How close can you get?
  |  First Published: December 2013

Since the weather has warmed up, I’ve been doing a lot of kayak fishing for bass and barra in the rivers around my home town of Bundaberg. While I’ll happily fish anywhere, I find that hitting the rivers and creeks usually makes for a much more interesting day out than chasing the same fish in impoundments.

When I’m floating down a river in my kayak, I rely less on technology to find the fish for me. Instead, I have to rely on my river reading skills to work out where the fish will be and then, exactly where I’ll need to put the lure to entice the fish into striking. This sort of fishing rewards careful thinking and good casting skills.

I learn something new on most trips, but two surprises have really stood out for me during my adventures of late. The first is just how close I’ve been able to get to the fish without spooking them and secondly, just how precise I sometimes have to be with my casting before the fish will even look at my lure. I’ve been absolutely blown away at how slowing down and taking the time to position my kayak in exactly the right spot before casting has improved my strike rate.

In fact, the results have been so consistent that it has made me reconsider the way I approach casting in general. Previously, I had been happy just to land the lure where I wanted it. Now I make sure that I can not only land it on the spot, but also that I can swim it out on exactly the angle I want it to, because I’ve seen just what a difference it can make.

However, to achieve that you first need to make sure you’ve put your kayak in exactly the right place.

The right approach

We all know that if you get too close to a fish you’ll scare it. However, this is much less of an issue with a yak than it is with a boat.

You see, kayaks are possibly the quietest craft there is, and on the last couple of trips I’ve hooked both barra and bass on casts that didn’t travel more than a rod length or two from where I was sitting. Judging by the aggressive way in which the fish hit the lures, they hadn’t been alerted to my presence. That, or they just didn’t consider my kayak to be a threat.

So how close can you get? There’s no hard and fast rule, but I suggest trying to get close enough to comfortably put a cast exactly where you want it. As long as you are quiet and don’t move around too much, you may be surprised at just how close that is.

There are a number of advantages to fishing at really close range. First of all, because you’re not casting very far, it’s much easier to be accurate. I’m talking bullseye accurate here, not ‘close enough is good enough’ accurate. If you think half a metre doesn’t make much of a difference you’re in for a surprise.

Sure – on the good days when the fish are fired up and ready to rumble, half a metre may not matter much. However, on those days when the fish are less cooperative (that’s probably around 95% of our fishing trips), precision accuracy makes all the difference in the world. A sulking barra or bass may pay only a passing interest to a lure landing somewhere nearby, but drop that same lure on its nose and it will either have to move out of the way or belt that disrespectful little intruder.

Another advantage of close range casting is the ability to land the lure in the water with minimal disturbance. I like to explain it like this: if you were to hear something gently tapping on your roof, chances are you’d go out to investigate. However, if something large and heavy crashed down on your roof, you’d get the hell out of the house. Fish share the same fundamental survival instincts that we do when it comes to loud and unexpected noises over the top of their heads.

Of course, the other big advantage of fishing up close is that you can use your rod tip to drive your lure. As you wind it in, you can poke the rod tip out so that your lure tracks right along fallen branches, or past the best looking clump of snags or so that it parallels the bank. While you can do that to your lure at any distance, it’s most effective at close range. It’s another one of those little things that can make a big difference on quiet days.

Getting in there

The key to fishing at close range is in the approach. There is no point charging up to the snag you want to fish, banging into it with the nose of the kayak and then expecting the fish to cooperate. With a few possible exceptions, that approach will scare more fish off than it produces.

Instead, you need to take things slowly. Paddle in gently and if the wind or current allows, drift those last few metres and use your paddle or rudder only to control your drift so that you gently come to a stop. It’s a good idea to try to stop just a little farther out than you probably want to, because on most occasions as you will keep moving forward ever so slightly after you think you’ve stopped. While it’s a good thing to be close, you don’t want to end up right on top of where you want to cast.

I’m pretty fortunate in that I fish from a Hobie Pro Angler a lot of the time, and the quiet thrust of the flippers seems to do little to alert the fish. All the same, once I get really close to where I want to be, I usually revert to just the rudder and a hand paddle to control that last little bit of travel.

If you haven’t got a hand paddle yet, it’s one kayak accessory that I really do recommend you invest in. They are small and don’t take up much space, and they’re worth their weight in gold when it comes to creeping around and making final little adjustments so you can position yourself in the right spot.

I use a Backwater Assault hand paddle and it’s been one of the best things I have purchased. It’s made of plastic so it’s tough but it floats thanks to its neoprene handle. The blade is shaped in such a way that it doubles as a hook or prodder for grabbing or pushing off branches and, because the Hobie can’t backpedal, it’s my reverse gear as well. I’ve used it much more than I ever thought I would.

Getting out again

If there is a disadvantage to fishing at really close range, it’s what happens after you hook up. Needless to say, some pretty firm drag settings are required.

It’s also a good idea to try to paddle yourself out into open water to fight the fish if you can. This is easier in a pedal-powered kayak like the Hobie. However, if you don’t have that luxury, it’s best to try to get the fish coming your way a little bit, then thumb-lock the spool and concentrate on paddling yourself out into the open. If you are lucky, you’ll drag the fish out with you.

The ‘knock ‘em down and drag ‘em out’ approach won’t always work, of course. Some fish run straight back into the snags, and sometimes even if you get them coming your way they’ll wrap you round something on their way out. One little trick that sometimes works is to try to get your kayak between the fish and the snags. If you are pulling them towards the timber, they occasionally panic and run the other way out into the middle of the river for you.

It’s also important to have a smooth landing plan in mind. To this end I recently bought a Bass Action net, and if you’ve ever had a fish flip out of a landing net and land in your lap, you’ll really appreciate this net. The bass slide in headfirst and then sit nice and still as they are supported by the scoop-shaped mesh. The little pocket at the handle end and the dark colour mesh provides a bit of shelter for their eyes and seems to keep them fairly calm while you unhook them.

I also like how there are lengths marked on the bottom of the mesh, so it’s easy to check how big your catch is. Unfortunately, as I’ve recently found out, these nets don’t float. Putting a leash on them is a good idea.

Give it a go

If you have invested in a quiet and manoeuvrable platform like a kayak, it makes sense to maximize your advantages by getting as close as possible. There are just so many benefits to the up close tactic that it outweighs the odd fish that you might spook along the way. As long as you take your time and make a quiet approach, you will be amazed at how close the fish will allow you to get to them. Once you’ve gotten in there, I’m sure you will also soon realise how much more control you can have over presentations.

Give it a go and see just how close you can get.

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