Taking a yak offshore
  |  First Published: May 2003

THERE are endless varieties of vessels that head offshore every day, and in general they are amongst the larger boats in common use in Australia. However, there is an alternative – the sea-going kayak. No motors to worry about, no fuel and oil dramas, no noise or smoke, no pollution, not even a trailer to maintain!

Noosa local and keen fisherman Bill Watson discovered kayak fishing when his ‘middle-aged spread’ got the better of him and some serious exercise was in order. He had disposed of his tinny after the access point near his home was closed off, but the new light and functional kayak returned Bill’s mobility on the water and provided him with exercise, an occasional feed of fish and plenty of fun. Bill has a small wheeled trolley that his kayak sits in, and it’s an absolute snack to stroll down the road to the water for an easy launch. The whole rig only weighs around 30kg.

To start with, Bill used a two-person Perception Minnow II kayak which is a ‘sit inside’ job with a sliding front seat. This was a good setup, particularly for the Noosa River and other calm water applications. Bill used this kayak for bait fishing expeditions in his local waterways and eventually turned to trolling, which was an excellent way to combine his weight loss program and his regular fishing fix. Bill was most productive on these trolling runs and caught good quantities of flathead, trevally, tailor, mangrove jack and estuary cod.

Occasionally Bill would pull into a ‘fishy’ looking area for a breather and toss poppers around. This too was a fun and productive way of catching tailor and trevally. By this time Bill was putting in three-hour sessions every second day and the weight was falling off!

After nine months the kayak developed a minor fault in the front seat locking mechanism. Bill phoned the retailer and they sent a company rep to his doorstep a day or two later. Not only did the rep have a replacement kayak for Bill to use while his was being repaired, he arranged for a loan of the ‘Swing’ model after Bill mentioned he was considering some offshore work. Once Bill laid eyes on his new toy, he was hooked!


This very stable fishing kayak is a ‘sit on’ type and it looks sensational! It’s fitted out with an array of gadgetry that would normally be seen in vessels much larger than the 13-foot Swing. From Bill’s seat he can reach his rod, tackle box, lip grip and gaff, and he has easy access to dry hatches suitable for cameras, mobile phones and the like. Strength is of utmost importance when crossing bars and venturing offshore, so the Swing is constructed of rotomoulded polyethylene. It’s very, very strong.

Bill reckons the Swing is the best all-round offshore outfit he’s come up with so far, serving him in bottom bashing, trolling and lure casting.

Heading out

Bill’s first obstacle is negotiating the treacherous Noosa bar. During late March at least six boats came to grief on the bar, so this is no mean feat. Bill and his kayaking buddies then head out to sea, concentrating on the closer reefs in Laguna Bay. Experience has shown Bill the best areas to troll and he is more than happy to pass this info on to those who accompany him. Kayakers can also launch on Main Beach, which gives even easier access to the bay.

Stealth fishing

Bill generally trolls a squid skirted whole bait such as bonito, gar or pilchard. Bibbed minnow lures, such as Reidy’s B52 and the ‘C’-lures Outsider, also get a run from time to time and they also produce the goods. Bill’s offshore rig is a Wilson 6kg-8kg Live Fibre rod and a Shimano TSS4 threadline reel loaded with 20lb Platinum line and 40lb SureCatch mono leader. He also carries another rig comprised of a Calcutta 200 loaded with 14lb Fireline with a 16lb Mason leader. This is matched to a Shogun medium baitcast rod.

At this time of year Spanish mackerel are prime targets for trollers in Laguna Bay, which is situated right outside the Noosa River mouth. Bill’s success rate with this species has been quite remarkable, particularly when you consider his fishing platform. So far his best Spaniard has been 12kg, with quite a few in the 8-10kg range. Snapper, Maori cod, bonito, mack tuna and spotties have been other significant catches in recent months.

Bill says the silent running aspect of this type of fishing minimises the risk of dispersing the bait schools – and consequently the feeding pelagics – which he reckons accounts for the high level of success he’s had.

