One of the more exciting aspects of kayak fishing is the freedom and ease of movement that it gives to the angler. With kayaks being light and very portable, one just needs to secure the kayak to the roof and can then access most waters by simply driving to them. It’s a lot easier to transport a kayak around the county than a 20 foot Orkney. Launching is handier too!
I travel the length and breadth of Ireland on my fishing excursions. Growing up in the east and settling in the west meant that I was landing down on unfamiliar water. My studies and work as a marine biologist provides the potential to deliver me to spots that I have never seen or paddled before and whenever I get the chance, I bring the kayak with me. This gives me the opportunity to explore new waters but also brings with it the uncertainty of unfamiliarity. Kayak fishing on home waters can be relatively safe because one is generally aware of the tidal strength, position of eddies and where shelves can be located having spent time on the water. It pays to try to find this information out when visiting new waters.
As with fishing tactics, when it comes to knowing the water the best people to ask for advice are local people. Ask local anglers and enquire in the tackle shop about local water conditions. If there is a harbour or marina nearby, ask the local harbour authority or sailors about local conditions. The more information you can gather about local conditions and features, the better it will be for you. If there is a local RNLI station talk to them too; they are always happy to give advice particularly if it potentially saves them a future call out.
Get yourself some nautical charts of the areas you intend to fish, if possible. Have a look at the coastline you intend to fish. As a general rule bays are going to be relatively sheltered as long as you stay inside them. Beware though because the waters around headlands can be some of the fastest which also create eddies and strong tidal runs in some instances. As water is pushed down along the coast it flows out and around the headland and the pushing effect that the land has speeds the water right up. Hydrodynamics of water allow the slack water in behind the headland to be a site where eddies and powerful currents that can be very dangerous for the kayaker. One particular headland close to home can produce standing waves over ten feet tall on a calm day at certain stages of the tide – incredibly dangerous for those that don’t know about it.
Bottom contours where the sea bed shelves off quickly can be another hazard when the wind picks up from a certain direction. One mark close to home sees a uniform depth to 30 feet out to a distance of approximately one mile from the beach where the water then suddenly drops to 70 feet. On a fine day this mark looks inviting and is well worth targeting for certain species. Once the wind starts blowing onshore the water hits the submerged drop off and is pushed to the surface, creating ‘washing machine conditions’ on an otherwise calm day. Many boatmen get into difficulty on this mark and for a kayaker that did not know the area it could be incredibly dangerous. Other areas to be aware of are ‘sounds’, the strips of water between the mainland and islands or larger rocky outcrops. The water is pinched between the mainland and the island which causes a quickening in pace which can be impossible to paddle against. When encountering islands and outcrops they are best passed on the outside rather than paddling through the ‘sound’.
This piece is not a set of hard and fast rules for paddling on new water. It is merely a suggestion to look out for hazards in new waters and to not take anything for granted. Research your new water well, paddle with your VHF and signalling equipment and try to not go out alone, especially in unfamiliar waters. All I am aiming to do with this piece is to make kayak anglers aware that what is applicable to their home waters may not be suitable at all for a new venue. Think of the new possibilities and come up with a suitable and appropriate plan.