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Boat snobs and fishing kayaks


Mar 8, 2005
"Home by the Sea" - Nanaimo, BC
Anyone on this site who knows me somewhat well, will know that I'm a bit of a kayak snob. When spotting roof-top kayaks heading up or down the highway, we commonly dismiss them as 'plastic rudder boats'. Christine and I both love our NDK boats (we own 3 of them) and few other designs are afforded a second glance. I'm not proud nor ashamed of this character trait; it's the way I am, but it does pre-dispose me to look at 'recreational' boats in a different light than our rough-water touring boats.

And so it shouldn't be any surprise that I also tend to look at kayak fishermen in a different way. Clad in cotton t-shirts and camo-coloured plastic pants, trolling the local waters on only the calmest days with 250cm long, heavy 'seal club' paddles and little (if any) paddling technique, they can usually be spotted hauling a massive cooler on the back of their sit-on-tops and have more masts (in the form of rods, gaffs, nets and unrecognizable home-made tools) than many commercial fishing boats they share the waters with.

That said, I've always been a big fan of using 'the right tool for the job', so on those rare days when I'm more inclined to go fishing than looking for wind or swells, I find myself quite frustrated trying to handle a rod, tackle, net and other fishing gear while fixed in place in my Romany. For the sake of getting things below-deck, I'm forced to use a cheap, short telescoping fishing rod, and if I manage to catch anything while using a dodger or flasher, cursing is usually the end result as I try to land the fish single-handedly while juggling 25 feet of leaders (on my 6 foot rod), plus flashers, heavy lead weights on light line and hook-laden lures flailing around far too close to my expensive drysuit. Any desire to change lures is met with the prospect of rummaging blind in my day-hatch for a little plastic tackle box, somewhere hidden amongst my lunch, VHF radio, tow-belt, sponge, fish bonker, nalgene bottles and all the other stuff that commonly clutters the 'junk drawer' of sea kayaks. Thus, although I enjoy fishing (well, honestly it's the catching I enjoy!), it's often more a requirement while out on a multi-week trip than a real desire to float around the same spot of shoreline for hours on end.

But as it happens, I come home from these multi-week west-coast trips with a renewed desire to catch fish, probably since the fishing is pretty easy on the remote parts of the west coast we are drawn to. This summer's trip saw me finally land my first salmon, followed by 4 more (3 of which came home with us). So, when I saw an ad for Alberni Outpost's 3rd Annual Nanaimo Pink Salmon Kayak Fishing Derby, I was intrigued. I thought perhaps this year I'd go out and just see what people were using and what they were catching (and where), and maybe learn a few things so that if I wanted to enter next year, I'd be better prepared. The derby is a 3-day event, starting on Friday evening and continuing to Sunday afternoon.

Christine and I decided to head down to Mafeo-Sutton Park, here in Nanaimo, on Saturday afternoon - I brought my camera in eager anticipation of seeing the kayak fishermen with their impressive catches of salmon. While checking out (and quietly laughing at) the display of fishing kayaks, we overheard one of the organizers commenting that not a single fish had come in to be weighed yet! We were also intrigued that there were 3 kayaks in the prize list (two would be given as prizes to the closest fish to a 'hidden' weight, the third raffled among all entrants) and only about 40 entries. Those seemed like good odds to me - catch a fish and you'll probably win a boat! Plus, if no fish at all were won, all 3 boats would be raffled off. So, for a $35 entry fee, the chances were about 1 in 13 of winning a $800-$1200 fishing kayak. Seemed like good odds, so I paid my fee and went home to organize my fishing gear for the next morning.

