By Marty Hughes
With kayak fishing interest growing exponentially so enhances the risks involved with this exciting and adventurous sport. Most kayak fishing enthusiasts are fishermen who have made the decision to use the kayak as a resource to get into remote places that hold fish that may have not seen lures recently. Although there is a short learning curve to understanding the basics of fishing from these small plastic vessels there also needs to be the knowledge of preparing for circumstances that could jeopardize a kayak fisherman. Just like anything we do in life, safety is always something that should be considered. Here are some ideas that might help prepare for the unexpected and keep us safe on and off the water.
Years ago kayak fishermen in general came up with the three basic safety rules for kayak fishing which included 1) Dressing to swim, 2) Rigging to float, and 3) Keeping your head in the center of the kayak.
Although very basic in nature there are other things to consider as well including first aid, nutrition, a float plan, navigation, communication, safety gear, and last but not least, the creatures we encounter while pursuing the fish on the water.
Let’s start with the what most call “The 3 Golden Rules” of kayak fishing:
Dress to Swim
What does it mean to “dress to swim?” First and foremost it means wearing your PFD (Personal Floatation Device) at all times on the water. It’s as easy to put on as clicking your seat belt in your vehicle. Wearing a PFD can be a difference maker in whether you survive capsizing or falling out of the kayak in any depth of water. I have worn mine from day one and will never go out without it. Wearing a PFD should be taken very seriously. We’ve all read an article or two about a kayak fisherman who lost their life due to not having a PFD on while fishing from a kayak.
There are numerous styles and types of PFD’s and choosing one that best fits you can be a daunting task in itself. Personally, I prefer a PFD includes pockets, and places to attach my essential accessories which include line cutters, knife, rag, whistle, etc. There are also inflatables which are a bit more pricey and don’t have storage areas on them. Some people say things like “I don’t need to wear a PFD because I’m a great swimmer.” I guess my question would be, “How good of a swimmer are you while unconscious?” Getting hit in the head by an overhead branch that breaks off, or falling while standing in the kayak and hitting your head on the kayak before entering the water are a couple of examples. Some kayak anglers feel that if the PFD is on board and placed within reach that will solve any emergencies. This may not a good measure because if the kayak flips sometimes the wind will blow it away from you and the PFD being secured to the kayak will drift away as well leaving you stranded without a floatation device.
When not in use my PFD is placed over my fish crate in my vehicle so as not to forget it. One great thing about the vest style PFD is that it can keep you warmer by adding another layer in cooler weather and in the water along with protecting you from protruding branches when in thick brush kayak fishing. It’s a good idea to find a PFD that is comfortable as you will be wearing it usually for several hours on the water. The PFD is absolutely an essential piece of equipment you can’t “live” without. I also like to carry a three foot long piece of pool noodle in case someone else needs some extra help. I usually store it in the hull near a hatch.
Wearing lighter clothing that is UV resistant dries quickly and wearing several layers in colder weather is a must. Self wicking clothing can keep you dry as well. There are several brands these days and places like Bass Pro Shops or Cabelas are loaded with this type of clothing on their racks.
Rig To Float
Rigging to float can mean several things. Whatever is not attached or is engineered to float will soon sink to the depths of your favorite fishing hole and may never be retrieved again. It is very important that you attach anything that does not float to your kayak. This is easily done with various leashes and portable fishing mounts. Various companies like Yak-Gear.com have plenty of accessory items that attach to most devices used in kayak fishing. Pliers, camera’s, phones, rods, boxes, you name it can be attached using these products. It is also good to have a bailing device on board to remove water from rain, waves, wakes, etc. if you are paddling a cockpit style kayak with no scupper holes. In some states a bailing device is the law.
Keep Your Head in the Center
Keeping your head at the centerline of the kayak is important to keep your kayak level in the water. When reaching back for accessories, lure boxes, or rods in your crate it is best to reach back like you are taking a baton in a relay race. You want to just turn your torso a bit and your head. It is not wise to reach out and lean to one side of your kayak.
Other valuable safety tips.
We are human and we need fuel to keep us going. It is always wise to store plenty of fluids in your kayak. Many a time I’ve been on the water only to find a kayaker with no water or other sources of hydration on board but I am able to help them out as I always carry extra. I usually pack a lunch and carry other various sources of carbs and protein on board. To stay focused proper nutrition is so important. I’ve also seen kayak fishermen who “crash and burn” just half way through a voyage or tournament due to the lack of proper nutrition.
