Neophyte kayak angler Jim Harnwell introduces a new column on kayak and canoe fishing with a rundown on why these mini fishing craft are so popular – and so effective.
KAYAKS and canoes have been used by anglers for generations. A decent Canadian style canoe, or well-designed kayak, is perhaps the ultimate weapon for accessing skinny water in search of wary fish. Compared to traditional boats, canoes and kayaks are affordable, easy to store and transport and offer a fun, healthy way to explore the watery environment.
In recent times new designs and materials have meant that these boats have been transformed from fairly basic watercraft into specialist sportfishers able to be customised to suit individual fishing requirements. Here at Boat Fishing we’ve been watching the development of kayak fishing with some interest. The trend seems to be towards specialist fishing kayaks tricked up with rod holders, electronics and even electric engines. Tackle companies have embraced the rise in popularity of kayak fishing with the development of tackle designed for use in these boats (rods that float, for example).
City anglers with limited storage space find kayaks to be a good option – you can store a kayak on a high-rise balcony or even inside on a wall or from straps from a ceiling. Try doing that with even the smallest tinny. And kayak fishing has found favour with those with an interest in “extreme” sports. Anglers using these boats are forgoing the traditional calm water kayak fishing grounds in favour of exposed bays and even the open ocean. Target species have evolved from bass, bream and flathead to snapper, kings and even gamefish.
So, why would you buy a kayak? I can talk here on my own experience. I’m lucky enough to run a 6.6m offshore sportfishing boat, which I use on a regular basis. The big boat is great for a day on the water with mates or family, but it’s a major hassle to take it out for a quick solo fish. I enjoy a morning flicking lures for flatties and bream in the local creeks, or casting a jig around for squid in Jervis Bay. And there are plenty of washes to cast plastics for reds, rat kings, big bream, salmon and tailor. To take advantage of this I really needed a second, smaller boat so I could head out for a quick fish before or after work.
Unfortunately, my budget didn’t extend to such a luxury. A mortgage and three kids meant the sort of money to buy a decent 4.5m tinny just wasn’t available. At least it wasn’t as far as my wife was concerned!
After pondering my situation for a while, I started looking around at kayaks. My brother-in-law, Gary, had recently bought himself a Hobie Mirage Revolution Fish, a 4.09m roto-molded polyethylene kayak featuring the unique Hobie “Mirage Drive” pedal system.
Gary is pretty busy running his own business and had been fishing regularly in his Hobie in the morning and late afternoons. He’d scored numerous reds up to 5kg at a couple of spots around Jervis Bay and was having a ball nicking off for a quick fish when he could spare the time.
I’d previously tested a few Hobies over the years and had found them a versatile boat. Back then I’d been obsessed with gamefishing so didn’t even consider getting something similar for inshore work. Over the years, however, I’d gradually become more and more interested in catching snapper, especially on plastics. And more recently I’d also developed a passion for estuary poppering for bream and whiting. I still liked the idea of a big boat to chase marlin and tuna when they were around, but could definitely see the potential something like a Hobie offered.
My interest piqued, I began to work on my wife, explaining the health benefits of a kayak and detailing how much fun the whole family could have pedalling around. She eventually relented and I organised purchase of a Hobie Outback Fish, a 3.68m model specifically designed for hard-core fishing, from Outdoors and Beyond, my local Hobie dealer on the NSW South Coast. The Outback Fish is shorter and beamier than the Revolution Fish. It isn’t as fast through the water as the longer, skinnier models, but is exceptionally stable with stacks of storage and fishing features.
My boat featured Safety Orange colouring (I liked the idea of being visible on the water) and I opted for a twin adjustable rod holder pack factory-fitted forward of the seating position. The boat came standard with practically everything else the average fisho would need, including hand-controlled kick-up rudder, three water-tight hatches, two-piece paddle with two on-deck storage locations, moulded-in rod holders, drink holders and storage wells all around the cockpit.
Also standard are a removable and adjustable seat, plus a dry bag and dinky Hobie drink bottle.
When I picked up the kayak, I also purchased a Hobie life vest (designed to ride up high and be more comfortable when seated than a standard PFD) as well as paddle and rod safety leashes and a set of rack pads so I could transport the kayak on the roof of my car.
There’s a host of other accessories including outriggers, livewells, sounders, anchor systems and even a bimini top to help keep the sun off you while out fishing. A sail kit which transforms your Hobie into a nifty little sailboat is a popular option as well.
My first session in the Hobie involved a 7km pedal around the southern side of JB, accessing a couple of shallow reefs and washes. I fish this area extensively in the big boat but found the Hobie offered some exhilarating differences to waters I know extremely well. The first thing I noted while pedalling silently around was how many fish I saw. Bream, blue groper, red mowies, schools of bait, big rays, whiting and a heap of little cod and wrasse were clearly visible as I glided over the rocks, bommies and drop-offs.
The first fish I caught in my new kayak was a kilo black drummer which scoffed a 3″ Gulp grub cast into a shallow wash. On 3kg tackle, the pig fought like crazy in the foamy water. The next fish was a solid bream hooked in less than a foot of water on the edge of the rocks close to a small beach. Again, the fish put up a tremendous close quarters fight. Even relatively small fish are exciting to catch from a kayak Ð this aspect alone has really invigorated my interest in light tackle work.
I was surprised at how easy the Hobie was to pedal across open water, even though I hadn’t used one for some years. I’ve been riding a mountain bike about 10kms every day for the past six months in an effort to get fit and lose some weight so that exercise probably helped in regards to using the Hobie.
If you are reasonably fit, you’ll find a Hobie easy to use. Leg muscles are much bigger and stronger than arm and shoulder muscles so the pedalling isn’t a drama. I get a sore back when paddling a kayak or canoe (another reason why I like the Hobie).
Since then I’ve used the Hobie on a regular basis in various local estuaries and creeks, as well as out in the bay. Some of the bay work has involved lengthy pedals across open water to fish washes in some reasonably big swells. I don’t take risks but neither am I a shrinking violet. The stability and easy manoeuvrability of the boat means I feel pretty comfortable fishing close to rocks and bommies in swell, chop and current. After all, these areas are where the fish are.
I really like the sense of being part of the marine environment that fishing from a kayak gives you. You see a lot more than you do from a traditional boat. Things slow down and you start to appreciate the whole scene more. You also feel pretty good physically after a long pedal, although I have discovered to my discomfort that you need to protect yourself from the sun. You tend to fry while spending long hours sitting out on the water …
I plan on writing a detailed review of my Hobie for a future issue of the magazine. I haven’t caught a really big fish yet – best so far is a 77cm flattie – and I have plans involving livebaiting for kings and catching a decent snapper, as well as bass and cod fishing.
In the meantime, however, stay tuned for more articles, tests, reviews, tips and news about kayak fishing. We encourage you to send in info on your own kayaks/canoes, especially involving work you’ve done on modifying your boats to make them better fishing platforms. Send your ideas and comments to Boat Fishing editor Mick Fletoridis at firstname.lastname@example.org or GPO Box 606 Sydney NSW 2001. PH: (02) 92138273.
Jim Harnwell purchased his Hobie Outback Fish from Outdoors and Beyond, 207 Princes Highway Nowra South 2541. PH: (02) 4421 4388. www.outdoorsandbeyond.com.au. These guys are Hobie experts and have a full range of kayaks and accessories in stock. For info on the Hobie range, check out www.hobiecat.com.au.