Cold weather ‘yak fishing techniques
Staying warm and dry keys to a safe trip
By Chris Holmes
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.
Be aware of duck hunters
Duck season opens throughout the state during November, and runs on and off through late January and early February in some areas.
Many of the spots used by duck hunters are also popular kayak fishing areas. Most duck hunters head out while it’s still dark, so if you’re launching before daylight or in the low-light hours, make sure you are well lit and keep your head on a swivel. Most modern duck boats can run in extremely shallow water, and simply hugging the bank in your ‘yak is not a guarantee of safety.
Most hunters don’t enjoy having fishermen in or near their ponds or blinds, as it flares the ducks. Use courtesy and common sense.
Hunters will be camouflaged and you might come upon them without seeing them. If so, quietly move on. Be on the lookout for parked boats or a bunch of ducks that don’t move. Be courteous and give them their space.
Try launching a little later. The hunters usually aren’t hunting past 10 a.m., and winter fishing gets better as the day warms up.
Use your flag and wear bright clothes to make yourself more visible, and keep an eye and ear out for hunters traveling on their way out after wrapping up. Everyone can peacefully coexist and be safe — we’re all Louisiana sportsmen out doing what we love.
• Your body heat drops quickly if you are wet or exposed to cold wind.
• Tight clothing hinders circulation and can contribute to hypothermia.
• Dress appropriately, and stay warm and dry.
• Conserve energy. Exhaustion leads to a quicker onset of hypothermia.
• Symptoms of hypothermia are confused speech, sleepiness and disorientation.
• Shivering is your body’s attempt to generate heat and ward off hypothermia.
• Alcohol, caffeine and tobacco exacerbate hypothermia and should never be used if you will be exposed to winter elements.
• Treat the symptoms of hypothermia with dry clothing, a warm fire, warm liquids (no coffee, tea or alcohol) and high-energy foods.
• Seek appropriate medical attention as soon as possible.
New gear reviews
Plano supercharged its version of the kayaker’s milk crate with the new V-Crate. Efficient kayak fishing demands organized, easily accessible storage. This universal crate comes with four large Plano tackle trays that are visible and secured with a rubber strap. The sides have a rail system to attach rod holders or other track-mount accessories. The V-Crate is an all-in-one storage system that can easily be mounted in most brand kayaks and has a convenient carry handle for easy transport. It features a large, open center compartment for bulky items, while the lower compartment provides waterproof storage for phones, wallets and other valuables. The unit is hinged for easy tilt-back access to the dry compartment. The V-Crate takes ‘yak-friendly waterproof tackle storage to the ultimate level and makes accessing essential tackle items from the cockpit easy — without having to be a contortionist. MSRP: $119.99 (Available late 2017/early 2018)
More info: www.planomolding.com/v-crate
Trapper Tackle Hooks
Trapper hooks feature a unique design never before seen in fishing hooks. They are made from hi-carbon steel, with a sticky-sharp piercing point that produces solid hook sets. Getting a fish on the hook is one thing — keeping it there is another. The magic is in the revolutionary Trapper Box that comes on each style hook. The box eliminates the pivot point inherent in regular J-style hooks that allows them to rotate out, and makes it extremely difficult for fish to escape. That same feature also helps keep your bait in place. In 2016, the Trapper Dropshot-Live Bait-Finesse hook won Best Of Show in the Terminal Tackle category at ICAST. In 2017, Trapper did it again with another Best of Show for their new Round Bend Treble hooks that work great as replacements for your favorite hard lures. The hooks come in several popular shapes and sizes. MSRP: starting at $4.19
More info: www.trappertackle.com
Wilderness Systems Radar 135
The Radar 135 features new “tri-power” capability. The standard kayak comes with a host of fisherman-friendly features and is ready to hit the water for traditional paddle power. The Radar 135 features S.M.A.R.T. hull technology which delivers Stability, Maneuverability, Acceleration, Responsiveness and Tracking throughout the platform. So what does that mean to kayak anglers? The boat stays straight when paddling, is stable for standing, turns easily on command and it’s fast. Kayak anglers will appreciate the built-in Slide Trax system down both sides of the hull to offer unlimited possibilities for custom mounting a wide variety of popular angling accessories. The large, flat cockpit makes standing effortless. Combine the large rear tankwell with middle and front hatches and there is ample room to stow virtually anything. The comfortable Air Pro Max seat adjusts to several positions and provides all day comfort on your rear. What about the other two power sources? The Radar 135 can be operated for hands free fishing with the optional Helix PD pedal drive system or the Helix MD,motor drive system. The center pods quickly remove to drop in either unit. The PD uses centrifugal pedaling to drive a large two-blade prop. The unit can be popped straight up at the push of a button to clear shallow water situations or stowed forward and out of the way. If you want a no-effort experience, the 12-volt battery-powered Motor Drive is the way to go. Whether you want paddle, pedal or power, the Radar 135 can handle it all.
