Friday, July 2, 2010

What Was I Thinking!?

A word of warning here.....this post is going to get deep into the weeds regarding my thought processes in devising a fly fishing rigging system for the W500 kayak. There is a lot of detail that some might find tedious, but if you're a rigging freak, as I seem to be, you might get something out of it. Very well, then, you've been warned!!

To start with, it's important to know that the ratio of time spent thinking about rigging a kayak for fly fishing versus the time spent actually installing the rigging is something on the order of 100 to 1! No, really! During the process, I found myself just standing in front of the boat and staring at it for 15 minutes at a time, just "letting the wheels turn". And that is how it should be. The worst thing you can do to a brand spanking new paddle craft is to start drilling holes in it willy-nilly based on some vague notion or ill-considered assumptions you may have about what you "need" to comfortably and efficiently fly fish from it, only to find out once you're on the water that you really didn't have a clue what you needed or didn't need! "Curb your enthusiasm" and resist the urge to immediately rig up when getting a kayak for the first time or acquiring a new one to replace or supplement an old one. Take some time on the water, over several outings, to fish out of your new paddle craft before you assume anything. Trust me, after a few sessions , it will become readily apparent to you what issues need addressing. Then, and ONLY then, can you even begin to think intelligently about just how to address them.

I have been fly fishing saltwater for 20 years, but in the span of all that time, probably only a couple of dozen days out of a kayak. Even though I owned an earlier version of the W (the W300) for two years before getting the new W500, when I started to think about how to rig the new boat for saltwater flyfishing, I really didn't have a grand plan, but was more oriented toward solving a couple of challenges I had experienced during my first few outings with it out on the near-shore waters of Cape Cod Bay, coupled with my experience with the rigging installed on the old W300. Standing and paddling the W has never been an issue, as the design of this fine craft, especially the new W500 model, makes these things so easy that they immediately become second nature, and fade from conscious consideration, leaving all thoughts and senses free to focus on spotting fish and executing casts that are fast and accurate. In a nutshell, this is what makes the W the superb fishing platform that it is. My boat, which I ordered in the "T" or touring model, comes with no rod holders or fishing set up of any kind, What it does come with, is foam flotation in the four hull tips, and, the cockpit and deck rigging option, which Wavewalk describes as a "preparation for a cockpit cover" and consists of a length of shock cord, or bungee, strung around the outside of the rim of the cockpit under inverted "J" hooks, as well as several sets of riveted rigging loops. The boat is inherently flyline friendly as the cockpit rim and the saddle-style seat feature graceful curves and rounded edges. The coils slide freely over the curves and slip down gently on one side of the saddle or the other into the hulls as I strip the line in. If the wind is up, the line is protected down in the hulls and stays put.

The first problem that needed to be addressed was how to safely and efficiently carry the rod-reel-line combinations I might need on any particular outing. I own 6 wt., 8 wt, and 10 wt. outfits which cover the entire spectrum of fish I target as well as the conditions I am likely to encounter on the waters in which they swim. It is rare when I will need all three on the same trip, but then, it is better to have the proper tackle along and not need it, than need it and not have it. So I needed to be able to easily carry a minimum of 2 rigged and ready outfits, and possibly a third. I had devised a fairly workable set-up on my W300 a couple of years ago, and rather than reinvent the wheel, it made sense to build on that approach, where I used a pair of rubber paddle clips to carry a single rod, secured by small bungees through the rigging eyes just above where the the clips were mounted. That rig worked ok, but retrieving the rod from the holder was a two step process that involved undoing the bungees on each end, requiring me to slide or step from one end of the boat to the other. Plus, as I discovered one day as I drifted toward the exposed bank of a salt marsh creek at low tide while playing a hooked striper, the rod tip of my second rod in the holder was vulnerable to damage or breakage should wind, or current, or a fish, carry me into the bank before I could grab the paddle and make an adjustment. In areas like SW Florida, narrow mangrove tunnel creeks, save for ceiling fans and screen doors, are where fly rod tips go to die. So, taking my inspiration from the rod tip tubes built into most flats skiffs, I came up with the idea of using 24 inch sections of inch and a quarter pvc pipe to replace the forward paddle clip on the original set-up. I secured these near the top of the sides on the outside of each hull toward the bow using a pair of non-corrosive plastic brackets sized to fit the pipe spaced 18 inches apart. Two one inch self-drilling screws with rubber washers per bracket, sized to fit the bracket holes, secures each snugly to the hull. To prevent the tubes from sliding in the brackets I used a zip-tie just outside of each bracket snugged up tight to the tube. Now, with one hand, I can undo the bungee holding the rod handle to the rubber paddle clip, grab the rod and slide it out of the tip tube. Sliding the rod I'm switching from back in is just as easy. In all but the roughest water, the rod handle rides snugly in the paddle clip even without the bungee, allowing me to be even faster on the draw! Two fly rod rigs, one on each side of the kayak, secure and protected, conveniently stowed and readily accessible, with the option of a third rod in use or at the ready in the cockpit! Problem #1 solved!

