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Long or short rods for kayak fishing?
10:11PM 1st Aug 14

Big Cuvier Island snapper from the deep on short rods are much easier to land, and this saves the arms for paddling!

The Hutchwilco Boat show is always a great place to be, with plenty of opportunity to check out recent innovations in everything from large craft (for carrying your kayak of course) to the smallest items of terminal tackle. For me one of the more exciting aspects is the opportunity to talk in person to a diverse group of anglers and find out what they’re most interested in. This year was no exception, and easily the most common tackle questions from kayakers were based around what rod length to choose.

Given the level of interest let’s take a look at some of the options available, paying particular attention to rod length. Since I’ve also just returned from another awesome Cuvier Island mothership trip with Pete McKenzie aboard Te Wairoa I’ll use images from this trip as a platform to explain my reasoning.

One thing to remember, there is a huge amount of subjectivity to this, and as long as anglers fish with poles there will be arguments about which is best. The goal here isn’t to tell anyone what they should be fishing with, simply to discuss what I’ve found works best for me from kayaks. Hopefully by explaining the “why I think it works” I can get anglers thinking about what may work best for them.

Fishing Cuvier Island saw us targeting snapper and hapuku on deep pins with straylined baits. Using longer 10-15kg rods made for some grueling battles with plenty of opportunity for pain!

Casting lures and light baits – long rods

For most kayak anglers I believe the easiest way to choose rod length is to decide if you’re going to spend most of your time casting. Since we’re sitting right at sea level the easiest way to add distance is to opt for longer rods. When using softbaits and other light weight lures, or when flicking unweighted pillies or piper I find the typical 2.1m (7’) softbait rod the most useful. When casting lures a quick flick on the rod tip sends your weapon on its way, and the longer rod makes it easy to give “life” to the lures with simple wrist and arm movements.

When casting baits the longer rod is swept over a wider arc for more of a gently lob. This takes the shock out of the cast to protect softer baits but still allows for good distance. The long rod also makes it possible to keep more of the line above the water when fishing shallow to improve visibility without the need for bright line colours.

The most significant down side to long rods is what happens at the side of the kayak. Care must be taken not to lift them too high as a fish is brought along side and risk the dreaded “point-load”, something that’s very easy to forget in the excitement of seeing a monster right beside you. The best practice is to hold your rod butt out over the left side of the kayak (taking care not to dunk your reel) while reaching out towards the fish with your right (tracing, netting, or gaffing your catch), and NEVER lifting the rod above a 45 degree angle.

Milkey showing his style in bringing a fish close for tracing while keeping the rod at a low angle to protect the rod from point loading.

One other hint here, regardless of rod length, is to never wind the fish any closer than one rod length from the tip. This avoids the need to strip line from the reel to bring the fish within reach, and even more importantly allows you to get the fish into the cockpit without bending your rod inside out. All too often I see kayak anglers struggling because they’ve wound their fish too close to the tip and are scrambling to try and reduce drag, kick the reel out of gear, or open a bail one handed to gain line. The best way to deal with this is to let the fish go again, feed out the necessary line, then have another go at landing your catch. This will break far fewer rods.

Casting heavy baits and lures – intermediate rod lengths

Lobbing big baits amongst the stones during winter is a classic example here, but this also applies when using heavier metal lures and surface-actives. I find using a two-handed cast and a 1.9m (6’6”) fast action rod makes it possible to give more speed (distance) from the confines of a kayak when there’s a bit of weight involved. It’s also much easier and faster to set up and execute the cast in sloppy conditions when fishing close to wash zones.

Another factor I’ve found is that moving from 2.1m to 1.9m for this style of fishing has greatly improved my accuracy. Controlling the swing of a heavy lure or bait before making the cast has a big bearing on placing it exactly where you need it, and given we’re operating from a kayak using a shorter rod makes this considerably easier.

Shorty casting rods

There’s always an exception, and in the case of casting rods there’s the 1.67m (5’6”) bait caster. Used predominantly with a low profile free spool reel these rods are capable of phenomenal accuracy and surprising distances with the right kinds of baits and lures. Cast one-handed your reach effectively increases the rod length during the cast, but the shorter rod allows you to maintain pinpoint accuracy (with practice). This is one of the reasons they’re so popular amongst some lure fishing circles overseas.

Another advantage of these much shorter rods is the significant increases in leverage when playing the fish. I’ll cover this in more detail when discussing non-casting rods below. The only down side with very short rods is the greater difficulty in enhancing the lures action. With longer rods gentle wrist and arm movements will give a lot of movement at the rod tip, while with short rods these movements have to be exaggerated for a similar result.

The effort on the long wands was rewarded with some nice fish, but the job would have been a whole lot easier on shorter rods.

Non-casting rods

Here we’re not limited by the need for rod length to lob baits or lures way from the kayak. The main purpose of the rod is to allow control over line angles, have it act as a spring to stop us being dragged from our seats, and finally to hold the reel so we can recover line. Jigging, straylining, fishing ledger rigs, and live baiting are all techniques that fall into this category.

Since with these techniques we’re working the baits or lures from the side of the kayak the major factor affecting rod choice is leverage. Shorter rods allow us to maximize pressure on fish with less strain on arms and back, ultimately allowing us to fish remarkably heavy lines from our chosen craft. Even with lighter line classes there is merit in shorter rods reducing the work load, those same arms and back will be needed to get us home once all the fish have been landed!

I like rods in the 1.67 (5’6”) category when not having to cast. This is long enough to provide spring to protect knots and reduce any risk of a fish unseating me (provided I haven’t over tightened the drag!), but still long enough to allow me to use rod angle to help control the kayak during battle - if the fish runs out the side I point the rod towards the bow and the side-strain drags the front of the kayak round so I’m not risking a roll.

My 4-rod arsenal

Based on all I’ve mentioned above, if I had to limit myself to just four rods for kayak fishing they would be:

2.1m 8-10kg softbait combo for casting lures and small un-weighted baits

1.9m 10-15kg fixed spool combo for lobbing big baits (my favorite winter outfit)

1.67m 6-8kg baitcaster for all my general fishing

1.67m 24kg mechanical jig combo that will also see service livebaiting and plumbing the depths for hapuku and bluenose.

Cuvier Island results

This trip aboard Te Wairo saw a little friendly rivalry between the boat crew consisting of skipper Pete, Graham, and Justin, and kayakers Aileen, Peter, Milkey, and me. The incredibly warm water (for June) saw the boaties make the most of the skippies to get the better of the tuna fishing. They also cleaned up all the pup hapuku, but the kayakers definitely had the best of the snapper fishing both in close and out wide.

Peter and Ails had a ball dragging dark kelpies from amongst the stones around Cuvier. Milkey and I hauled fat snapper from the depths further out, unable to convert any to the sort-after hapuku. We also “educated” some of the local rat king population on a variety of tackle, always great fun. By the end of the trip I’d have to say the kayakers probably had the edge, but by specie it was a dead heat. This was another totally relaxing trip that saw a great crew enjoy some of New Zealand’s finest waters.

This article was written by Stephen for the July 2014 NZ Fishing News magazine, read more of Stephens Fishing News articles HERE

 

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