Kayak fishing is quite common within the fishing community, yet many deem it more dangerous. Given the smaller vessel size, the lack of engine, and risk of becoming unbalanced, it’s easy to understand why people perceive it as a greater danger.
Due to the misconceptions of kayaking, many people are fearful of transitioning from a fishing boat to a kayak instead. But do you need to be afraid?
Kayak fishing isn’t any more dangerous than other types of fishing, or indeed other water based hobbies. All come with their own set of risks. The way to combat this, this to have a deeper understanding of both your surroundings and your own abilities. By educating yourself, you can ensure better safety.
However, if you’re to educate yourself effectively, then you need to look beyond the capabilities of a kayak itself and to external factors also.
Risk and Precautions
Environment: Lake, River, Sea
One of the most obvious ways to lessen the risk of injury and/or danger, is to study the location you’ll be visiting while fishing.
A lot of novice kayakers fail to take into account the differences each body of water has when compared with another; this goes beyond freshwater vs saltwater, but to the type of current, debris, and other people likely around.
Fishing on a lake and/or at sea, presents the risk of increased volume of boaters being in that space. When more people are on/in the water, you can easily injure yourself or someone else. One of the primary risks of being in a kayak on open waters, is that boaters might not be able to see you, which is why visible colours, such as yellows, blues/greens, is a wise choice.
Secondly, you need to bear in mind that other boaters won’t necessarily be bothered about your welfare — if they see you in your kayak, they’ll automatically assume you know how to handle yourself in waves created by their boats. As a result, you must become comfortable with choppy water and navigating waves.
Even if there’s no other boats around, being able to handle rougher waters will mean the difference in remaining seated or being thrown from your kayak. If you’re uncertain of your abilities, stick to small bodies of water until you feel confident.
Should you be more inclined to fish on a river, this comes with its own unique risks, due to the rugged landscape surrounding it. Rocks and rapids can soon turn your experience into an unpleasant one. To keep your risk to a minimum, avoid rapids and particularly difficult terrain unless you’re a seasoned kayaker.
We’ve touched on this already, however, it can’t be stressed enough how important your safety around other boaters and fishers is.
No matter where you fish, you need to be aware of others at all times, particularly those considerably larger than your own vessel. Not only can the waves generated cause a problem, but so too can the inability to paddle efficiently enough in overpopulated waters.
The issue of others is still very much a cause for concern even at sea, mainly due to the speed in which ships will travel when compared with yourself. Yes, they’ll create big waves, but they’ll also make speeds that you can’t, and so being able to move out of the way as soon as you spot someone else is essential.
The golden rule for any kayaker is to stick to safe, less populated spaces until you’ve gotten used to your kayak.
Just like with the landscape and the unpredictable variables it can throw your way, e.g. people, rocks, and so on, so too does the weather. The weather plays an enormous role in fishing and its safety.
To make sure you can handle yourself and your kayak come rain or shine, you need to check the weather prior to heading out. What is more, you need to understand the impact changes in weather will have on your safety, should the weather dramatically change while on the water.
Cloudy, overcast weather is said to be the best for fishing, however it also creates low visibility that can result in collisions on the water. But what about weather extremes such as heat waves or extreme cold?
When the temperature soars, you need to dress appropriately — you want to wear something lightweight that allows your skin to breathe and cool down. The biggest mistake you can make is believing it’s cooler than what it is due to a misleading breeze. Leave the jumper at home, and make sure to stay hydrated at all times.
For when it drops colder, jumpers are still a bad idea, only this time because they can remain soggy for hours, thus increasing the chance of chills and hypothermia. Again, you want to wear something lightweight but also insulated this time as well; micro-fleeces and base layers are ideal in these situations.
The common belief with your kayak flipping over is that it won’t happen to you as long as you’re careful. This simply isn’t true. Even the most skilled kayaker will experience their kayak tipping over in the water; consider this a “when it happens…” scenario rather than a “ if it happens…”.
Before you even set foot in your vessel, you need to be wearing a lifejacket, also referred to as a personal flotation device (PFD). Adults must ensure that their PFD isn’t too short or long, and that it is fitted without being restrictive.
