Fishing enthusiasts are diverse; some target big fish, some seek variety, and some are simply happy with any catch. While landing a hefty fish can be exhilarating, species fishing, or species hunting, offers an equally enjoyable and challenging experience. By aiming to catch a wide variety of fish species, from small to large, you can hone your kayak fishing skills and push yourself to think strategically. With over a hundred fish species inhabiting UK waters, there’s no shortage of targets for the species hunter. Moreover, the biggest UK saltwater kayak fishing competitions focus on the most diverse catches, making it crucial to master the rigs that offer the greatest chances of success.
Ready-Made Rigs: Your Gateway to Species Hunting
While some species demand specialized approaches, the vast majority can be caught using ready-made rigs available at any reputable tackle shop. These rigs, or variations thereof, form the backbone of my kayak fishing arsenal. They can be deployed in mid-water, on the seabed, and over various terrains. The specific species you’ll encounter will depend on your location, but these rigs provide an excellent opportunity to catch fish regardless of where you’re fishing. So, without further ado, here are my top three rigs for saltwater species kayak fishing.
Baited Hokkais: A Feast for Medium-Sized Species
Hokkai rigs are attractor rigs in which the hooks are dressed to resemble small baitfish. They typically consist of rubber fish heads adorned with feathers, tinsels, or foils. You can find pre-tied rigs with three or five hooks and robust mono rig bodies at most tackle shops.
To maximize variety, aim for hook sizes between 2 and 3/0. I prefer luminous fish heads with white feathers, as they tend to be more effective. Hokkais excel at catching medium-sized species found near our coastline.
Untouched hokkais work wonders when jigged in mid-water, enticing Mackerel, Scad, and possibly Herring. Jigging them over reefs and rough terrain can yield Pollock, Cod, Coalfish, and even Bass.
For optimal success, I bait the hooks with 1-2 inch strips of mackerel. Bouncing or dragging them along clean ground increases the chance of landing Whiting, Red Gurnards, Grey Gurnards, Tub Gurnards, Dogfish, Weevers, Pouting, and flatfish, like Plaice and Dabs. In deeper waters, Haddock might also make an appearance. When targeting wrasse species such as Ballan Wrasse and Cuckoo Wrasse, tipping the hooks with worm baits like ragworm or lugworm will elicit additional bites.
Baited Hokkais provide exceptional versatility, making them ideal for exploring new venues and boosting your species count. With heavier gear, around 6-12 lb class and heavier weights, you can even venture into depths of 30 meters or more or fish in faster tides.
Baited Sabikis: The Small Fry Specialists
Sabiki rigs closely resemble Hokkais but employ lighter lines, smaller hooks, and hooks dressed with dried fish skin. The luminous or brightly colored material that binds the fish skin acts as the attractor, mimicking food particles or small fish fry. Most tackle shops offer these rigs, typically featuring six to ten hooks on a single rig.
To avoid potential tangles on your kayak, I recommend dividing the rigs into three-hook sections. This not only simplifies management but also allows you to get two or three rigs from one pack. Sabiki rigs come in various sizes, offering a range of hook sizes from large feathered sabikis (Size 2) to micro-sabikis (Size 14 or smaller).
Sabikis excel at catching smaller fish species, which are often more abundant. They are particularly effective when competing in kayak species hunts, as evidenced by their frequent appearance on the leader boards.
You can fish them unbaited, jigging them in mid-water or near the bottom to secure a variety of pelagic baitfish species such as Mackerel, Herring, Smelt, Scad, Pilchards, Sprats, and Sandeels. You may also encounter smaller Pollock, Coalfish, and other species.
However, their true potential is unlocked when baited. Simply tip the hooks with a small amount of ragworm to unlock a multitude of species. Anchored over rough ground, you’re likely to land small wrasse species like Ballan Wrasse, Corkwing Wrasse, and Goldsinney Wrasse. Other potential catches include Cuckoo Wrasse, Rock Cook Wrasse, and if luck is on your side, the elusive Baillon’s Wrasse. Sabikis also entice various gobies, blennies, and the intriguing long-spined scorpion fish. Juvenile Pollock, Pouting, Poor Cod, Whiting, and more are regular visitors. Drifting the rig along the bottom on clean ground might yield small flatfish like Dabs and Plaice, along with Weevers and possibly Dragonets. Tip the hooks with squid or a combination of squid and ragworm, and you might even hook the hard-fighting black bream in some areas.
