Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tips For Staying Safe While Kayak Fishing At Night

Let's face it, some of the best fishing you'll ever encounter is at night.  This is especially true during the dog days of summer when even the fish are not too happy about the extreme heat of the day. Whether you're catching catfish by starlight or crappie by streetlight, night time fishing is always a blast and almost always productive.

No matter how productive it is, when fishing at night from a kayak, safety is your biggest concern. As we all know, when fishing at night your sight is extremely impaired. With that in mind you have to remember that also means the vision of pleasure boaters and bass fisherman, whom you share the lake with, is also impaired. Not only is their vision impaired but we as kayak fisherman and women are sitting far lower on the water than they are so we're even less visible to other people on the water. For that reason your number one safety tip for kayak fishing at night is to light it up.

1. Light It Up!
Depending on where you live the laws may require you to have a light on your kayak that is visible up to 300 feet with a 360 degree field of view.  Whether the law requires it or not, you need to have a light that is positioned higher than you are on the kayak so you extend your visibility.  Your first priority with kayak fishing at night is making it home at the end of a successful night of fishing.  Having a light that is visible from a long way off is the first step of letting anyone you're sharing the lake with know you're out there.  A kayak light I recommend is the YakAttack VISICarbon Pro. You can get it with pretty much any mounting option you want, from geartrac guides to ram balls.  However if you're not interested in paying for a yak light and you're pretty good at tinkering you can make one yourself for less than half the cost.

Another great option, that requires a bit more work on your part, is to add LED light strips to your kayak. Kayaks with LED strips can pretty much be seen from the moon.  Well... Maybe not the moon but you get the point, they can been seen a long way off.  Actually they look pretty eerie crossing your local lake at night.  Credit for the LED Lit kayak to the right goes to Amazon. 

Now that you're kayak can be seen by anyone on the lake you're fishing on, it's time to consider you're field of view. Fishing is a sport that requires a large amount of tedious tying of knots, accurate cast, changing baits and dodging sharp fins that are eager to test their sharpness in one of your hands.  All of these things require you to be able to see what you're doing so lets talk options for opening up your field of view so you can actually fish in comfort.

The first option you have is the use of handheld flashlights.  While they're not a perfect option they're an option.  Hand held flashlights will give you light to work however the problem with them is that they require you to use one of your hands which limits how efficient you are when tying knots etc. I personally keep a small flashlight in my dry hatch with my phone in case of my primary source of light goes out or gets wet and shorts out.  But beyond that I don't expect to get much use out of a handheld flashlight.

The next option is the use of a headlamp. Headlamps are compact and hands free which makes them a great light source when its time to unhook a flapping fish.  As well with most head lamps you can broaden or tighten the beam as needed. Not only that but you usually have an option for using a different color light.  This function is great because the one big drawback to using a head lamp is the fact that lights attract bugs. The change of color will lessen the amount of flying insects hovering around your head.

Probably the best option is to make an overhead light for your kayak.  It'll keep the bugs out of our face while giving you the light you need to perform any task you may have.  As well they are great for those of us who film our outings. As we all know gopro cameras don't do well in low light but an overhead light will give your gopro the light it needs to make filming successful.  Click here for a great example of a diy overhead light created by: Kayak Catfish

The other great function of an overhead light is, depending on how you build it, it can function as a spot light as well.  So when you're paddling in at the end of a good night of fishing it can give you the light needed to guide the way.

2. Reflect
Where lights do a great job of making you visible and giving you a larger field of view at night, placing reflective tape on your kayak and PFD will help people see you by reflecting their lights back at them. Reflective tape is a great back up plan in the instance your lights fail due to battery failure or any other malfunction.

Beyond reflective tape I've also added glow in the dark spray paint to my rod holders that are attached to my crate.  Is it overkill? Possibly, but it's one more thing that keeps me visible and safe on the water.

3. PFD
Just because this is number three on the list doesn't mean it's not as important than the first two items on the list.  Wearing your PFD is the absolute most important thing you can do at night.  Let's face it there are just two many variables at night that can have you going for an unwanted swim, so wear your PFD. If you fish rivers that have dams upstream of where you fish you should have on a PFD because the water flow can increase very quickly and that increase can wash large debris down with it that can knock you in the water.  I could go on forever with different scenarios on why you should where a PFD at night but I won't, I'll just leave you with this.

When my dad was teaching me to drive he said to me, "When you're driving you have to constantly be accounting for the actions of others. Assume that everyone else on the road is stupid and compensate for that stupidity in order to keep yourself safe on the road." While his analogy was a bit cynical his  lesson was very true and even more true when it comes to kayak fishing at night. We've all seen how pleasure boaters and bass fishermen in boats can do some pretty careless things.  Things that could easily hurt one of us had we not been paying attention. So magnify those careless things by 10 when you're out there fishing at night, because not only are they possibly being careless but they also can't see while they're doing it. Wear your PFD.