Sunday morning I headed out early. And I don't usually do early. I was up at 5:30am, and on the water in my Romany just in time to see the sun poke above the horizon at Neck Point. I made short work of paddling out of the bay, easily maintaining 8.5km/h before I dropped some gear (a weight, dodger and Coyote spoon) and started a fast troll over towards one of the local fishing hot-spots, Five Fingers Island. The gear I used had so much drag against my cheap 6-foot rod that I barely noticed a fish on as I reeled in as part of a frequent check for seaweed and tangled lines. I brought it up to the surface and was thrilled to spot a small but energetic, radiant silver fish dancing on my hook. I slid him onto my spray deck and held him easily with one hand as the other rifled around the day hatch in search of my tape measure - I knew this was not a large fish and was probably too small to keep, but I wanted to be sure. Five minutes later I finally had located my tape - this little guy measured in at 30.5cm, just 5mm over the minimum legal size of 30cm. I was thrilled but revolted at the same time - why would a fish this small be legal to keep? There was less than 1/2 a single serving of meat on him, and I was tempted to let him go and grow into a proper eating fish. But, I knew he might be my ticket to win a boat, so I kept him and consoled my feeling of guilt slightly by deciding he could always make good crab bait some time (knowing full well that he'd probably just end up in the deep freeze for the next 5 years). By this time it was not quite 8am, so I figured I had about another 6 hours to just catch one more fish (something slightly larger this time, please!).

As the morning progressed, I saw an increasing number of self-propelled vessels out fishing, scattered amongst probably over 50 'real' fishermen trolling in all sizes of power boats. When I finally got to Five Fingers Island (about 4km from my launch spot), I was the only non-motorized vessel out there, but I figured perhaps the fishing kayaks were too slow to spend an hour paddling out there - it had only taken me about 30 minutes plus the time spent catching my micro-salmon. I did spot numerous fish being caught and landed by power-boaters though - some of them appeared to be easily weighing in around 10-15 lbs. I spent most of the rest of the day out there, but it seemed my luck was over for the day (I hooked a small kelp greenling, but today was about salmon so anything else was to be released). Witnessing numerous other fish being caught I was sure that some kayak fishermen would have landed some good fish as well - especially since many of them were in specially designed boats with all the required gear at the ready!

I got off the water shortly after 1pm, somewhat hungry and drained from being in my boat for the last 7 hours. I packed up and headed down to the park again to see some prize-winning fish. Arriving at the weigh-in with my cooler, I asked how many other fish had been weighed in - none! So, I figured I might as well be the first and plucked my tiny salmon from the cooler - he was barely longer than the freezer-pack he lay on. Embarrassed to have kept such a tiny fish but excited to be the first one weighed in, we had plenty of jokes between us and the weight (235 grams!) was recorded.

The next two hours was stressful - watching every car pull in and expecting huge fish to be extracted and weighed in... but as time passed, it seemed I may just be the only successful fisherman (despite some 48 fish being weighed in last year, I was told!).

By 3:30pm it was confirmed - the sad little sparkly foot-long specimen huddled in the corner of my cooler had won me a new fishing kayak!

I was given the honour of selecting the winner of the grand-prize, an Ocean Kayak Trident 13 Angler kayak, complete with rod-holder and all the features one could hope for in a fishing kayak. The name I selected belonged to a gentleman who was as thrilled as I was - he didn't own any boat, and had no way of fishing - he'd entered only as a draw, and it paid off for him! I was awarded my choice of a NuCanoe Frontier 10 (at 39" wide, big enough to stand up in, and could even accept a small motor up to 2.5HP) or a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 12-foot fishing kayak, which I chose. We were still a bit shocked while loading it on the car next to the Romany, and shared many jokes about being glad it didn't have a rudder (see 'plastic rudder boat', above!).

I spent a few hours on Monday outfitting my new boat, and building attachment points for a Scotty rod-holder. We went out yesterday, and I felt a bit odd paddling so high up in a 30" wide, 12-foot long boat, sitting at least a foot higher than Christine in her Romany. After paddling fibreglass sea kayaks for the last 8 years or so, this boat felt wrong - cheap, slow, too stable to edge... but my fishing rod was at a proper upright angle behind my left shoulder, I had a crab trap safely stowed right behind me in the 'tank well', and all my fishing and other gear was accessible right in front of my seat by way of a small round hatch, open to the entire inside part of the boat. As I paddled out I was pleasantly surprised at how well the boat tracks. I wasn't breaking any speed records - it was tough to maintain 6.5km/h and I was pushing as hard as I could to keep up with Christine at a cruising pace in her Romany - but it's a very comfortable boat! It's difficult to capsize on your own (yes, we tried!), and all your gear is always easily at hand. If you need something from the forward hatch, no problem - just crawl up there, open it up and grab it! Ditto for your water bottle rolling around the aft tankwell - just spin around, kneel in the seat and grab what you need. After a solid afternoon of fishing, I have to admit, I've changed my opinion slightly of these boats. My Romany certainly won't lose any water time because of it, but I'm looking forward to customizing it more (long-term plans include a fish finder and maybe even a down-rigger!) and getting out fishing in a boat that is specifically designed with that in mind.