What is a “float plan?” This procedure could mean several things. First, it always good to tell someone else close to you such as a friend or relative where you are going and when you plan to return. Even if you are traveling with someone else this is a good idea. Some kayakers post a plan on the windshield of their vehicle in an envelope or on a small card. Others post it on social media. You should give information such as how many people are in your group and the color and model of kayak you are paddling. Another type of float plan is preparing for the trip by checking geographic locations and map out where you are going before you voyage out for the day. In any case it is vital to leave someone a message of where you will be in case of emergency.
Be a “weather watcher.”
Weather plays a huge factor in our success on the water. Knowing the latest weather forecast can help you determine if you are even going to go out on the water that day. Also, you will know ahead of time if the weather is going to deteriorate while fishing. As we know, storms can develop in a hurry and wind gusts as high as 60 mph can generate waves that can easily tip a kayak. There are various techniques that can be used in these instances but the most important thing to remember is if you are headed in and the wind is in your face you need to keep the bow turned straight into the wind. If you get sideways disaster is soon ahead. If paddling with the wind, paddle with the waves but again it is very dangerous to be parallel to the waves. Learning how to comfortably paddle in waves will get you to more fishing locations. Practice can make you better at this approach. You should never be on the water during lightning. Get off the water as soon as possible when you know lightning strikes could be near!
Study your surroundings
Always be aware of your surroundings. I’ve seen other kayak anglers break several of their rods at once because they weren’t paying attention to the overhead trees as they were paddling or they hit a huge stump and ruined their pedal drive. Know the area well and the hazards that might exist while you fish. Always keep an eye out for a motorized boat as they may not see you before it’s too late. There might also be slightly submerged rocks or timber that could capsize you or get you stuck in a hurry! Wearing a headlamp in darkness is also a good idea.
There are several methods that can be used for navigation. A compass will work. If you have a sonar unit with the ability to mark waypoints you can create one at the start of your trip in case you are fishing dense trees or fog. A smartphone is also a great way to navigate. Navionics is a nice app to use when finding your direction on large bodies of water.
Communication can mean many different things including having a phone or VHF radio on board. Most kayakers in the ocean use the VHF radios for safety. You can also communicate by being visible with a flag waving on your vessel and a coast guard approved 360 light at night.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is vital! There should always be a first aid kit on board. You never know when you might need a small bandage for a cut or burn. One item of necessity might be a pair of cutting dykes to cut hooks off from lures when one gets stuck in your skin. Hand sanitizer is always good to have on hand as well.
Loading and Unloading your kayak
Oh my back! Loading and unloading is not an easy task at times. A lot depends on the weight of your kayak and where you are loading it. One easy method for me is to use a cart as much as possible when transporting the kayak to the water. When unloading and loading to a trailer, back of a pickup or on the roof of your vehicle a simple method is to load one end at a time. It is half the load and sometimes less. Always use your legs and try not to bend at the waist.
You should always anchor off of your stern or bow of the kayak. An anchor trolley can easily be installed and serve a useful purpose in this area. Be careful not to lean over the side when hoisting an anchor aboard.
Other Safety Items
Be sure to carry a whistle or horn as well. Be sure to have spare batteries as well! It does not good to communicate if the batteries on your device go dead! I always carry a readily accessible knife in case I’ve got to cut something that might wrap dangerously around me or accessories on my kayak.
Creatures of the Water
Kayak fishing means that we are also sharing the water with other creatures and this is their home. Always be aware of the types of creatures you could encounter. Snakes can be a bit scary and alligators have given me an occasional chill down the spine. Most of the time, if you are not bothering them they won’t bother you. Be careful of being near birds nests as well. Birds can attack from just about every direction except below you while on the water if they become distraught from your presence. It’s a good idea to avoid dangerous creatures while on the water.
There is so much more to insure our safety on the water but the information here can at least get you started on your journey without fearing the unknown.
The KBF National Team Cup Challenge team is assembled for 2020! After a great finish in 2019 the “Team Kayakjak” produced some big fish for the inaugural event in Shreveport, LA to take the Team Cup Championship.
Five anglers including Captain Marty Hughes and James Francis from Nebraska, Joshua Boothe from Missouri, Richie McMichael from Kansas, and Jeremiah Smith from Texas were assembled in the final days before that event.
