Kayak Fishing…getting started

Grumpy McMurdo Fishing Tips

Jackie Dainton owns and runs a company which specializes in kitting out anyone with an interest in Kayaking. If you’re thinking of getting into kayak fishing then visit their website at www.gokayakfishing.co.nz. Parts of this content are reproduced thanks to Coast to Coast magazine.

Why Kayak Fishing?

Kayak fishing can be enjoyed by anyone! You don’t have to break the bank to set yourself up and Kayaks are a whole lot cheaper than the purchase of a run-about. A budget of between $1500-$2000 will get you going and there are no fuel bills – all paddle drive. Maintenance is minimal and a hose off when you get home and that’s about it!

Kayak fishing is a very effective way to target our popular species – you can get in closer to fowl ground and areas where other larger crafts can’t. The engine room in my kayak may not have 135 horsepower but it does produce very little noise disturbance to alert the fishery below. Accessing rocky outcrops by kayak for a spot of land-based fishing is another advantage. With the correct guidance and equipment kayak fishing is an enjoyable and fast growing recreation.

My local playground is the Tamari Strait, which I hold in great respect. And in return I have experienced some exceptional fishing, watched lone seals play and have been smack in the middle of massive kahawai boil ups! Just fantastic!

Getting started the hard way…The Kayak

When we started kayak fishing a few years ago we were armed with decades of fishing experience and thought we had the new sport of kayak fishing all sorted out. After all it couldn’t be that different to fishing out of a small dingy, right!….Wrong!!

You could say we learned it the hard way! Loaded up with way too much gear, half of which we didn’t need and would never need. Positioning the anchor was tricky and sometimes dangerous. Losing good fish while handling, often offering gifts to Davie Jones such as rods and expensive smart cast sounder transducers. I have seen many items worth quite a few dollars thrown away because they weren’t leashed. If you want to keep it, leash it!

Experience and hindsight are everything, and now armed with the right gear we can only look back with a smile and have a good old laugh at ourselves. It’s important to have the right gear and equipment and the best place to start is talking to anyone who has some reasonable experience. There are a number of kayak clubs springing up around the country and a number of businesses like mine that provide advice and equipment.

The Kayak

Choosing the kayak that’s right for you is critical. Kayak manufacturers have stepped up to the plate in recent years and are now manufacturing an excellent range of sit-on kayaks designed with fishing in mind.

Kayaks range in size from 2.7m only suitable for close to shore fishing trips going right up to 4.7m capable of being optioned with electronic suites to maximize your fishing experience. When choosing the right kayak for you, take into consideration the load capacity and weight, as more often than not you may have to manage the kayak transportation by yourself.

Your weight and height can also change the handling and stability of the kayak. Do your homework and research the various kayaks on the market to find the best one suited to you. A few to start with could be the Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 & 15, Scrambler & Scrambler XT, Escapade, Perception Swing, Viking Espri, Tempo, Fisherman I or II and the Cobra Fish N Dive to name a few.

Do you want a rudder? Check hull depth and deck space, is there enough space to install rod holders, accessories, fish finder and communication suite? Kayak seating is almost as varied as the kayaks. Choose a seat that gives maximum back support, as you will love this sport so much you will be sitting in your kayak for hours!

Seating can be as minimal as a backrest right up to a Delux full seat with extra drink bottle holders and pockets. This is one area that should not be overlooked. Most of the manufacturers have good web sites for you to do your research before walking into a retailer.

Kayaks are available in many different colour combinations and my personal favorite would have to yellow first of all due to it’s high visibility, red, yellow/green are also good however blue is one of the hardest colours to see out on the water. Ask your kayak retailer if you can try the kayak before you buy! A good retailer should be happy to offer a sea trial.

Kayak wheels / trolley’s are a back saver and make transporting your kayak to the beach just about effortless. Don’t forget extra weight of fish too! Some brands of trolleys such as The Humble Trolley completely disassemble for easy storage inside of your kayak hull, just check the hatch sizing is large enough for the components of your brand of trolley to pass through as some kayaks have small hatches.

For friendly advise from fellow fisho’s www.fishing.net.nz kayak forum is a great way to communicate about our sport.

When you have your new kayak home, check your insurance policy as I found my home contents policy only covered kayaks to the value of $500 so Marine insurance needs to be taken out separately. Its worth it, by the time you have loaded it with accessories it may owe you between $2000-$3000 depending on your set up.


Once you are happy with your kayak purchase transportation is the next port of call.
If a roof rack is your preferred option be careful of the roof rack salesman that will install a system for you when it is less than ideal.

