Kayaking in Ireland is hardly a new sport but the rise of anglers astride these new generations of ultra steady and ultra fast kayaks has really taken off in the past decade. Gone are the days of guys attempting to fish from Kayaks adapted from sit atop Yaks and minimal gear. These are serious set ups for serious anglers and the Irish Kayak Angling Club is a club at the forefront of this method of angling taking Ireland by storm.

Here, Alex Denby takes time out from his own fishing to run through what you need and what you need to know in order to unlock this relatively new and exciting method of angling.

Alex with a PB skate from the kayak

I’ve fished for nearly 20 years, I’ve had good days and bad days like any angler but one of the most significant milestones in my fishing life was seeing and being inspired by people fishing from kayaks. That in turn led me to the Irish Kayak Angling Club, an online club based on a forum that is home to the majority of Ireland’s kayak anglers and a wealth of knowledge, experience and advice. There is also a massive social side and not to mention the vicious slagging and craic at the meets wouldn’t be right, but they are a great bunch of incredibly welcoming lads. 

In the beginning I asked a lot of questions, read piles of articles and made my best purchase in fishing to date: a second hand Wilderness Systems Ride 135. Your first and my thoughts of kayaks couldn’t be more wrong, these machines are designed and built for fishing. The Ride 135 is one the most stable kayaks on the market, with a pontoon hull which gives a serious platform for fishing, so much so that I can stand up in it on a calm day when feeling agile.

It's not all about the fishing, with a yak giving access to some fantastic scenery

Safety

First and foremost, in the mind of the kayak angler is safety is absolutely paramount. It starts, like most anglers, with checking and rechecking the weather forecast, tidal conditions and sea-state. There are a variety of websites and webcams giving up to date information such as the app ‘Tides near me’ ‘Accuweather’ and ‘Magic Seaweed’ to name but a few. Overconfidence is the worst enemy of the kayak angler, there’s no shame in driving to a venue, deciding the conditions aren’t right and staying on land. Knowing your limits, the limits of your kit and staying within them will get you home safe and sound.

Irish coastal waters are always dangerously cold, even in the height of summer. To keep ourselves safe, we wear dry suits, with varying layers of clothing underneath to suit the conditions on the day. A wetsuit really isn’t suitable at all as you will overheat when paddling, then once you’re wet you’ll be freezing if there’s any breeze at all, so a dry suit is the best option. I wear an Ursuit made suit, custom designed for kayak angling by John Griffin, founder and chairman of IKA, and Graham Smith, shark wrangler supreme and Ireland’s most insane angler. They can be sourced through our club sponsor Darren’s Kayaks in Durris, Co.Cork. These suits are not cheap, but they’re an insanely good piece of kit and will keep you alive, so a worthy investment.

A PB tope, plus note the PFD (perosnal folotation device - key for safety.

Without stating the obvious, a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) is worn at all times on the water, not an inflatable pull cord or auto inflating lifejacket, as they make re-entry to the kayak very difficult. A closed cell foam personal flotation device is what we all use. Other essential safety items include a VHF radio, Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), mobile phone in a waterproof pouch, safety knife, sunscreen (very important!), food and water. All these essential items have to be tied to the PFD, so that if the worst case scenario happens and you are separated from the kayak, you can still call for help. Keeping your paddle leashed to the kayak is also essential, as we frequently let go of our paddles, and without a paddle, you’re up that unpleasant creek we have all heard about.

The best way to prevent getting into trouble is to use common sense, do your research and NEVER paddle alone. There have been some close calls even with experienced club members in the last few years, surviving more by luck than anything else, so take safety seriously, things do go wrong sometimes, and can go badly wrong very quickly out at sea. Don’t say ‘ah sure it’ll be grand’, it could cost you your life. The sea is a cruel mistress, do not forget that.

Paddling in pairs is great for safety, and photographing special fish.

Gear

Much of the tackle is similar to boat fishing, except that using uptide rods on a kayak isn’t really practical. Some companies sell ‘kayak’ rods, but these I find are too short for kayaking, as I much prefer being able to move the rod tip around the bow of the kayak when fighting a large fish, which requires at least 7-8 foot of rod. I tend to prefer multipliers for much of my fishing, except soft plastics and coarse fishing, simply because they take up less space, but that’s just personal preference.

One word of warning, I try not to use braid over 40lbs if I can avoid it, for bottom fishing, because trying to break off in a snag with 50+lb braid can topple the kayak due to the pressure.

