CHAPTER 5 – GOOD DAYS, BAD DAYS
A Bass And A Yak
2002 saw the launch of a new angling experience for me – I bought a kayak. I wanted to overcome a long held nervousness of boats, which, as a good swimmer and qualified diver I had recognised as an irrational limitation. Spurring me on were the aims of better fitness and the prospect of fishing some inaccessible fishing marks. As a result I fished from the shore much less that year but fished from the Kayak on fifty or more occasions between April and November.
When fishing from the ‘Yak’ I prefer to use a one-piece, six foot long, rod that is soft in action. It is coupled with a rear drag fixed spool reel which has brass gearing and has survived frequent salty immersions followed by hot sun, conditions that have ruined two other reels of repute. The reel is loaded with 101b braid, uni-knotted to a small swivel to which a one and a half metre 8lb fluorocarbon trace is tied, leading to a small snap link for attaching the lure.
I store my lures in a sandwich box so I know they’ll all float if I tip them over the side. I like to pack some small surface poppers, two to three shallow diving minnows, a sinking plug, metal spinner or two and at least one plug that I’ve never caught anything with. I find surface lures the most compelling to use; fishing with bait is difficult for me as I struggle with the unpleasant smells that I associate with long dead bait, and the urgent wriggling of an impaled livebait concerns me. All of my angling involves artificial lures or imitations; although this lack of flexibility means that I might not catch as many, or as big, fish as I might do on a particular day, that is my preference.
One foray in my first year of ‘Yak’ fishing is particularly memorable, and I hope it illustrates the whole feel of kayak fishing.
The sea was flat calm, on a hot day when the water was crystal clear and neap tides prevailed. Try to picture wheeling a bulky 20kg, nine-foot long, vivid orange ‘sit on top’ kayak on a converted golf trolley, manoeuvring through the mums, dads and kids on the beach, to the waters edge. Attaching the compact trolley to the back of the kayak, I launched myself away from it all and headed out, ‘Reggie Perrin’ style. What a beautiful day to paddle about Torbay.
I’ve got to the mark and it’s baking hot and sunny, I’m drogue drifting the kayak in rocky ground. Kelp patches and long string weed stretch up from a five to eight metre deep sandy sea bed, interspersed with rocks that are within one metre of the surface. Perfect kayak ground – inaccessible to boats and from the shore. About thirty metres away is the shore with a cliff covered in rough ground and woods, with no houses and no one overlooking, no one else. Just me, nature, and …… the bass that just attacked and missed my surface popper, shared. He’s done it again with a surge from behind the lure, causing bulging in the water but with no take ensuing. I stop the lure and begin to jerk it back again …… one foot fast retrieve, one and a half foot slow retrieve, 4-inch jerks, and a three feet slow retrieve – any moment now. But the patient retrieve, which normally means the lure gets whacked, is painstakingly observed by me and ignored by the fish for the fifteen metres back to the kayak since it last showed itself.
Yesterday, not far from here, I had glimpsed a bass or pollack hit a green mackerel J30 lure about ten feet out and one foot down, just as I was beginning to check to see if the lure was swimming nicely, lift it out and recast. It was a big fish and it dived and broke my trace – all over too fast – I upped he fluorocarbon ante to 14lb as a result.
I’m now wondering whether I should switch away from my preference for surface lures to a minnow …… just one more try … Twenty five metres away the lure hits the water and after about five metres retrieval it is hit hard and a fish is on, tearing line off the reel at an alarming rate. I remember why I like rear drag reels, so I let the bass run and tried not to let her know the limited stopping power of a rod that’s soon to be almost doubled over. I ease the drag on. She’s now heading back to me and I’m winding in, and now she’s off to the side. Three good runs, two failed netting attempts (it’s tricky on the Yak) and about ten minutes later, at just under 5lb, the beautifully shaped and conditioned fish is quickly dispatched. At the time this was important to me because of the difficulty of having a strong and spiky fish wriggling with three flailing trebles, between my legs, on a bobbing kayak out at sea. (Soon after that fish I made a small worktop, on which I can unhook the fish, to remove the hazards to me and enable me to return the fish unharmed).
I’ve caught bigger bass on the same lure from the shore, but the Yak adds an extra dimension to the fun, and I do enjoy the solitude and closeness to nature that the “Yak’ can give me.
Learning to use and fish from the Yak has been great and I recommend it wholeheartedly. I started taking fishing tackle on my third trip out, and over a further five trips, I learnt and refined the rigging of the boat so that no commonly encountered event creates difficulties. I’m no longer nervous of boats, and fishing from the Yak is sheer pleasure.
And an update
I find it hard to believe my Yak fishing has been underway for four years even though in the summer months I devote virtually all my bass fishing hours to sitting on my 15 foot ocean Kayak. This kayak was bought for about £400 to add to my existing two-person one, as it allows me to get further afield a lot faster. This hull is much longer and faster, and as such requires less paddling effort than my previous yaks but still remains stable. I’ve managed 16-mile round trips in 10 hours with no problems. It sits in the garage through the winter, requiring no maintenance apart from an end of season wash. Here is a resume of one year’s Yakking highlights.