There are some excellent roof racks available from transferable strap on types to permanent fixtures. Check the height of your car, plus the height of the rack system versus your height and lifting capabilities.

Recently a client of mine purchased a quality roof rack for over $600 and a nice setup it was……. And that was the end of it; it’s now for sale. At a height of 5’2” and with the racks installed on top of a high RAV 4 it was not a good combination to start with, lifting the kayak up was a major effort and damage to the kayak and or the car was certain. With a new upgraded kayak now measuring nearly 4m in length and 27kg. a trailer has been purchased to get back to square one, a hard lesson and an even harder one on the pocket!

Excited about your kayak and buzzing to set it up with enough fishing gear to resemble a small charter vessel?? Well priority must be the safety items you will need even if it impinges on the tackle budget!

Safety is taken seriously in my camp. I enjoy every minute out there fishing and plan to be kayak fishing for as long as my arms keep it up. Once the body gives up the ghost then the bonus of having 4 sons is that surely one of them will take mum out fishing.

Seriously though, should the weather turn or an emergency situation develop a little bit of forward planning can make a huge difference to the outcome. Even such a small accessory as a paddle leash not checked on a regular basis could cause a big problem.

Paddle Leash/Retainers

Think about the options if you were on your own, without a paddle in an off-shore wind?

While fishing, rafted together, my fishing buddy’s paddle was left floating in the water attached by a paddle leash that was old; the velcro attachments were well worn and no longer holding securely. After fishing for a while I noticed that Mrs. Bean was literally ‘up the creek without her paddle’ which was floating about 10 metres away. Fortunately Mrs. B was able to use my paddle to retrieve her own.

That was the day paddle retainers were manufactured in my workshop as the kayaks being used at that time didn’t have built in paddle retainers. A retainer will keep your paddle out of the water, secured firmly to the side of your yak. As well, attach a paddle leash to the paddle at all times, retainers are not a substitute for a leash. If you have purchased second hand equipment please check that the gear is in excellent working order. Having a spare half paddle on your kayak is a wise option.

Personal Floatation Device or Buoyancy Vest

A PFD is a mandatory item of safety. There is a huge range of PFD’s suitable for kayaking on the market. An important feature commonly overlooked when purchasing a vest is the need for an emergency tow belt or, as I like to call it, a tether line belt with an emergency release function. It’s great to have a vest with all the bells and whistles but a tow/tether belt function gives you the ability to attach a tether line from the back of your vest to the rear of the kayak.

Tether Line

The tether line connects you to your kayak in case you end up in the drink. Other than my short swim home as mentioned in the last article the only times I am in the water are when I have thrown myself over for testing purposes while I’m off-shore and in good sea conditions. However some kayakers have been known to fall asleep when the fishing action has been slow.

The point here is that there are a number of reasons that can contribute to you being dumped off your kayak. Though loaded with all your gear even a slight wind can pick up and blow away our light kayaks a lot quicker than one may think. When I go out fishing, regardless of how far I may be traveling, the tether line is always hooked up and it’s now just part of my regular launching process.

Having the emergency release on the front of your PFD gives you the ability to release the tether while the line is under load. For example, were you unable to re-enter your kayak and in danger of being smashed onto a rocky shore line along with your kayak, at this point it would be a good idea to release from your yak. The tether line can be a lifeline when further out to sea, off shore winds and when fishing alone.

My advice would be to always use a professionally designed tether. These are made with heavy-duty, double action stainless clips, shock-absorbing materials and to NZ yachting standards. You can almost guarantee that if you find yourself in a dodgy situation it will not be a windless, lovely day. On a day when there is a slight breeze blowing INSHORE try swimming after your kayak NEAR THE BEACH and see how you go! You will be amazed at how fast the kayak will get away from you.

Cell Phone, VHF, EPIRB

The cell phone in a waterproof bag is strongly recommended. Aqua Pac cell phone cases are brilliant because they are able to be used while inside the case. They keep the phone absolutely dry and also cut wind noise from the conversation.

Cell phone can be used not only to contact your buddy around the corner to see how the fishing is going but also to alert the authorities should you find yourself in an emergency situation. An important number to remember when out there is *500 (Star, Five Hundred) for Coastguard Search and Rescue or 111 for any emergency situation. Keep your cell phone batteries fully charged. There is no point taking a phone only to have it die on you. It is important to have the cell phone clipped on to your PFD and not your kayak in case you part.

Cell phones are a great means of communication and should be taken with you on all fishing trips, however, if you require assistance from a passing boatie and just happened to know the owner of the boat and his cell phone number you would really be in luck!

Most of us wouldn’t be that lucky and don’t make a habit of carrying the NZ Boat Register and White Pages with us so…. a VHF marine radio is as important as the cell phone for the dedicated kayak angler.