Problem #2 While paddling and scouting for fish, whether sitting or standing, I needed to figure out: a) how and where to place a rigged fly rod securely at rest in the cockpit, even in windy or choppy conditions, within easy reach, and ready to cast with several feet of fly line stripped off the reel and neatly coiled down in the bottom of one or both of the hulls, and b) where to safely stick the fly where it wouldn't dangle around with the hook point exposed, or tangle in the fly line. This was a tough one and proved to be the most difficult to design a practical solution for. What I finally came up with, after several iterations, still isn't perfect, but works fairly well most of the time. I bought a 12 inch long by 4 inch square foam block with a shallow beveled notch on one face, designed and usually sold in paired sets to use as cartop pads upon which to transport a canoe or kayak. These come with a slit and 3/4 inch circular cut-out running the length of the non-skid underside of the block, designed to snugly fit over the cross members of a standard roof rack. As it happens, the 6 foot long saddle in the W500 is segmented by 3/4 inch wide slots 6 inches on center. (saddle doubles as an integral fish ruler). By cutting a 10 inch by 2 inch piece of 3/4 inch plywood and wedging it one inch deep into the slot just forward of the boat's center station, I found that I could slide the foam block down onto the one inch by 10 inch exposed part of the plywood, where the whole thing sat firmly together with the non-skid bottom of the block flush with the surface of the saddle seat. I can rest the rod handle centered on the beveled notch on top of the block with the reel off to one side or the other. I cut a shallow slit in the bottom of the bevel notch to pinch the fly line in place and prevent the coils from snaking back out through the guides. The hook of the fly is then safely stuck into the side of the foam block to immobilize it until it is time to cast. The rod tip is pointed directly forward between the hulls and the butt section of the rod near the first stripping guide, rests at the forward edge of the cockpit rim in a notch formed by a small bungee looped around a bailing sponge, sold specifically for mopping up paddle drips and spray that may accumulate in the hull from time to time. I have water tested this configuration and can confirm that the rod is indeed stable in its resting "cradle" and stays put even in a stiff (20-25mph) wind and a 2 to 3 foot chop. Problem #2 solved!

Problem #3 When I am paddling along and suddenly sight some fish, how do I quickly, smoothly, quietly, and efficiently transition from paddling to casting. The essential element that enables this transition is a secure place and an efficient system to quickly, and I mean within 2 or 3 seconds, stow the paddle where it is out of the way of the cockpit rod and fly line, because 5 seconds after that, the 30 to 60 foot cast should already have been made and the fly should be in the water within 2 or 3 feet of its intended target. If that sounds difficult, that's because it is, and it has to be practiced until you can go from paddling to stripping within that 5 to 8 second window without thinking, in order to be consistently successful. Furthermore, this skill is extremely perishable unless employed or practiced on a regular basis, something most of us cannot do unless we happen to be professional fishing guides, divorced, independently wealthy, or retired with an understanding spouse! Since I am none of these, I offer up myself as humble evidence of how quickly this ability can degrade, as I struggle for part, or sometimes all of each outing to rediscover the rhythm of this process. Consequently, I am only intermittently successful (some would say lucky) in my fly fishing endeavors, but I sure do enjoy the hell out of it! But I digress.

