Kayak fishingBy Stephen TappBig snapper are great light-tackleadversaries and, bait or lure fishing,there’s nothing like a little berley toget them on the bite.The big berley bashWinter is a fantastic time of the year for kayak anglers, especially those of us luckyenough to fish the northern half of the North Island.Leaving aside some of the bigger challenges oftargeting winter-fattened species such as kingfishand ‘puka, snapper snooping at this time ofthe year can be a very rewarding pastime – if you’reprepared to get out there and give it a go.There’s something quietly exciting about lurkingaround headlands and exploring kelpy guttersthat’s in total contrast to the party atmosphere ofthe summer months – no doubt largely due to theconsiderable reduction in noisy boat traffic. Thismakes utilizing the stealth of kayak fishing to stalkor ambush our quarry much easier, and as an extrabonus, the undisturbed and unstressed snapperoften seem more feisty after being fooled into eatingour bait or lure.Kayaks offer the winter fisherman more thansimple stealth, though. One of the key advantages Ienjoy is the flexibility of being able to launch almostanywhere I can walk to the water. This lets me loadthe kayak on top of the roof rack and easily accesssheltered spots out of the wind and chop, with noboat ramp required. An hour or two on the roadcan have me off the east or west coasts and ontosheltered waters with a minimum of fuss, whileboaties are stuck at home bemoaning the conditions.As a result, we often fish new waters.Occasionally though, it’s not practical to spendtime hunting around looking for fish with thesounder. The weather window may be a little short, orit could be we’re simply after a relaxing session anddon’t want to work too hard for our dinner. In thesecircumstances we need to bring our quarry to us andget them interested in what we have to offer, makingberley the key to success.Most fishers I know are familiar with berleyingconcepts. It’s certainly a regular topic of discussionamongst land-based and boating anglers back atthe club, but a less common practice amongst kayakanglers. In part this is due to many fishers almost54 New Zealand Fishing News
entirely adopting lure-fishing methods (soft-baitsand slow-jigs in particular), which are considereddrift-fishing techniques and where berleying isn’tnecessary (berleying and cubing is best done fromanchor or over an extremely slow drift). In reality,though, I’ve had some great successes lazily workinglures through berley trails.Another reason many kayak anglers avoid usingberley is the assumption it’s a messy procedure,when in fact all it takes is a little organization to keepthe decks clean.Whatever the viewpoint, it’s certainly a favouredstrategy of mine during fishing competitions, so let’slook at a couple of options and see how they canwork:Berley optionsI really like to actively paddle around and hunt thechange-of-light periods at either end of the day ifconditions allow, but fishing during the middle of theday often needs something to kick-start it. Of course,if wind and swell are stopping us from getting very farafield, we’ll need to do something to bring the fish tous, since we can’t go to them.Frozen berley systems are incredibly effective insuch circumstances, sending out lots of oily scentsand tiny fish bits to ring the dinner bell for any selfrespectingsnapper. The problem for kayakers is thatthawing berley is often very hard to contain, and amessy deck is almost inevitable. On the Profish 440I utilize one of the bait-wells behind the seat to greateffect. They’re just the right size to accommodatesmall- to medium-sized berley bombs in an onionsack, and make quickly lifting bags over the side easyand mess free.Most kayaks don’t have this feature though, andbringing a rapidly-thawing berley bag on deck cancreate problems – unless you’ve made the effort tocarry a bucket for the purpose. The way round thisis to use a dry berley system. This can take severalforms, or you can mix them up to combine theadvantages of each.The compressed berley sausageThe classic example here is the Berley Matesystem, a compressed mixture of cereals containingfish oils and flavours in rapid-release and long-lifeforms. Compact, effective and really easy to manageThis is what cubing is all about: a nice fat panny for the table – and a big school of willing takers waiting for the next baitshowing on the sounder.New Zealand Fishing News 55
