Sunday 24 April 2016

Kayak Fishing Lessons & Cool Spring Days

April has been a massive hectic, month for me in terms of both passing on experience and learning some new skills. One of the great joys of fishing is that there is always new knowledge to pick up as well as pass on. Sometimes it's a gradual thing- but in my case lately it has been more a case of jumping in.

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My current leap in the fishing world is perhaps one of the biggest I’ve ever made, however, as I’ve decided to try kayak fishing. It’s something I’ve had my eye on for several seasons if the truth be told. Regular readers will know that I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of float tubing in the past; it’s a cheap, highly mobile way of getting afloat. But limited in other respects, particularly when it comes to sea fishing.

So why go the kayak route? Well, for those of us without the income or space to buy a big scale fishing boat, a kayak is a realistic option to get the freedom of boat fishing without the silly sized bill. So when fishing oriented specialists Channel Kayaks approached me with the offer to use one of their craft for a year and review it, I jumped at it. I mean, why the hell wouldn’t you? I live 25 minutes from the sea, not to mention some nice lakes that allow boats, such as Roadford.

Regular readers will already know I’m honest and skeptical about tackle and kit, having had mixed experiences with companies in the past to put it mildly. So I hope in the coming weeks and months I’ll be able to give you a warts and all account of my journey into kayak fishing- the bits I like, the bits I don’t like and, in a nutshell, whether I take to it or not. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? Actually... the worst that can happen is that you can drown but we'll get into that a bit later.

Anyhow, it should be interesting stuff and I want to record my experiences. Not in the style of "look at what an expert I am" (quite the opposite!), but as the guy figuring out the various aspects of how to go kayak fishing and, who knows, perhaps asking some of the dumb questions and making mistakes so others among you don't have to...

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How (not) to start kayak fishing
So, after the initial feeling of “Wahey! These idiots are going to lend me a kayak for the whole summer!” I had to make the thorny decision of which model to go for. A tricky one really, because while I might well be flying (or paddling?) solo, I also liked the idea of a two person kayak for fishing trips (secretly hoping they could help with elbow grease when I get knackered).

Does such a thing as a versatile one or two person kayak exist then? Turns out it does with the Tandem Bass kayak that was recommended to me; you can fix two seats on board, or convert to just one in the middle.

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A big win? Um, sort of. Once you’re in the water, yes. When you have to hoist the thing onto your car, not quite so much, because this means you have more weight to lift. It is doable though and as far as a suitable compromise goes, this seemed the best option. If you're flying solo, the lighter one man "Bass" kayak would be more sensible (and cheaper too, at just shy of £400). All include comfy seats and rod rests too, which is a big bonus- you can see these are designed by anglers (as opposed to just being marketed for anglers). Granted, it's not peanuts- but the last time I engaged in fishing kayak reviews (in Flyfishing & Fly Tying Magazine), the craft were well over a thousand just for a basic model- too much for me, while the inflatables and cheap versions often look duff or outright scare me to death (note to my Devon friends: please don't go shark fishing in an inflatable dinghy again. I'd rather not be at your funeral).

Basic kayak safety & skills
On one level, I never quite grow up with fishing related stuff. Give me new kit and I just want to get out and fish. But when you’re dealing with tides, waves and the elements you do have to take a reality check and be prepared. So quite sensibly, Byron from Channel Kayaks recommended me a session on Clevedon Marine Lake for a crash course in kayaking basics. Probably sensible, because if I were to drown on my maiden voyage, not only would my folks be upset, there wouldn’t be any kind of review. Unless you consider a police/coastguard report a “review”.

Joking aside, fishing can be a dangerous sport (statistically you're more likely to die on a fishing trip than in a rugby match or even a skydiving trip!). Just because you have a life jacket and can swim, it doesn’t mean you are invincible. There is risk and to be unprepared is stupid, hence I wanted a kayak starter session with no fishing involved, at least initially.

Kayaking looks easy when you watch others do it. But there are various little skills and safety bits you really ought to learn before you’re ready to venture out properly. I didn't want to get too bogged down on this blog- but I've written on the basic skills and things like what to do if you fall in on a guest slot for the Channel Kayaks blog, after they very kindly have me a training session to get me started. You might want a look just for the entertainment value of seeing me fall in and then demonstrate how to clamber back into a kayak (CLICK HERE).

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Fishing from the Kayak
Having completed my paddling and safety basics, it was time for the more fun part- testing the kayak for fishing and in two person mode! Heck, even I can only concentrate for so long before I start thinking about fishing. I know what you're thinking: there can't be any fish in Clevedon Marine Lake, right? It looks nothing more than a big and fairly lifeless concrete swimming pool, for goodness sake.

It actually turns out I was wrong here. Sitting right by the Bristol Channel, it gets a fresh influx of sea water on big tides. Fish, shrimps, crabs and the rest come in, but not all of them remember to leave. Non anglers have seen sea fish topping and moving, including the odd flatfish or dogfish, while the crabbers get the occasional blenny in their nets. I'm not saying it's prolific- but it could just be a quirky spot to have a cast (when it's quiet and you're not annoying swimmers or canoeists obviously!).

