By Captain Sally Ann Moffett
The following is an excerpt from Captain Sally Ann Moffett’s book, Saltwater Kayak Fishing the Texas Way—A Beginner’s Handbook.
It originally appeared in Chapter 7, “Weather Safety and Communication,” and it appears here by gracious permission from Captain Moffett. Additional information regarding what to do when things go wrong can be found in Chapter 8 of Sally’s book. For more information or to acquire her book, visit www.SaltGrassPress.com.
There’s a lot of freedom on the water, and all of us love the great fishing that kayaking provides. Being prepared on the water is the responsibility of every boater, but if you are kayaking, it becomes even more important. Being self-propelled and self-contained, a kayak fisherman has a few more things to think about. Have fun on the water fishing from your kayak, but be prepared just in case something goes wrong.
File a “float plan” so people will know where you are. Map out your plan for the day; know where you are going and how to tell someone where you are. Call your spouse or friends, and let them know your general vicinity and the approximate time you will return. If help is needed, that contact person can send help in your direction. Better yet, a waterproof, hand-held GPS (about $130) will give your rescuers exact coordinates of your location. If you turn it on at the beginning of your trip, it will help you backtrack out to safety should you be caught in a fog or blinding rain or get lost.
Wear your PFD. It is the law that you must have a [personal flotation device] PFD handily available in your kayak at all times. If you are crossing deep water, or if the wind or weather make you feel uncomfortable, put the PFD on. It will save your life. Your PFD should be comfortable and fit you properly. Attach your whistle to your PFD so you will be in total compliance with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department regulations.
Take appropriate communication gear with you. Buy a waterproof hand-held VHF radio for emergency communications. Have extra batteries with you. A cell phone is good, but if it gets wet, it stops working (you should carry your cell phone in a waterproof case that you can talk through). You may well be out of range of any towers and have no signal. A waterproof hand-held VHF radio is a sure way to communicate with the Coast Guard or someone else on the water that can help you.
Pay attention! Before leaving for the day, check all available sources of weather information, especially if you suspect that there is weather approaching. Don’t rely on the weather reports from the night before. VHF radios have up-to-date weather information on specific weather bands that run constantly….Another good reason to have a VHF with you. Set the weather band to automatically announce weather warnings during the day and there will be less of a chance that unpredicted or developing weather will catch you off guard. Keep an eye on the sky. Wind direction changes can be harbingers of impending weather changes. Don’t ignore thunder, dark clouds, or cool winds. Go with your gut feelings. If you think things are changing, they probably are. Be ready to react.
Use maps and charts. Unless you’ve been fishing a particular area since you were born, you will certainly need to utilize maps and charts. Fishing maps that offer basic information such as the type of bottom conditions, wade fishing locations, kayak launch points, and so forth are indispensable for kayak fisherman embarking into a new fishing location. Aerial maps are especially helpful when fishing back lake and marsh areas. Aerial maps show details such as water depth (darker water), sand bars (lighter water), paddling passes, and the overall “big picture” of your fishing spot. This type of map is invaluable to understand the water flow and potential fishing approach to a marsh, lake, or estuary. Kayak fishermen should find aerial maps for all of their favorite fishing places.
Always have foul weather gear with you on your kayak. Who would think about hypothermia in South Texas? Weather changes can bring cold rain and wind. If you are forced to wait out a storm sitting in a duck blind or on a shoreline, you can be assured that your body temperature will start to drop. Fight the possibility of hypothermia with the appropriate rain gear, and be sure to put these on before you get soaked to the skin. Keep a space blanket or space sleeping bag, available at any outdoor retailer, in your safety bag. They’re small and very light, easy to find, and will be most welcome should you actually have to use them.
A bright-colored kayak can save your life. You will be spotted quickly by a rescuer if necessary, but more importantly, by other boaters. There have been many scary stories recounted to me from power boaters and kayakers alike that have had near-collisions with each other. Kayakers, if you don’t have a brightly colored kayak and you are paddling narrow sloughs or tiny lakes, put up a flag so power boaters underway can see you in advance. Technically, a kayak has the right of way, but if a power boater doesn’t see you or refuses to give you some space, don’t be so foolish as to risk your life for the principle that you have a right to be there too. Get out of the way. Put your paddle up into the air and let the bloater know you exist. More and more kayakers are paddling shared areas, and it’s just a matter of time until there is a kayak and a power boat collision. You don’t need to be that statistic.
Always take your kayak safety kit with you whenever you get into your kayak. A medium-sized dry bag filled with the following gear will serve you well under most conditions. Stow it in your kayak, and don’t leave home without it!
The Basic Kayak Safety Kit
Waterproof hand-held VHF radio with weather bands
Cell phone with waterproof bag
First aid kit (waterproof)
Whistle and horn
Bright colored flag or flare kit
Waterproof hand-held GPS
Space solar blanket
Multi-tool (Leatherman type)
Signal mirror (or old CD)
Compass4-piece emergency paddle or spare paddle
Good rain suit (top and pant)
Waterproof matches or lighter
Thermal pack heater(s) (like skiers use) and a tube sock
Power boats are required to have a small flare kit on board at all times, and it’s a good idea for a kayaker as well.Most of this list makes perfect sense, there are some out there asking, “What’s with the tube sock and the ski thermal packs?” While wading the shallows and concentrating on tailing fish, a fellow angler got hit by a stingray. He made it back to his kayak, but because of the excruciating pain, he had a really tough time paddling the way back to his truck. At the hospital, a very wise doctor recommended that he take a tube sock and a couple of skiing thermal packs with him from now on. The heat from the packs breaks down toxins left by the stingray’s barb and helps diminish the pain. The tube sock can hold the pack in place on the wound while you get back to your vehicle. This sounded like great advice, so I’ve included it on my essentials list. All of these items will fit in a small to medium-sized dry bag and can be stowed away in your dry compartment on your kayak. Don’t leave home with it, no matter how short your trip may be. If you don’t have a dry compartment, strap it across the back of your kayak. And it is always a good idea to take a cooler with plenty of water and ice and include some snacks so you won’t run out of energy midday.
One of the most important things to take along with you on a kayak fishing trip is a cool head. When things get tough and you feel that survival preparations may be necessary, don’t panic. People that panic make the wrong decisions, and that could mean life or death. Get to a safe place and stay there. Make a shelter (an overturned kayak makes a great shelter). Gather your necessary safety items around you. Use your tools to get help. Don’t take chances. Being self-contained and self-propelled, kayakers need to think about things a little differently. This independence on the water makes kayaking very appealing for all outdoors people. Here’s your opportunity to set the pace to be safe and responsible. Pressure your friends to comply as well. Let’s make kayak fishing one of the safest sports on the water.
Sally Ann Moffett has been a lifelong lover of the outdoors. She obtained her 25-ton Near Coastal Masters United States Coast Guard Captain’s license and started her own fishing guide business in 1998. She has gained wide recognition as the very first professional kayak fishing guide on the Texas coast and has been featured on several television shows and in national and regional magazine. She is a regular contributor to many fly fishing publications and a regular voice on several radio shows.
Captain Moffett is a founding member of the Texas Women Fly Fishers and advisory director for the Texas Lady Anglers. Additionally, she is a member of the Coast Conservation Association, Saltwater Conservation Association, and Ducks Unlimited.
To contact Captain Moffett or to schedule an outing with her, visit www.CaptainSally.com