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A few years ago, Virginia native Brian Lockwood, an avid fishing enthusiast decides to catch some bait fish off the Californian coast. Only, he doesn’t use his conventional fishing boat or kayak.
He heads out in his Personal Watercraft (PWC).
After spending some time on the water and returning with a sizeable catch, Brian thinks, ‘Wait. This sure is a fun way of fishing. Let’s do this again’.
And then before he realizes, he’s spending a lot more time on the water using his PWC.
So, he does the next best thing. He rigs his Yamaha WaveRunner with a GPS fish finder, a bait tank, some rod holders, a windshield and some extra cells.
Bang! The result is Jet Ski fishing, a very niche way of fishing that has really taken off since then.
People have differing opinions about the actual origin of Jet Ski Fishing. But to give the guy his due, Brian’s blog Jetskibrian.com was our first glimpse into PWC fishing, which sort of makes him the founding father of the sport.
The blog has long become defunct. Maybe Brian moved on to greener pastures. But this unique way of fishing has struck a chord with fishing enthusiasts all around the world.
When it comes to information about how to get started with Jet Ski fishing, there’s still a void out there though. That’s what we aim to fill with this blog.
If you were a borderline skeptic or were just on the fence about jumping head over heels into Jet Ski fishing, then this blog post will present you with the pros, the cons and some tips on how to wet your toes in PWC fishing.
So, can you use a jet ski for fishing? The answer is a resounding YES. Jet skis make excellent fishing vessels and offer many advantages over traditional fishing boats, however, they do offer several disadvantages as well. In the rest of the article, we aim to answer all your questions related to Jet Ski fishing which we hope will let you decide whether it’s the sport for you.
The Advantages of Jet Ski Fishing
The first and most obvious question that pops up in the minds of ‘wannabe’ Jet Ski fishermen is ‘Why a Jet Ski’?
Well, here are some of the reasons why.
- It’s cheap: A Waverunner, a Jet Ski or any other personal four-stroke watercraft will only cost a fraction of what it’s bigger and meatier siblings do. So if you are a hobby fisherman who only hits the waters once in a while, then it’s an inexpensive way to fish as compared to investing in a Luhrs sport-fisher or a Grady-white.
- It’s portable: You can easily tow or trailer a Jet Ski and store it in your personal garage. Not something that’s possible with a large boat. If you do not have the space to store a boat, you are looking at off-season storage fees in addition to towing fees.
- Easy to launch: Lugging a Jet Ski and then launching on the beach it is a one-man job at best. You don’t need a large crew to get it done.
- Easy to maneuver: Jet Skis are compact and can go places where a fishing boat cannot. You can maneuver it easily, can take it offshore and it’s perfect for just about any type of fishing application, including trolling, jigs and drop fishing.
- Fish in privacy: A PWC allows you to reach untapped fishing grounds a lot sooner than everybody else. Some models have top speeds of up to 100mph. You will be heading back with a prize Blue Marlin or an Albacore while your friend is still struggling to catch bass.
- Saves time: You can cover vast distances on a Jet Ski as opposed to what you’d normally cover on a fishing boat. It’s faster, it’s thrilling and its fun. You’ll spend more time fishing than actually traveling from Point A to B.
- Fuel-Efficient: Gas prices can be a bummer, especially if you spend a lot of time on the water fishing. A four-stroke PWC will be more fuel-efficient any day as compared to a 200-400HP outboard fishing boat. It is estimated that you can cover up to 150 km. on a full tank on the Yamaha wave runner. That’s more than what any fishing boat can cover.
- It’s a unique way to fish: Many first-timers end up surprised at how unique Jet Ski fishing is as compared to more conventional ways of fishing. You are perched a lot lower than normal. This allows you to actually spot that trophy catch before you get started. Picture standing on one side of the ski to spearfish. We told you, it’s fun.
The Challenges with Jet Ski Fishing
Despite being one of the most exhilarating experiences, Jet Ski fishing is not devoid of its share of challenges.
Are any of them deal breakers? It’s up to you to decide.
- It takes practice: For someone who’s been fishing in a conventional fishing boat since they were old enough to fish, transitioning to a Jet Ski takes a lot of practice. It’s definitely not easy to balance yourself on a Jet Ski when you’ve caught a fish that’s going to give you the fight of your life, or even take you for a ride. Wind and cold weather can really test your patience. On a sunny day, you can get roasted out there. Sunscreen only makes your controls more slippery. You need to secure everything with bungee cords, (if you are retrofitting) else you will be diving to fetch your fishing tools from the bottom of the ocean.
- It will be just you: Part of the appeal of PWC fishing is that it will be just you vs. nature. No mate to take your picture, none to net the catch or set the hook. But if you aren’t prepared for that scenario, then it might be too extreme a sport for you.
- A Stock PWC won’t do: If there’s something that we can take away from Brian’s outings, then it’s that a stock PWC or Jet Ski won’t cut the mustard. You will need to make modifications to your machine, which can quickly add up to a sizeable expense. A lot of these modifications are just bells and whistles mind you. You can do just fine with the bare minimum add-ons (Comms and emergency equipment) which shouldn’t cost too much.
