Kayak Fishing Safety
By Jerry White
Have you noticed that every time you go out to fish that you see more and more fellow paddlers ? I'm sure you've also noticed that many of them don't have a clue about kayak angling etiquette, accepted navigational rules, let alone common courtesy. Some of this is our fault - we encouraged folks to come join us, and they did. Unfortunately, a lot of these same people are putting themselves in danger, and don't even know it. This is where we can help them, as we also help ourselves. Novice anglers learn a lot by watching those more experienced, and that carries over to safety practices as well. In this installment, my goal is simply to remind you of some things that you probably already know, but may not practice as much as you should. As I point 1 finger at you I also point 3 back at myself (thumbs don't count), because I need to polish my safety practices as much as the next person. After reading this, I don't expect you to be the kayak fishing safety poster child, just a little more aware, that's all.
NOTE: Almost everything I mention in this article has been discussed in great detail in other articles found in the archives on this site. I highly encourage you read them and take some notes from experts in the kayaking field.
At the very least, be very legal:
Wearing seat belts makes sense but it's also the law. Check the laws regarding boating for your area. Chances are a PFD is required, though you may not be required to have it on. It will also most likely be a requirement that you have a signaling device, such as a whistle. If you have these 2 things you're well on your way to having a safe day on the water. Of course, you can always take it to greater lengths depending on what you feel is required to keep the trip safe. But at the very least, be legal. Don't be stupid.
PFD's - wear it, it's non-negotiable:
Three state of the art rod/reel combos … $600. A tackle collection rivaled only by Bass Pro Shop … $700. Having a barely legal PFD stuffed into a hatch you couldn't possibly get to if you needed to … senseless. There are many choices of PFDs on the market today that cater to the paddle angler, and some that go so far as to cater to the sit-on-top paddle fisher. I finally broke down and got one, and I don't leave land without it ON. Not only could it help save my life, but it easily carries my pliers, my license, my whistle, my chewing gum, and often my digital camera. Sorry, you're running out of excuses not to own and wear a PFD. Don't be stupid.
Getting Back In The Boat:
This segment can't be stressed enough. It's very important that you learn the proper way to get back in your kayak in the event of an unscheduled departure. One minute all is well, the next minute you're chasing all your gear that floats or was tethered, and then you have to figure out how to get back in. It's not too difficult to do if you practice. And, practicing this is actually fun on a summer day when the fish aren't biting anyway. Your PFD should be on, your paddle should be secured to the boat (unless you're launching through surf). That way, once you get your wits about you, you're floating and your "motor" hasn't drifted away (remember that "up the creek" saying). To get back in the kayak (in very simple terms) first you right the boat, pull yourself across the cockpit on your belly. Then roll your butt in to the seat area. Finally, bring your legs in to the cockpit. Make slow movements as you get back in the kayak, because it was probably a quick move that got you dumped in the first place. In doing my research for this segment I found lots of information about how to do this, especially on this site. Please seek it out for yourself, and become proficient before it's a necessity. Don't be stupid.
When the forecast calls for "no fishing":
I read more and more articles about how a perfect day on the water turned into disaster because the kayakers we're unaware of many things that "could" go wrong. As a result, they were caught with their waders down, so to speak. Weather is rarely predictable, so if it looks a little iffy, odds of something unexpected happening go up exponentially. Like you, I fish when I can, but sometimes you have to pull the plug before you start. Don't be stupid.
Proper kayak angling nutrition:
Just about anything you eat or drink tastes better on the water. Consult the experts (the archives here) as to what gives you the most energy, etc. About all I can offer is some common sense things, and some things I learned the hard way. Chips (potato or corn), and beef jerky used to be my absolute favorites. But these are high in sodium, which is salt, which is a preservative, which absorbs water, which robs water from your body, which is bad. Protein is good, salt is not. Most recently, when my wife and I go fish, start with a good bacon and eggs breakfast before we leave the house. Then we do some apples, possibly a power bar, and water while we're searching for monster Florida redfish. I've also started keeping my water out of the cooler. I've read that the body must bring anything ingested to 98.6 before it can be properly cranked through the system (that's why a "warm meal" is so good for you). So, ambient temperature water will get into your system and get to work faster and more effectively than water stored deep in your cooler. Your throat my not understand, but your body will thank you. The body is made up mainly of water - stay hydrated, Kayak angling is a sport and athletes need water. Don't be stupid.