Weight: 90 pounds
Capacity: 475 pounds
Radar 135 $1499.00
Helix PD $1100.00
Helix MD* $1999.00
*Includes motor, battery, remote throttle and charger
More info: www.wildernesssystems.com
November’s best bets in a ‘yak
Where: Chicot Lake (Chicot State Park)
What: Bass, sac-a-lait (white perch)
How: This decades-old lake within the state park is nearly 2,000 acres, and has three different boat launches that provide kayak anglers easy access to all sections of the lake. The man-made lake was impounded in 1942. While Chicot is not known for abundant catches, large bass are regularly caught, and this time of year sees less angling pressure. The lake record is over 13 pounds. The park can be used for day access, but cabins, lodges and both improved and primitive camping sites are available for rent.
Look for schooling bass feeding on shiners and throw Rat-L-Traps or other silver crank baits on the edges of the bait. Plastic worms rigged Texas or wacky style are also a good bet. Weedless jigs are also great for punching through the heavy vegetation that covers many areas. Chicot is a beautiful lake for ‘yaking and catching with many areas of flooded timber. With good weather and a few days exploring, you should be able to locate where the bass are holding.
Launch: There are three launches within the park that provide access to the myriad of coves, fingers and open water areas. Park Entrance: 3469 Chicot Park Road in Ville Platte. Park entrance fee: $3.00
Insider tip: Talk to friendly locals at the ramps to get pointed in the right direction. If you camp, the raccoons are abundant and are pros at stealing food and drinks. Keep everything safely stored to prevent being robbed.
What: Speckled trout, redfish
How: While good fishing can be had year-round, the trout get thick in this abundant marsh as the temperatures drop. With a good mix of bays and lagoons edged by deeper bayous and holes, Point-aux-Chenes has all of the water structure necessary to hold trout no matter what level they are holding. On warmer days, look for trout spread across the flats where live bait or plastic tails under a cork will do the trick. Don’t overlook topwater baits that many mistakenly store away after summer. When the water temps drop, the trout bunch up in the holes or deep canals. This is when a depth finder really shines to locate these concentration spots. Tightline plastic tails and work them up the ledges feeling for light bites.
Launch: PAC Kayak Rentals. $5.00 for a specially designed kayak launch that is simple to use. Ice, bait and tackle available onsite. Camping sites and houseboat available for rent. Mothership kayak service. 179 Paw Paw Ct. in Montegut. Check with owner Eddie Mullen before your trip to get the latest scoop on what’s hot and what’s not.
Isle de Jean Charles Marina (Theo’s) is at the end of Island Road. Backdown launch, $5.00 fee. Theo will send you to the fish. 571 Island Road in Montegut.
Insider Tip: Be on the lookout for the beautiful wild horses that roam the area. The horses were abandoned long ago, yet thrive eating marsh grass. They make for some great photos.
Facebook: Isle De Jean Charles Marina
*Due the lag time from information to print, weather conditions can change the bite so check in regularly with LouisianaSportsman.com for the latest updates.