Up a Creek – With a Paddle. Kayak fishing. The Initial Seduction.
John Olliff Cooper embarks upon a voyage of discovery into the brand new world of Kayak fishing
A few years ago, on a press trip to Florida, my hosts fixed up a day’s Kayak Fishing for me. For some reason I wasn’t terribly keen on the idea, preferring to cast for the wonderful redfish, whilst standing up to my thighs in Florida’s deliciously warm Gulf waters. That day turned out to be a total loss from a fishing point of view, because the dreaded red algae had cleared the area of fish. Nevertheless, I had a great time paddling up little creeks, finding access to shallow spots that would be totally inaccessible to any sort of motor boat. The Yanks have got the whole thing sorted, and my kayak was equipped with all the fancy gizmos you can imagine, and then a few more. I remember thinking that gear-mad British carpies would go crazy for the technology. We ate lunch on a pretty little island that looked as though it hadn’t been trodden upon since George Washington crossed the Delaware river. How’s your knowledge of American history?
It didn’t occur to me then that fishing kayaks might put in an appearance in the UK. But they have, and the sport is fast becoming a craze. Kayak fishing is set to become the UK’s next boom sector, with any luck, taking over from carp fishing. Really, I don’t mean that.
My son Mark rang me to say he’d seen a small posse of Kayakers setting from Mudeford Quay in Dorset, and that they told him it’s a brilliant new way of fishing. Unlike cane and pin devotee me, Mark is a techno enthusiast. His Apple iPhone does everything but close the curtains at night, and brush his teeth, but I suspect he’s already working on those deficiencies. Anyway, a short conversation with one of the paddlers, convinced him very swiftly that this new sport was definitely for him. He was on the shore later when they returned with a brace of black bream, and a good bass each. Several other bass had been returned to the water. That was more than enough persuasion for Mark. So, where was he to start?
The first thing was to Google Kayak Fishing. I can tell you now, it’s an existing parallel universe. It’s going on all over the world. Try a dip into UTube and you’ll get a flavour of what it’s all about. You’ll be staggered to find kayak fishermen being towed all over the ocean by fish half as long as the boat, and if like Mark you’re a gear freak, you just love all the kit they’re using.
But this is the UK., and in these waters the chances of hooking a stonking great sailfish, or a giant trevally that wants to pull your arms out their sockets, are strictly limited. All the same, there are some cracking fish around the UK coast, and kayakers are getting more than their fair share of them.
The first thing Mark specified in a kayak, was maximum stability. With a narrow beam width, no sit-on kayak offers what you might call Dover Ferry stability, but some offer more than others. We toured the various kayak suppliers, and listened to the salesmen talk. Everyone had an opinion, generally coloured by what was in stock, or what they used themselves. The main problem was there was actually very little stock to see. The sport has taken off so fast, that when we were shopping, stock was going out too quickly to be inspected. Talking to kayakers on the beach, and reading comments on the various world forums, it became clear that a few kayak manufacturers dominate the market. A few liked the fiberglass Kaskazi Dorado, and others liked the Wilderness Tarpon. By far the most recommended kayaks though, were those made by Ocean Kayak, and in particular the Prowler 13. Again, we struggled to find one in stock anywhere, but we were lucky enough to meet a guy on the beach, just launching his new Prowler. As further luck would have it, the Prowler turned out to be a brand new design, the Prowler 4.7 Ultra. Mark tried hard not to look too star-struck, but this craft was clearly a creature completely state-of-the art: long enough to be fast, wide enough to be stable, and designed from scratch as a specialist fishing kayak. Our new acquaintance described it as the dog’s essentials.
Not all sit-on kayaks are suitable for fishing. A cursory glance along any tourist beach will show you that kayaks of one sort or another are being paddled around all over the place. Idiot parents with no care for their genetic legacy to the world, load up miniscule kayaks with children, and paddle off into deep water without a lifejacket between them. The specialist fishing kayak is quite different. It is the thoroughbred of the kayak world; a streamlined thing of beauty, designed to take you to where the fish can be found, and to get you back safely.
This is a big and fast growing subject, but the first thing to say is that this is an enterprise for those of reasonable intelligence, or at least those who hold that their lives retain some value. Kayak fishing is certainly not for the village idiot. In fact, the sea is not forgiving of idiots who tempt fate by ignoring its rules of engagement. But kayak fishing has certainly arrived in the UK, and Mark and I hope to show in a series of illustrated essays how to get started in the sport. We will probably make a few mistakes along the way, although all matters of safety and security will be taken very seriously indeed. The folks at Ocean Kayak will be helping us with gear selection and installation, and we are hoping to enlist the expertise of the clothing designers at Henri Lloyd, who have decades of experience in making weather gear that really works. They have already spotted the market potential of kayak fishing.
After a wait that had him twitching with impatience, Mark’s Ocean Kayak Prowler 4.7 Ultra has arrived. Although some hardy, and highly experienced types, fish from their kayaks twelve months of the year, it takes a particularly intrepid angler to fish with sea water freezing in the rings of his rod. As a beginner to kayak fishing, and with safety always in mind, Mark is likely to spend the cold months fitting out, and planning for an early assault as the weather warms up. But with any luck there will be an Indian summer this year, and the right conditions will surely see Mark making some exploratory trips. There’s no hurry, he says; but I’m really looking forward to cooking that first bass, and to washing it down with a glass or three of delicious chilled Chablis.