KAYAK ANGLERS KNOW THAT in many cases their small one-man fishing craft are amazingly competent at handling the water. As long as reasonable care and judgement is used, kayaks can even be used for some oceanic angling action. Not all kayaks, however, are created equal. Even a seaworthy ’yak that can handle a trip outside of the surf line needs to be properly equipped.
The first choice any kayaker needs to make is whether to fish from a sit-on-top (SOT) or a sit-in kayak (SIK). While SIKs certainly have their advantages (a lower center of gravity, lower overall weight, and a drier ride) the vast majority of ocean ’yak anglers are going to want to go with a SOT.
The self-bailing nature of these boats makes them much safer. Although it’s true that you’ll often be wet, the water that comes into the boat can get right back out. SOTs also give you a safety margin by being easier to right and reboard, if you happen to roll over.
Stability is another major concern. Although SIKs may have better initial stability, remember that for fishing in big waters secondary stability is what really counts. A boat’s initial stability can be simply defined by how stable it is when rocking and rolling from gunwale to gunwale, or edge to edge.
Once that edge hits the water, however, the boat’s secondary stability kicks in. It becomes much harder to rock the boat beyond this point; but if you do so, a rollover becomes possible. Initial stability is a matter of comfort, and secondary stability is a matter of safety.
With obvious safety concerns of entering the ocean on any form of small boat; this secondary stability is what you really need to be concerned with. As a general rule, flatter hulls have the best initial stability. Rounded or V-shaped hulls are likely to offer better secondary stability.
For kayaking in the ocean, longer is generally better. True, maneuverability will take a hit, and you’ll have more difficult transportation to deal with. However, additional length improves tracking, and in the ocean, you’re generally going to be headed in a straight line.
This trait helps you counter the forces of wind and currents, as well. Longer kayaks can also go faster. Another common issue when fishing in the ocean is covering lots of ground. For these same reasons, kayaks with a rudder and/or skeg generally perform best in offshore waters.
Most kayak anglers see the benefit of a pedal drive or perhaps even electric propulsion, since it expands your range, increases speed, and also keeps your hands free for the important stuff, such as casting and reeling. All of these factors get multiplied when you’re fishing outside of the breakers. You’ll have additional winds and currents to fight, which can quickly tire out any paddler. You might see fish busting the surface a half-mile away, and want to make a fast break for the action. Also, when trolling back and forth off the beach is an effective tactic, that additional propulsion system will be worth its weight in gold.
For many people, choosing propulsion beyond a paddle boils down to a matter of cost. The bottom line? If you can afford it, and you’re not worried about your purist buddies giving you grief (out of jealousy, of course), upgrading with a propulsion system is a good move.
As for accessories and accouterments, some special gear is in order for fishing in open waters—any open waters, but especially in the ocean. A quality life jacket is a given, as well as safety gear ranging from a whistle to a handheld VHF (a waterproof model sealed inside a zip-lock baggie is best).
You also need some basic navigational gear. Even if you carefully choose your days you simply can’t know when weather will cause reduced visibility, or a delay will cause you to be out after dark (hopefully caused by a long fight with a giant fish on the end of the line). Those with chartplotters aboard have a big edge in this regard.
All marine electronics are subject to failure, so a hand-held compass should be considered a must-have. For the same reasons, you should also have a light aboard even if your plans are to be home before nightfall. Adding a satellite messenger with SOS capabilities or a PLB to your safety arsenal is always a great idea.
Beyond safety gear, when you’re going after the big fish that prowl in the brine it’s a very good idea to attach your rods and reels, as well as your paddle, to the kayak with leashes. When you plan to launch and retrieve through the surf, everything must be nailed down. Surf landings are prime time for roll-overs. Merely tucking gear under a bungee or shoving it under the seat won’t ensure it will still be around if a wave takes control out of your hands.
Finally, be sure to bring along the items you need to treat your body right. Being in the oceanic environment is, in and of itself, quite taxing before you even begin paddling or fishing. Sun protection, plenty of fresh water, and high-protein energy bars or snacks are not only in order, they’re must-haves.
Hobie Outdoor Adventures goes to the IFA Championship presented by Hobie, where kayak anglers from along the Gulf Coast gathered to fish for speckled trout and redfish in this one-of-a-kind Kayak Fishing Championship.
—story by LENNY RUDOW