A Different High – Jack Dekort and Kayak Fishing
Jack Dekort is a longtime contributor to Swellnet - so long that his contributions even predate the Editor's tenure. Jack was an enthusiastic teenage surf photographer back then, and today he's well on his way to being a wizened old man of the sea.
A lot happened during those in-between years, some of it marked by Jack's social media trail. What once was a steady stream of backlit barrels and tight action shots, morphed into a picture book version of man-in-the-wild that would make Ernest Hemmingway proud.
Jack chatted to Gra Murdoch about what happens beyond - sometimes well beyond - the lineup.
Jack Dekort, 31, Kayak Fishing for three years
I got into kayak fishing as a way to fill the void. We go through some big flat spells up here on the Sunny Coast and I was getting bored out of my mind. I started following a group called the Noosa Yakkers on Facebook – they’re a bunch of older crew who are all fishing from kayaks. I followed them for about a year. They took me under their wing, and once I felt confident enough to get out there, I really started getting into it. I’ve been doing it for three years now.
We prefer to go out in groups for safety because, things can go south pretty quickly. I go out solo a bit, but we try to organise groups because we’ve had some incidents recently where guys have had sharks hit their kayak and had their boats sink. So we definitely take the safety aspect seriously. You have to be super mindful and tuned in with conditions and the forecast.
Fibreglass kayaks are the go, they’re so much better to get out through the surf. We generally use ‘Stealth Kayaks’ – they’re about three and a half grand. And then with sounders and all the gear, it definitely adds up quickly. From scratch, I reckon you might be looking at around five to six grand all up.
Obviously that’s not cheap, but after that outlay, there’s minimal overheads. It's not like you’re constantly forking out dollars on a boat. There's no fuel, and we can still get into some really good fish.
We have a few favourite spots that we’re all pretty tight-lipped about that. They’re about four kilometres offshore, some are closer in, but depending on the spots, you can rack up twenty-plus kilometres of paddling on some days.
I think I’ve got a pretty addictive personality as it is, and kayak fishing actually feels really similar to surfing in what I get from it: the anticipation of a good day; never knowing what's going to happen; the connection with the elements. It's a pretty similar reward for getting a good day of surf.
My best fish so far was a couple of months ago, a 30-kilo Spanish Mackeral. 159 centimetres. I fought it for about 45 minutes and it was pretty spent by the time I got it up. When I was landing it, I had the gaff in its head and I was sliding it into the hatch of my kayak. It all went off balance – it went shooting over the other side of the kayak and I went over with it with the gaff in its head, and the kayak tipped. So I was in the water holding onto this 30-kilo Spanish with a gaff through its head. None of my rods were tethered, so I lost two rods and a GoPro. I managed to upturn the kayak and get it back in.
That incident was kind of a lesson I needed to be taught again. After while, it’s kind of easy to become blasé about safety protocols, basic things like having all your gear tethered, but things can turn to chaos in a split second.
One of my mates caught a 37-kilo Spanish, and could barely shut the hatch of the kayak and he had to swim the kayak in as it was so heavy, so there’s a limit to what you can catch and bring in with a kayak. Though I understand Marlin and Sailfish have been caught from kayaks.
I’ll eat fish at least two or three times a week, vac-seal and freeze some of it, and give a lot to friends and family. It definitely gets spread around. Good old fish tacos is my favorite, plain and simple. The boys like to call it ‘crumb and cremate.’
We’re coming into Snapper season, so we'll chase Snapper and Kingfish, but we're predominantly chasing Spanish Mackerel and Longtail Tuna. The Spanish Mackerel’s our major target in the summertime.
On the weekend it can be pretty busy. There can be up to fifteen guys heading out in certain spots, but I usually like to go through the week where might be just one or two of us. You don’t always score, of course. I had a record of six consecutive outings without a sniff this season!
We have certain little hotspots on the reefs that we fish that we'll check out. We don’t use the sounder too much – a lot of the time we're just trolling lures and baits out the back. But the sounder can be helpful when you find a school of fish and you'll just work that area.
There’s definitely a big advantage to how unobtrusive and quiet a kayak is, with no engine noise. Especially targeting Mackerel, it’s like kayaks are custom made for that. Though they’re really not that stable when you're trying to land a big fish. It takes some getting used to. I'll put my legs over the side to counterbalance. Fallen in a few times. But after you do it long enough, it just becomes muscle memory. The whole thing’s pretty physical! You’ve got to keep enough in the tank for the paddle home. I’ve done a fair bit of other types of fishing, upriver chasing Mangrove Jack, casting off the rocks for not much reward, and when I’m on a mate’s boat either I’m cursed or overwhelmed by too many options.
I’m using three Shimano Saragosa 6000’s reels and I prefer to use cheaper rods because they get pretty banged up after a while. In summer, targeting Pelagics, I’ll mainly troll with dead bait like garfish and slimey mackerel. We all have our own methods of rigs we make up, and most are pretty tight-lipped about the details, as this can be the major factor between success and the walk of shame to the car park.
I’m not sure how many groups there are up and down the coast. I know there’s a tight-knit group of guys in Coffs Harbour, and there's the Palm Beach crew on the Goldy.
If you’re interested in giving it a crack, I would definitely recommend, following one of the groups like Noosa Yakkers, or the Palm Beach crew on Facebook, and just listen to the older guys – just to get info on safety and how to handle yourself, how to set up your kayak, because you can get yourself into a pretty tricky situation out there if you don't know what you're doing. There's plenty of YouTube videos of guys with loads of experience. I was just a sponge when I started – “shut up and listen” was my motto. I’d recommend hitting up 'Australian Kayak Specialists' they can help you find the right kayak to suit.
I love everything about kayak fishing. I’ll do it as long as my body will hold out I reckon!
// JACK DEKORT (as told to GRA MURDOCH)