A lot of kayak fishing is done at anchor. Dropping and retrieving an anchor, especially in a strong tidal run, is one of the riskiest parts of kayaking, and the main reason we wear safety knives on our PFDs. A folding 1.5kg grapnel is the standard choice, with about 3-5 feet of 6-8mm chain helping it bed in. An anchor break-out clip or cable tie system allows you to pull the anchor out backwards if it gets stuck in foul ground, otherwise you’d be going through anchors like there’s no tomorrow. Don’t be fooled by the lightweight, folding anchors that a friend of mine bought, it acted more like a sail than an anchor, but gave us an endless source of ammunition to slag him with!

NB: Some anglers now use electric outboards, such as Bixpy and Torqeedo, and this gives an added safety net, as well as speed and range of travel. I stick to a paddle, for now! I recently upgraded my paddle to a Werner Shuna paddle, light as a feather and really grips the water, a joy to use.

If you can land a skate from a kayak, you can land anything

Benefits

There are advantages and disadvantages to kayaks as fishing platforms. In the positive column, you have ease of storage and transport, simply strap it to the roof rack and away you go, it’s easy to launch off a beach, you can go places that boats or shore anglers can’t such as stalking Bass over the shallow reefs, you don’t make much disturbance to fish and other wildlife. Literally any bay or inlet is now accessible to the Kayak angler. It’s a serious buzz, catching fish from a Kayak, being so close to the water and feeling the ocean within touching distance is a thrilling experience.

The drawbacks of kayaks are that you obviously haven’t got the range of a boat, you’re more limited by the weather and sea conditions, and seals are bigger and scarier from a kayak than a boat. For some reason they like to chase me a bit, and they certainly make the heart beat that little bit faster but after they have had their fun they leave you alone.

A beautiful male cuckoo wrasse

Irish Kayak Angling

The Irish Kayak Angling Club runs a series of ‘meets’, where any registered member of the club is welcome to come and fish a competition, and have a good get together and socialise for a couple of nights. The competitions run as single events, and this contributes to the All-Ireland Kayak Angling Championship, and are run as a species hunt, with the first angler to catch 4/5 nominated species (10 points each) being the winner of the single event, and total scores (additional species are 5 points each) contributing to the All-Ireland. 

The club has members from all over the country, is free to join, the competitions are free, we have had some great sponsors in the past that have been very generous to us, providing great prizes. The meets also give us the chance to put names to faces, ask questions, try out kayaks, and test yourself against some serious anglers. I’ve made great friends through IKA, and we’ve a really eclectic bunch of anglers, the craic has to be experienced to be believed.

The forum is an endless source of information, the lads are very forthcoming with advice and experience. There’s very little in kayak fishing that hasn’t been done by some of our members: Porbeagle shark, Blue shark, Tope, Skate, Stingrays, have all been caught on kayaks in Ireland, as well as rarer species such as Red bandfish, Red mullet, Axillary bream and ferox trout.

An Axillary Bream, a very rare catch in Irish waters

Notable Catches

Having been caught up in work for the previous two summers, Covid gave me the time to really get back into my kayak fishing, and what a summer it turned out to be: I was lucky enough to have a 40lb tope on the kayak, on a beautifully calm, sunny day, that lead me on a merry dance as I tried to haul it in trashing and even leaping clean out of the water. I managed to fish a couple competitions and finished in the top three at the two All-Ireland Championship events we were able to hold. The year was topped off however, by the weekend we had to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the founding of IKA. Due to Covid restrictions we could only meet in small groups, so myself and Tim O’Herlihy planned a weekend skate hunt.

Chatting to a couple of charter skippers we were friendly with revealed a skate mark in shallow water close to shore, well within reach of the kayaks. An unbelievable day’s fishing ensued, with every man fishing for skate landing one, for a total of 5 common Skate in two hours. A better script to celebrate the club’s tenth Birthday you could not write. Myself and Tim then fished the mark again in December and had seven Skate between us, landing four myself. Needless to say I slept like a baby that night once the excitement had worn off. I recently broke my PB again, landing a skate of approximately 140lbon the Kayak. They’re such incredible fish, their power is amazing, but they’re quite docile by the side of the kayak thankfully, but keep your fingers away from the crushing pads! It’s great to see them doing so well in West Cork again.

The first skate from a kayak is an exceptional experience

There is nothing like the thrill of paddling out with a few friends early in the morning before the world has woken up. The splash of the paddle as you make your way to the chosen area and the occasional spray of salt on the face really makes you feel alive. I hope this little introduction to Kayaking in Ireland will give you food for thought and give a glimpse of what the Kayak can really do and never forget safety first.

If you are interested in joining the IKA or just getting into Kayak angling in general I highly recommend checking out www.irishkayakangling.com it has a ton of information gathered over the ten years from the club members and is jam packed with great information.

A skate for Donal Harrington
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