This is the first instalment of many in a series about the gear we take with us when we are on the trail. Most of our kit has been part of what we do for so long that we don’t think much about it, and pack it out of habit without acknowledging its’ usefulness.
Recently I took a mate out who had never been freshwater fishing in a kayak before, and granted I didn’t really give him much of a heads up as to what to expect. I told him vaguely that he would need to make sure he had some type of footwear that could get wet, and besides that and the type of tackle to bring, I really didn’t think much more was required. I may have failed to mention when I said freshwater fishing that I mean skinny water, lots of portages, and the potential to have to carry or drag the kayak at some point over a reasonable distance. On the way back up the river as my mate was struggling to walk against the current, he pointed out the great idea of the rope I was using to drag my kayak along. Continue reading The Little Things You Overlook→
It’s that time of year again: bass seasons seem so short when they are over. While I’m currently enjoying the sunny days of spring-time Vancouver and looking forward to spending a summer on the lakes of Ontario, the buzz of cicadas has long since ceased and the sweltering hot days spent canoeing the Williams River are over for at least a while.
The 2013/2014 bass season was pretty epic for Dick and me, to be honest. Starting the season as novices with only a handful of bass to our names, we did the research, made plenty of plans, and spent good time on the water. I think that payed off. We learned a lot this past season.
Opening Day couldn’t come quick enough for us. We had moped about for most of the winter wishing we were chasing bass, and the week-long stint of fantastic beach fishing we had experienced in July wasn’t enough. I’d lashed out and picked up a super new setup specifically for bass, just to keep them in my thoughts. Never mind that the first couple of fish I landed on it were XO salmon and a 20lb mulloway, I couldn’t wait to get it working the river.
August 31 found us stepping out to explore a new section of the Williams that I had heard about. We put in as the afternoon wore on to get an idea of the place, finding some nice sections of a beautiful river. Watching big catfish and eels cruise beneath us was amazing, and when we spotted the solid forms of bass lurking in a deep hole we really couldn’t wait. A sly cast from Dick had him on the board! We quickly released the fish and headed back to our camp to enjoy the fire and a beer.
Opening morning dawned clear and bright as we cruised through the mist and cast everything we could find, but alas! A perfect zero for Opening Day, even when we dashed to our old haunts closer to Dungog, reminded us that we still had plenty to learn.
Undeterred, the following Friday afternoon found me (Dick had other commitments) hightailing it out of work and driving into the darkness to explore The Branch river. Putting in on a moonless night and paddling a river I’d never explored was an exciting adventure, and I scrambled over several portages before noises drew my attention in the inky blackness. As I drifted through the night I could have sworn I’d come onto a school of frenzied barramundi. The water was erupting with boofs and pops and I found that the river was funnelled through a metre-wide gap in a rock bar, where schooling prawns were being intercepted by bass! I scooped a couple of prawns and drifted one down on a weightless hook. It didn’t take long to be snapped up by my first fish for the season! I rolled my swag out on that rockbar by the water and fell asleep listening to the feeding frenzy while a koala bellowed in the night.
A quick phone call had us decide to make an afternoon dash up to Dungog to catch the last of the daylight. Dick had gone all out and bought himself a new setup that had to be christened. We hadn’t really done any night fishing at this stage so decided it was worth a go. A bit of surface disturbance had us swapping soft plastics for surface lures, and that was when a light switch turned on. We caught eleven fish in the space of an hour or so, with most casts being pursued. How had we missed this before? The dusk feeding session is a fantastic time to be on the water and we missed few opportunities to fish it from then on. I was back at our out-of-town location the next weekend and found the same burst of activity just on dark and for a short while after.
The fish I caught that weekend showed all too well the tough nature of migration. These fish had obviously just gotten back up to this area of the system, and low water levels had left the travellers in a pretty beat up state. Dorsal spines scarred, broken and in some cases completely gone; tails torn and tattered; and skinny bellies. No wonder the fish were feeding hard. From our observations, these injuries apparently repair in a short space of time; even dorsal spines seem to grow back. We caught several fish that showed early stages of this; with soft fleshy growth on their damaged fins which I assume is a new spine in the making. Later on in the season you don’t see any fish that are permanently disfigured from these injuries so I assume that they heal.