4. Know Your Surroundings
When your eyes are limited as a source of information you have to compensate for that in some way, familiarity is that way of compensation. Take some time to fish that spot during the day and familiarize yourself with every aspect of that spot.  That familiarity will allow you to dodge objects that your eyes can't see. It's one thing knowing there is a sunken log in the lake it's an altogether different thing knowing exactly where that log is.  It's the difference between having fun fishing and taking a miserably cold swim at night.

The other aspect of knowing your surrounding is constantly looking around. Just because you know the lay of the lake doesnt make up for those unpredictable things that can happen.  Things like floating debris, other boaters, or getting to close to a swans nest are things that can ruin your night if you're not constantly looking around. So keep your head on a swivel and be vigilant in your awareness while out on th water.

5. Take a buddy
The only thing better than your eyes watching your back, is having a second pair of vigilant eyes helping you stay safe. Your fishing buddy is your second most important asset while kayak fishing. Your buddy is there to see things you may not.  As well two of you are an irreplaceable first aid tool for each other, a helping hand if you go overboard and the best way to keep fishing fun throughout the night. So choose your fishing buddy wisely.

6. Make Yourself Heard
There will be times when you're on the water and someone in a boat is driving completely blind and don't see your reflective tape or the lights attached to your yak.  Either that or its just so foggy that they can't see the reflectors or lights as fog refracts light in weird ways.  Either way when they can't see you make sure they can hear you in the case of an emergency.  Keeping a whistle or an air horn within reach on your yak will get the attention of even the most oblivious person driving a boat. Not just that but blasting the signal for S.O.S. will help people locate you faster in the case of emergency.

7. Leave a note with your location (lattitude and longetude)
Kayak fishing is a pretty safe sport however things can go wrong in a hurry. One thing that can help you in case of an emergency is leaving a note telling someone where you'll be fishing. It doesn't matter where I'm kayak fishing nor how familiar I am with the spot, I always leave a note telling someone where I am. This is doubly true when I'm fishing on the great lakes or any large bodies of water for that matter.

My notes always have an image of the area I'm fishing with my put in and out point clearly marked. As well the spots I intend to fish are marked on the map to make life easier for any would be rescuers. Beyond the image in my note I leave the longitude and latitude of where I'll be as well as any address that available for where I'll be putting in.  The only other major info in my note is what time I'll be on my way home and should be home, that way if for some reason I'm too late my family knows to look for me.  This step isn't just for you but it's for your loved ones who have a huge stake in you making it home.

8. Be GPS & Radio Ready
When fishing large bodies of water like the ocean or Lake Erie, as I try to do as often as possible, its not hard to get out of cell phone range so you need to be prepared.  A simple way to be prepared is to have a VHF radio with you whenever going long distances off shore.  The VHF radio will work out of range of a cell phone as well it will reach other boats in the area when calling out.  Unlike a cell phone the VHF radio will reach out to anyone listening where a cell phone is specific to whomever you call.  This will give you much higher chance of rescue in case of an emergency.

The other thing you'll need to have is a GPS.  The GPS will point you in the right direction if the shore is no longer in your line of sight.  Additionally it will give your exact location in case you have to hail for help over the VHF radio.

9. Be Organized
Kayak fishing at its core is a minimalist sport. Pretty much you're limiting yourself to what you can carry in a milk crate and the pockets on your PFD.  So the best thing you can do is when it comes to kayak fishing at night or during the day is be organized.  Good gear organization will save you frustration and possible injury while fishing in the dark.  There is absolutely nothing worse than having to fish around for your fishing pliers while turned around uncomfortably and trying to hold down an angry 15lb catfish.  That's a recipe for disaster, so save your self from wayward fins, and sharp hooks by being extremely organized.

10. Blaze your take in and out trail
Many of the lakes I fish have traditional launches that I use regularly.  However some of the larger lakes I fish don't have traditional boat launches close to where I want to fish so that requires me to get a bit dirty with my kayak launches from. By dirty I mean there are times when I have to cut through some wooded areas to get to the best places to launch.  Besides mosquitoes and possible poison ivy contact that presents a major problem.  How do I find that random spot when it's time to get off the water after a night of fishing.

The best answer to that question is to use hunting trail tacks to blaze my trail in and out of the water.  A simple scan with my flashlight or spotlight and the tacks reflect back to me where I need to go to get back to my car safely. So use reflective tacks or tape to blaze yourself a trail for nontraditional launch points.

Overall when fishing at night safety is your biggest concern.  Hopefully these ten tips will help you stay more safe the next time you're out at night chasing big fish.  Please comment below with any other night fishing tips you can offer to our fellow anglers.


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