What I eventually came up with to be able to quickly and securely stow the paddle made use of the existing factory cockpit rigging that came on the boat, and employed 4 pieces of hardware known as "lacing posts" that I found on-line. These are made of nylon and are each mounted with a single screw through the center. The 1/2 inch tall posts are a squat hourglass shape in profile and are designed to accept up to 1/4 inch shock cord around the narrow central hub through which the mounting screw passes. The shock cord or bungee is held securely in place by the flared top and bottom of the post. The idea was to use the bungee around the cockpit to loop up and over the paddle shaft and hook it around a pair of these lacing posts mounted on the top edge of the cockpit rim about an inch on center either side of the midpoint of the boat's overall length. This set-up allows me to both stow and retrieve the paddle quickly, using only one hand. Pretty slick. I wanted to have the option of stowing the paddle on either side of the W, so an identically placed set of 2 lacing posts was installed on the opposite side of the cockpit rim as well. Why not use just one post to hold the loop over the paddle shaft on each side, you ask? Well, I tried that in a trial set-up on my older W300 and found that it took a second or two longer and more manipulation with thumb and forefinger to confidently seat the bungee around just one post. Plus, the two sets of posts allow me to set the paddle down across the rim of the cockpit between them where it rests securely enough for quick casts or adjustments on the water without having to employ the bungee itself, particularly if I rest my knees up against the paddle shaft. Problem #3 solved!

Problem #4 Anchoring. Since I either fish or traverse water that is generally anywhere from 2 to 20 feet deep in my home waters of Cape Cod, and since, if I had to guess, the average depth of the water I fish over 90% of the time in the course of a year averages 3 to 8 feet, I have opted to use a conventional 3 pound kayak anchor and @ 30 feet of anchor line to hold the boat in a desired position when needed. The anchor holds reasonably well most of the time, but takes time to deploy and to periodically readjust if need be. Last March, I was introduced to Stick It Anchor Pins on a guided paddle fly fishing charter with Dave Loger in Placida, Florida. Dave favors the 7 foot model for overall versatility. What impressed me about this product was the simple, durable design, and the speed and ease of using it, particularly in shallow water, i.e. 1 to 4 feet deep. I came away from that trip knowing that, at some point I would likely be ordering a Stick It to use on my own kayak. So when I started working on the fly fishing rigging for the W500, I ordered the pin in the 7 foot configuration to have it in hand so as to be able to devise how to carry and store it on the boat, and also how to best employ the product in ways specific to the unique Wavewalk design.

Carrying and stowing the Stick It on board the boat was essentially solved when I came up with the rigging to carry the fly rods and the paddle. As it turns out, the 7 foot Stick It fits perfectly in either side mounted rod holder with the pointed end protected in the rod tube and the "T" handle end snugly wedged into the rubber paddle clip that normally holds the fly rod handle. Alternatively, if I choose to carry rods in both rod holders, the Stick It can be carried just like the paddle, using the cockpit bungee to loop it to the set of two lacing posts on the opposite rim. In terms of deploying the pin at anchor, I fashioned a 30 inch homemade lanyard with a loop on one end and a small S style carbiner on the other to clip to any one of the boat's rigging eyes. The pin can be inserted through the lanyard loop, stuck into the bottom, and secured to the kayak with the carbiner. I clipped two more large S style carbiners on the front rigging loop eyes through which the pin can be inserted to anchor off the front of the boat between the hulls. On the rear of the W500, I crossed the bitter ends of the cockpit rim bungee, stretched them back and hooked them to the rigging eye loops on the opposite outside of the rear hulls. This creates an area between the rear hulls that I can just stick the anchor pin between the crossed and stretched cockpit bungee cord and anchor the boat from the rear end. Scratch problem #4!!

As a reminder, you can view pictures of any and/or all of these rigging ideas for the W500 on the slide show posted below. I hope this essay on the thinking behind the rigging was useful, albeit a bit long-winded. All this stuff has been crowding the available memory space in my cranium for weeks now. If nothing else, I hope it elicits some feedback and comments. Either way, I feel better for purging!