Saltwater kayak fishing is an awesome hobby that more and more anglers get into. More and more kayak fishermen also mean more shark encounters, and although seeing one while far out at sea is spectacular most of us would rather this be (to be a little cheesy) on a bigger boat.
There have been 50 unprovoked shark attacks on kayaks since worldwide records began in 1779. This is less than 1% of the total shark attacks on humans. 5 of these attacks have proved fatal, there is a limited risk of shark attack on fishing kayaks, however there are steps you can take to reduce that further.
Therefor most shark sightings near a fishing kayak end well, and are both exciting and thrilling. There are attacks that occur from time to time. Although your chances in a kayak are much better than in the water prevention is a much better policy to follow.
In order to help you both prevent and deal with a shark encounter, should you ever experience one, we’ve put together a helpful guide on the topic of sharks vs. kayaks. It includes our best tips for situations in which sharks either get close to your fishing kayak or, hopefully never, outright attack you and your vessel.
1. Be Careful of River Mouths and Estuaries
First of all, avoiding shark hot spots is the best way not to encounter sharks in the ocean, or at least to lower the risk of encountering one. If you are fishing close to shore, make sure to stay away from river mouths, or estuaries. These are classic hangout spots for hungry predators that just sit and wait for prey to get flushed into the open sea.
The muddy and murky waters of fresh and saltwater mixing attract both bait fish and the predators than prey on them. It also makes it less easy for large sharks to distinguish dinner from kayaker!
2. Sharks Like to Feed at Dusk and Dawn.
Avoiding fishing around dusk and dawn can significantly lower the risk of shark encounters or attacks. Like all predators, sharks have their hunting and feeding prime time early in the morning and late in the evening. So make sure you aren’t out on the water during such hours. or that you are keeping an eye out for feeding behavior.
3. Avoid Inflatables, Especially At Sea
When it comes to kayak choice, at sea, stay away from inflatables and go for fishing kayaks that are made of durable polyethylene. Although there are great inflatable kayaks out there their broad size and lack of speed and tracking make them not an optimal choice for ocean kayak fishing. This is even before we put them in front of a set of shark teeth.
Inflatable models really don’t go well together with shark teeth and if one decides to explore your kayak and starts biting into your kayak, there is a high risk of it deflating on the water, which will result in you being deposited in the water, as well as in the loss of the vessel that was supposed to get you safely back to shore.
Some inflatables have chambered air pockets to avoid the whole kayak deflating but i would suggest that it is still more likely to sink that a hunk of plastic. A shark might still bite into a hard-shelled kayak, but it won’t be able to immediately damage or sink it.
4. Observe The Shark and Stay Calm
If you still happen to spot a shark in the area you are fishing in, do not panic! Instead, remain calm and start observing the fish closely.
- Is it aware of your presence?
- Is it coming closer towards you?
- Is it circling you?
- Are you next to bait fish / feeding activity
If you can answer these questions with a no, chances are good that the shark is merely passing you by, without showing any interest in you or your kayak. And so, the calmer you remain, the less likely it’ll be that the shark will even start noticing you.
it is at this point we would recommended reeling in bait or lures and getting ready incase you have to take any further action.
5. Get Rid of Anything Fishy or Bloody
In order to further assure that the shark won’t approach your kayak up close, you should also get rid off anything fishy or bloody on board as soon as you spot the shark in the water.
This could be one, or all, of the following things on your kayak:
- a bait bucket hanging over the side of your kayak
- a stringer with fish attached to it
- freshly caught fish that are still alive and flapping around in your kayak’s floor
- Any blood (either from the fish or yourself) on your kayak that might leak or drip into the water
Pro Tip: If a shark gets close to your kayak, do not attempt to feed it with your baits or caught fish. This will more likely than not make it even more interested and bold. Yes that means not even for a YouTube video.
Also, although we always recommend bleeding a fish, especially if you have tuna or hard fighting species, try to do this into a separate, watertight, container or storage on your boat. It may look like a horror show when you get back to shore and empty it out but that’s better than creating a chum slick in your fishing patch.
6. Switch Off All Electronic Devices
There are plenty of reports of sharks mouthing metal boats, rudders and engines, the weak electric charge may be an attractor. switching of all types of electronic devices on your kayak as soon as you lay eyes on a shark can prevent it from taking an interest in you and your vessel.
Sharks are highly sensitive to electricity and electromagnetic impulses, as they have electric field sensors on their snouts and other zones on their heads. This means that they can get both really interested or really annoyed by the electronic devices you have on board.
If you have a cell phone, a fish finder, a GPS, or any other such device with you on board while kayak fishing, swiftly switch them off!
There may be one device that you could switch on at this point, and its actually on amazon. It is designed as a shark repellant. There are few different sorts and there are YouTube reviews of them as well.
