I have always been an avid kayaker, but never once did I imagine that I could kayak and fish at the same time. After all, where on earth would you keep your tackle? How would you even begin to jig without toppling over? Given how small and relatively unstable your average recreational kayak is, I would have thought that simply trying to land a fish will land you in the water instead: and when you take into account the fact that hooks and lines (and quite possibly a wriggling fish) are all in the water you’re landing into, that can’t be anything but a bad idea.
Then I spoke to three avid kayak anglers – Mervin Ng, Alton Teng and Jack Lai – who reassured me that, yes, fishing kayaks are different from recreational kayaks; and no, the odds of you falling out of a fishing kayak is next to none as long as you are sensible and careful. Fishing kayaks are so stable that you could possibly stand up, do a little dance on it and still not have it topple over (kids, don’t try this at home).
“Your average fishing kayak is wider and more stable than your average recreational kayak not only because do you have to stop more frequently, but you also have additional equipment to bring along with you,” Jack shares. “Its larger size also means that you
will have more room to stretch and move about, making it comfortable even when kayaking for longer periods of time.”
I was relieved to know that, but I was still a little puzzled. Both kayaking and fishing can be hard work independently of each other, so why would anyone wish to combine the two of them? Where exactly was the appeal of kayak fishing as compared to, say, boat fishing or on-shore fishing?
“You have to try it to know it!”, laughs Alton. “Part of the appeal of kayak fishing lies in the fact that when you’re out there in the kayak, it’s just you and the world, with nothing else between you. You fight the waves, you find the spot, and if you get the fish, you land it yourself. Everything is up to you, and there’s an immense sense of satisfaction when you catch something.”
Mervin agrees. “There’s a great sense of freedom when you’re in a kayak, able to go wherever you like whenever you like. If the fishes are biting, you can stay in the spot for as long as you like: if they are not, you can cast off and leave whenever you like as well.”
The three kayakers say that one of the biggest advantages of fishing from a kayak is the ability to reach many fishing spots – such as those bordered by mangrove – traditionally accessible by neither boat nor land. This means that not only are the fishes more plentiful in those areas, but that they are also more likely to bite, having had little experience with anglers in the past.
The kayak’s lack of a motor engine means that the kayak can get truly up-close and personal with the fishes. Jack recalls a time when he kayaked up to a school of fish leaping through the water into the air:
“They were close enough that I could have reached out and touched one of them if I wanted to.”
Unlike boat fishing, where you rely entirely on the boatman to bring you to a fishing spot, when you are out kayaking you are your own boatman and thus have to find your own spots. When asked how exactly they located these spots, Mervin pointed out the echo sounder they had installed on their kayaks.
“It’s not exactly common for every fishing kayak to have its own echo sounder,” he says, pointing out that the cost of a sounder can range from $300 to $500 to over $2,000. “As long as the group you are fishing with has at least one sounder, though, you should be fine.”
Jack says that most groups tend to disperse once they find a good fishing spot. “Everyone moves to their own smaller spot around the region where fish was spotted according to their own preference.” This, he adds, is done so that everyone has their own space: by spreading out, anglers do not have to worry about catching another person’s line, hook or flesh on a cast, eliminating 90% of all boat fishing problems.
Another great thing about kayak fishing is the flexibility of your actual fishing experience. “You can do trolling, jigging, luring, baiting: virtually anything you like,” Jack says. This, coupled with the fact that kayakers tend to spread out over a small region instead of clustering together, means that one has true freedom when it comes to kayak fishing: you don’t have to worry about whether the boat is moving, drifting or anchored because you’re in control all the time.
Although it is common for groups to drift apart once they reach a fishing spot, care should be taken to ensure that they do not drift too far apart. “It is a good idea to always keep within eye contact of each other,” Alton says. “If a storm should appear imminent, it is important that everyone should be able to reach everyone else quickly to form up and return to shore so that nobody is accidentally left behind.”
On that note, let us talk a little about kayaking safety. As should be obvious, do not kayak in a storm: not only will the waves be more turbulent, making capsizing more probable, but there is also a very high lightning risk. When out at sea, you are most likely the tallest thing for miles around and as such the most likely to be struck by lightning. When a storm is near, make for shelter immediately.