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Anyhow, purely as a test I had brought along a light fishing outfit, just to see how it felt fishing from the kayak. Impressively stable, is my honest impression. Last time I fished from a kayak was in Finland; it was an ancient Canadian thing and the slightest movement made it veer all over the place. But these "sit on" kayaks are so different to the "sit in" versions. I am not a light human being nor one with a low centre of gravity, to put it mildly. And if I can sit on the edge, with my feet in the water, and fish, virtually anyone can. Furthemore, the new, hollow-bodied boats are very tough and virtually unsinkable. And yes, I tried during my trial. Just like with my fishing gear I like to see where the weak points are BEFORE, not during the event.

I had a little go with LRF type lures, anyhow, for no longer than half an hour admittedly, because it is April and you appreciate just how cold the water still is when you've been in it several times. I caught nothing- but then again, even the dad and lad crabbing in the corner blanked, which probably tells you it's too early. For the novelty alone though I may well come back.

Fish or no fish, I was pleasantly surprised by the kayak as a fishing platform. Built in rod holders are snug too and you get several, plus two posher kayak rod mounts, as standard. Another thing a lot of kayak anglers surely must ask though, is "what happens if I drop my rod or paddle?" If you are unlucky, the answer is " it disappears and you never see it again." Which is why I would recommend buying a leash or three:

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These are made for retaining paddles- and very sensible too because you're not going anywhere other than the proverbial sh** creek without a paddle. But they also provide one of the best ways to avoid losing rods when kayak fishing.

Kayak fishing sessions to come
So, having completed my crash course in kayaking, it shouldn't be too long until I hit the water for a day out. I'll let you know how I get on. The sea is an obvious target, but I also get the feeling that this would be great fun on lakes- if you can only get past the health and safety Nazis. Permission can be a sod (it's the same issue with float tubing). But there are a few freshwater options I'll be exploring over the summer.

One of the most exciting of all options this summer is a series of kayak fishing days on Wimbleball Lake, also being run by Channel Kayaks. Hats off really, because permission is the main barrier to trying. With kayak and gear hire plus a fishing ticket for under £100 these look just the ticket and I've already wangled a place on the event taking place on June 1st. Grab a look at the event details HERE for more info- but if you ever wanted to try kayak fishing without risking a fair sized investment, this is very much the way to do it and from what I've seen so far this looks great (Chris Ogborne is one of the guides on these days, who is not only a great host but a former international angler of huge knowledge!).

Guided Fishing Update
The other thing I am hugely looking forward to hugely this summer is taking more visitors out for guided fishing trips in Devon and Cornwall. There have already been some lovely highlights in the spring- not least of all teaching two intrepid brothers Oscar and Austin to fish at St. Tinney Farm with their father.

Now, a lot of boys of this age just want to get fishing and casting and, as much as I love their enthusiasm, a lot of what I say tends to go in one ear and out the other. Not with these two though. You could tell they have a school teacher in the family with mum, because they sat, watched and listened ever so well to learn how to set up a float, how to plumb the depth and all those other little basic angling skills that are so important.

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The result of listening (for adults and kids aike!) is obvious; you catch more fish! They fished the margins very stealthily and effectively indeed. Best of all was when both hooked into fish at the same time. I think I was as thrilled as they were- hopefully a day they won't forget in a hurry!

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In other guiding, I've also given recent pike and trout fishing lessons in East Devon and beyond. Whether it is a holiday activity, or a fiftieth birthday treat, I am always happy to oblige if I can. Sometimes I can take bookings at short notice too, but the diary does get crazy in the summer so it's usually best to give me plenty of warning and ask about dates; all the details are on my site HERE.

Fishing Blogs and Articles on the way...

Last but not least, you may or may not have seen some of the other bits I've been producing, editing and writing lately. Not so long ago, the digital world was a totally unpaid minority of what I did as an angler. But in perhaps just three years, that has all changed. And while I always will be a devotee of books and print media, blogging is becoming just as vital. Here are some recent entries that really stood out, both from me and a couple of others:

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Top 5 Urban Fly Fishing Tips: A fantastic little blog from my good friend and keen urban angler Theo Pike

Lake District Tarn Fishing: Beautiful artwork and reflections from artist and Cumbria based angler Scott Winstanley.

Fly Fishing in Muddy Waters: My own recent blog for Turrall, with some sound advice and hard-learned lessons on catching when our streams and rivers are fickle.

Otherwise, you'll find more musings, fishing ramblings and nonsense from me in the newly revamped Angling Times (collectible first issue in the new format out on Tuesday 26th April 2016), Fallon's Angler Issue 6 (which features a fishing trip in Cold War Berlin with the General) and various places elsewhere. I've also been back at the mini species and LRF fishing, with mixed results to say the least. Life has just got too busy to post it all on the blog quite frankly, but do keep reading and watch this space for more...

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