This season’s biggest fish was just under 7lb, caught a small Chug Bug cast at the deserted rocky shoreline. The fish took about 3 yards of line in about 6 feet of water. There followed a real test of nerve, what with landing the fish with the yak being pushed on and off of the rocks, and the fish tugging away all over the place as I tried to land it. I’ve long since dispensed with a net when yak fishing, (too much time untangling trebles from the mesh), so the landing requires a pretty fast and steady hand with room to manoeuvre on a relatively stable sea – not possible on this occasion, and yes, I got badly spiked for the first time in a very long time! The fish went back for another day and the yak was less damaged by being washed over the rocks than my palm had been by the bass’s spiky fin . . . just a 3-mile paddle home smiling/grimacing/ smiling all the way.
Another good fish was just under 4lb but what a speedy fighter! I was initially convinced that I had hooked my third career double, and my first ‘yak’ double. It was taken over an isolated rock in about 20 feet of water, some 50 feet from shore. It took too long to land and was taken for the table, fried in steaks with a simple Buerre-Blanc and parsley sauce and a good bottle of cold Chablis with a fresh baguette – magnificent.
The season’s dumbest act was to fish a very much overlooked reef (overlooked in every sense) consecutively for three evenings. For the first two evenings there was addictive sport with up to 15 smallish bass of 1-2lb over no more than 2 hours each evening. On the third evening I invited a good friend out on a spare kayak, and although he is an occasional angler he caught 10, all on surface poppers in kelpy ground between 2 and 10 feet deep. Later that same evening, before dusk, a local gill netter arrived and encircled the reef with out about 500 yards of monofilament ‘wall’. The following night I took some binoculars on the yak to see if I could deduce who had spied on me and told the netter of my activities. Of course I have no idea who did the deed, nevertheless I hope they saw me looking for them and were panged by a fit of conscience. Dream on! Defra informed me there was nothing illegal in the netters act of laying nets that encroached within 100 feet of a busy swimming beach! Be warned if you swim very early morning off of Torquay. Needless to say I haven’t caught a single bass from that reef since.
The seasons funniest moment was provided by a big bull seal. I’d taken a three and half-pound fish for supper and was continuing to fish for sport, with the fish lying in the rear compartment of the yak, which is constantly washed through by sea water. A six foot long and very chunky seal popped up about 10 yards from the yak. A lovely sight – a big full whiskered grand old gent. I gently paddled closer and he swam beneath me in the 10 foot deep crystal clear water, some twenty yards from the deserted shore. My polarized sunglasses allowed me to see his expert swimming technique and I just sat, mesmerised, as he went back and forth within a foot of the yak, often directly underneath it, for a good four or five minutes. Eventually he popped his head out beside the yak – we were eyeball to eyeball and no more than 4 feet between eyeballs. He barked loudly – the smell of his breath eloquently elucidating his daily diet! Not knowing what to do I barked back, and I daresay he thought similarly about the smell of my breath.
Some shore anglers on a clifftop found it most amusing. A raucously good barking debate ensued between us all. I picked up my paddle ready to move off as the seal was clearly trying to communicate and finding me a less than useful conversationalist. Then he made his move; quickly ducking back behind me and trying to stick his head into the back of the yak to steal my fish! Not a grand old whiskered gent, just a common ‘tealeaf’ after my supper and giving me and my yak more than just the collywobbles!
The poor fellow got a sound ‘thwack’ to the back of his bonce for his audacity, and whooshed off, fishless, not to be seen again. I guess a temporary dull impression was left on his mind – but I am confident no lasting hurt was done. This summer I’ll troll for a couple of mackerel on my journey out to this mark (I’ve built a smokehouse over the winter so they’ll never be wasted) and I hope to make amends and friends with ‘Lumpy the Seal’ if he decides to return.
If you’re thinking about taking up kayak fishing, don’t be put off by some of the long distances described above. Most of the fishing fun is no more than fifty yards from the shore and if you take to it as I have done, you will have another way of catching bass and a higher level of fitness will follow. Sit-on-top kayaks are inexpensive, require no fuel, make no noise and are relatively easily transported. I see a lot more people out on kayaks now, including anglers, than when I started. I do constantly try and make converts to the Society whilst I paddle about even with some of the gin palace cruisers that are relatively common in Torbay and quite often stop by to see who the eccentric angler in the yak is, and (more to the point) “How come he’s catching fish?”
The best thing for me about kayak fishing is the ‘at oneness’ involvement with nature I feel whilst roaming along the coastline. Whether it is with seabirds, fish, porpoises or battered seals, I am part of it, and totally and irrevocably hooked on kayak angling.
Author: Peter Badcock
Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.106 Summer 2003.
© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008