Fighting Big Pelagics in Kayaks- Part One
My PB Mackerel- Photo Credits to Rylin Richardson!
One of the most consistently asked questions that any paddler gets from passers-by back on the beach when they land something of decent size is ‘How did you catch that… from that?!’
Most of the time, we tend to just go with something along the lines of ‘yeah I just sort of pulled it in’ in response but there’s definitely a bit more to it than that, so here’s a bit of a writeup (part one of three!) on how being in a kayak changes the fight when trolling for a few different sorts and sizes of pelagic fish as well as a few tips going into detail on how to make sure you convert as many hookups to hatches as possible. Most of this can be figured out pretty quickly through trial and error on the water, but when the error part involves losing trophy fish it can be pretty painful so hopefully this will fast track your learning process a bit!
The basics of fighting big fish anywhere which you need to exercise at all times to have any kind of consistent success are keeping an even pressure on the fish, avoiding tangles with other lines and having a clear deck/hatch for landing. This doesn’t sound all that difficult on face value, but kayaks do have a few points which need working around in order to make sure you stay connected. First and foremost is the lack of a motor to let you keep moving forward once hooked up, followed closely by only having two hands and a limited number of rod holders! That’s definitely not to say that they’re less capable craft than boats, but you do need to take a different approach at a few different stages of different fights in order to come up trumps as much as possible.
The moment you hear your ratchet scream, there should be a few things at the top of your mind: Where are my other lines, how quickly am I moving forwards and how quickly/in what direction is that fish going? No matter the answer to any of those questions, keep paddling forwards while you begin to think out a strategy as this straightens out the lines behind the kayak, sets the hooks and keeps the pressure on the fish while you make your decisions.
Save the fist pumping for after it's landed. I lost this fish.
The first thing that I like to do then is look to clear my other line(s).
If you’ve got more than one line out, make note of which one was set further back and which one was closer as this makes decision time at hookup a lot easier. I can’t exactly recommend trolling three lines unless you’ve got a bit of experience as it does complicate things, but it can be done.
If you hooked your fish on the furthest line and your other is in close, you can relax a bit as your fish shouldn’t be able to tangle with the closer one. If it’s the other way around, you can run into trouble if the fish chooses to swim across your other line, so continuing to paddle forward is really important to keep the fish as straight behind you as possible and away from crossing your other free line. Running a light drag (just enough to set the hooks) is helpful here too as it gives the fish a chance to run away from your other line quickly and makes sure fish don't break any terminal tackle early as speedsters like mackerel in particular– even relatively small ones– can make short work of fairly sturdy hooks, wire or swivels on their first run on too heavy a drag.
Once I’m confident that my other line is in a spot where it’s far enough away from the other to be pulled in, I’ll generally make a start on clearing it by winding the reel with one hand with the rod still sitting in the holder. This way I still have a hand to either keep paddling forwards with (albeit slightly awkwardly) or I can slide my paddle in the holder up the front, grab the rod with the fish on it and start putting pressure on. If you choose to go with the latter option, alternate your winding between the reel with the fish on (just enough to keep the pressure on when the fish stops running— you’re not trying to pull it in just yet) and the reel with the line that you need to clear until it’s in.
Clearing that second line can at times be a bit hectic, but it’s usually possible to do without hassle so long as you are focused on keeping pressure on the fish and getting it in as quickly as possible. If it’s super windy and you’re travelling into the breeze when a fish hits, this can be a hard ask when you’re drifting back over your lines. You really do need to wind quickly here if you want to remain untangled, so sometimes it’s worth only trolling with one outfit to make sure that what eats your bait stays connected.
Winding your other line with one hand while hooked up can take a bit of getting used to!
If you do end up with a tangle, you can try and pass one rod under the other if you think you can make sense of it and keep tight to the fish, but don’t hesitate too much to simply cut the other line if it’s beginning to look like it will impede your chances of landing the fish. Losing a rig or a lure is rarely as devastating as losing a trophy pelagic! It’s important to make sure that the fish you’ve hooked isn’t a mac tuna before you do this however or you may find yourself hurting the ears of everyone on the water within at least a 500m radius...
Next week I'll talk a bit about different fish fights and what you can do to adapt to your target!