It may not necessarily seem like it, but late fall and winter fishing is on its way. One big advantage of living in the South is no closed seasons and year-round fishing. While others sit by a fire dreaming of the spring thaw, properly prepared kayak anglers in the Bayou State can continue to put fish in the bag. With proper planning and equipment, kayak fishing can be conducted safely and enjoyably on nearly any cold day.
But just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. Water and cold temperatures can be a recipe for disaster. When the temperature goes below freezing, the winds are howling, and the water is gone, common sense dictates that the fishing may not be that good and the safe choice is just to stay home. However, if you plan ahead for routine cold days, you might just find an enjoyable day on the water — and plenty of fish to boot.
• The most important item is a quality PFD. The shock of falling into cold water is sudden and debilitating. Although inflatable PFD’s are favored during summer and hot weather fishing, a good vest-style PFD is best when the water is really cold. Not only does the vest style PFD provide instant, passive flotation, the vest also provides insulating warmth and wind blockage. Anyone that kayak fishes in the winter without wearing a PFD is asking for disaster.
• Nothing substitutes for quality clothing and equipment. For cold weather ‘yak fishing, clothing that is warm, windproof and waterproof is paramount. Wear multiple layers so you can add and subtract as conditions dictate. Carry a good dry-bag to store clothing when it’s not being worn. You are going to get wet, whether from paddling or handling fish. Staying warm and dry is a key to preventing life-threatening hypothermia. A towel and a dry change of clothes is also a good idea. We had a report last year of a guy that fell in during a solo trip. The change of clothes he had in his truck didn’t do him much good for the long, cold paddle back to the launch.
• Prepare a float plan. Faster rescue times on cold days can literally be the difference between life and death. You do not need anything elaborate — just make sure someone knows where you are going and the general area you plan to fish. Narrowing down a search area saves valuable time.
• Although a good idea for kayaking at any time, a combination survival/first aid kit is well advised. Pack it with basic items like Band-Aids, medications and gauze. For the survival aspect, a butane lighter or other fire starter, flashlight, small knife, emergency space blanket, signaling mirror, marine radio and drinking water should be included. Add in some high protein foods like jerky or energy bars, too. These items will serve you well in the unfortunate event that you have to spend the night. One trick to lessening the bulk and weight of a survival kit is to vacuum seal the items. This keeps them fresh and dry and they can be stored inside the hull.
• Body heat is lost from your extremities. Good waterproof gloves and socks help keep your hands and feet warm, as these areas receive restricted blood flow and are often the first spots to get cold and uncomfortable. Insulated boots are highly recommended. Also, a large percentage of heat loss comes from the head and neck. A scarf or neck gaiter combined with a hat and face wrap goes a long way in keeping you warm and comfortable.
• Cut down on gear. Winter fishing conditions often mean low water. A lighter ‘yak is easier to paddle and also lessens the chance that you will get stuck in the mud. There is no need to carry 10 tackle boxes and five rods. Pick out a handful of your favorite lures and a couple of rod and reel combos suited for the purpose.
• Adapt your fishing techniques to account for the change in patterns. Winter fish are generally sluggish and the bites are often subtle. Downsize your jigheads and fish with lighter lines and leaders. Set the hook at anything that feels a bit different. Fishing deep holes, slow trolling and drifting are productive winter techniques.
• You don’t have to put up the kayaks or become a couch potato when the weather and water turns cold. Just employ common sense and adapt your gear and techniques for fun and safe cold weather fishing. If it doesn’t seem like a good idea to head out on a particularly nasty day, it probably isn’t. The fish will still be there when better conditions arrive.