Your local Coastguard can be contacted on Channel 16. GME manufacture a VHF marine radio that is suitable for kayak use due to it’s compact size and because the unit is also waterproof to 1 metre for 30mins. When installing a VHF you will need to apply for a marine radio operator’s license and call sign.

Sausages anyone!

A diver’s bright orange rescue sausage is another safety/rescue item that is handy when in a big swell. These can be purchased from your local dive shop.
A first aid kit should be located in a bagged/bucket hatch compartment, the hatch between your legs is ideal. (Prowler 13/15 and Tempo) Although it is strongly recommended that you never open a hatch out at sea, if you are in need of first aid supplies this hatch can be sheltered from the element while items are quickly retrieved and the hatch closed again.


Stands for Electronic Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon and when activated will transmit your GPS co-ordinates to the National Rescue Centre to aid in a search and rescue operation. While EPIRB’s have been expensive in the past, they have decreased in price dramatically in recent times and, depending of the nature of your fishing trips, they are a very wise investment and like all safety items, we need them and hope we never have to use them.


The compass is a big part of my safety equipment. I have been caught in a light rain on dusk reducing visibility to nil very quickly leaving me with no idea which way to head for home. Lights on land were gone and the thought of guessing which way to go didn’t appeal to me.

Without a back-lit compass I could have been in serious trouble. A compass is not expensive and is a very important navigational tool that can be stowed away in a PFD pocket or larger models strapped to the foredeck.
It is essential to learn how to use one as well as have one on board!

Dive Knife or Bear Claw

A lockable dive knife strapped to the inside of your leg rather than having one attached to the kayak is a sensible idea. Having it strapped to your body means it’s with you at all times and if used at any time be diligent about ensuring the knife is firmly locked into the sheath after use. A bear claw knife is another option to attach to your PFD where it is accessible to cut heavy ropes if necessary. Ideally these knives should not be used for cutting bait as this should be pre-cut, but we will touch on this subject later.


An essential part of my safety equipment is a day/night combo flare. The single flare holds an orange smoke flare for day use at one end and a red shot for night use, both of which can be used independently. Mine is carried in a pocket on my PFD on every trip no matter how small a trip it may be. Like the cell phone it is a good idea to have it on you rather than stowed somewhere in your kayak.

Highly Visible Flag

The most positive comment from the boating community that we have had is the use of highly visible flags on the kayak. We know that at times it can be hard for boaties to see us so be safe and be seen. Flags can be purchased from any good kayak retailer. They can be fitted into a rod holder or some seat models such as the Viking Deluxe seat has a webbing strip sewn on the back that is designed to slip a fiberglass rod into. If your seat doesn’t have this an upholsterer can easily sew one on for you.

The Prowler 13 by Ocean Kayak has a threaded flag socket molded into the kayak behind the seat position. In addition to the flag you can also wear a bright orange or yellow sun hat it makes a huge difference.

When we are out fishing we are constantly giving a polite wave to passing vessels, its something we have always done from an early age, yes we are a happy bunch, but more importantly you must do this because every time I get a wave back I know I’ve been seen and I’m not going to get mowed down.
If you are punching into a head wind always be conscious of vessels behind you as some harbours are busy and you may not hear an engine until the boat is right on top of you. There are still skippers out there who leave the wheel unattended, I have seen it myself, so have your wits about you everywhere. Use a little bit of common sense and you will be just fine.

Night Light

A kayak is classified as a small non-powered vessel under 7 meters long under Maritime Regulations and is required to have a white light or torch on board to alert an approaching vessel of it’s presence during the night.

This is the minimum! But I think an experience should be had to the max so….
a full all-round white light on a pole approximately 1 meter high to clear the top of your head while seated should be installed to your kayak for night fishing. I have seen flashing white lights used; please do NOT use flashing lights, strobe lights, red, green or any lights other than an all round constant white light.

Red and Green are designated for navigation and are not required on a kayak. Strobe/flashing white light is designated for man over board. An LED headlamp is useful to light up your work area but still use together with the all-round white light as a headlamp will not be seen from behind.

Maritime NZ, Coastguard & Water Safety NZ put out an excellent publication called Safe Boating (an essential guide)


Often we are out on the water for many hours at a time so it is really important to take water/energy refreshment and an energy snack bar with you, as you will feel much better and refueled for the paddle home.

Weather Conditions

Be safe and don’t take any undue risks out there! Know your limits.
Check the weather forecasts before every trip no matter how nice a day it may appear out the window.

March 2007
This article is an original article written for The Fishing Website
by Jackie Dainton

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