both make sudden moves and lean to the side without feeling any lack of stability. It's not suited for standing in spite of its width. Not that I would or could stand, but some people do. This is not constructed to be used standing.
You can sit in the kayak sideways if you want to. I haven't done so and don't intend to, but my wife has done it, and there's no insecurity when turning and tossing in the kayak.
Since the kayak has five chambers, it's not likely to puncture on all, and while it might be a little hard to row when flat on one of the side chambers, it's possible.
I have rolled over on purpose and while the kayak is very easy to turn when upside down, it's almost impossible to get into without assistance or something to stabilize it. A traditional paddle float did the job for me. Even with my very useless legs I was able to swing one leg over the paddle and haul myself onto the front on my stomach and then roll into the seat.
With a little practice I'd be able to do that on my own.
The kayak didn't take in any water worth mentioning, and should the sea be rough and you get splashes filling it, you can open one or more bailing ports in the bottom. In calm conditions these ports have the opposite effect and actually let in water from beneath, so I usually keep them closed.
I have the paddle strapped to the kayak using a piece of elastic string and also strap the kayak to myself with a length of thin rope when sailing. If I fall in under windy conditions, the empty kayak will drift away from me very fast, and there's no way I can catch up not being able to use my legs properly for swimming.
When fishing from a kayak you can go two ways: dress as an angler or dress as a kayaker. An angler wears waders, boots and fishing clothes while a kayaker will wear a wet suit and a pair of light shoes, or even a dry suit like those used by divers. Special kayaking and sailing suits are available.
I have adopted the wet suit for my kayaking.
Since I'm not exiting the kayak to wade as I used to, I don't need the waders. In the beginning I just left the large wading boots on shore, but now I wear a thin wet suit and a pair of thin neoprene shoes or the type of wading boots made for tropical fishing. I do get wet when walking in the water, but the suit and shoes are sufficiently warm for me to be out even in fairly cold weather. I have a thin, sleeveless suit for warmer conditions and a ticker one with sleeves for the colder water.
Another important reason to skip the waders is safety. I have rolled around in waders once, and there is no way that you are going to get into the kayak with a pair of waders on. Once you position yourself vertically in the water to push and pull yourself on board, the waders fill with water. It will not impede your floatability, but certainly make it impossible for you to drag yourself on board simply because of the weight.
Unlike what you hear many places you are not going to turn upside down in you waders, hanging helplessly with the legs up and the head underwater! On the contrary. The air in the legs makes it very easy to float safely for a very long time and does not keep you from moving or even swimming. But once the legs fill with water, moving effectively is pretty difficult.
I highly recommend you try rolling over and saving yourself under calm, warm and safe circumstances with helpers nearby - whether you are waring waders or a dry or wet suit.
I highly recommend you try rolling over
Lots of little flaws
Few things are perfect, and my new kayak has its flaws too.
It has a row of self bailing valves in each side, and the only effect I have had from them is water coming in as mentioned above. They probably work well in rough water, but in calm water I keep them closed.
For some reason the kayak is fitted with two different types of valves. The side chambers and the small triangular chambers have the same type, but the bottom chamber is different. I can't see why, and the different types require different techniques for inflating and deflating and of course require different spare parts.
The accessory bar that can go in the stern of the kayak has a rather tight fit and can be cumbersome to get in place. Its legs are also slightly angled rather than parallel, which makes turning it the other way a hassle. It's possible to revert it and I do it because it brings the rod holders closer. It does sit there once it's mounted and offers a very stable mounting rack for your gear.
I cut off a couple of Velcro straps on the sides of my kayak. They were there to strap in the paddle, but were in the way when I paddled, and I constantly bumped into them with my paddle and even my hands. In the end I jut cut the stitching that held them on and removed the Velcro and thread.
The kayak is missing somewhere to put the paddle when doing a self rescue. Normal kayaks have straps on the front deck. Since there's no front deck here, there's nowhere to strap the paddle, and I need to make some kind of strap or socket for the paddle for rescue operations.
Let's return to the concept of fishing and casting from a kayak. Apart from the fact that you are sitting down, it's not very different from casting standing in the water. You are a tad lower than you would be in shallow water, but your height over the surface is much like it would be if you were wading thigh deep. You can't move your body quite as freely, and the powerful distance casting is ruled out by the fairly locked and limited position your body has.
