Fishing and spearfishing enthusiasts addicted to the marine environment are always searching for the ultimate experience, pushing their skills to capture the fish of a lifetime.

Big fish and other marine animals don’t get to be big because they are weak. They almost never play by the book, catching out the unwary. I use kayaks for marine hunting, both above and below the water, seeking out XOS creatures of the ocean. The following techniques have directly increased the number of encounters I’ve had with big fish.

USING A KAYAK FOR STEALTH
There is something special about moving along listening to the sound of water flowing past the hull of your kayak. Using a kayak for fishing and spearfishing offers a real advantage in certain locations, especially inshore in shallow water.

Because the kayak is extremely quiet, it is possible to move around without letting fish, including potentially big fish, know you are around. Some fish species can be hard to catch if disturbed – even more so the bigger specimens.

Big snapper is one example. They shy away from an area if they suspect something isn’t right and the older they get, the more difficult they are to convince that everything is hunky-dory. Even species like trevally behave in a similar way, especially the large ones found in shallow water during colder times of the year.

TAKE IT GENTLY
It would be difficult to cover all the ways to target and catch big fish in one article. In terms of fishing and spearfishing, there’s plenty of information around covering what methods to use and how to practice them. Where the kayak is concerned, there are certain things that can work in your favour.

When hunting areas known to hold easily spooked fish like snapper, keep quiet! Take extra care not to make excessive noise when arriving at your spot. To achieve this, paddle with less power in your stroke, and if you are using a fixed anchor take care when lowering it, so as not to bang it against the kayak.

When spearfishing, try to dismount the kayak in the smoothest possible way, taking care not to splash. The less sound you make the better, so don’t bang any equipment against the kayak and keep your movements to a minimum. The less sound you make the greater your chances of surprising big fish.

USE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
A big fish on the line or the spear will test your kit to the limit: gear failure is one of the most common reasons why big fish are lost. Using the best equipment you can afford is a no-brainer. It certainly raises the likelihood of success.

Kingfish are a regular target for kayak spearos. Even big fish are easy to handle inside the kayak if they are dispatched while still in the water.
Kingfish are a regular target for kayak spearos. Even big fish are easy to handle inside the kayak if they are dispatched while still in the water.

Before looking into what is best, think about the style of fishing you intend to do and put the appropriate system in place. When fishing from the kayak, you are most vulnerable to losing the fish when bringing it onto the deck, so items like a net, lip-gripper or a gaff can assist you. A gaff is the most versatile because it handles a bigger fish better than the others.

I use a fish threader to secure fish alongside the kayak. This can also serve to convey fish down the line and into the rear fish storage area.

The other accessory that could make the difference if targeting big fish is a quick-release anchor system. The release device allows the kayak to break away from the anchor so you can follow the fish.

With spearfishing, always check the line attached to your spear. If the loop or any other part of the mono line shows signs of wear or damage, replace it. Sharpen the spear tip as well, to ensure the spear goes through the fish’s body more efficiently.

Slip-tips for the spear and float line bungee systems are also excellent options when tar geting big fish on a spear. A specialist tackle and spearfishing store with experienced staff can point you in the right direction in terms of suitable equipment.

PLAYING BIG FISH FROM A KAYAK
Big fish carry their species’ best genes, making them tough to handle. Once hooked or speared, they will do everything possible to escape capture.

When line fishing, one of the challenges a kayak angler faces is determining the amount of drag pressure to apply. Too little drag and the fish can take you to the cleaners, but too much drag can result in the kayak capsizing. The issue isn’t so much with lighter rod-reel sets, say those with line weights at or below five kilos breaking strain, because the amount of drag applied is normally below the capsize threshold.

Capsize threshold depends on individual anglers and a kayak’s inherent stability. Every model of ‘yak is different. Once you’ve found your kayak’s capsize threshold, usually by trial and error, you can set your reel drags appropriately.

As a general guide, eight kilos should be the maximum drag pressure on heavier gear. It’s important to use the highest drag pressure possible, to prevent a fish from reaching the sea floor and escaping and to encourage big fish to tow the kayak, quickly tiring them. Pre-setting reel drags can help you get the base pressure right, but be prepared for quick adjustments either way if required.

When playing a fish on the line, keep the rod pointing towards the bow so that the kayak is better able to follow the fish. Lock the legs and feet into the cockpit area while keeping the rod supported and pointing forward to keep the kayak tracking toward the fish. This also allows the angler to utilise the kayak’s surface area and volume when lifting the rod. If it’s a really big fish and the fight is a long one, it may be necessary to use your leg for lifting if your arms get too tired.

If you find yourself attached to a large snapper in the shallows that has gone into the weed, try letting the line go slack. If you are lucky the fish will swim out thinking it is no longer hooked.

Another option when connected to a fish that won’t stop is to thumb the spool of your reel. Obviously there is a limit to the amount of pressure you can apply before a knot fails or the hook pulls, but thumb pressure can make the difference in stopping the fish.

No matter whether you’re fishing or spearfishing, always apply as much pressure to the fish as possible and be sure to gain line whenever you can. Take every opportunity a large fish gives you, because with each metre gained the fish is one metre further away from the sea floor.

LANDING BIG FISH
Whether fishing or spearfishing the only consideration when boating a large fish is the weight of the catch. Be sure it doesn’t push the capacity of the kayak over its limit.

When it comes to fish caught on a line, caution should be exercised beside the boat, especially if the fish is still feisty and thrashing around on the surface. I recommend ensuring the fish is subdued as much as possible before attempting to bring it aboard. If you are fishing heavy leader material it’s often possible to pull a fish onboard using the line, otherwise a gaff is best. Secure the fish so it can be slid up and over the slide of the kayak and then into the cockpit.

A large fish on board can cause serious damage to deck fittings and electronics. It’s struggles can also throw gear and tackle over the side, so dispatch the fish as soon as possible. If you plan on releasing it, try to secure the fish using your legs or arms to prevent it from thrashing around. As always, release it as quickly as possible.

When spearfishing, placing large fish on the kayak isn’t so much of an issue because the fish has been dispatched in the water.

Happy hunting!