The Williams River fish are by no means the biggest bass in NSW. As soon as you hit 30cm in this system you are looking at a big fish, and our average ‘good fish’ range between 30 and 35cm. I had two 36cm fish to my name and was happy with that, until Dick and I found an otherwise inconspicuous hole that turned out some fantastic fishing for the few weeks that fish resided in it. We came upon the hole accidentally when Dick put a plastic in that was immediately nailed by a hefty 37cm fish, and with that he took the record.
Our next outing on the river a few weeks later found us exploring a nearby stretch of unlikely looking water when the sound of Dick’s drag made us both a little over excited. Following some tense moments while the fish paraded about in front of some snags, the pressure started to tell and it planed out across the river and into the landing net. At 39cm it is our current record and was a beautiful fish.
A Weekend to Remember
Anyone from eastern Australia (or even New Zealand if they had good hearing) knows that the ‘13/’14 summer was a cicada summer. They deafened us for weeks on end from December, and fed all manner of creatures until they were sick at the sight of the buzzing bugs. I’ve come to realise that full on cicada activity is a gift from the gods to a bass fisherman.
Dick and I were keen to see what the fish were like when the cicadas were on, and we weren’t disappointed. A surface fishing session that spans the entire day, with a fish sitting in every bit of shade watching the skies for falling insects. Fish striking at cicadas all around you while you decide which one to cast to next. Putting a cast on a fish that has just taken a bug, and having it launch itself out of the water and grab the lure literally before it lands. Halcyon days. Fifty-six fish between us for a day and a half on the water was a highlight of the year.
Some New Water
A new year, a new river to explore. I had accidentally come across the Crawford while mooching about along the road from Booral to Buladelah, and immediately I wanted to fish it. A narrow vein of water completely roofed in by trees; a hidden, silent place.
I was back a few days later with the old man in tow to get him his first bass. The place lived up to expectations. Being as narrow as it was, we fished in a leapfrog fashion and had only travelled about 100 metres downstream before I found the first fish of the morning. This continued for the next few hours as we paddled and scrambled through some beautiful country and tangled with hard fighting fish. Eighteen for the morning was a nice way to spend the day.
Keeping a notebook and recording details of each outing is something that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to get into outdoor pursuits in a serious way. The amount of knowledge that is catalogued can be impressive and will make you better at your chosen pastime.
My key tips for becoming a better bass catcher would be as follows:
Get a water craft. The amount of access this opens up is phenomenal.
Get good at casting. You will only catch a daytime bass if you put your lure in front of it.
Lure efficiently. Have choice, but don’t go overboard with lure selection. You will waste time mucking about changing lures when you could be fishing.
Get crepuscular. Dawn and dusk. Fish them.
Know your river. Explore new places, but learn your home turf well enough to never go fishless.
Think outside the snag. Search out underwater structure, and don’t overlook unlikely places until you’ve tested them.
Our season finished up with 133 bass brought to hand over, amazingly when I count it up, 16 days on the water. It definitely feels like more than that but there you go. Jobs: getting in the way of bass fishing since forever.
I might not be back for a while, but I’ll be looking forward to when I next slip down the Williams, underneath the river oaks and the cicadas’ endless hum.
Happy 2014 Barra Season. I’m currently in the final stages of packing and getting my accomplice organised for a couple of days of driving and a few weeks of chasing northern estuary fish and freshwater fighters. From here on out we will be off the radar and living off some of the finest table fare available to Aussies.
My last article covered the planning phase of preparing for an adventure trip. This, the second instalment, will give a rundown on basic considerations when preparing, packing for and getting to your chosen destination. Obviously, planning and preparation go hand in hand and you will likely have started making a mental image of what you are going to need. Make no mistake; thorough preparation and packing can make the difference between a successful trip and a lousy one, and will definitely make for some easy going in the long run.
The Art of List Making
Santa definitely had the right idea. You really can’t get too trigger-happy when creating lists. Preparation is, after all, all about structure – and you can’t get much more structured and pedantic than by setting out a heap of checklists. There are a couple of considerations here that will help in tailoring task specifics; I might even put them down in some kind of structured way.
