With the cold months of winter fast approaching, the snow will soon be falling and the surface of the water turning to ice, it is time to stow away my kayak fishing gear and break out the power auger and get ready to do some ice fishing. I will happily toil away with my snow shovel clearing the drive way, excitedly awaiting the snow plow to come and clear the roads so I can access to my favorite fishing hole.
What am I talking about? This is not Green Bay, Wisconsin. This is California! Most of us have never even seen a snow shovel, let alone gone ice fishing. It rarely gets below sixty degrees during the daytime, but you would think that there was ice on the ground the way some people, by the first of November, pack away their fishing gear waiting for next years fishing season.
If you choose to pack away the fishing gear for the winter, you are really missing out on some great days on the water. We have more warm, clear, calm days on the water in winter than we do in summer, and the fishing can be red hot even if the water is a little cold. Of course, the fact that so many people have chosen to sit at home by the fire rather than getting on the water, makes it just that much more peaceful out on the water for those that choose to go fishing.
While I am sure that many people don't get real fired up when they read the winter time fish reports from the local landing; rock fish, white fish, and sculpin. These species don't exactly bring to mind epic battles. What these reports do not tell you is how well the bite on other species can be if you just put in some time to target them. Fishing from a kayak gives you the ability to target the fish that you want, fishing the water that the big boats cannot reach.
Many of the largest fish I have landed have been during the winter months. My largest halibut of thirty-five pounds was landed in December, and I see bigger Yellowtail landed in the "off season" than at any other time, I have had several friends catch their personal best yellows in the middle winter. We also tend to see more big bull Calicos caught and released during these periods. Besides these large fish, we experience wide-open Bonita and Barracuda bites in the heart of winter with no one else in sight; on the first day of the year, a beautiful sunny morning on San Diego Bay fishing with a friend, we had over fifty fish each.
I hope that I have now convinced you to keep on kayak fishing through the winter, if so there are some precautions you should take, and equipment you should bring along to ensure a safe and comfortable trip.
Wearing proper clothing is the best thing you can do to protect you from the elements and ensure your comfort and safety. Everyone is different in his or her ability to withstand cold weather, I personally wear shorts every day of the year, and conversely I have a friend that dresses like Nanook of the north in the middle of summer. Therefore, you should know your level of tolerance to the cold and dress appropriately.
Hypothermia is always a concern when kayaking in the colder water of winter, but with good paddling clothing, you can diminish the threat of this condition. Wearing layers of clothes that you can shed when the day heats up is essential to keeping you comfortable.
The single most important item of your kayak fishing attire is a Personal Floatation Device (PFD). A PFD will not only keep you afloat if you do go in the water but also gives another layer of insulation to keep your body core warm. When shopping for a PFD make sure you get one designed for paddling. These PFD's cut shorter in the waist so as not to interfere with the kayak seat, also have larger openings around the arms for ease of paddling.
After the PFD, one of the best investments you can make in paddling clothing is a good quality paddling jacket. These jackets do a great job of protecting you from the elements, keeping you dry when launching through the surf and shielding you from the cool morning breezes. These jackets are made of waterproof material and can be sealed at the wrist, neck and waste. You will find a wide variety of paddling jackets on the market. Many of the jackets will find are a white water style of jacket, although these jackets will keep you dry, over a long day of paddling they are not as comfortable. A better option is a touring style of jacket; they will generally have a larger opening for your head, will unzip down the length of the chest and are vented so that the jacket will breathe.
The next layer under your jacket should be a sweatshirt, now I am not talking about your old college sweatshirt. Cotton should be avoided when choosing your paddling clothing, cotton, once wet, stays wet and will just get you cold, not to mention the extra weight you will be carrying. What you want to look for is polar fleece, polypropylene or other brushed nylon types of material. These materials wick away moisture, dry quickly and are warm even when wet. Look for a shirt that has elastic around the wrists to keep it from hanging over your hands.
My choice of layers under the sweatshirt is a polypropylene rash-guard. These skintight shirts dry fast and stay snug on your body, unlike a cotton t-shirt, thus avoiding any chaffing from the material. These shirts are available at most paddle shops and surf shops.
The choices of what to wear on your lower body are pretty extensive and subject to some debate. I will tell you what I wear and some pros and cons of some other options. As I stated at the beginning of this article, I have a high tolerance for the cold, so my choice of clothing on my lower body is just wetsuit shorts combined with wetsuit booties on my feet. You are generally sitting in a little water so the wetsuit shorts protect me from the chill. On extreme cold days, such as when I fished Puget Sound last year I added a pair of paddling dry pants over the top of my shorts. This gave me a little more protection from the forty-degree water and the cold wind.
You may of noticed I don't wear a wetsuit, the reason for this is that I find a wetsuit too restrictive while paddling also the neoprene does not breath which can actually make you colder than the clothing described above. If you do choose to wear a wetsuit, a short sleeve or farmer john style is your best choice. To be brutally honest another reason for my choice of shorts, is that it is much easier to relieve yourself of that thermos of coffee you drink to warm yourself up on the inside. If you choose a full wetsuit, a front zipper is a good idea.
One of the most hotly debated items of kayak clothing is the idea if wearing waders on a kayak. What we are talking about here is the soft breathable waders not the old rubber style that should never be worn on a kayak. The advantages to wearing waders are the ability to wear layers underneath; you also stay dry inside of the waders, which adds a level of comfort. Because they are loose, they will impede your ability to swim if you go in the water, but contrary to myth they will not pull you under water. Because of the added weight and loose fit, you should always wear a PFD when wearing waders. I consider waders an option for bays or lake fishing only; I would never wear waders in a surf zone. The force of the waves is so strong that it will force water into the waders, which can cause you some real problems as you try to swim into shore.
The final options we will discuss are Dry suits; a dry suit is exactly that, sealed around the wrists, ankles, and neck to keep out the water and keep you completely dry.. You should use layers underneath such as polypropylene thermals to keep you warm and wick away the moisture from perspiration. In southern California a dry suit may not be necessary, you should consider a dry suit when you know you will be exposed to extreme conditions for long periods of time or when paddling in the coldest waters. Many of the paddlers in the Puget Sound area use dry suits, for good reason: the water is in the low forties.
Just like on any of your kayak outings a few items you should not forget to bring with you for your safety are; VHF radio, cell phone in dry bag, signal mirror and whistle, extra food and water and a compass. During the cold months, a thermos of something warm to drink is a good idea also. Another great little trick is to keep a couple of large milk jugs of hot water in your vehicle, by the time you are done fishing the water is no longer hot but nice and warm. Rinsing yourself off with this warm water is a real treat and helps to thaw out your cold feet. If you can, fish with a friend, it is safer and a lot more fun.
Now that we have talked you into getting on the water and instructed you on which clothes to wear while out there, crawl out of your igloo, strap your kayak on top of sled, whip the huskies into line and mush yourself on down to the water for some great fishing. Of course, if you really do not like the cold there is always southern Baja, but that is a whole other article.
For more information on kayak fishing visit the La Jolla Kayak Fishing Web site Kayak4Fish.com or call us at our office (619) 461-7172