Fish-on! :)


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Great yarn, Mark! :big_thumb I am as surprised as you were there were not more fish caught. Is yours a chum?

I have seen a lot of those SOT kayaks designed as fishing platforms, down near San Diego, and they are very effective. Definitely a small sounder would be a wonderful gift from Christine. :wink:

BTW, VanIslePaddler, real name Liam, posted a couple photos of his gear and deck setup for his guide boat, with a shortened pole, a compact reel (maybe a fly reel?), maybe two months ago. Way ahead of anything else I have seen, in case you are looking for stuff to make fishing from your NDK kayak easier.

Keep the fish tales coming ... very cool stuff!
New one on me. Did not know about mooching reels. I just figured Liam picked a reel with a 1:1 retrieve and simple casting action because kayak fishing did not require long retrieves or casts. That reel is very compact and looks lighter than the usual sportfishing reels I own.
nootka said:

Hey Dave, that looks like monofilament, I suspect it's a mooching reel

Lol - nice to see my photo getting passed around.

Yes, it is a Shimano Mooching Reel. It is the same reel that is used by lots of sport fishermen on their big sport boats.
- It does not have the ability to 'cast'

I have used MANY casting reels over the years; Cheap CanTire reels, and expensive saltwater casting reels... but as a kayaker with it constantly getting salt water exposure anything with gears and widgets and doo dads will break... simple is better. Had this reel for years, and still works great.
Liam, how do you calculate how much line you have out?

When I fished for kokanee from a kayak, I counted the revolutions of the handles as I let line out (penn level wind reel).
Because it got confusing with two handles, I painted one of them red. :lol:
I count 'pulls'. You can see me pulling the line out as I set my gear during this video.


Trial and error to figure out how deep it should be.
I have mounted a rod holder on the deck, just behind the right side of the cockpit. This allows me to paddle freely, without interfering with the rod. The thru hull fitting has an attached plug that seals the hole when I am not fishing. The rod holder removes with a simple 180 degree turn.

I have recently had some time to work on my fishing techniques as I stayed in the Deer Group. Salmon were biting and a variety of rockfish allowed me to have fish every day. I trolled alongside the many power boats looking for the elusive salmon. Out every day at tide change allowed me the opportunity to develop a routine that was easy, safe and effective even in rough water and West Coast rollers.

On the rod I tie a 4 oz. banana weight. About 6 ft. later I tie on a swivel and connect a flasher and clip to allow easy lure changes. I use either a spoon type of Coyote lure or the traditional Hootchie. Each of these has a short leader and clip to allow a quick connect to the flasher.

To avoid the tangles and awkwardness of starting to troll, I grab the flasher, roll the lure and line around it, followed by the excess line between the flasher and weight. I wrap a short bungee around the flasher a couple of times to hold all in place and then tuck it under the deck line behind me. I will then paddle out to the favorite fishing spot.

Once I arrive , I grab the flasher, unroll the lure and leader and let it trail in the water. A few paddle strokes get me moving in the right direction and then I roll out the flasher. As the weight hits the water, I set the drag on the reel to its lightest and continue to paddle as it reels itself out for about 6-8 seconds. I reach back, set the drag up a bit tighter allowing me to paddle until a fish strikes. At the slightest force, line reels out and I am able to take the rod, add more drag and "Set the hook" in a few seconds. This allows me to play the fish without getting off balance. Bringing the tip of the rod around over the bow turns me to face the direction of pull and keeps me stable. As for landing the catch, I tend to play them out until I can pick up with a finger under the gill covers.

To avoid the slime and scales all over me and the boat, I keep a short piece of cord attached to a small carabiner clipped to the deck lines.The line is tied through the gills and clipped to allow th efish to be kept cool in the water as I paddle on to camp and a delicious meal.