Mervin notes that many kelong (floating fish farm) owners are very friendly people and will not hesitate to offer you shelter in their kelongs if there is a storm coming. “If there are no kelongs around you, head for the nearest island and wait for both the storm to subside and for the waves to die down.”
As is always the case when out at sea, it is always a good idea to always wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and carry some sort of whistle or air-horn. Out on the water, it is very easy for a kayaker to be “invisible” to some mid-sized boats, and having something that can make a shrill or loud noise will allow you to easily get their attention if it looks like they are heading straight for you.
In the event that you should become separated from the group, it is also advisable to carry some sort of radio with you. Mobile phones may be used, of course, but as cell phone reception can be spotty when out in the sea, it is sometimes wise to carry a dedicated radio with you. Alton adds that since many anglers tend to completely ignore their cell phones when they’re out fishing, it is good to have a radio dedicated for communication within your fishing group. “This way, when the radio beeps, you know it’s not your wife or colleague trying to ruin your day’s fishing,” he says with a grin.
If you should run into any sort of trouble at sea, waving your paddle in the air is an international sign of distress amongst kayakers. One should however reserve this for the times when you really need assistance and not do it simply because you want to get your friend to come over and have a look at your latest catch.
The Marine Port Authority of Singapore recommends that kayakers should only go out
from 7am to 7pm, where there is sufficient daylight to enable the kayaker to spot nearby obstacles as well as allow nearby boats to spot the kayaker. While you will not break any laws if you go kayaking outside of those times, you may very well be risking your life: if a kayak is nearly invisible in the day, imagine how much more difficult it would be to spot a kayak when it is already dark.
Speaking of the Marine Port Authority, aspiring kayakers may be pleased to note that kayak fishing is indeed one of the few things left to do in Singapore that does not require a license or formal accreditation.
“Although anyone can go kayak fishing,” Mervin says, “it is recommended that they have at least a few months of angling experience – of any kind – before attempting to do so.” This is because when you are fishing from a kayak, you cannot always rely on another angler nearby to help you land the catch: your buddy may be out of earshot or busy with his own catch and thus unable to paddle over to help you with your catch.
As such, make sure you are able to tie your own knots and terminal tackle, identify local fishes (especially those that are potentially dangerous, such as queenfishes and stonefishes), land any fish you catch yourself, and learn how to unhook the fish safely without injuring yourself or the fish.
At that point, someone had to leave the table to use the restroom… which brought to mind an interesting question: how exactly do you go to the restroom on a fishing kayak, and what if you had to go (ahem) number two?
“Some people just piss directly onto themselves,” Jack says with a laugh. “For those with more decorum, though, what usually happens is that the kayaker jumps overboard, hangs on to his kayak and just does what he needs to do in the water. If his friends are nearby, though, we usually try to raft up so that he can hang on and get back on his kayak without capsizing.”
“For kayaks with a drive-system (i.e. you pedal to move the kayak instead of propelling it with a paddle), they don’t even have to go overboard,” Alton says. “They can just remove the drive and do whatever it is they need to do in the hole where the drive used to be.”
Are there any tips that the kayakers would like to share with the rest of the fishing community? “Make sure you’re protected from the sun!” Mervin replies with a quickness most likely born of having suffered particularly bad sunburns. “Out on a kayak, there is no shade whatsoever.”
“A net is not a bad idea as well,” Alton adds after some consideration. “It is much easier to land a fish from a kayak with a net rather than a lip gripper, but you will probably still want a lip gripper in order to help you unhook the fish.”
“Try not to fall asleep when you’re on the kayak as well,” Jack says. “This is harder than it sounds, given how comfortable a kayak can be when you’re just drifting with the current. If there is a storm coming, you won’t be able to see it; likewise, if the current is especially swift, you may find yourself waking up to somewhere foreign.”
Tempted but not yet ready to take the plunge? Keep an eye out for kayak fishing festivals held regularly all around Singapore where you can give one of these fishing kayaks a go to see if it really is for you.