Start Early. When putting together a list of equipment required for a trip, make a first draft a few weeks out. The first pass will always include too much stuff, and you will forget something for sure.
Check it Twice. Really. Give your first draft a week to settle. This will give you time to think of any other bits and pieces that would be handy. Add them, then, read through with a stingy mind removing anything that seems like a luxury. Check it again closer to the date and preferably after you have put together the equipment already listed. This will give you a chance to see how much gear there is, check whether anything needs repair and/or replacement, and whether anything can’t be sourced.
Archive. Don’t lose a good list once it is made. I keep a notebook (well, a library of notebooks) that contain all the various jottings from many trips. These can be very handy for future ventures; either to spark the mind or as a straight copy.
Keep it Running. Don’t stop once you get on the road. Keep notes of things like travel expenses. These are good to provide ballpark figures on the cost of different trips for future reference, and are perfect for moaning about how cheap things were ‘back in the day’.
Once you get set up, you will hopefully have a store of stuff that will always come with you. From here on in you will only need to sporadically check that all things remain in working order and replenish any stores that get used. I keep two toolboxes on my ute: one designated for basic tools, general weaponry and protective equipment (for me and dogs); and the other for camp equipment such as barbie, billy, eating utensils and long lasting food stuffs.
Depending on the type of trips you do most, you may end up with tailored setups. For example, if you do a lot of backpack trekking you may want to organise a small bag that will go with your gear containing emergency equipment and rations. The important thing here is to have your ‘always’ equipment contained so that it is as simple as picking the thing up and putting it with the rest of your gear.
The Right Gear for the Job
Having the right gear for the task at hand will make things a hell of a lot easier, full stop. The balancing act, for the traveller, is to have the right stuff without taking up too much space or weight. Hence making lists early and narrowing down what is really required.
Again, depending on what you’re doing, some items will be no-brainers – fishing gear for a fishing trip and binoculars for a twitch-athon – but there is always the chance to narrow things down to necessities and luxuries. Apart from the relevant task-specific gear you will always want some kind of recovery equipment. This will vary depending on the task at hand and your capabilities.
On the Hoof
Foot travel (and for that matter any travel) will require personal recovery gear. At the most essential level this will be a knife, matches in a waterproof container, a candle, compass and a few bandages. This is by no way a full listing of an essential survival kit but will ensure that you are capable of improvising (knife), repairing (bandages), navigating (compass) and doing all in high spirits (matches). If your tinder is wet light the candle to save matches and dry the tinder to start a fire. Depending on where you are wandering you may want to include a good rope. For a more detailed and time-tested manual of survival kits refer to the SAS Survival Handbook (Wiseman 1986). Also, keep a lookout for Big Dick’s upcoming piece on setting up a survival kit.
The first step to personal recovery is knowing where you are. If you are taking on rough country you should have a topographic map of the area and a good quality compass. There is no excuse for not knowing how to use these items, and no technology fast-track. If you get lost and cark it because you dropped your GPS in a puddle it’s probably fair to leave you where you are.
Once you learn to read a map you can determine where in the landscape you are and pick the best route for movement before physically seeing it. A compass can help guide you there in less than ideal conditions. Please, learn how to use both.
Foot travel is generally the most restrictive in terms of equipment carrying capacity. This is therefore the best method for becoming frugal in your choice of gear to take and is a great way to learn nifty skills like navigation and improvisation. Feel free to push limits but always work to your abilities. Know your way out before you go in.
On the Water
If water travel is your chosen transport you may have a little more space for stuff. My Canadian canoe has stacks of room to put some cooking gear, food and swag or tent. A kayak tends to have less space and is probably best treated the same as foot travel.
The good thing about rivers is that you can’t really get too far off track. Either you go back the way you came or keep going to the next exit point along the waterway. I’m not going to go into sea travel as I know nothing about it, but the principle is the same: thorough preparation leads to more success and less death.
Of key note, recoverywise, is to keep some kind of flotation device at hand. If you feel that you are going to be chucked in unexpectedly, wear a lifejacket. Always have oars in a boat regardless of how reliable the motor is, and keep a spare paddle in a canoe/kayak if possible. Carry spare shear pins with motors, and from experience, a bit of wire and pliers can always come in handy. If you are in saltwater carry enough drinking water to keep you going for a couple of days and make sure you can get out of the sun. This means good clothing and headgear.
