Kayak fishing is seen by 'the establishment' as a relatively new and growing sport, but its passionate proponents will point out, its origins are as old as mankind.
Says the very dedicated Josh Holmes: 'The origins of hunting and fishing from paddle propelled boats date back around 4000 years. The very first kayaks were built from driftwood and animal skins by natives of the arctic regions of Asia, Greenland and North America. So, while it isn't entirely accurate to say that kayak fishing is a new sport, it certainly would be fair to say that modern-day kayak fishing is relatively new and is growing and evolving rapidly.'
Holmes, who took up the sport 14 years ago, is the founder of Yakass.net. He lives and breathes kayak fishing and describes himself as 'possibly Australia’s heaviest user'.
'I would be lost without it,' he says, on the job working at Maclean Outdoors, where he sells the very products he uses. 'Kayak fishing doesn’t get boring. It’s different every time.'
Holmes came to the sport by linking two pastimes. 'I was big into fishing and I had experienced kayaking. One day, I was sitting on a jetty and thought, ‘if I could just get 100m further, there are bound to be fish out there’. So, it started as an experiment, testing that theory. I put all my gear in my kayak, paddled out, dropped a line and hooked up immediately.'
And so, says Holmes 'the love affair was born'. That was 1997.
But it wasn’t until a decade later, a life crisis gave him the impetus to 'really get involved in a big way'.
'I was living in Victoria and I sold everything I had, except my car and kayak fishing gear. I travelled up the east coast on a kayak fishing tour on my own, over 8 months, paddling 6000km, at it every day, up to Townsville.
'I was running a blog at the time and Hobie kayaks picked up on it. I worked with them for a while and now I run Yakass.net, as well as an online kayak fishing show and work selling kayaks as a day job. When I’m not doing that, I am usually out fishing.'
According to Holmes, 'there’s a lot to like about the sport of kayak fishing', and it is gradually losing any stigma surrounding this hybrid pastime.
'There was a time when you’d pull up to a marina and anglers would frown at you and nobody would talk to us. They thought it was a gimmick. Thanks to more exposure on TV and online, people are seeing it as a really relaxing, interesting and healthy way to fish. Good reason for that is it’s unique and very different from regular fishing. People have a lot of questions.'
Perhaps the biggest appeal of kayak fishing is that it’s a great way to find and catch fish. 'People who are in to fishing are now seeing kayak fishing as a legitimate way of getting to better places to fish and catch more and bigger fish as well!' says Holmes.
'Many kayak fishos have reported a vast increase in their catch rate soon after getting started, with several factors influencing the results. Not least of which being that there are surprisingly few places that a kayak cannot go. With the mobility offered by a kayak, the angler has far more scope than their land-based counterparts. Not only can the kayak fisherman extend their range to reach places a shore-based angler will never be able to cast their lines, but they can also gain access to many productive in-shore areas that simply can’t be reached by foot.
'Rocky headlands and cliff-based shorelines that are off-limits to the land-based fisherman are fair game for the kayak fisho. It’s in many of these areas - largely because are they often so difficult to otherwise access - that some of the best fish can be found. It’s also usually quite a bit easier to land a fish from the waterline than it is from the shore.' Being close to nature is also inspiring.
'That side, being out on the water, close to the water level, communing with nature, is very attractive. You do have a lot of great experiences you simply don’t get in a big boat. You can reach inaccessible places, there’s no pollution, so sustainability is key. You’re not burning through fuel, so it’s also relatively cheap.'
Economy and convenience are two attractive characteristics of the sport. 'Not only are kayaks significantly cheaper than just about any form of boat, there are no on-going costs such as fuel, registration or boat license renewal fees,' explains Holmes. 'They are also much easier to launch solo and can be put into the water from a large variety of places.' The Peddle powered kayak system too opened up the sport and made it accessible for all sorts of people. 'Some people enjoy the fitness aspect, and heading out to deep waters for pelagic fishing. Others are content to move slowly and close to shore – you can have it all ways.'
The most challenging aspect of the sport, reveals Holmes, is landing the larger fish, especially sharks.
'For those of us who do go out to the ocean – which is not for everybody – you have to be careful. But it’s a myth that kayak fishing is somehow more dangerous and you can roll at the slightest wave or big fish. If you’re a halfway decent fisherman, the drag setting should prevent that from happening.'
But hairy things have happened, he admits. 'I have seen plenty of sharks and a great white shark circled me, looked at me and chased me away, which was terrifying at the time. I have had a humpback whale surface about 1m away from me, which also counts among the scary incidents.'
The shark episode was, he acknowledges, his own fault. 'I was out at sea and saw bird activity, so I headed out to it. I saw the shark which was around 3.5m. I snuck up behind it and thought I would take some photos, which was really silly. When I was about 10m from it, it sensed me, spun around and swam up to the side where I was sitting, then swam underneath. I could have touched it. I tail flapped the pontoon and chased me out of there, bumping the rudder. I learnt my lesson that day.'
Although Holmes is often a solitary soul in his adventures, he says it can be very social. 'We encourage it to be that way, not just because there’s safety in numbers, but also for camaraderie and sharing know-how and equipment. We have a great community online, where we are always arranging trips and events.'
While the sport in its modern incarnation is still in its infancy, Holmes says it’s evolving rapidly thanks to the uptake by its proponents, more people joining its ranks and adding their own touches, and the media and manufacturers who are coming up with accessories and models to suit.
Holmes recalls the days of making practical equipment out of just about anything – a milk crate, bike parts, cushions. 'These days, there are dedicated products for just about everything, but there’s still a long way to go. Kayak fishos are inventive and we continue to customise our own products. Brands like Hobie are adding products every year, sponsoring events and fishing activities and other brands, like Lowrance display a kayak compatible logo to indicate they will work on kayaks.'
It’s a very interesting sport, continues Holmes. 'There’s no black and white, no right and wrong way to do it. The real appeal is that it encompasses of all of the fun and excitement of fishing, as well as all the fun and challenge of kayaking. It’s just a fantastic combination that makes for a recipe for serious fun.
'Ultimately, that is precisely why many who participate in the sport consider kayak fishing to be the very best way to wet a line.'