This year there is more of a head start and we have two new members. James is serving our country in the military and Jeremiah were not able to make it this year. We added two members including the famed fierce competitor Kristine Fischer and Missouri sensation Troy Enke who are both known for catching monster bass. They will join Marty Hughes, Richie McMichael, and Joshua Boothe for this year’s event at Guntersville, Alabama on April 2nd, 3rd, and 4th for the National Team Cup and Individual Championships. Here are the individual profiles on each angler…
Kayakjak’s 2019 Recap
It looks like the kayak fishing season is over for me in 2019. Many goals accomplished. Numerous new friends along the way. Thousands of miles traveled and eight different states fished. The best part…just fishing! It’s the tug for me. But I do keep stats! Keeps my brain firing synapses and burning all that extra glycogen. My main goal was to catch 2,019 fish for 2019. Mission accomplished! Caught 2,371 fish this year. 2,106 of them were bass. I’m sure there are those out there who most likely catch more but with my current occupation it is difficult to fish as much as I would like. I averaged 17.6 fish caught per trip for a total of 134 trips this year.
I fished in 61 tournaments, of which 37 were live and 23 online. Finishing in the top 5 was my goal in most tournaments and I had 42 of 61 Top 5 finishes for 69%. As for Top 10 finishes I had 51 of 61 for 84% of the time. Sixteen first places capped the season. Some of the most memorable finishes were at the KBF National Championships where I finished 37th and took home $600 in addition to the National Team Cup Champions with my teammates winning $10,000. That was a lot of fun! The Major League and Kayakapalooza are two of my favorites and took first in both of them again this year. I finished 2nd in the AOY standings for The Sticks-Nebraska Kayak Anglers Trail Series behind legendary Joshua Workman. Now he’s a STICK! Finished first in The Sticks-Tuesday Night League AOY and the AOY for the Sticks Thursday night league is still pending as Jareth Kaup and I are tied for the lead there.
I’ve qualified for the KBF National Championship for the fifth year in a row and it will be held at Guntersville, AL next spring.
I also had my highest finish in the AOY for the KBF finishing 22nd overall. Total winnings were $5,492.98 which helped pay my expenses when needed. My entry fees were paid for by KBF for the year as part of the prize package of the Team Cup Challenge.
My favorite guide trip was with ACT guru John Baylor and his son. They were simply awesome out there! It was also fun to host 9 youth events this year introducing even more youngsters to the sport of kayak fishing. I’m looking forward to the next season even though I’ll be turning 61. I’m starting to feel the effects of the physical and mental toll but that could be caused by other parts of my life too.
All I know is that I love this sport and love to see the success of everyone out there as well. It’s just plain fun! A big thanks to my beautiful wife Diane Hughes who supports my plastic boat adventures. Also, to my sponsors Bass Pro Shops, YakGear, Bending Branches, TourneyX.com, Kayakjak’s Outfitters and Fishing Guide Service, Strike King Lure Company, Emotion Kayaks, and supporters Select Sail & Sports, LLC., The Sticks – Nebraska Kayak Anglers, and all of my friends who constantly encourage me. I am very blessed to travel and participate and thank my Lord who created all of nature for us to enjoy!
The popularity of kayak fishing seems to be growing exponentially. At least that is what we can tell from the growth of kayak tournament fishing which gives us the data to show this growth. Depending on the age group, research shows a variety of outdoor activities are very popular today. The popularity of fishing does show up in some age groups. Kayaking in general is popular in the age group 18-34 according to the Physical Activity Council survey of 2019.Kayak fishing as a separate activity does not seem to be showing up on the national surveys yet. You would think it would with all of the kayaks we see on top of vehicles as we travel down the road or on the waterways of our country. Kayaks seem to be in every big box store. They are visible in numerous television commercials, and dot the pages of several magazines each month, regardless of the topic. One thing is for sure, kayak fishing is becoming more popular.
These little plastic boats are a way to get on the water and either paddle, fish, or sight see. It is also a very inexpensive activity to pursue depending on the level you wish to participate. You can paddle them, pedal, or even install electric motors to travel long distances. Some even have a sail. With the interest of fishing from a kayak one would think it was the world’s most popular activity.