Depending on the usefulness of the vehicle you will be able to carry a fair bit of stuff with you. This is always handy and can form a great base camp from which to make other expeditions. Still, there is no point carrying excess baggage and the selection process remains the same.
As for recovery, this depends on your vehicle too. The affordability of four-wheel drive vehicles these days coupled with constant barrages from BCF and the like have pretty much blinded people to the mobility of a two-wheel drive when coupled with a capable operator. So don’t immediately think that you can’t get to far-away places without a Landcruiser. Four-wheel drives obviously have increased capability but patience and determination play major roles in driving.
Whatever vehicle you have at hand, some basic space saving recovery gear is a must. This gear is as follows:
– Chocks (for tyres and to sit jack on if required)
– Shovel (an Australian post hole shovel is by far the most practical type)
– Mechanical hand winch
– Crow bar (if space permits).
The type of jack is important. It needs to be reliable above all else. Hydraulic jacks are pretty solid. Wallaby jacks, while handy if you are bogged to the arse, can be tricky to use if you don’t know what you are doing and are potentially deadly. I know of someone who was knocked clean out when a vehicle slipped, the jack was set free and the handle clipped him on the chin. He was left lying in the paddock for some time until he came to and got himself home. If you are working alone these jacks require great care.
The type of winch is also important. Good quality mechanical (hand operated) winches are without a doubt the go-to for back country travel. An electric winch seems great until you want to pull yourself backwards; the winch being secured to the front of the vehicle; or when you want to pull your flat battery up the slope next to you to get a jump start. Enough said.
As with anything else, the saying ‘more speed less haste’ is paramount. What this equates to is the simple rule: don’t rush. No matter what method of travel you are utilising, the only result of rushing is making a mistake. Depending on what you are doing, the results of a mistake can stem from a minor injury, to getting lost, or having a car crash.
So take your time in travelling and enjoy the scenery. Check maps twice to make sure. Test footing before trusting it. Don’t take a river rapid on if you can portage it. Don’t drive at night if the route is crawling with big animals.
This rule applies just as much following an accident or mishap. The brain works best when it has time to process what is going on, so if it costs a little time to stand and look before acting then so be it. Trust me, a little broad-picture thinking now may make all the difference in the long run.
At the end of the day, equipment is there to help you out and make things a bit more comfortable. The bottom line, however, is you. So know how to use every piece of equipment you take (otherwise what’s the use of it?), know how to maintain everything and most importantly know how to make do with what you have.
Take your time in any endeavour as this will give you plenty of opportunity to realise you are being a clown and let you work out how to do something the right way. This is particularly important during travel as a few extra seconds taken to assess a situation can save hours of digging yourself out of a bog or worse.
The best part about taking your time is that you get to enjoy the landscape you are in. A few nights ago Richard and I were paddling down a remote creek in the middle of nowhere keen for a cuppa and bed after hours of unsuccessfully chasing mangrove jack. All our haste dissipated though when the clouds parted to let the stars through, while our paddles caused clouds of phosphorescent algae to light up the inky black water. A startled mullet was lit up in a ghostly green as is sprinted away before us. Why rush through that?
Wiseman, J. L. 1986. SAS Survival Handbook. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
Kayak fishing is relatively new for a lot of anglers with me being included. My interest in kayak fishing grew around the same time my interest in fishing reignited. I had grown up a beach angler spending many weekends and school holidays at the mercy of the rising and falling tides. However as I grew older and the four-wheel drive was sold my connection to fishing disintegrated. A trip to the south island of New Zealand inspired me to pick up a rod again. Even though all I managed to catch was a duck the seed had been planted.
During the trip I noticed some kayakers in one of the lakes, with what I thought were fishing rods. Upon returning to Australia I started to research kayak fishing and was surprised to see that indeed there was a form of fishing from a kayak and that it had a really strong community behind it. Being a university student at the time, a low income, no four-wheel drive or desire to be at the mercy of the break wall, kayak fishing became something I wanted to be involved in.