“The interesting thing about fishing offshore from a kayak is that your craft is an integral part of your tackle, giving you a lot more leeway when it comes to drag settings,” Bill explained. “I tend to set the drag pretty hard, because when a Spaniard or tuna hits my troll rig [pilchard or slimy mackerel on 3x6/0s] I have to rely on my outfit in the rod holder behind me to set the hooks while I get myself ready to take up the fight.

“Thirty metres of monofilament line out the back and a craft that will tend to go with the fish (if you wish it to) minimises the shock your rig experiences on first impact, and I think accounts for the high level of successful hookups and landings I’ve had. While these fish will still tend to peel plenty of line, the fact that they find themselves towing the ‘yak’ as well puts an enormous load on them. They very rarely have too much fight left in them when I finally get them to the side.

“At that point,” Bill continued, “I take the leader in hand [Bill uses two metres joined to the main line], place the rod in the rod holder behind me and slip my gaff hook gently under the gill and out through the mouth. I then carefully lift the fish out of the water and hold it across my lap, head high and away from me, for about five minutes or until it settles down. When I’m sure it’s pretty much unconscious I ‘spear’ it under the bungie strapping that covers the rear ‘tank well’ and cover the fish’s head with a wet towel to keep it quiet.

“Then, after quickly stowing and securing my gear, I like to head for home. I think staying too long in the ‘kill zone’ with a strong smell of juicy mackerel only three inches above the waterline might attract sharks. Once I’m half a kilometre outside the ‘kill zone’ I bring the fish forward again, wrap it in two layers of wet towels, to act as a bush fridge, and return it to the rear tank well.”


Bill said he had a few hiccups during his first few years of kayaking, due to inexperience and over-confidence. The first incident occurred less than a month after he got his first kayak – the sit-inside ‘Minnow II’. The Noosa Bar was in one of its more benign stages – a modest swell and light to moderate conditions – so Bill decided to have a go at crossing it and have a paddle in Laguna Bay! Thankfully, he had the sense to leave all his fishing tackle at home just in case there was a capsize.

Anyway, he got through the surf line, more by good luck than by good management (considering he’d only had three or four weeks’ experience in the river). In doing so he shipped a fair bit of water, but wasn’t concerned. He was in ‘The Bay’, paddling with dolphins and very much at one with nature. A fantastic experience!

After about an hour Bill decided to head back in… and that’s where things got interesting. He was halfway through the surf line (in the deeper water of the boat channel) when he caught a wave of around 0.75m. He had just started to enjoy the ride when, as his stern rose with the wave, all the water in the bottom of the kayak rushed forward. He figured later there would have been about 30 litres of it, or 30kg! The bow of the kayak went under the water and, driven by the wave behind, the rest (including Bill) followed in a neatly executed manoeuvre... straight to the bottom.

It was a relatively painless experience, fortunately, as the ‘Minnow II’ has extra foam buoyancy fitted. As soon as Bill vacated the captain’s chair she rose sedately to the surface. All that was left then for Bill to do was hang on to the back carry handle of the ‘yak’ and surf into the beach, tip out the water, and paddle home a much wiser man!


All of Bill’s kayaking experiences and activities have led him to form the Noosa Yak Fishing Club. If you’re interested in the activities of this club, you can contact Bill via his website at www.fishingnoosa.com.au.

1. Bill Watson holds a 9kg Spanish mackerel aloft after yet another trolling success.

2 Bill surfing his way into the beach after a session trolling in Laguna Bay.

3. Bill with an 8kg mack tuna taken on the troll in Laguna Bay.

4. Once mastered, trolling for oceanic speedsters such as mackerel and tuna is relatively simple.

5. A 5.5kg snapper taken trolling in Laguna Bay from the Perception Swing kayak.

6. Bill Watson struggling to hold up a 12kg Spaniard on Noosa’s main beach.

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