How is it that this activity is growing so fast? Who and why are they promoting it? For one thing, if a person is passionate about something they are surely going to tell their family and friends about it. And from looking at social media lately there are a lot of people passionate about kayak fishing. What is it that makes kayak fishing so interesting? First, I would say that it is relaxing and it gets you very close to nature. Fish can be caught from very remote places that other vessels are unable to trek. The tug of a fish in a kayak is unlike being on shore or in a large boat. Even a bluegill can move your kayak from the end of that line when hooked. Speaking of “hooked” once a person tries kayak fishing they seem to be addicted to it’s unique nature.
So, let’s talk about promoting. As I was preparing for a recent seminar on taking pictures of fish from the kayak I started thinking about how this sport had evolved in this area. In the early days we didn’t have the cell phone or Go Pro camera to take the incredible pictures we are seeing today on the internet. We did have those inexpensive water proof cameras that we could take a single picture with. We would flag down a neighboring boat or even paddle to shore and find someone to take a picture of our fish to prove that we caught it before letting it go. This might be where the original CPR (Catch, photo, release) came from. Then there were the unique digital cameras that came out and we started taking pictures using the “selfie” to show our catches. I thought about how the sport may have grown through those that posted pictures on the internet in those early fishing forums before Facebook and Instagram. I remember posting pictures in the Nebraska Game and Parks forum and having other anglers comment about them. They were intrigued by the size of the fish and that I was using this small plastic vessel to catch them. This went on for around six years before someone would even go with me. The pictures on the internet certainly have something to say when it comes to the growth of the sport.
Then, we started sharing our experiences. For me, it was guiding others and working demos for the Nebraska Game and Parks. Besides taking my own kids on the water there were those “brave” enough to get into the kayak while shaking vigorously in fear from capsizing. Although the kayaks were very stable many were still fearful of this new adventure on the water. Once they overcame their fear it was game on! There were some days my clients didn’t want to stop fishing and then they wanted to purchase the kayaks I had there that day! Through guiding hundreds of people I found that they were telling others and we were more busy than we could handle at times. The media became involved writing articles and doing radio shows on this rather precarious activity we call kayak fishing. Soon afterward other kayaks started showing up on the waters. More kayak companies started appearing. Small tournaments started appearing. We had our own tournament and had about a dozen participants back in 2005.
Most of us tinkered with various home made accessories and then companies like Yak Gear and Yak Attack suddenly appeared from those ideas and offered state of the art accessories that made kayak fishing easier. Kayaks themselves were improved and made specific for fishing. The camera improvements evolved rapidly with GoPro leading the way. Videos started appearing. Then came along the social media giants of Facebook and Instagram along with Youtube. Kayak fishermen were so enthusiastic about sharing their adventures that these social medial moguls were flooded with new ideas and lots of great catches. The tournament scene grew and thousands flocked to their friendly competitions. Magazines emerged. The KBF (Kayak Bass Fishing) appeared. A national tournament was born due largely to the efforts of kayak fishing guru Chad Hoover. There was also the Tournament of Champions at Lake Fork in Texas which grew rapidly from a grass roots level at the helm of Beau “Papa Chops” Reed. It was then passed on to videographer Cody Prather, and now Hobie Cat, organized under the direction of famed kayak angler AJ McWhorter. Hobie also hosts a “World Championship” which is considered by some as the most prestigious event in the the world of kayak fishing. And now, most recently, there is another national spotlight on B.A.S.S. which will also host a national series. Yes, thousands of dollars are at stake. But most will tell you that the money is not the main pull. They will tell you its the comradery. The stories, the adventure, the trips across the country to waters never fished in their lives. While kayak fishing has grown exponentially it seems the passion of those behind the scenes have skyrocketed interest the most. The tug, the next big fish, setting up and breaking down the kayak are all influential variables.
Even with all of these national spotlights on kayak fishing there seems to be a promotion that happens every day without the use of social media, magazines, newspapers, radio, or videos. It’s that boat ramp dialogue, the gas station stop, the restaurant rabble, that seems to stoke the fire of our interest. Just a small decal on our truck can spark a conversation about kayak fishing. We even have established bass boat anglers like Mike Iaconelli promoting this incredible sport. Recently, “Ike” was at the Hobie Championships on Lake Ouachita cheering on the anglers. He also carries a kayak on the top of his Toyota truck and his boat pulled behind. Talk about promotion!
There is no doubt that we are still in the infant stage of kayak fishing. The last few years have provided a frenzy never seen before in the world of fishing. One of the most commonly used words in our vocabulary is “kayak” and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon. Let the frenzy continue!