Oh yeah, NO bananas in the boat - ever. It has nothing to do with nutrition ... it's a mojo thing.
The "victory beer":
You think beef jerky tastes great from the comforts of your boat, the taste of a frosty cerveza is almost spiritual while you're kicked back waiting for the bite to return. But here's the truth of it. You may depart from the launch feeling like you have a huge "S" on your chest, with your cape flapping in an imaginary breeze (tights are optional). But after you empty that cooler and continue to fish in the mid day sun, you may resemble Ozzy trying to master a fly rod. And, imagine Ozzy loading a 14 foot kayak on a truck rack. SHARON ! And as Ozzy would say …. well, never mind, I wouldn't begin to know how to spell it. The point is this. We all drive too fast, don't always wear our seat belt, and spend too much time on the cell phone while we're behind the wheel - we all take calculated risks. We've lived to talk about it. Never forget this is a physical sport, and alcohol and physical activity never mix well. Moderation folks, it's all about moderation. Don't be stupid.
Motorized watercraft and kayaks - friend or foe?
We share the water with all sorts of powered watercraft, and the numbers will only get worse. The number of unskilled or uneducated boaters and kayakers are way too high. The best thing we paddle anglers can do to minimize our chances of running in to that negligent boater is to boldly go where they cannot. We have the luxury of being able to launch just about anywhere, and to paddle to places that power boaters only dream of going. The fishing is probably better there anyway. But sometimes we must cross a busy pass or launch at a boat ramp. It's been my experience that most boaters abide by the law and if they are able to see me, they'll make accommodations for my slower vessel. There will always be exceptions, and those folks probably don't abide by the rules on the highway either. However, it never hurts to be informed. Here's a website I stumbled across, which we all should take a peek at: http://www.boatingbasicsonline.com
Granted, a lot of this information won't pertain to paddle people, but it'd be nice to think that power boaters followed these guidelines, which would make it easier for us to know what they're likely to do. A little extra education never hurt anyone. Plus, if you finish the course and pass the test, you get a neat certificate and certificates are cool. Don't be stupid.
When you take the bait:
One of the unique dangers that we encounter that typical kayakers don't are those surrounding fish hooks. We go to great lengths to ensure we have the best, state of the art, laser sharpened hooks available to us. Unfortunately, they'll stick into us just as easily as they would into a fish's jaw. You can help yourself out my mashing down the barbs on your hooks. This will make it much easier to back out the hook should you become the catch of the day. This modification will also make it easier to remove the hook from the fish. But, should a barbed hook become lodged in your skin, my best advice is to cut the line and let someone who knows what they're doing remove it. That may or may not be your fishing buddy. Don't be stupid
We could discuss kayak safety as it pertains to fishing for hours. But you probably need to get back to work, I do too. So here is some home work for you. Investigate these topics further as you have time. But take notes, you never know when the pop quiz will be. Will you be ready to take the test ?
Loading / Unloading:
Lift with your legs, not with your back. Enlist a buddy to help you if you can. Don't be stupid.
My $5 whistle has a compass on it - pretty neat idea. Learn how to use one. If you're exploring an area for the first time, buy a map, or consult one of the locals - there's no shame in asking for directions, I promise. Don't be stupid.
Protect yourself from Mother Nature:
Sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellant, a hat, non-cotton clothes, and sturdy shoes are just a few of the things you should remember to make part of your getting ready ritual. All of these things can help protect you against the elements. Remember, you're the intruder in this world. Don't be stupid.
First Aid Kit:
Self-explanatory. Don't be stupid.
Float Plan / CYA:
Let someone know where you're going, and what time to expect you back. If you have a cell phone test it for coverage while you're out on the water. If you don't have coverage it won't do you much good should you need it in an emergency. Don't be stupid.
Safety as it relates to the kayak fisherman is mainly about common sense. As in life, it's always best to hope for the best but plan for the worst. So class, what did we learn today ? That's right … DON'T BE STUPID.
See you out on the water ...