Winter kayak fishing is aboutfinding those quiet launching spotsout of the wind, and since a boatramp isn’t needed it’s possibleto launch anywhere with walkingaccess to the water.due to the small size of the sausages, this is a reallyeffective system for kayakers. So, when paddlingkayaks without dedicated bait wells, I carry a plasticbag to stow the loaded onion/berley sack in (keptfrom the water, the Berley Mate sausages stopdissolving and can be reused).My preference is for the rapid-release version,or if I’m on an extended session I add one of theslow-release ‘LongLife’ versions as well; this givesa solid berley trail that won’t run out in a hurry. Onedownside is that many retailers don’t seem to stockthis type of berley any more. Fortunately it has a longshelf life, so when you find a stockiest it’s practicaland worthwhile to get a few extras for later.‘Berley Bites’ pelletsThis is becoming a favorite of mine for shortertrips, being a pelletized mixture of fish meal, meat,bone, fish oil and wheat. Not unlike the Berley Matesausage in composition, the biggest difference is thepellet form; this greatly increases the surface areaexposed in the water and makes for considerablyfaster dispersal. Consequently the system is verygood for rapidly establishing a trail, especially if youNew Zealand Fishing Newsdon’t intend to be there for long.However, this means the pellets are much messierto bring aboard and they will continue to break downif stowed wet in a plastic bag (though the resultinggoo is excellent when dished in dollops over theside). I get around this by pre-bagging the pellets intosmaller lots to keep them dry, then adding fresh lotsinto the berley sack as required.Dog roll/cat foodThis is my emergency berley when the othersystems aren’t available. It’s not as good at giving outlittle fragments and pieces to keep baitfish interested,so it’s often a good idea to break the sausage intolots of pieces to expose more of it to the water. It alsotakes lots of shaking in the water to be effective, butcan be better than nothing. The advantages are thatit doesn’t make too much mess if brought aboard torelocate, and it can be the perfect accompanimentto the Berley Bites above, which can dissolve toorapidly, causing a break in the berley trail.Getting the berley where you need itThis topic is often discussed by anglers fishingfrom bigger boats, and though we can usesimilar techniques, fishing from kayaks adds acomplication. Unfortunately, our craft rarely holddown-current of the anchor in the same way abigger boat does. More often we sit down-wind ofthe anchor with the current flowing in a differentdirection. This means a berley trail from a bag on topof the anchor can be significantly off to one side ofthe kayak and a very long way from where our baitsare drifting.For this reason I now prefer to hang the berley offthe side of the kayak, usually a couple of metresdown. This makes it simple to keep baits and luresin the trail, where they’re most likely to attractattention. If in deep water or an area with lots ofcurrent, I’ll add a heavy weight to the berley line toget it to the depth required.One point worth noting: on occasion berley canattract unwanted toothy critters, so it’s wise to beprepared should one grab the bag/container. I use arelease clip at the side of the kayak, making it veryeasy to trip the line free if needed. If you don’t usea clip, make sure the line is tied with a slip knot insuch a way it won’t hang up when being released.
Dry systems such asthese Berley Bites and theBerley Mate system makesberleying from kayaks arelatively clean and simpleprocess – no mess, no fuss.Most often the berley isattached to a line off the side of thekayak to make it easier to keep baitsin the trail. For safety reasons it’simportant to use something like thisrelease clip to make it fast and easy todrop the berley if a shark tries to make off with the bag.Cubing/chunkingAn alternative to berleying is cubing. I use thistechnique to great effect in water that’s too deep forsurface berleying .The advent of pre-cut pillie cubes has made ahuge difference to using this technique from kayaks;simply grab a bag from the freezer, smash it on theground to free-flow it, then let it thaw along with yourbait, and you’re ready to go. So much cleaner thattrying to create your own cubes when sitting out onthe water.A couple of hints: make sure the cubes are thawedor it can be difficult to get them to sink properly, anddon’t get too enthusiastic with throwing them around.I’ve had my best success by slowly dropping themoff the side of the kayak so just two or three can beseen at any one time before disappearing into thedepths. It’s then easy to keep the trail uninterruptedand to periodically drift a bait or lightly weighted luredown the same track as the cubes. At times it can bestartling to realize you have a big moocher right upunder the kayak almost eating the cubes from yourfingertips!New Zealand Fishing News 57