Tag Archives: kayaking

Kayaks and Kayak Accessories

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

By this point, we’ve all seen them—the fishing kayaks decked out with everything from GoPro mounts and livewells to sails and even motors. To the beginner kayaker, the amount of options to add to your kayak can seem somewhat overwhelming. Sure, you can add tons of stuff to your plastic yak, but where do you start? The following are a few basic accessories that can slowly turn your barren paddle craft into a much more functional piece of equipment without getting too crazy.

Kayak on the beach loaded with gear.

Image: Alex Vail

Seats

This may seem a bit basic, but first things first, right? A good seat is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment you can “upgrade” on your kayak. Think about it: It’s where you spend almost all your time. Kayaking and kayak fishing is supposed to be enjoyable, and each trip can be much more enjoyable when you’re actually comfortable. Stock kayak seats are often extremely basic. Some even lack a bottom and are just a support to lean against. I personally suggest biting the bullet and investing in a nice seat. When you’re already staring at almost a full day in the yak or over 10 miles of paddling, the last thing in the world you want is to be cripplingly uncomfortable. 

Some kayaks don’t come with the standard cleats that are required with a seat. But with a few basic tools and sealant, it’s pretty easy to get the kayak ready to not only accept a new seat, but also make it comfortable.

Rudder

Another somewhat basic piece of equipment, but one that can make your life infinitely easier. I personally swear by a rudder—it’s far better to have and not need than need and not have. The advantage to a rudder is tackling windy conditions during longer paddles. The rudder helps the kayak track much more easily so you aren’t constantly trying to correct, and therefore alter, your paddling rhythm. A simple pedal-steered rudder can make life much easier while out on the water. These are advantageous in foul weather as well when you’ve been caught in the wind and have to turn around. Ask anyone who’s struggled with that, and they know the nightmare it can be. Finally, a rudder proves useful even in calm conditions on days when you’re out fishing. You can get the kayak moving with a few paddle strokes, and after picking up the rod, you can easily adjust the direction of the kayak with some simple footwork with the pedals. It’s even easier when the wind is at your back.

Much like the seats, installing a rudder just requires a few basic tools and obviously the equipment. Be sure to sit in the seat and measure out how comfortable you are and how far away you need the pedals to be based off of your leg length. If your rudder doesn’t already have it, I highly suggest using a steel cable to link the rudder to the pedals. My last rudder with steel cables lasted 11 years before finally needing any maintenance.

Closeup of kayak.

Image: Alex Vail

Anchor Trolley 

This is one that I don’t see many people using. In fact, I don’t see a ton of people using anchors to begin with. But the advantage to an anchor trolley is the ability to adjust the direction you’re faced when anchored up. With this very simple pulley system, a kayaker can change the facing and actual location of the kayak even while anchored. Need the pivot point of the anchor line to be off the bow? Just adjust it. Need to face the opposite direction so you can cast repeatedly into that hole? Fine-tune the pivot point to your liking. It’s proved invaluable for me on several occasions, and it wasn’t particularly difficult to install.

So if you’ve just recently dipped your toes into the world of kayaking, try and start small. The bigger, more in-depth accessories can wait. Focus on the basics first. With these simple upgrades, you can easily step up your kayak game. Just be careful: Upgrading the kayak can be a slippery slope. Before you know it, you’ll be latching on sails and livewells just like everyone else.

Winter Camping in the Everglades

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

When you think of camping and boating, generally an image of warm summer days and swimming come to mind. But let’s be honest—chances are that if you look out of your window right now, it’s far from a warm summer day outside. There is, however, a place in the U.S. where winter is the best time of the year to camp: The Florida Everglades are calling your name.

Sunset

Image: Alex Vail

Unlike the rest of the country right now, the Florida Everglades are actually comfortable outside, and winter is the best time of the year to go out there and camp. Generally temperatures range anywhere from the high 40s to the upper 70s from the months of November through March, which is perfect weather for camping. A large majority of the mosquitoes have also died off, so you can pitch a tent and not worry about severe blood loss. It isn’t, however, as simple as driving out there and pitching a tent. There are a few things to prepare for and keep in mind before venturing out into the ‘Glades.

Before You Go

Unpacking a tent.

Image: Alex Vail

Only about 1/8 of the available campsites in the Everglades can actually be reached by foot. Another advantage of it being winter is that water levels are down so actually walking to campsites in areas like Everglades National Park or Big Cypress National Preserve is a pretty dry trek. Try doing this in summer or fall, and you’re guaranteed to be wading through knee-deep water. The other 7/8? Those campsites have to be reached by kayak or boat. Almost all of the campsites along the coast, like the Ten Thousand Islands and the southern point of Everglades National Park, must be reached by water, either by power boat or paddle craft. Be sure to be wary of shallow water if you’re bringing a boat. Most of the water out in the ‘Glades is only about three or four feet deep. It’s entirely possible to get stuck for upwards of six hours thanks to extreme tides.

Preparation

You’re going to want to bring all of your usual camping equipment. If you’re going by paddle craft or hiking, however, weight is going to be of a big concern so cut down wherever you can. If you’ve also decided to camp within the Ten Thousand Islands, you’re going to have to bring all the water you need with you. Sun protection is still very important, even this time of the year, so sunscreen and long sleeves/face protection are an absolute must. Weather is still just as unpredictable as ever, so rain gear as well as rope to tie down the tent are a good idea, too. As far as navigation goes, you should always carry two different ways of navigation at all times. I prefer a map with a compass for standard navigation, and I carry a GPS as a backup. The last thing in the world you want is to get lost out there. Finally, even though the mosquitoes have died off quite a bit, they’re still a very real thing. Heavy applications of Deet and Thermacell are a good idea.

