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Safety and Comfort in a Fishing Kayak - Part 3, Natural Hazards

This is the third in a series of articles on kayak fishing safety and comfort. You can read the previous two here and here. The past two articles have dealt with clothing and comfort and man-made hazards such as powerboats, but there are often natural hazards you may face while fishing from a kayak. Some of them include:

• Predators
• Fish and other denizens of the water
• Weather

Predators

When you are fishing from a kayak, you’re following the fish. Well, so are predators such as alligators, sharks, snakes, etc. The key here is to avoid an encounter. Learn the habits of the predators in your area. I know that in my area, there are places that I avoid completely during alligator nesting season, in the spring and summer. At other times, I try to be aware of their presence and avoid them if at all possible. Alligators are generally shy creatures and don’t target humans as food. There is one area that I fish often where I share the water with a 14 footer. He’s never bothered me and I don’t bother him – but I keep an eye out for him and try to be aware of where he is and what he’s doing.

Here's a small American Alligator encountered while kayaking:


During the summers here on the Texas Coast, we have plenty of black tip and bull sharks. During these months, I don’t like to keep fish on a stringer. The shark sees that stringer full of juicy fish as an easy meal, and although he is only after the fish, if your stringer is attached to the kayak, you may get pulled around or even dumped into water where there is a shark feeding. Dolphins also pose the same threat to your stringer, and although they can dump you in the water, they are less likely to harm you. If you are in waters with any kind of large predator, whether it is a shark, dolphin, alligator, or whatever’s in your area, if you plan to keep your catch either bring a cooler along or use a stringer that will break easily if attacked by a predator.

Snakes are another predator that can be found in water. A swimming snake is generally looking for land. He sees your kayak as a place to climb on and take a break. If you see a snake, don’t play with it or smack it with your paddle, just keep on going. If he does manage to get on board, carefully shoo him off with you paddle or stake-out pole.
Whatever kinds of predators are in your area, take the time to learn some of the predator’s habits. This is the best way to avoid an encounter that may end tragically for either the predator or for you.

Here is a water snake attempting to climb into my kayak:


Fish and other things you may encounter

If you fish from a sit-on-top kayak like I do, you may have a little water come into the foot wells through the scupper holes. I have learned the hard way that small jellyfish can also come up through the scupper holes. I’ve found that the best way of dealing with this situation is to keep a pair of pliers handy and if you see a jellyfish in your foot well, pick him out with the pliers. Be careful though, I have been stung by one once and it is a very painful experience. Jellyfish also have another opportunity to strike too. Often when I reel in my line, I’ll find that I’ve reeled through a jellyfish and there will be bits of it attached to my line or my bait. In cases like this, I cast out and reel in a few times and then wipe off the affected area with a rag I carry with me.

You may also encounter crabs while fishing in salt water. I use a lot of scented baits, and crabs love them. Normally they let go as soon as you get them out of the water, but occasionally one will drop into the cockpit with you. There is very little that is pleasant about a large, angry crab snapping at your lower half. Crabs are tricky to get out too. You’ll have to reach behind him and pick him up from the back side where his pinchers can’t reach you and toss him back in the water – or into a bucket for dinner later if it is a legal crab.

Here a blue crab attempted to eat my bait and got tangled in the line:


Different areas also have different types of poisonous fish. For us, on the Texas Gulf Coast, we have a couple of saltwater catfish called hardheads and gafftopsail catfish. These are nasty, slimy things with barbed spines capable of inflicting a serious wound by itself. But these spines are also venomous and very painful when you get stuck and can cause a serious infection. The ability to release hardheads and gafftops is one of the best benefits of fishing with a de-barbed hook. When you fish from a kayak, you must not only be knowledgeable about the target fish, but all the others around so that you can avoid contact with those that are poisonous or otherwise dangerous.

In this picture, an angler uses a lip-gripper to keep a hardhead catfish at a distance:


In addition to poisonous catfish, stingrays are another water critter to watch out for. Stingrays are bottom feeders which will often strike live bait fished slowly on the bottom. Although not aggressive, they do have a large barb in their tail which they use for self defense if threatened. If you catch a stingray, the best way to deal with it is to maneuver the ray so that the back is toward the boat and cut the line.

Vibrio is a naturally occurring bacteria found in warm coastal waters. It generally attacks people who have an open cut and a weak immune system. It is commonly referred to by the media as “flesh eating bacteria”, is very fast acting and often fatal. Read more about vibrio here and here.

Weather

We talked a little bit about anchoring in wind and current in the last article. Take good care so that when you anchor in wind or current, the boat is being pushed away from the anchor line. If the boat is pushed on top of the anchor line, it is very easily flipped. This can cause you to lose all your tackle, or even your life.

Wind plays a major role in fishing. We like to have a little wind. It keeps us cool in the summer and can provide some water movement. But with too much wind, fishing from a kayak becomes uncomfortable or even dangerous. I find that if the wind is forecasted for much above 15 mph, I’ll either look for very sheltered water or stay home. I don’t fish for a living, but for fun. If it’s too windy it’s just not fun and I’ll stay home.

Sometimes when we’re on the water, storms can appear suddenly. If it’s just a little wind and rain, I’ll often ride it out. However, if there’s lighting involved. I get to land as fast as possible. Most kayak fishermen carry their rods so that the tips are pointed high up into the air. Most high quality rods these days are made of graphite, which is an excellent conductor. So, imagine that you’re in the middle of a body of water – a large, flat open place when suddenly the weather changes, thunder and lightning are going off all around you and you have several 7 foot tall lightning rods attached to your kayak. Lower your rods; put them across your lap, in your cockpit, or in a hatch and get to shore. If you hear a graphite rod humming while there is a lot of electricity in the air, there’s a good chance you’re going to be struck. Lower the rod immediately and get to shore.

The above is just a cursory glance at what can happen from natural forces when you’re out on the water. There is so much more that could happen from heatstroke to frostbite and everything in-between. The only real preventative for most of these is to be aware of your surroundings and don’t go out uninformed of the dangers you may encounter.

Lastly, if anyone who reads this can add any dangers specific to their area of the world, post up and let us all know.

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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Rick,
Re: Your "Safety and Comfort in a Fishing Kayak" parts1,2 & 3
I am a new member and a novice kayaker as well. Thanks for taking the time and effort to share your knowledge and experience with those of us who are new to the sport. It is appreciated.
Ron L. Naples Florida
Glad you got something out of it.

Rick
Thanks , help me a lot

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