I love the angling aspect of being an “all-rounder”. It allows me not to get bogged down in one particular discipline and I can honestly say I am as happy beach casting as I am fly fishing as I would be piking or trotting for roach, feeder fishing for tench or drifting for tope. If you can make an effort to put your hand to as many species and techniques that are feasible to you, I can safely say you will never get bored of the sport of angling. With so much variety it is evident that there is something there for every taste and level of competency and they do say that variety is the spice of life! Many anglers decide to get bogged down in one particular style of fishing or after one particular species and that is fine, whatever makes you tick makes you tick but I feel that a lot of the anglers that just specialise in one form of fishing ultimately miss out on many other aspects of the sport. Personally speaking, if it involves a rod, reel, water and fins then I will gladly give it a go!
One of the downsides of chasing a plethora of freshwater and marine species, apart from the expense of amassing a collection of tackle suitable for the many different styles, is having to make tough choices. There are too many species to have a good go at all year round so the all-rounder must pick and choose their quarry at the risk of missing out on something else altogether. Last year I spent a lot of time coarse fishing. Most of this was done from the bank, terra firma directly underfoot. This year I have been mainly trout fishing and doing a small bit of saltwater fishing also, some from the beach but mainly afloat. It is the same for the trout, sometimes wading but mainly from the boat. All of the craft I have been afloat in have been small vessels – lake boats and kayaks – with the exception of one charter boat out of Clew Bay but the less said about that trip, the better.
It was great to be able to get back out drifting again, fishing whilst afloat. There is something very calming and therapeutic about spending a day on the waves. I believe it is good for the soul and I always return from a day on the water having thoroughly enjoyed the escapism that it offers. I realise that there have been countless articles and warnings issued about boat safety without rehashing them. I have been out on a good many vessels this year and we have had no accidents but a couple of things did happen recently that made me think about what I did and did not bring out with me that would have made a difference.
A Day of Horrors
I can start with the kayak. I recently read an account of a beginner to kayak angling as he recounted his first day afloat. It was pretty much an account of everything that could go wrong and unfortunately for this kayaker, it did. With no safety gear, improper clothing and no idea how to react to the unfolding situation suffice to say the man was very lucky to have an experienced kayaker with him or I doubt he would be here to tell the tale now. Without going into too much detail, this newcomer to the sport had paddled a good distance out and as he was reaching over the side of the kayak to adjust his fishing rig a small wave hit the boat side on. The boat capsized and not used to such situations, he panicked. Luckily enough, he was wearing an automatic inflatable life jacket and that helped to save his life. Not being used to kayaks, this angler had no idea how to get onto the kayak again. After falling out his shorts and t-shirt, now heavy with water, made it impossible for him to pull himself aboard, even under the guidance of the more accomplished paddler who had accompanied him out. With no other option, the more experienced of the pair then had to paddle for shore towing both the wet, flailing kayaker and his kayak. After nearly a mile of fighting tides and the weight of an extra boat and passenger, the more experienced of the pair made it to shore safely. Nothing short of heroic.
The above account ended well but there could so easily have been a different outcome to the story. And the thing that really hits home is that when you think about it, it was a problem that could have been prevented with a little preparation and ground work. I mentioned some of the basic safety aspects of kayak angling in a previous issue. The sport seems to be slowly blossoming in popularity and like with any newcomers to any sport, things need to be made known to them. We all had to start somewhere and not everybody is born with knowledge of how to do everything! Kayak angling is a steep enough learning curve for the beginner which I am really getting to grips with now. With reference to the above case, a few steps that should have been taken which would have turned the major issue into a minor one are very easy to address. Kayaks capsize, it happens to the best of us, but when it does make sure you are ready for it. A little saying I heard lets us prepare for this – “Dress to swim, rig to flip”. Essentially what this means is you should expect your kayak to flip every time you go out. Of course most times it won’t (the only times I have ever capsized is when I have done it on purpose to practice re-entry) but when you expect the unexpected you will not suffer a nasty surprise, you will be ready for it.
“Dress to swim” simply refers to the clothing you should be wearing while out on a kayak. A t-shirt and shorts under a life jacket became so heavy with water that the kayaker could not pull himself onto his craft after a dunking. This means he stays in the water far longer than is necessary, dropping his body temperature and if he stays there too long that could have serious negative effects like hypothermia setting in. The only attire you should head out on a kayak in are a wetsuit or dry-suit and a PFD – personal floatation device like a foam filled life jacket. These types of clothing are designed for immersion in water and the difference between wearing them or not could literally be the difference between life and death. Granted, they are not cheap but how much do you value your life at? Less than the cost of a wetsuit?