On Arrival 

One of the big kickers with camping in the Everglades is that campsites are limited to a certain amount of campers per site. This means they need to be reserved. However, you cannot reserve campsites beyond 24 hours in advance of your trip, which really translates into reserving them when you check into the ranger station. There are stations located in Flamingo as well as Everglades City, and they have maps and information inside that can be pretty helpful as well. The ranger will want to know where you plan to camp each night of your trip, and you’ll have to reserve one for each night you plan to stay. This is obviously for safety, but also for the simple fact that some campsites only fit so many people.

In the ‘Glades

It’s wild out there—be sure to consistently check your bearings and location to avoid getting turned around. There are generally three different types of campsites out there: ground sites, beach sites, and chickees. Ground sites are simple campsites on some of the sparse dry ground in the backcountry. These sites have picnic tables, a porta-john, and that’s about it. Since these are usually tucked back into the mangroves, the mosquitoes can be horrendous. You also can’t have fires at these sites, so keep that in mind when considering how you’re going to cook food.

Tent camping.

Image: Alex Vail

Beach sites are exactly like they sound: a campsite on a beach. But they aren’t really a sandy beach with coconut palm trees on them. The beaches are made up almost entirely of crushed shell and mangroves that are within just a few yards of some of the sites. There are no tables at these (they’d get washed away), and there aren’t usually any porta-johns (some have them, though). You’re welcome to build a fire at these using the abundant driftwood that washes up.

Kayak packed with camp gear.

Image: Alex Vail

Finally there are the chickees. These are essentially raised up dock platforms that are located randomly right on the surface of the water in many of the bays and estuaries. There’s a single roof on these, no walls, and enough room for your tent, a little gear, and a porta-john. That’s it. This is where the rope comes in handy to tie your tent to the dock since you can’t place stakes. You obviously cannot have fires on these either, unless you really feel like having an adventure and burning the whole platform down with you on top. The mosquitoes can be relatively bad at these, but my big thing is just comfort. Bring a sleeping pad for your tent as the dock platform isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world to sleep on.

Tent on a deck.

Image: Alex Vail

So if you’ve got cabin fever and are walled-in behind endless amounts of that white nightmare called snow, consider coming down to give the Everglades a try this winter. Keep these tips in mind, and you’re sure to have a great experience in the ‘Glades. Just don’t forget the bug spray.

Casting Close: Why It’s OK to Get Tangled

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. You’ve readied yourself for a cast, the spot looks unbelievably fishy, and you simply know for a fact that a monster is about to take your lure as soon as it hits the water. You line up, make the cast…

And then your lure wraps itself impossibly around a tree branch three feet past your target.

It happens. And while on a recent fishing trip with a buddy, he executed the scenario above flawlessly. He apologized profusely about getting tangled, but I was perfectly alright with it. Why, you may ask? Simply because it’s part of fishing. The way I see it, it’s almost GOOD that someone gets tangled every once in a while. It means that you’re casting close to cover, and the closer to cover you can get your lure or fly, the better. Think of it as a risk/reward. Sure you’re safe to cast all day out into the open water and never lose your bait, but that’s not where the giant lunker bass is. He’s underneath the impenetrable thicket in the corner of the pond. You’ll risk losing that lure casting to him, but you’ll never get him if you don’t try.

Kayaker paddles through river lined with thick green vegetation

Image Credit: Alex Vail

With this in mind, there’s plenty of things to consider about fishing close to cover. The first is, of course, your lure/fly. I know for a fact that I’m going to lose tackle, but when it comes to fishing in areas where there’s an extremely good chance of losing that $12 lure, I tend to go the cheap route. Soft plastics, weedless worms, simple flies, and cheap topwaters.

Depending on the species you’re chasing, going the weedless route is the way to go in preventing getting tangled. Cast just a little too far and landed in the lily pads? It’s absolutely nothing to worry about when fishing weedless. Going weedless comes in handy, too when it gets caught in a tree or the fish are hanging out in underwater vegetation.

Fisherman holds up large bass

As the background suggests, weedless is the way to go. [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Unfortunately, casting close to cover is probably going to mean switching up your line a little bit. A heavier leader or line will prevent fish from rubbing up against underwater roots or rocks and breaking you off. An easy way to tie a heavier shock-tippet is to do a simple back to back Uni knot. These shock tippets come in handy because you don’t have to spool your whole reel with heavier line, and you can get away with using just a little (albeit expensive) fluorocarbon as the leader.

Casting close to cover is also extremely good casting practice. An angler can quickly get to know his/her rod and reel and before long, getting tangled becomes almost a rare issue. But practice makes perfect. Try casting a few feet from your target first. Then slowly get closer and closer. Once you’ve got the distance dialed in, it isn’t impossible to get just a few inches from your target more times than not.

Man fishes from yellow kayak in river bordered by trees

Image Credit: Alex Vail

So, the next time you launch your lure miles into the nearby woods, try not to get frustrated. Losing tackle is part of the sport. And the only way to get better (and eventually catch those monsters) is to lose some tackle.