Every outdoor activity has inherent risks. Participants must understand these risks before undertaking these activities. Kayak fishing for large game fish is no exception. Your understanding of what could go wrong and your preparedness to deal with these situations can aide you in dealing with them while on the water. In some situations you only have a split moment to make a decision, and that decision could mean the difference between safely landing the fish of a lifetime--or death.
I don't bring this up in attempt to scare anyone from attempting to fight and land large game fish from their kayaks, but instead, to remind you to think about the dangers involved before hitting the water. A great deal of knowledge and some caution are often enough to help a person make those important decisions when it matters most, while ignorance can lead to serious injury or worse.
During the many seminars that I give throughout the country each year, a number of people always ask me what is the most important thing for taking large game fish by kayak. There are actually three things, equally important, that I stress to everyone wanting to try this. The first thing is to never do it alone. I can't stress how important it is to never attempt fighting large game fish from a kayak by yourself. Sure, you can do it and probably have some success, but eventually something will go wrong and having someone with you could mean the difference between coming home safe or seriously injured. The second thing is to always have a safety kit onboard in case of emergencies. When putting together your safety kit it is best to use the Boy Scout motto and "be prepared." My personal kit includes a first aid kit, whistle, headlamp for signaling boats at night, my cell phone, VHF radio, a hand held GPS, an extra paddle, tow ropes, and extra batteries for any electronic safety devices. It is also important to remember and keep your electronic items and first aid kit securely fastened in a dry, waterproof bag. And also keep in mind that it is your life at stake if something does go terribly wrong. So when purchasing a first aid kit, don't get the smallest and cheapest one available but rather one that is stocked for serious injury. After all, a few band-aids and some gauze aren't going to help control the bleeding from a major laceration. Finally, the last thing I tell people is to always have a boating plan. By this I mean a written itinerary of what your plans are for your trip. Simply write down in detail where you are leaving from, which way you will be traveling, how long you plan to be on the water, your cell phone number, basically any information that can aide in locating you should something go wrong. Then give it to someone.
One of the most basic things about kayak fishing is simply keeping your balance. Today's sit-on-top kayaks are amazingly stable, but during the fight, a sudden movement too far can lead to an unexpected bath. The key to staying in the boat is to keep your center of gravity in the middle of the boat and to re-adjust or shift your weight as needed throughout the fight to maintain this. It really is easy to do once you get a feel for your kayak. The key is to simply keep your head while fighting your trophy and not let excitement get the better of you. All too often anglers get over-excited about a large fish which causes them to do something that could have serious consequences. Just remember to keep yourself calm and balanced and you won't have to go for a swim.
Should you fall from your sit-on-top kayak, it is really easy to get back in. The first thing to do is remain calm. Once you get back to your kayak and have it turned over, re-entry is simple. Reach across your kayak and grab the far side of the cockpit with both your hands. While pulling on the kayak, use your feet to kick and propel yourself back up and onto it. If you are still having difficulty have your fishing partner come up on the far side of your kayak and help pull you on.
Bringing a large fish along side of your kayak is probably the most dangerous part of the entire experience. Bringing a "green" fish into a kayak can cause some serious injuries. I can never stress to people enough that they should never bring a large game fish such as a tarpon, sailfish, or especially a shark onto the kayak. One swipe of a tail, thrust of a bill, or bite can be fatal--especially if you are a great distance from shore. Bring the fish along side and have your fishing partner snap a photo or two of your fish while it is still in the water. This will be better for the fish's health as well as yours. Besides, a picture is worth a thousand words. After the picture, remove your hook. Or if your fish has a mouth full of teeth, simply cut the leader as close as safely possible to the hook and let it go.
In closing, let me just say something about shark fishing by kayak. Over the past year and a half, I have gained quite a reputation across the country as being the "crazy bastard from Florida" who fishes for large sharks by kayak. My largest landed to date is over 380 pounds, while my largest hooked was over 12 feet in estimated length and the fight lasted almost 5 hours before the steel leader gave way. People ask me all the time how to do it and my answer is always the same. Don't. There are sharks in our Florida waters that are some of the most aggressive on earth and you don't have to go very far to find them. Most of these sharks can be found mere feet off of our beaches and in the passes. These animals are powerful and deadly. Remember, the only thing that separates you from what you are fishing for is a piece of plastic. With sharks, any mistake can lead to serious injury. If you are really serious about targeting sharks by kayak, hire a professional kayak fishing guide who has experience with these animals to help you. And never, never try it alone. One mistake with a large predator could be your last.