Once you’ve got your PFD sorted, and are wearing it, you need to practice tying down your gear. The reason for this is because you can easily lose items when your kayak rolls over. Of course, even if you strap everything down, items can still be lost given the nature of the hobby, and so you should only take the essentials.
Arguably the next most important practice is to know how to roll your kayak back onto its hull. For that, you’ll want to practice in water but somewhere you feel is safe and with less risk, e.g. close to the shore. It might not be pleasant, but deliberately acting out this scenario will lessen panic when you experience it for real the first time.
The risk of getting lost on a lake is minimal, but the moment you move to a river or sea, it grows considerably.
To limit the likelihood of getting lost while on the water, it’s good practice to not only have GPS and mobile navigation at all times, but to also inform people of where you’re going. If you let people know, then they will be able to more easily search for you should you not return home as expected.
What is more, while digital trackers are great for navigation, they can sometimes fail, e.g. mobile battery dies, loss of signal, etc. Therefore, take a traditional compass with you as well. This way, you have a backup at all times.
Another good way to tackle getting lost is to have a fishing buddy. They don’t need to be in the same kayak as you, but simply somewhere else further downstream and/or on the shore where you are. This way, you have a marker to look out for, and someone close by should you lose your bearings.
Most of what we’ve discussed are common, well known risks that a lot of people consider prior to fishing in a kayak. However, one that’s less considered is that of exhaustion. Yet, if you overexert yourself and expend your energy, you’ll soon find yourself in a difficult and dangerous position.
This is why knowing yourself and your limits is key, especially when first starting out. What is more, what you’re capable of doing in clear, good weather, can be dramatically different when in rough seas and with poor visibility. Consequently, understanding where your limits are and in every situation should be a vital part of your kayak fishing checklist.
The main way to avoid exhaustion is to pace yourself and start off with short trips out. By gradually increasing your time spent fishing, you can become used to how your body reacts in different situations and settings.
You’ll always hope it doesn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean it won’t; equipment malfunctions are a real issue, and so you need to be prepared.
This is why kayak maintenance is such an important part of being a kayak owner. By taking good, regular care of your vessel and its equipment, you lessen the likelihood of something breaking while out. However, for when you can’t avoid the inevitable wear and tear of time, you need a plan of attack.
In this case, it’s wise to always bring spare equipment. Don’t overload yourself, but do make sure to be ready for if a paddle breaks and/or a minor repair to your kayak is needed.
Other Risks to Consider
Due to the fact you’ll be outdoors, animals and insects become part of your precaution checklist. A lot of the time you may only have to deal with small wildlife problems, but in certain parts of the world, large animals, such as bears and alligators become a genuine cause for concern.
The best way to arm yourself is by learning about the different wildlife in the area you’ll be fishing. But, should push come to shove, you can use your paddle as a weapon in extreme cases. As for insects, such as mosquitoes, bug repellent will save you a lot of nasty bites and the more serious health risk of malaria.
Accidentally Hurting Yourself
We like to think we won’t hurt ourselves while partaking in our hobbies, but the truth is that it can happen all too easily. Even more so with more physical, outdoors activities, such as kayak fishing.
Besides the obvious threat of wildlife, you can also hurt yourself from more unlikely sources, such as fish hooks, hunting knives, even banging your head on a rock should your vessel tip over.
Consequently, a first aid kit is a necessity for all fishers. Of course, this will need to be kept lightweight and packed with essentials only, however, it will prove useful should you run into trouble. And, as always, inform your family and friends of where you are. Should a more serious injury occur, they’ll be able to find you if they have the right information to hand.
Kayak fishing isn’t as scary as it may sound. In fact, it’s no less dangerous than other water based hobbies and sports. Nonetheless, in order to remain as safe as possible at all times, you need to be aware of all the potential risks and how to avoid/combat them.
Whenever you’re heading out to fish, make sure you have good quality equipment to hand, that you know the area and its surroundings, and that people know your location. Yes, your PFD is a must, but so too are the variou other precautions we’ve discussed.