Saltwater Kayak Fishing Safety
Safety makes the difference. I don’t get to go saltwater kayak fishing nearly enough so when I get the chance, I jump on it with both feet. Inshore, offshore, big boat, little boat, no boat; I don’t care, just point me to the fish. I love the incredible variety of species and the fact that even the little ones pull like a freight train. This year I got to head to Los Buzos in Panama for a bit of salty fun. Our Jackson Coosa FD’s were awesome for this kind of fishing, but it was important to take a sec and make sure we were geared right for toothy critters.
One thing folks need to be aware of when handling saltwater species from a kayak, is that every single one of them seems to be equipped to bite, cut, poke or stab you. Even the snook, which is like the saltwater equivalent to a bass, has a gill plate that will fillet you like the sharpest knife. The oyster toadfish (mother-in-law fish) has jaws designed for crushing shells. One wrong move with this critter will turn your high five into a high four. Pinfish, saltwater catfish and leatherjacks can all deliver painful pokes and just about everything else has teeth that will leave a lasting impression on a misplaced digit.
Safe saltwater fish handling can make the difference between a good trip or a trip to the E.R. and thankfully there are several good options on the market. Nets are good for smaller fish and if you intend to release your catch, I would certainly recommend them or a lip style gripper. These are good to handle the fish without actually “handling” the fish. They will also help while trying to unhook the fish which is often the most dangerous part.
Treble Hooks and You
Dealing with treble hooks and teeth in a small plastic boat can be pretty dangerous but using a lip gripper and a good set of fishing pliers or unhooking tool can mitigate the risks. These just give you a few more inches of separation between your fingers and the business end of the teeth and hooks.
Gaff and Release to the Grease
If fish are going to be kept for eating later, a gaff or spear gaff is a good way to subdue them. At the very least it will keep them at arm’s length till they get the “green” out of their system. The faster you can transfer them from the gaff to a fish bag the better. It will increase the quality of the meat and the ice will quickly settle them down. It will also make the fillet chores easier once you are back on shore.
You don’t have to break the bank to stay safe while saltwater fishing. There are lip gripper options from about 12$ to the upper end of the lines over 100$. My latest and favorite pliers were about 30$ and come with a nice sheath and lanyard to keep them from falling overboard. Hook gaffs are 20$ and up but spear gaffs are relatively simple to make. After my Panama trip I really saw how handy they were and will be building my own for use in the Gulf. With just a little bit of caution and a few pieces of gear; we can make sure that the only critter that ends up bleeding on our trip is the one we are taking home to supper!