Sabikis are incredibly effective for species hunting and perfect for exploring new venues. Bites are practically guaranteed! These rigs achieve optimal results when paired with lighter gear like lure and LRF rods, complemented by light 1 oz or 2 oz weights. Shallow waters under 15 meters are their preferred hunting grounds. Pack a few Sabiki rigs on your next session or competition to rapidly increase your species count!
Single Hook Running Ledger: Versatility at Its Finest
My personal favorite, the single hook running ledger, showcases unparalleled adaptability. It can be modified to target small species or scaled up to tackle the largest fish. This rig consists of a sliding weight on the mainline, followed by a separate trace line terminating in a hook. A swivel connects the trace to the mainline, and the weight is typically buffered against the swivel knot using a bead or a zip slider. This rig works wonders for fish residing on or just above the seabed, whether you’re drifting or fishing at anchor.
The beauty lies in its flexibility, which extends to mainline size, weight size, trace size, and hook size. For small fish, employ lighter lines—mainline and trace at 10-15 lb or less—and opt for weights ranging from 1 oz to 3 oz, depending on the conditions. Use hooks smaller than Size 2. When baited with worm baits, this light running ledger excels at catching small wrasse, gobies, blennies, and bream species. Anchored over rough or mixed ground, you might find small dabs, plaice, and even species like the red mullet when drifting on clean ground. On muddier terrain, flounders might make an appearance. Adding strips of mackerel or a small section of sandeel to the hook extends the potential catch to smaller pollock, whiting, pouting, gurnards, and more. This rig is perfectly suited for lighter spinning and lure rods.
Personally, I prefer a 30 lb braid mainline and a 20-30 lb mono trace for targeting slightly larger species. Pair it with 3 oz to 6 oz weights, depending on the conditions, and hook sizes ranging from Size 1 to 4/0. This setup excels when drifting on clean ground. Baited with thin mackerel strips, it becomes a magnet for decent-sized whiting, tub gurnards, red gurnards, grey gurnards, and various flatfish species, including plaice, turbot, brill, and larger dabs. Weevers and haddock might also make an appearance in some areas. When anchored on clean ground with fish bait, expect to encounter ray species like thornback ray, small-eyed ray, spotted ray, blonde ray, and undulate ray, depending on your location. Lesser spotted dogfish are practically guaranteed, and mixed ground might reward you with the larger bull huss. By baiting the hook with worm or crab baits, this rig becomes a reliable choice for catching cod and bass. There’s even a chance of smoothounds in some areas. Without a doubt, this rig is fantastic. It shines brightest when paired with 6-12 lb or 12-20 lb class (or similar) boat rods, depending on the prevailing conditions.
If you’re seeking a true rod-bending challenge, you can modify the simple running ledger for added strength. Use mainlines of 25 lb or more, heavier 4-8 oz weights based on the conditions, and hook sizes up to 10/0, depending on your desired target species. Trace lines can range from 30 lb to 200 lb or more, depending on the species you’re aiming for. Add a substantial fish bait and await a toothy predator. Although these rigs are often customized for specific species, they all operate on the same basic running ledger principle. A heavy running ledger rig is perfect for targeting conger eels, tope, big rays, and even substantial skate! To tackle these beasts, rely on heavier boat rods, such as those in the 20 lb, 30 lb, or 50 lb class. To further your understanding and prepare accordingly, delve deeper into the gear, rigs, and specific components needed to successfully target these impressive species.
So there you have it—my personal selection of the top three rigs for saltwater species fishing. On the right day, catching fifteen or more species is certainly within reach using a combination of these rigs. Give them a try and challenge yourself to catch as many species as possible. Before you know it, your species count will skyrocket!