While targeting smaller panfish and such, getting towed around isn’t a concern. For this type of fishing you can hold your position by sitting at anchor or planting your feet on the shallow bottom. It doesn’t get much easier. But it takes some skills to put the brakes on a small kayak when you hook up with a sizeable fish. Try these tactics to keep control and corral your next big catch.
How to Catch Big Fish from a Small Kayak
The coolest trip you’ll ever have in kayak fishing is when a truly big fish decides to head for the horizon with you in tow. If you hook a big enough fish, you’ll suddenly find yourself being pulled across the water. This is fine out in open water on a calm day—kick back and enjoy the ride. However, if you’re in a situation where being towed could be unsafe or cause you to lose the fish due to some line-entangling structure, then you need to do something.
In shallow water it is fairly simple to stop yourself if you’re in a sit-on-top. Simply swing your legs over the side and plant your feet firmly on the bottom. Another tactic to use in shallow water with a sand or mud bottom is to deploy a stake-out pole that is tethered to your kayak. Once the fish is on, you grab the stake-out pole and stick it into the bottom.
When to Deploy Your Anchor
Deeper water requires a little more forethought. If you are not already at anchor, then you must be prepared to deploy it. Now is not the time to retrieve the anchor from your tankwell, clip it to your kayak and hope the rope isn’t tangled.
There is another very quick and effective method for dealing with these situations: Set the anchor up with a length of rope just long enough to hit bottom and with enough scope to allow the anchor to grab. The anchor rope is then clipped to a cleat or pad eye and the shank of the anchor is placed in a flush-mount rod holder. Once a fish is hooked, hold the rod with one hand and toss out the anchor with the other.
When to Release Your Anchor
The opposite of that situation is when you are fishing at anchor and hook up with a very large fish in open water. It is often advantageous to let a big strong fish tow you around a bit. You are in effect using your kayak as drag to wear the fish down. The problem is that you can’t very well retrieve and stow your anchor while doing battle.
The solution here is to attach the anchor to your kayak using a quick release clip and have a brightly colored float rigged on the rope near the clip. Once a fish is on the line, release the anchor clip and fight your fish. When the fight is over, locate the float and paddle back to it.
Another twist on using your kayak as drag to tire out a fish is to deploy a drift anchor during the fight. This will produce a serious amount of drag, but also increases the odds that the fish could foul in the trailing line or the drift anchor.
When Fish Run Under Your Kayak
Inevitably a fish will run underneath your kayak. You need to quickly assess the situation and determine whether or not you can turn the fish. Hopefully you’ll be able to impose your will and bring it back out from under the boat. Should you realize that this won’t work, you’d better be ready to react quickly. A large fish can easily flip you over or break a rod against the side of the kayak.
The best thing to do is extend your rod tip towards the front of the kayak, clear the line around the bow, and resume the fight. This might not work if the fish went under the kayak and angled towards the stern. The best way to handle that situation is to extend the rod tip at an angle out and back towards the stern while bearing down and putting as much pressure as you dare on the fish. The goal here is to pivot the kayak.
The secret to success with any of these methods is in knowing exactly what the plan is before you ever hook the fish. You must be familiar with your equipment and have the ability to use it without having to take your mind off the fight.
When a fish runs underneath your kayak you need to quickly assess the situation and determine whether or not you can turn it. | Feature photo: Jock Bradley/Heliconia Press