PAUL LEBOWITZ SPECIAL REPORT
It was one heck of a pile of gear. Rods, reels and tackle took up one corner of the living room. The couch was crammed with clothing, not just the everyday pants, board shorts and fishing logo t-shirts for those off the water hours. There was a second, bulkier layer: a splash jacket and stocking-foot paddle pants, a high-tech fleece, a couple of base layers, a stocking cap, wide-brimmed hat and personal PFD.
Rigging essentials sprawled across the floor, the little things that turn a kayak into a fishing craft. Game clip, gaff, coiled bow line, a bulky orange tackle box with a pair of rod holders bolted to the back, a soft-sided tackle bag that doubles as a portable livewell, and maybe the most important item of all – a decent break-down paddle. There was a cluster of handheld electronics: VHF, fishfinder with integrated GPS, a SPOT Satellite Communicator, and two cameras.
Finally, the camp kit. A sleeping bag, four season tent, small towel, flashlights, and other odds and ends. Fortunately an outfitter friend was packing the stove and cookware, first aid kit and other bulky necessities.
I took one last look at everything arrayed across the floor, my attempt at organization. Would it fit into one over-stretched duffel, a rod tube and a single carry-on? And at what price, given today’s outrageous airline baggage fees?
SOME KAYAK FISHING DESTINATIONS REQUIRE A PLANE RIDE FIRST – That’s when packing for this ridiculously gear intensive sport gets complicated. Of course you can’t bring your fishing kayak. Clever packing and mailing equipment ahead can keep costs reasonable while limiting potential “I wish I had this or that” feelings.
PHOTO COURTESY CHRIS MAUTINO
For kayak anglers, taking the show on the road poses an interesting set of problems. There’s no getting around it; this is a gear intensive sport. With good reason, most kayak anglers prefer to drive when they head off for new waters. Bringing your own boat and gear by the truckload beats a borrowed or rented ‘yak and a pared down tackle box any day.
Sometimes only hopping an aircraft will do, such as in the example above. I was prepping for ten days in the Alaska bush. With real weather to contend with, the gear list swelled to the limit and then some.
Over the years I’ve developed a couple of different approaches to packing for distant kayak fishing destinations. There’s the moderate load, including a full quiver of rods, and the bare minimum.
For US destinations such as Hawaii and Alaska, good old fashioned snail mail is quite the bargain, particularly for rod tubes. The Postal Service allows packages up to 108 inches in total length and girth, which means a 7-ft, 2-in rod tube can have up to a 22-in circumference before you wander into the pricey over-size category. Add insurance and send it at least a week in advance, address it to yourself for general delivery (they’ll hold it at the destination post office), and you’re golden. Both Kona and Seward cost me about $35 each way, a big savings over many airlines.
Even if you’re going to bite your tongue and pony up airline oversized luggage fees, don’t forget to fill any empty space in the rod tube. Clothes are perfect – much better than packing peanuts for cushioning rods.
I try to limit checked bags to one to keep costs down. It doesn’t take much to hit the 40 or 50-lb weight limit, particularly when tackle is involved. Anything with a hook has to be checked. Lead is not your friend. Packing iron? Keep it to just a few.
Some of my friends manage to carry on their reels. I don’t know how they do it. I’ve been sent back to the airline counter to check reels so many times (particularly in Mexico) that I no longer try it. They go into the suitcase. If I’m risking theft, oh well. So far, so good.
I weigh my bags before heading to the airport – overweight fees are not my idea of a fun surprise. Sometimes I have to juggle what goes where. Because I tend to overpack, this exercise has me culling sinkers and narrowing my tackle selection until I’m in the ballpark.
Here’s another trick for getting around checked baggage weight limits. Stuff that carry-on bag (soft-sided tackle bags work well) with smaller, heavier items such as fish finder batteries. I top mine off with any electronics too delicate for the tender mercies of the baggage handlers. Allow extra time to pass through security. My carry-on gets a thorough hand-check almost every time.
In April, I flew domestic Mexican airline Volaris from Tijuana to La Paz, which was hosting the Outdoor Writers Association of California spring conference. After a detour to the East Cape, I travelled on to Mazatlan via Mexico City, and finally back to the border. That trip involved a couple hops on small commuter planes. I didn’t want to deal with a rod tube and couldn’t be sure I could pick up gear locally. On top of everything else I had to pack business clothes. The “Go Light” approach was indicated. No rod tube.
Personal confession time. I’m not a gear snob. I break too much of the good stuff; kayak fishing’s pretty brutal. Even so, I was leery of the most readily available travel rods. There’s a lot of junk out there. Some choice stuff too, such as the G. Loomis Escape series. At $300 and up, too rich for my blood.
I settled on a medium / medium light Okuma Nomad 3-piece, 7-ft conventional stick for inshore kayak big game. A 2-piece, 6.5-ft Shimano Compre fast-action medium stick rounded out the kit for light saltwater and freshwater bass. The shorter rod cut my casting range down, so I just paddled closer to the target.
No gripes; both rods worked great, with little loss of ‘touch’ from their multi-piece construction. The Okuma got a nice workout, including tuna, dorado, and a bunch of bonus-sized bonito. It had plenty of backbone; this thing is no whippy noodle. The only issue was a virtual friction weld between the two lower sections after a larger fish. A short soak in the shower loosened things up. The non-slip coating Okuma applied for this scenario helped too.
These common sense tricks have their limits. Sure enough, if I pack only one of a particular lure, it’ll be the hot ticket. Hmm, if I pull that spare shirt out, there’ll be room for just one more…