- It’s not meant for all types of fishing: Jet Skis are better suited for ocean fishing. It’s great for drifting and trolling, it is designed to handle ocean waves a lot better than a John Boat or a Kayak. But it is not a lake fishing craft per se. It needs at least a foot of water under it if not more. It might be difficult to anchor it as the hull design is tailored for speed rather than balance. You might end up flipping it a lot sooner than you expect to. Also, don’t expect to join a group fishing event when most of the crowd is running a trolling motor. If you prefer chasing fish on a lake, then you will have to do some serious rigging. Not impossible, but definitely not easy.
Getting started with Jet Ski Fishing
All said and done, if you have set your mind on Jet Ski fishing, then so be it. The first thing that you need to get started is a PWC.
Do you own one? Then you are in luck.
As PWC fishing took off, a lot of fabricators set up shop offering specialized retrofitting services for Jet Skis.
Reach out to a fabricator close by and seek quotes. It goes without saying that comparison shopping helps to save a buck here and there.
You can do most of the fittings by yourself mind you. But if this is your maiden attempt, then you are better off outsourcing it to an expert, as the quality of the fittings will determine your comfort and your safety on the water.
We wouldn’t cut corners with it. Neither should you.
Here are some of the changes that you will need to make to a stock PWC.
A Rack: A removable fishing rack that can hold a large cooler (45-quart Yeti or something similar) and some rod holders (at least 5 to 6) can considerably improve the functionality of your PWC. This is typically retrofitted on the rear of the craft and is more stable as compared to securing an icebox with PVC pipes or bungee cords. Also, no fish flapping around in the footwell which reduces the risk of injury.
These require no permanent installation and can be derigged when you want to take the ski for a joyride instead.
If you are on a really tight budget, swap the cooler for a fish bag and add a few bags of ice to keep the fish iced. You can also throw in some frozen water bottles which can be thawed to keep you hydrated during a day-long trip.
If you want to avoid drilling holes altogether, you can look for a rod rack that can be attached with some eye bolts or a ratchet strap or something. Like we said, not the best of options. But MIGHT just work.
Arches: Arches are a more permanent fixture but offer fishing boat functionality in a portable PWC. Many manufacturers offer these in both front and rear fitting configurations. These can be folded and even removed if need be for travel and storage. Arches typically attach to the base through Heim joints which are bolted on it.
The obvious advantage of opting for one of these is the additional room. Not only can you store your cooler and rod holders, but there’s also room for an additional fuel tank or jerry cans which can extend the time that you can spend on the water.
Dry Storage: There are some really cool PWCs these days that offer tons of dry storage. Dry storage can prove really handy in storing your cell phone, car keys, spare clothes, and other nitty-gritty. And they can also double up as compartments to store your GPS/Fishfinder and other garish electronics that you want hidden away from public view. If the PWC doesn’t have adequate storage, then you have the option of attaching a dry bag that can be used to store the essentials.
Deep cycle battery: Most Jet Ski fishers will limit the use of the on-board battery for powering it up. Everything else, including the fish finder, is powered by a separate deep-cycle battery.
Safety Equipment: On a Jet Ski, there’s always a possibility that you might encounter situations that you aren’t prepared for. So it pays to err on the side of caution. Always carry an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), a first-aid kit, a SPOT GPS tracker that notifies emergency services of your location in case of an SOS situation, a GPS/Sounder so that you aren’t fishing pig in a poke, signal flares, a whistle, a signaling mirror, a personal strobe, a dye pack, a PFD (required by law) and an extra gel battery.
Ensure that you carry a waterproof VHF radio and a second beacon in one of the pockets of the PFD. This might save your life if you were to be separated from your Ski.
If you will be fishing in the winter, wear a dry suit. During summers, long-sleeved clothing is highly recommended.
Attach the kill switch to your jacket or to some other part of your person so that if you fall off the ski, it shuts off and you can climb back.
Some fishermen also carry re-boarding ladders that are designed for skis. We’ve personally never used one. But hey, you never know.
Transducer: There are a bunch of mixed opinions about transducer installation on a PWC. Some people prefer a shoot-through-hull installation, while others vouch for a transom-mounted setting and there’s a third group who prefer an in-hull installation. The fact is that it depends on the PWC and your own likes and dislikes more than anything else.
Irrespective of how you mount it, opt for a dual-beam model and find a flat surface to mount it. If there aren’t too many flat spots inside, mount it on the exterior and run the wires through the rear. Works just as fine. Also, ensure that you check the return signal at the speed that you normally troll. Many transducers are advertised for up to 60 knots. But start to stutter the moment you cross 20.
