I like catching fish, and I like paddling, but I don’t like to catch fish while paddling if it involves carrying rods, tackle boxes and all sorts of fishing equipment — call me a lazy angler. In trying to combine a low equipment method of fishing with paddling, I decided to try handlines, which are line wrapped around a handle. You clip the rope’s end to your deck lines, connect a lure to the other end, drop it into the water and paddle. It’s simple. The homemade handlines that I’ve seen are usually just thick 20 lb. mono filament line wrapped around a plywood handle. Finding a commercially available handline designed specifically for kayaking was challenging until I stumbled across WaayCool Handlines.
WaayCool Handlines makes its handlines by wrapping 3 mm nylon rope around a 9-inch plastic handle. The line ends with a heavy-duty snap swivel. A short bungee wraps around the rope and secures the rope in place for storage. As an option for clear water, WaayCool puts a length of 300 lb. mono filament between the rope and the swivel. I tried both. When I wondered about using 3 mm nylon rope instead of mono filament line, Mark, the owner, said, “rope offers a better grip, is easier to work with, and has less tangles. My personal background is in the offshore, deep-sea handlines and the 5mm to 6mm diameter rope allowed much better grip than the thin parachute cord that was so popular. Especially when your hands are wet and have any fish slime or blood on them. Also – mono will kink if you bend too tightly on a handle whereas rope wraps tightly. And knots in the rope pretty much just shake out.” The answer made good sense to me, because I’ve pulled in fish by hand using a thin mono, and it’s hard to grip and manage, especially in a canoe or kayak.
Before you start fishing with a WaayCool handline, it requires a bit of easy setup. Tie a bowline into the end that attaches to your kayak and an overhand knot on a bight a short distance away. Loop a piece of bungee on the overhand knot. Clip a carabiner to your perimeter deckline. Clip the bowline and bungee into the carabiner. This setup builds stretch into the system, which helps absorb the movements of the fish and give a bit on the strike. On the other end of the line, attach a leader, that will break in an emergency or if you get a snag, to the swivel and a lure on the end of the leader. I suggest finishing the setup before launching. After setup I wrap everything around the handle and allow enough rope on the carabiner end to make clipping to my deckline easy. Until I’m ready to fish, I store the handline in my day hatch or underdeck bag.
When I’m ready to fish. I pull the handline out, clip it to a deckline and unravel the rope onto my sprayskirt. Once the line is off the handle, I stash the handle under my deck bungee — the handle doesn’t float, which is the only real complaint I have about the system — and then drop the lure into the water. As I paddle, the line comes of the deck. It’s hard to gauge the depth of the lure, and I still haven’t figured out how deep it is with only a lure attached. If I want it to dive further, I attach a Dipsy Diver to the swivel. This seems to get me down to around 30 feet or so. While fishing, if I’m trying hard to catch something, I found paddling from point-to-point less effective than swerving as I paddled. I also found that occasionally stopping and allowing the lure to sink ends up making a fish strike at just that moment. As most of my fishing is for lake trout and salmon on Lake Superior, I use bright spoons, which is what the area’s charter captains use.
During fishing, I found that the drag slows the boat down noticeably. I expected that it would slow my boat down a bit, but hadn’t expected it to slow me down as much as it did. On one occasion, a group of friends and I paddled out to the Susie Islands on Lake Superior. While in the protection of the islands, I dropped the line because our pace was leisurely. Once out of the islands, we had a tailwind and 2-foot following waves. My friends surged out in front of me and I figured I’d catch up with them and then we’d slow down to a good trolling speed of 3 knots after we rounded Pigeon Point. Try as I may, I couldn’t catch up and fell far behind. Finally, I pulled up the line and quickly caught up with them. This isn’t really an issue, because, typically, you fish at a slower pace.
It took me awhile to adjust to how lively the fish are when you land them — much more than on a rod. I suspect that because pulling in rope is faster than reeling in line, the fish don’t get tired during the fight. Eventually I settled on a method. After a strike, I’d make sure I set the hook, then I’d pull them in a bit. If they felt like they were pulling back too hard, I’d paddle to tire them out. Then I’d pull them up. Because having a fish on deck with 75 feet of line is too much to handle, I wrapped the line around the handle as I brought the fish in. This worked for the smaller fish I caught. I still haven’t hooked into a big laker, because I don’t think I’m getting the depth I need. I suspect with a large fish, I’d just pile the line on my sprayskirt.
Landing a fish was tricky for me. I found I lost a lot of fish at the point where I’d get my hand on the leader. They were so close at the point and so lively that they’d throw the hook. Grabbing a fish quickly and getting it on my sprayskirt was to only way to make sure I’d have something to cook later. To help in that process I found wearing a thin pair of paddling gloves made gripping the fish more secure. It also reassured me that I’d avoid rope burn if I got a big fish.
Overall, I thought the WaayCool kayak handlines were a good way to fish and a good value. They’re light enough that I now bring them with me on trips. The full rope version is easier to handle, but I caught more on the rope/mono combo. Lake Superior is so clear that I suspect the rope spooked fish. I also felt like I was able to get the rope/mono version deeper when using a Dipsy Diver than I was able to get the rope version. If you’re looking for a simple, inexpensive way to fish on a kayak or canoe trip, this is a great option.
Weight: Kayak-75 with bungee is 7.6 oz., Custom 3mm/30 feet mono with bungee is 6.6 oz.
Price: $30 to $54
Get It: WaayCool Handlines
Note: WaayCool ships internationally. Mark says that “So far my foreign shipments have been to Canada, UK, Australia, Switzerland, Spain, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Cayman Islands.”