7. Try to Get Back to Shore
Now that you have done everything to stay calm and not get noticed, it’s time to get out of Dodge and back to shore. Slowly start to paddle your way out of the area the shark is in and head back to land, while keeping an eye on the shark to see if it might follow you or get closer. You could paddle backwards to help you keep your eyes on it.
- Try to paddle calmly with smooth gliding strokes, rather than franticly paddling and splashing around. This will only attract the shark toward you.
- Make sure to remain in your kayak until you reach the shore, or, if the shoreline is out of reach, until you can get up against a cliff or wall in order to minimize the directions the shark can approach you from.
- Pro Tip: If you have a kayak buddy or other kayak anglers anywhere within reach, try to get to them and stay close, as sharks are far less likely to go after a group.
If all this fails and you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a shark attack, these next three tips are especially important to remember.
8. Use Your Paddle as a Weapon
If a shark gets close to your kayak and starts to chew or bite, or to make any other type of aggressive moves toward you and your vessel, it’s time to get a little aggressive yourself.
In such a situation, using your paddle as a weapon can be very helpful in trying to scare the shark off. But remember that this is exactly what you are trying to do. At this point, the shark might still only be curious and mildly interested in your kayak, so do not outright assault it, as this might provoke a more aggressive response.
Instead, simply let him know that you can defend yourself, should you have to. Try to hit it on its snout once or a couple of times to let it know who’s in charge. Often, this can be enough to get rid of a shark. That and the mouthful of plastic they have just had.
If it doesn’t give up, try to hit it on its more sensitive areas, such as the eyes or gills.
9. Bring a Knife with You.
If it still continues to assault your kayak, having a knife with you and using it might be the next step you’ll have to take.
A shark that gets too aggressive towards your kayak may not be bested with a paddle alone and if the situations gets out of hand and there is a risk of you getting knocked out of the kayak, using a knife against the shark might be the better alternative.
Be aware a sharks skin is tough and this really is a last resort to put yourself anywhere near snapping jaws. The nose is sensitive and a few good hits should prove you are not a meal worth fighting over.
Try to aim for the sensitive spots (eyes, gills, snout), and, if at all possible, avoid injuring the shark fatally. At some point it may become apparent that ”sometimes the shark doesn’t go away” At that point it is survival. Gills and eyes should be targeted hard at that point.
Most animals do not have to fight their meals, they just have to attack or catch them. If you fight hard, and can keep the blood in the water limited to the sharks you will stand a better chance.
10. If Knocked Out of Your Kayak, Try to Get Back Into It Again
This is the worst-case scenario but by no means one that cannot be turned around again. If the shark should manage to knock you out of your fishing kayak, the best thing to do is to try to swiftly get back into it again. Most full attacks are likely to come from behind or underneath and it may be quick and powerful.
Your biggest risk at this point is the force of being hit is driving your head into the kayak and knocking yourself out or causing injury. Wear a helmet – this advice goes for all kayaking activities. It is ignored so much on the sea, but you hit your head on your own and you are in trouble, shark or no shark.
Deep water reentries appear difficult, but are actually rather easy to accomplish with a little practice. The key is to practice these when its NOT an emergency situation so it becomes second nature. Practice with friends in case you have trouble and make sure you can get back in quickly. This guy has a good video on how to do this.
Once you have managed to leap back onto your vessel, follow tip #6 and calmly start to paddle toward the shore. Again if it was a shark attack then consider paddling backwards so you can watch for any follow up attacks. This is less likely once the shark realises you are not food. Despite the behaviors in the Jaws movies sharks do not hold a grudge!
Should your kayak drift out of reach while you are in the water, try to smoothly and calmly swim to the shore, if at all possible. Let the kayak find its own back to land and keep concentrating solely on your own way in. You are now the priority not your gear. To avoid this an ankle lease like a surfer could be used to you remain attached.
For obvious reasons you are safer with the kayak than without so swimming away should be a last resort. If you are with friends then get your self on their boat and out of the water as quickly as you can. then paddle back slowly.
If you have to swim back to land, having both a PFD and your paddle (for defense) with you can make things a lot easier.
Please do remember that shark attacks are fairly rare and that you probably won’t have any issues with them at all while kayak fishing. If you however should encounter a shark, stay calm, follow our tips, and report the encounter to your area’s contributing agency to the ISAF.
As mentioned the chances that you will encounter a shark are slim, even slimmer is the likelihood it will attack a kayak. Fishing kayaks, with wounded and fighting fish increase this a little but following the tips above AND these safety tips for sea fishing in a kayak here will help give you a day where the only thing that makes it eventful are the fish you catch, not the fish that catch you!
Tight lines and stay safe!
Kayak fatalities: La times
Shark attack numbers and statistics – Yak Logic