Optional Add-ons: We particularly liked the Windshield and canopy that Brian Lockwood rigged on one of his jet skis. That can be invaluable on a cold day with swells. Lunar Tubes or Tuna Tubes are another add-ons that serve a dual purpose. These are attached on either side of the ski on the rear. This increases stability and diverts the outlet of the ski into the tube which serves as a live bait tank. Keeps your bonnies alive and kicking all day.
Top 5 Jet Ski fishing tips for beginners
Once you have the ski on the water, it all boils down to the same old rules as boat fishing.
Except for the annoying stares and glares that you will invite from other fishermen on fishing boats who will probably be envious of your set up.
Having said that, here are a few tips that might help make life easier on the water.
Learn how to anchor the ski: Anchoring is a skill that can prevent your ski from sinking into the sand when you beach it. And it can prove to be invaluable if you are chasing fish on the lake in shallow waters. The only problem is that Jet Skis have tiny storage compartments that aren’t equipped to store large anchors with real holding strength.
Which leaves you with a few options that can work depending on the surface where you will be anchoring it. If it’s a mud or sand bottom, then go for the Fluke, which is a Danforth style anchor. These are made of galvanized steel and fold for storage. They don’t have any sharp edges that can scratch the fiberglass bottom or the innards of your storage compartment.
If you are looking to moor in rocky conditions, check out Grapnel-styled anchors. These work well regardless of the surface type.
Another solution that a lot of Jet Ski fishermen use is anchor bags. These are bags that you can fill with rocks or sand or anything heavy and then drive them into the ground to secure the ski. Just empty the bag after use and tuck it into the storage compartment.
Know the shore before you leave: This sounds stupid at first. But we’ve seen people get so hung up over getting the gear right for their PWCs that they forget to do their homework on the shore. Learn where the fish are and head straight for that spot.
Know the fish and the technique: What fish are targeting? What are their feeding habits? Where do they feed? What are the lures that are most likely to entice a bite? Largemouth Bass, for example, like to hide in shallow areas like lily pads or docks or cattails. Wacky worms work best for bass. Jigging works best for crappies and bluegills.
Check for spawning beds and other shallow cover. On the other hand, if you are heading deep sea fishing, then there’s bottom fishing for groupers, snappers, and amberjacks and there’s trolling for mackerel, sailfish, barracuda, tuna and the other bad boys of the ocean. The lure and the trolling speed are critical and will determine whether you bag a large tuna or return empty-handed.
Trolling speed: Trolling is the most commonly used Jet Ski fishing technique because it’s incredibly effective and it’s perfectly suited for the PWC fishing style. But just like everything else, the ideal speed for trolling depends on a lot of factors. What are you trolling? Is it dead bait? Is it live bait or artificial bait?
Check the condition of the sea (flat, choppy) and then determine the right bait for trolling. Check the direction of the current. Experiment with lures in different colors. Slow down every now and then and troll at varying speeds. Keep an eye on that sounder and map the terrain. Go across the current. Once you find a method that works for you, repeat it day after day and chances are that it will succeed every single time.
Stick to inshore fishing: If you are just starting off with Jet Ski fishing, tag along with an experienced partner. And if you are bitten by the whole DIY bug, stick to inshore fishing until you get a hang of things. The last thing you want is to be 30 miles away from the shore and run into engine trouble or choppy seas.
The best Jet Skis for fishing in 2019
Jet Ski fishing has become so popular that manufacturers have started to offer specialized models that are tailored for fishing.
The advantage of buying a stock fishing PWC is that it avoids the need for aftermarket mods. But these are generally more expensive than conventional units.
The Fish Pro is Sea Doos newest offering that attempts to woo potential PWC fishermen. It is crammed to the brim with bespoke features, at the forefront of which is the ST3 hull which improves stability. Powering it is a 155 HP Rotax engine. Also thrown in are a Garmin Echomap fish finder, rod holders, a capacious cooler, a dedicated trolling mode, tons of storage, a boarding ladder and intelligent throttle control. It’s just about everything that you need to hit the water and start catching fish.
If you aren’t limited by the price tag, then you’d want to check out Kawasaki’s dedicated fishing ski, the Ultra LX-F. This one’s an absolute brute of a ski that has everything to keep you safe and stable offshore. For starters, there’s a whopping 212L of storage space, it seats 3, comes with a 70-liter chilly box, a Lowrance Hook 2.5 fishfinder and a 78L fuel tank. The 1498cc engine packs in some serious power and it’s as fuel-efficient as they come. Hard to beat the pros.
The WaveRunner FX Cruiser is not a dedicated fishing PWC. But it’s one of the most common ones rigged by Jet ski fishing enthusiasts. It’s fast, it’s roomy enough to store tons of accessories and it’s backed by Yamaha’s reliable engine performance. Specifications-wise, it almost matches the Kawasaki Ultra LX-F. So unless you are hung up over a showroom ready Jet ski for fishing, you can pick one of these for a lot lesser and then throw in all the fittings that you need.
That sums up this blog post. We hope that this serves as a great starting point for your research into jet ski fishing.
Be safe, be sensible and enjoy the sport. Go catch em fishes.