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Kayak Flyfishing

This past summer, as you probably realised, I spent most of the season fishing from the top of a kayak. I spent a few weeks fishing around the Keys, catching the odd snook and quite a few needlefish (hmmm), and the rest of the summer fishing the Madison lakes. And of those, I spent most time on Hebgen – around 4 months in total.

Kayak flyfishing is the most effective method for fishing flat calms with steadily rising fish. Period. You can quite literally intercept fish – and this has to be the second most thrilling method for lake fishing.

It's not very good for stalking fish – which is the most thrilling of course – and that's because you're too low to the surface to get any decent long range visibility. And it's not very good in anything stronger than a mild breeze. Droguing I've yet to attempt. It's doable of course but, in order to avoid capsizing catastrophes, I think you'll need a paradrogue. I tried tethering around dead trees on Quake but you can take it from me that you don't want to do this. Especially if people are watching.

For flyfishing you'll need a kayak with a wide hull, which offers stability. A longer hull will give you speed but if you plan on sticking it inside your Jeep and sleeping under it in Florida, then you'll have to leave one of the doors open, and someone will probably shoot or arrest you. And quite importantly, I think, is a sit-on-top kayak as opposed to a climb-in one, which gives you better opportunity to climb back aboard after taking a dive (not that this has happened yet by the way, but I've been close).

You will need a net. I say this because I had one disaster that resulted in a lost fish and three flies. The edges of the kayak are pretty rough too so a net helps you land fish without hassle. My original net was a home-built Sexyloops special. Manufactured from an onion bag and a car aerial it was useful for landing socks. However good friends Bob and Cezanne decided that I really needed a cumbersome long handled driftboat net and so we did a deal over Membership and beer. And actually a long handled net is an advantage – once you've worked out how to stow it.

One little trick I picked up quite early on, is to tie everything and anything to the kayak. This includes nets, paddles, water bottles, beer, forceps, floatant and mud. And possibly yourself. I carried a mesh netting from the back of the Jeep and tied this over pretty much everything. A couple of years back I noticed that Herb in New Zealand had pot riveted a cutaway container to the back of his, but then again he's fishing the surf break for imaginary kahawai. When I fish the surf break for imaginary kahawai I too will be using a pot riveted cutaway container. That goes without saying.

For fishing around Hebgen I found kinky polyprops to be perfect, laced with a little insect repellent for the odd over-friendly mozzi. On the whole, however, the mozzies prefer land and don't hassle you in the slicks.

The main advantage of a kayak over a float tube is that you are propelling yourself forward and the advantage over a pontoon boat is that you are nifty. Intercepting fish means that you have one cast before he sees the kayak running him down which makes it both entertaining as well as quite focussed.

The drill – yep let's have a drill – is to stick the rod between your legs trailing the flies over the back as you paddle forward. Then, when you figure that the appropriate time has come to pick up the rod to launch your 15 foot cast, in time that you don't run over the fish first, but not so late as to allow fish time to find a real fly before yours, you pick up the rod make a rapid fly drying false swish or two and… deliver the fly with pinpoint accuracy.

Of course this is where a fast rod comes into its own, Frank, since you can false cast quickly, to dry your flies, before delivering the nail.

On Hebgen, during the daytime, it's essential to place the fly in a cup (this bit Frank will like). If you manage this, and you have the correct fly (a #16 claret suspender) the fish will pick your fly in preference to the other 15 appearing in his window. During the evening, when the fish are behaving differently, and cruising deeper, a five foot lead with a #12 Shipman's is the throw.

Drifting's successful too. The way my kayak drifts, with me atop, is at an angle of approximately 30 degrees, nose front, downwind (obviously). You can set up to drift either right or left, enabling you to run banks or zigzag wind lanes. You can't go straight – at least not without a drogue. The problem is that anything bigger than a slight ripple means that the world moves along at an alarming pace. However since the fish are then down, mostly, side-sweeping woolly buggers can be extremely effective. The most practical direction to throw is on the upwind side, which keeps you in contact with the flies as you hurtle on.

Sticking the paddle in the water on the upwind side gives you a sharper drift, a bit like using a rudder or oar on a boat. Sticking it downwind turns the kayak of course.

When landing fish, try using the rod arm to balance the netting arm – sticking both out opposite each other in T-shape – this keeps the kayak beneath you instead of above you. A ten foot rod may be an advantage for fishing over the front, especially with a longer nose.

I haven't had to land two fish at a time in a kayak yet but I imagine this would be rather exciting.


Paul says Kayaking is a serious business, make sure you take your responsibilities seriously. This means always wear a lifejacket Sean, and don't drink beer or smoke seal's fur. Especially if you don't know how to fly.

Related links: Vortex archives.

Essential Bush Skills

The start of any flytying good flytying sequence involves squirting The Light of Apgai on your polyprops
Both alarm and curiousity set in when the polyprops start melting
Putting the lid back on the jar to stop *that* happening again
The flytying proper is underway
Notice the composure, that's true class that is
A difficult bit, you can tell that from the vacant expression
Essential bush skills: the third hand
Notice my hat here, it's quite daring
Snip, snip
I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here, but it's cool
Trimming an oversize hackle that appears to have become trapped in the whip finnish manoevre
Delicate precision work, the hallmark of any good flytyer
A sexy catch...

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