Now I am by no means a professional or an expert in kayak fishing, and I have only owned two kayaks, but I did my research when it came time to purchase my first. When I first started reading forum posts, articles and reviews I gathered that there were very few fishing specific kayaks and canoes around, and that most people would retrofit rod holders, milk crates and bungee cord to any vessel that could be paddled and would float. Several years later this has changed with many manufactures realising the emergence of this potential market and supply the quickly growing demands.
It is of my opinion that one does not need to go out and purchase a Hobie or the like to partake in this sport. Though at the same time I do not condemn anyone who chooses to do so. The point I am making is the type of kayak or canoe you choose to buy will not magically entitle you to catch more or bigger fish, just make things a little easier. In saying this when choosing a kayak or canoe to buy there are some factors you may wish to consider.
I would like to take the time here to mention I am by no means affiliated with any of the brands or websites that I post. I would also like to mention when going out and buying a kayak make sure you pick yourself up a PFD, and research and understand the waterways laws that are in place in your state or territory.
Intended fishing environment
This is one of the most important factors that I feel needs to be considered when purchasing a kayak. There are some models of kayak such as Hobie, and Native that employ a pedal system. This pedal system needs at least one foot of water to operate in, which rule these kayaks out of Skinny water.
It would be ill advised to attempt to go offshore with a short kayak, as it would not offer a safe, stable or energy efficient fishing platform 2-3 nautical miles out to sea. So keeping this in mind we can get into some other factors that need to be considered.
I have recently spoken to someone who owns a 4.1 metre offshore kayak and without releasing traded their station wagon in for a sporty hardtop convertible, as far as I am aware they are still yet to solve the problem of transporting the kayak since there is no tow bar or space for roof racks.
Like your intended fishing environment, available transportation of a kayak or canoe can generally be overlooked in the equation. Transporting a kayak or canoe is generally on roof racks (or Ute backs), however since kayaks and canoes have been getting larger, purpose built trailers are viable.
There are many other novel ways to transport a kayak or canoe these are just some of the common ways. Also don’t forget it is handy to have a kayak that you are able to lift by yourself, with some new monster kayaks getting about it is useful to be able to carry you own kayak without help.
The last factor I am going to cover before we get into the technical aspects is affordable budget. As I have previously mentioned do not feel as if you need to go out and buy a fully fitted fishing kayak straight out of the show room. Devising and fitting a kayak can be fun and satisfying experience as you are able to customise it for your specific needs.
I have purchased both my kayaks second hand, my first was off eBay (www.ebay.com.au) and my latest was off Gumtree (www.gumtree.com.au). Other places I kept an eye on was the classifieds on fishing forums, word of mouth (there are a lot of kayaks in sheds out there), and the humble local newspaper classified section. I generally steered away from the Trading post (www.tradingpost.com.au) since it is generally full of advertisements for wholesalers and disturbers. I must also give a honourable mention to the franchised fishing, camping stores such as Anaconda (www.anaconda.com.au), Ray’s Outdoors (www.raysoutdoors.com.au), and BCF (www.bcf.com.au) as sometimes they do have some really amazing catalogue sales on kayaks.
The length of your kayak does matter greatly as it determines how much stowage is available, as well as the kayaks performance such as speed, tracking and manoeuvrability. Longer kayaks 3.5 meters plus will generally have better speed and greater tracking.
Tracking refers to the ability the kayak has to go in a straight line. This is something you want when you are paddling into a headwind across a body of water. With poor tracking you will find yourself zigzagging with every paddle stroke. As you can expect you will exert a lot of energy attempting to move in a straight line.
Longer kayaks will generally have less manoeuvrability than a shorter kayak, this will however not be an issue as longer kayaks would typically be used on open bodies of water such as dams, lakes, estuaries, harbours and the open ocean.
Shorter kayaks have poor tracking but are compensated by having great manoeuvrability. This manoeuvrability is very useful if you are planning on paddling down small streams, creeks and rapids.
As you can expect, a longer kayak is bound to have more stowage space compared to a short kayak. This can be often over looked. If you are one of those people who take their entire supply of tackle with them on a fishing trip then consider a longer kayak.
