STARLO GETS REEL
From the moment I first set eyes on the Native Watercraft FX Propel 13 pedal-powered kayak on the company’s American website (see here), I just knew I had to have one of these mean machines! Along with my wife Jo, I’ve been a Native Watercraft fan for quite a few years now, and this latest release from the company looked to be the perfect upgrade from my much-loved Mariner 12.5 (see my video about that now-discontinued boat here). So, I immediately placed an order with Native Watercraft Australia for an Ultimate FX from the first shipment destined to reach this country, which was due to arrive on our shores in October/November, 2016.
My trip to Melbourne to pick up the shiny new Ultimate happily coincide with me also taking delivery of a fantastic, purpose-built, duo kayak trailer from Redide Trailers (something I’ll be blogging about in detail very soon!).
Naturally, I was itching to get the new machine wet, but writing deadlines and poor weather conspired against this for a few days. Finally, a narrow window of opportunity opened and I managed to sneak out for a late afternoon bass fishing session on the freshwater reaches of a river not too far from home.
From almost the moment I slid the Ultimate into the water and climbed aboard, I knew I’d made the right decision. A hybrid between a more traditional “sit-in” style kayak/canoe and the newer generation of “sit-on” yaks, the Ultimate has a noticeably higher seating position than either my old Mariner or the company’s more recent flagship: the Slayer. The new boat is also a tad lighter.
That raised seating position translates to a significantly higher comfort level for my ageing bones and muscles, and also seems far more efficient when it comes to operating the circular, bicycle-style Propel pedal drive that is the hallmark innovation of the Native Watercraft brand. I found this to be the most comfortable ‘yak of any style or make I’ve ever been in, as well as very easy to push along.. and fast! The turning circle was also a radical improvement over my old Mariner, and she paddled beautifully when ultra shallow water called for me to lift the Propel unit and switch to the “Twin Armstrongs”.
The slight but inevitable downside of a higher seating position and lower hull weight is a marginal reduction in stability, and the Ultimate did feel a tad “twitchy” to me for the first 10 minutes or so I was on the water. However, I soon came to realise that this is largely a mental thing, and that the boat would actually be very hard to tip. Also, if and when you do transition to a stand-up stance for fishing (something made easier by the higher seat, as a matter of interest), your feet (and therefore your point of weight transfer) are situated on a floor that is actually below the waterline, greatly enhancing stability.
I’ve got so much more to tell you about both the Native Watercraft Ultimate FX Propel 13 and that Reditide Kayak Trailer, but all of that will have to wait for future blogs throughout the coming summer and autumn seasons… For now, let me just say that I’m super impressed, and relieved that I made the right decision! If you’d like to have a look at a very quick teaser video I made during that shakedown trip, just click here. Oh, and yes, I caught and released a bunch of beautiful bass that afternoon, including a few bruisers (see below). What a great way to christen a new ‘yak…
For at least a decade now, kayak fishing has been one of the fastest growing sectors of the angling scene here in Australia, as well as in many other parts of the world. Interestingly, this phenomenon shows little sign of slowing. Sales of kayaks and related paraphernalia continue to boom, marking this as one of the strongest niches in the marine and boating industry.
I must admit that I’ve been a little slow to embrace the whole kayak “thing”. I spent lots of time sitting (usually with a wet bum) in various Canadian-style canoes throughout my early fishing career, and I was delighted when I could finally afford to graduate to a “real” boat. Don’t get me wrong: canoes have their place, and I’ve enjoyed some wonderful times in them. However, once you’ve fished from a craft that’s sufficiently large and stable to stand up in, especially one with a raised casting deck, it’s very hard to willingly go back to the low, cramped, unstable and often wet confines of a canoe.
There were also other factors holding me back from kayak fishing. One was a perception that many ’yak fishers, as well as those who catered to their equipment needs, seemed to be missing the whole point of simple, minimalist boating. Some of the ’yak rigs I saw on the water and in magazines or videos had more “fruit” hanging off them in the way of electronics and accessories than my 4.8 metre trailer boat! Some actually required dedicated trailers of their own just to get them to the water’s edge, and half an hour or more of fiddling, tweaking and setting up before they were good to go. Wasn’t portability and ease of use supposed to be the whole point of ’yakking?
Then there were some of the people involved in the ’yak fishing scene. Apologies in advance for generalising, but I have a hunch that a disproportionate number of them drive Volvos, drink soy lattes, watch soccer, have kids named Tiffany and Sebastian, and also own flash, imported pushbikes, not to mention way too many items of lycra clothing. In fact, for a couple of years, I disparagingly referred to this particular group of kayakers as “cyclists of the sea”.
