So you’re thinking of heading offshore to chase some big fish from your yak? Well over the next few weeks I’ll be giving you an insight into why I chose to paddle the Angler’s Dream 3 and how I’ve set it up to chase anything from snapper and reefies through the winter to pelagic speedster through the summer. Along the way I’ll also show you the gear I use and explain the reasons behind why I use what I use. In the first instalment I’m going to run you through the important stuff that most people don’t even think about when they want to start offshore yakking, the safety gear to carry, so let’s get into it……
First up I definitely recommend getting a PFD. While I rarely use one in creeks, estuaries and dams, I wouldn’t think of paddling offshore without one. If you check out the pictures you’ll see I use a non-inflatable version, while inflatable PFD’s are definitely more comfortable to wear if you happen to get tipped out and knocked unconscious the PFD will not activate and you run the risk of drowning still. Self-inflating I hear you say? Since they usually are activated when a sensor gets wet I feel they don’t suit a sport where you constantly have waves and the possibility of rain. I know I don’t want a PFD inflating on me when I cop a wave over the front of the yak. That would be bad timing. These are the main reasons pretty much all of us offshore paddlers use a non-inflating PFD.
Looking at the picture of the PFD you’ll notice I have a VHF attached to the right breast area, while I did do a couple of paddles without one, the VHF is another very important piece of equipment. It provides a link between you and other paddlers out there, which helps when paddling with mates as you can spread out over the reef and if someone finds fish they can let the others know where they are and then hopefully everyone can get a couple of fish to take home for a feed. This has saved me many a donut trip, and when you’re averaging 15-20kms of paddling the last thing you really want is a donut. The VHF also gives you a link to the local coastguard for weather updates and if you get into trouble they can hopefully get you back to shore safe and sound. Whichever VHF you do buy, make sure it is waterproof as once again it will cop spray from waves and will get dunked when you flip your yak in the surf or offshore (trust me it WILL happen, no one I know who paddles regularly offshore hasn’t flipped at least once or twice). I use a GME radio that is fairly cheap compared to others, yet it is waterproof, rechargeable, floats and hasn’t let me down in 3 years now. I carry it attached to my PFD so if I ever do get separated from my yak I know I still have it with me to call for help. Also attached to the PFD on my right shoulder is a good stainless dive knife. I don’t remember the brand but I chose it, after weeks of searching local shops, for the fact that it locks securely into the sheath yet can be pulled out of it with one hand. I carry it on the PFD so I know exactly where it is in the event of being tipped over and tangled up in my lines or ropes, I know I can unsheathe it one-handed and cut myself free quite easily if needed.
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The Anglers Dream 3 also has a great cockpit that features a large storage hatch in front of the paddler. While I keep my tackle boxes inside it I have attached a piece of HDPE plastic to the top of the lid to aid in mounting my Lowrance Elite 5 Combo (Available here). Now most people wouldn’t think a sounder as a safety device or that important unless you’re paddling offshore regularly. On the other hand though the combo unit is very helpful should you snap a paddle (again yes it happens, I’ve done 2 now) or even just succumb to heat exhaustion or dehydration. “How?” I here you ask, well should you snap a paddle and you’re out by yourself the best thing would be to call the local coastguard. Now, if you can tell them your exact coordinates they will be a lot faster reaching you, rather than searching a whole reef area for a 4m lone piece of plastic. I also wouldn’t fish offshore without one. Again, I did a couple of trips with just a handheld GPS and got lucky a couple of times with fish, but having a GPS and sounder definitely allows you to explore more of the reef quicker, by only working where the bait is, and it definitely increases your catch rate.
Visibility is extremely important in a yak, since we are low to the water we can be very hard for boaties to see, especially if facing into the sun. I have had a few close calls with boaties running full pelt and only seeing me at the last moment. On one trip I was real lucky as a guy was trolling the same section of reef I was and while tending to his lines, with no one at the helm, his boat proceeded to head straight towards me, fortunately he returned to the helm just in time to steer around me and avoid a collision. While visibility wasn’t the problem here I now use one of the Railblaza Visibilty Kits (Available here), mounted just behind the seat. The great thing about these kits is they have a high vis flag for daytime and also a 360 degree light for pre-dawn launches or night time river sessions. They are definitely a must-have item on any yak.
So that concludes the main safety gear that you should be carrying while heading offshore in your yak. I know there’s plenty more like Personal Locating Beacons (similar to an EPIRB but small enough to carry in a PFD pocket) or flares, but these are not, as yet, required for yakkers to carry and I feel between paddling with mates and carrying a VHF you have the main means of communication covered. Next week I will follow up this article with the fun stuff, the tackle, lures and rigs I use to chase big fish from kayaks.
Disclaimer: Offshore kayaking can be extremely dangerous and could potentially result in serious injury or even death. We suggest you do a course on kayaking and sea safety before embarking on a sea paddle in a kayak.