You quickly learn to cast sitting, the other major difference to standing being that you can't turn and adjust your body to your desired casting direction. Since the kayak is typically locked in one direction depending on drift, anchoring, wind and so on, you simply vary your casting direction by twisting a bit in the hips, and that has its limits.
But since you are literally over the places you fish, these limits should not influence your ability to place your fly. You simply sail closer to where you want to fish and lay out fairly short casts and can cover a lot of water that way.
The really big difference between sailing and wading - and disadvantage in my eyes - is that you are either drifting where the wind, waves and current takes you or fishing statically from one spot because you have anchored. Using a small 1-2 kilo anchor and a bit of chain is more than enough to hold the kayak. I also have a drift anchor AKA a dredge - simply a large Ikea bag on a leash given to me by my good friend Kai - and that enables me to drift at a slow pace, which is a great advantage, but still only allows me to move as the wind blows.
So if you want to move while you are fishing to cover new water, you will invariably move in the direction of the wind. And since the wind blows as it wants to, you have no control over the speed or direction and will often miss good spots or pass over them too quickly.
If the wind is off shore, you will move over the good parts and out over deeper and less interesting water very quickly. Onshore wind will also move you over weed beds and troughs before you can cast, but with the difference that you will be blown all the way to the dry unless you do something to stop it.
The wind rarely blows in a speed or direction that allows you to fish as you would if you were wading.
Some kayaks have a rudder, which you control with your feet, and which can adjust at least the direction of the kayak while you drift. Mine is inflatable, and doesn't have that.
Other kayaks have both a rudder and pedal driven gizmos that allow you to move while you hands do something else - like fishing. Again mine doesn't.
The real gadget freaks of kayaking have motors on their kayaks, typically small electric motors, that allow them to control the drift much better. I'm not going there at all.
Not catching more
Both when I bought my first kayak and when acquiring this one I was met by expectations from fellow anglers that I would now start catching more and larger fish. My first kayak was bought based on a similar motivation, and I was sure it would bring me to better and richer waters.
But no. The kayak has not been my key to success when fishing.
Both my pontoon boat and my kayaks have added a lot of logistics and limitations to my fishing, and I would much rather be wading - if I could. But the harsh reality is that I have to sail, and have to adapt to this kind of fishing and simply won't catch as much as I did when I was fishing effectively from the coast.
The kite-eating tree
If you ever read The Peanuts you will remember Charlie Brown's adversary, which engulfed his kite no matter what he did to avoid it. A kayak equipped with all kinds of straps, buckles, eyelets and such will be you line-eating nemesis.
Loose line will unavoidably get caught in even the smallest and least significant protrusion, and before you know it your line is one big knot, fused into whatever it has caught on deck, stuck under the bottom of the kayak and your fly will be on its way towards the bottom where it will immediately snag.
Careful planning, arranging the loose line before each cast, can make this less likely, but it does happen. The kayak is not nearly as bad as the pontoon boat where the line can get caught everywhere, but it is a menace and can be extremely frustrating. A line basket can be of some help, but I deplore line baskets. A fabric or mesh cover can be another solution, straddling between the sides of the kayak and laid out in front of you. I have ordered an elastic mesh to cover my lap and hold the loose line when fishing. That will simply hook onto the sides of the kayak and create a firm "trampoline", but of course it's one more thing you have to arrange before being able to fish.
Gear and gadgets
I honestly have enough gear already, and the mere thought of attaching a motor board and a motor and hauling along cables, batteries and whatnot can make me even more tired than I already get from just inflating my kayak and getting in the water.
I'm not much of a gadget man when it comes to fishing, and it was hard enough to move away from a simple chest pack, a single box of flies and then I was off. Now I have dozens of pounds of gear and a checklist as long as an arm. The list of stuff needed to bring and prepare a kayak is harrowing.
I also see lots of people using navigators, fish finders and many other devices, but have shunned away from these extra gadgets and honestly not missed them much. I don't have a radio either, but bring my cell phone in a waterproof holster. I rarely - if ever - go out so far that I'm off the grid.
I did still buy some extra gear, mainly a couple of rod holders. They allow me to place the rods safely while paddling and even enable me to troll with a fly or a lure trailing behind the kayak. I also have a small anchor that allows me to anchor statically, as well as the aforementioned drift anchor.