Some kayak angling websites will say that a pair of waders, a wading belt and an automatic life jacket are fine for kayak angling. I have grave reservations about this approach following a few dunkings when wading over the years. Waders are so heavy after they let water into them that I think pulling yourself aboard a boat while wearing them would be impossible. The only thing that can offset this train of thought is the fact that neoprene, which a lot of body waders are made from, is an extremely buoyant material which some anglers claim is impossible to sink. Either way, I am sitting firmly on the fence when it comes to opinion on whether the attire of body waders, a belt and a waterproof jacket will suffice for kayak angling. If that is what you are comfortable wearing then by all means stick with what you know but personally I cannot make a positive or negative recommendation on such clothing.
Tie It Down
“Rig to flip” essentially means organising your kayak with the intention of capsizing. This basically means connecting everything to the kayak with tethers or securing it under bungee cords. Fair enough, it’s not life saving but it is potentially money saving. If I capsize and my gear is not tethered to the boat then I can kiss goodbye to a few hundred Euros worth as it sinks down to Davy Jones’. The kayaker in the story above lost a phone and a very expensive digital camera along with his fishing gear. For peace of mind, you can buy leashes for rods and paddles or, like me; you can make your own very easily and cheaply. If you decide to go down the route of making your own, just make sure they are strong enough to withstand the rigours of a capsizing and the pull of a strong tide, if you fish in the sea. There is no point in having all the safety gear and tethers if they are not rugged enough to stand up to the job!!
As I mentioned, it is very rare for sit on top kayaks to capsize but that is no reason to be complacent. One of the most important things any would be kayak angler can do is practice re-entry onto the kayak. Last week, with the east coast sea a little too rough for fishing for my liking, I found a sheltered little cove and anchored up the kayak in about three metres of water. Well out of my standing depth, I spent an hour intentionally capsizing the kayak and practicing dragging myself back on board. I have done this many times but it is something you cannot practice enough. I only hope that if I have the misfortune to capsize when I least expect it then my instinct will have me back out of the waves without even having to think about it. Newcomers should practice this skill until it becomes automatic. Do not assume that you will not capsize or do not think that because you are a strong swimmer that it is not necessary to practice this technique. It can be a tricky skill to master at first and it is far better to be safe than sorry. Nobody should ever consider going out to sea alone without mastering this technique and three miles offshore is not the place to be attempting it for the first time.
Know Your Limits
One final safety measure I will mention regarding kayaks this month is knowing your limits. The angler that I described earlier had to be towed into shore by his accomplice. What would have happened had he been alone out there? Would he have had the energy to swim for shore? It seems unlikely seeing as he was unable to pull himself up onto the kayak to escape from the water in the first place. Sure, he was wearing a life jacket but without the energy to swim that would have left him at the mercy of the tides. With an offshore wind or a strong tide pulling who is to say where he could have ended up? Venture out in pairs at least and if you must go it alone, stay within swimming distance of the shore unless you are fully competent of getting back on board after a dunking and you have studied the tides meticulously, you are carrying a VHF radio and possess some sort of other emergency signalling equipment. There are ways around getting caught in a strong tide and I will explain these another time.
I mention the above points not to put people off trying kayak fishing but to make them aware of some of the potential dangers. Kayaks are a lot smaller than any boat you are likely to meet out on the waves and you must be very sure of yourself if you plan to fish from them. That said, I have had immense fun recently fishing and catching from the kayak. I have been getting mackerel on light gear, targeting bass, picking up the odd pollock, searching for tope and getting plenty of dogfish and a few small bull huss.
Carry A Compass
One final point about safety afloat that I would like to make is applicable to a kayak as well as any other fishing vessel. I had an encounter with the weather a couple of weeks ago and the experience drove home the importance of navigational tools. I set out in a small lake boat after trout on a lake that I would know fairly well. Fishing had been slow and as evening wore on a few trout started to move to sedges on the top of the water. Becoming absorbed in what I was doing, I was far too busy to notice the fog that was starting to envelope the lake. By the time I realised what was happening it was too late – a proper “pea-souper” as the Londoners would say. I do not usually bring a torch out fishing, even at night. Years of fishing in the dark has given me a decent enough “night vision”, being able to tie on flies or bait hooks in the dark. Usually I use the silhouettes of trees as reference points to make my way back to land but the fog had become so dense that I could barely see my hand in front of my face, never mind the trees on the far side of the lake. What is usually a handy ten to fifteen minutes across the lake to the mooring point became an hour and a half ordeal as I had to pick my way gingerly along the whole perimeter of the shoreline. After that episode I have taken to bringing a torch and compass afloat, be it on the kayak or out on the lakes – you just never know when they will come in handy!
A few simple steps can be taken to ensure an enjoyable day on the water is had. Don’t make your next trip out be your last one. How the coast-guards are not busier in this country is beyond me. Check the weather and, if applicable, the tides and make sure you are well prepared for whatever could be thrown your way. One of the most important sayings that can potentially save lives is – “If in doubt, don’t go out!” Happy and safe angling to all.
If you have any queries or comments please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org