The two kayaks I have owned have both been sub 3 meters long, and I must admit when I first started fishing off a kayak I would bring far too much gear. Now I have managed to fit everything I need for a full days fishing in a small camelback and a small dry bag. If I am going on an extended trip and I require more gear, I employ an additional large dry bag in the rear. I know with some novel thinking I could be quite capable of storing enough gear for multi day trip.
Sit in or Sit on Top
Kayaks come in two distinct styles: kayaks where the paddler sits on top and kayaks where the paddler sits inside. This initially may seem to be of no real importance, but there are some things to consider.
Sit on top kayaks are deemed to be unsinkable, since the kayak sits on a watertight cavity. This tends to be a safer alternative out of the two since getting back on after capsizing is much easier. Sit on tops also have more space on the deck for modifications. The inside of the kayak can also be used for stowing items that will be kept reasonably dry. However you will find yourself more exposed to water and sun on a sit on top kayak. Sit on top kayaks are generally used offshore, in bays, estuaries, dams and rivers with larger bodies of water.
Sit in kayaks are generally lighter than their counterparts, and offer a lower centre of gravity. Since the kayak is sitting lower in the water it will typically have better tracking as well. You will have less exposure to the water and sun. There is greater access to stowage, however there is a greater possibility for it to get wet. Once water gets inside of a sit in kayak, there is only a few ways to get it out. Tipping it upside down, using a bilge pump (like a old fashion water gun that sucks up the water and shoots it out) or a sponge. There is a greater possibility to sink a sit in kayak. I managed to fill mine up one morning when underestimating a small but rapid section of a creek. Sit in kayaks are generally used in alpine or colder waters, shallow and backcountry rivers, creeks or streams.
Plastic or Fibreglass
Kayaks are constructed out of two different types of material, Plastic and Fibreglass. These materials both have the strengths and weaknesses, and like every other factor is heavily influenced on the environment and type of fishing you are planning to use it for.
Fibreglass kayaks are light, slick, fast and fragile. Contemporary fibreglass kayaks are designed to cover large distances inshore and offshore. Older models I am personally not so sure about as fishing platforms, however I am always open to see people’s vessels. Joe uses a long fibreglass canoe, which is surprisingly rugged as long as you take some care where and how you take it. These vessels are fairly inexpensive and can be found at garage sales, ex-hire sales and when the local scouts are selling off their old canoes. Here are some websites of contemporary glass kayaks:
Plastic kayaks have come a long way and if you are to purchase a decent model (not a cheap knock off) you will find that despite the kayak being heavier than a fibreglass kayak, it will still be considerably fast and slick, as well as strong. Plastic allows for the user to drill into nearly any part of the kayak and attach anything to it. Both the kayaks I have owned have been plastic; my current one has been dragged over rapids, rocks, bridges, through bushes, thrown in the back of the truck and is still in great condition. Plastic kayaks can be used in any situation, but are definitely nicer to have if you have some harsh territory with lots of portages ahead.
When it comes to kayaks today we have the luxury to ask the question of whether to paddle, to pedal, to sail or to electric motor. Indeed there are kayaks that encompass all of these propulsion methods. Pedal kayaks are popular as they allow the kayaker freedom to use their hands. Brands such as hobie (http://www.hobiecat.com.au/) and native watercraft have pioneered this (http://www.nativewatercraft.com/).
Sails on kayaks really help to harness that wind (http://www.pacificaction.com/). Strapping battery motors on kayaks has also become popular. I personally am not fond of the idea as it draws away from the kayaking and turns it into boating, but each person to themselves.
There are many other intricacies that I may have omitted, but I choose to outline the important things. Kayak fishing can be a really addictive recreational activity, I can’t think of many things that are better than gliding along at first light on a secluded stretch of water. So pick yourself up a kayak or canoe, and get out on the water.
Choose the kayak that best suits what and where you are fishing.
Be mindful that you need to transport your kayak, and lift it.
Second-hand kayaks catch as many fish as new ones.
Short kayaks manoeuvre better and track poorly.
Long kayaks track better and manoeuvre poorly.
Sit in kayaks = lower to the water, less exposure.
Sit on top = virtually unsinkable, more exposure.
Plastic is strong and heavier with utility of modifications.