I’m sure you get my drift. Just as a handful of cyclists with a certain attitude give the rest a bad name with their “I own the road” mentality and a penchant for pedalling en masse in front of heavy traffic, so too there’s a sub-set of kayakers who look down their noses at all other watercraft users. Unfortunately, they don’t do their cause, nor their fellow enthusiasts, a whole lot of good.
So, I’m sure you’ll understand that I was more than a little bemused when my good lady Jo not only organised herself a kayak to fish from, but also picked up one for me! Oh, the shame… (Read Jo’s blog about her love of ‘yak fishing by clicking here.)
For almost a year I staunchly resisted temptation (for want of a better word). However, an extended road trip that required us to leave the boat at home effectively forced me into the dreaded ’yak… And I must grudgingly admit that I actually enjoyed the experience immensely!
We fished the lower Murray River between Mildura and Renmark for several days, then caught the ferry across to Kangaroo Island, where we explored a bunch of the island’s secretive and wild little estuaries. I caught golden perch and Murray cod on the big river (including a whopping new ‘PB’ cod just over a metre in length — you can see the video here) as well as bream, salmon and mullet on KI. To be honest, I had a ball, and didn’t feel too disadvantaged at all by being confined to the kayak. I guess it helps that we both have state-of-the-art Native Watercraft pedal-powered set-ups that leave their occupant’s hands free for fishing. In fact, I can see this nifty sit-on vessel becoming an increasingly important part of my overall fishing life in coming years (although I staunchly refuse to wear anything made from lycra).
Who’d have thought it, eh? Starlo has finally joined the ’yak fishing revolution… Watch this space for more reports…
Check out my video review of the Native Watercraft Mariner 12.5 on my Starlo Gets Reel YouTube channel by clicking here, watch me land my PB cod from a ‘yak here, and read my blog on stand-up paddleboard (SUP) fishing here.
As a full-time fishing writer and presenter, a big part of my job obviously involves capturing photographic images and video to accompany my work, so cameras are important tools for me. My main work camera is a big, heavy, full-frame DSLR (currently a Nikon D610) with a bunch of different lenses, but I also like to carry a compact point-and-shoot: both as a back-up, and for those times when I simply need something smaller and lighter.
Over the 40 years or so that I’ve been writing for magazines, I’ve owned lots of cameras. I’ve eventually worn most out, broken them or drowned them… The fishing world’s a pretty harsh environment for sophisticated optical equipment! Through all of that time, I’ve always been on the lookout for the “ultimate” fisherman’s camera, and I reckon I might have finally found something close to that mark with Nikon’s AW1. While it’s certainly not the perfect solution, it ticks enough boxes on my list to come very, very close.
The AW1 is a reasonably compact, mirror-less camera with interchangeable lenses that’s capable of capturing 14.2 megapixel images in both RAW and JPEG formats via a reasonable-sized sensor… Those are all good things. But the best thing about this camera in my book is the fact that it’s fully waterproof! Not just “splash-proof”, but actually waterproof! Without any form of housing or additional case, it’s rated to a depth of 15 metres, or almost 50 feet… That’s pretty impressive! It’s also rated as shock-proof if dropped onto a hard surface from a height of 2 metres… Ouch!
The AW1 is sealed against dust and capable of withstanding temperature extremes I hope I never have to work in! So, it’s one tough little nut… and it feels it! At close to half a kilo or an old-fashioned pound in weight (with battery and zoom lens), it’s not exactly light, and that’s because it’s made with metal in places where lots of other cameras use plastic. I’m pretty rough with mine and it has picked up its share of scratches and dings in over a year of use, but it’s still going strong. (If you’d like to study the full stat’s and specifications for this camera, click here.)
The AW1 will take any of Nikon’s “1-series” lenses, but at the moment there are only two waterproof lenses specifically made for it: the 11 to 27.5mm f3.5-5.6 zoom that it’s usually sold with in kit form, and a faster, fixed focal length 10mm f2.8 prime lens. I’ve got both.
You might wonder why I bothered spending the extra dough to buy a fixed lens that’s only 1mm wider than the zoom… Well, that’s because this prime lens is a bit faster (f2.8), which makes it better suited to low light conditions. It’s also a tad sharper, in my opinion, and it’ll focus in a little bit closer than the zoom… down to about 20 centimetres. Those are all important things, especially for underwater work. So, for me, the zoom tends to live on the camera for general, above-water work and the 10mm goes on for the majority of my underwater stuff.
By the way, don’t get too excited about the wide-angle properties of those waterproof lenses… Because of the camera’s modest sensor size, the 11-27.5mm zoom equates to about a 30-75mm in 35mm film or full frame digital terms, while the 10mm translates to a “real” 27mm… Not exactly fish-eye performance, especially underwater, where natural magnification further narrows the actual field of view… You definitely need to bear this in mind. I’d love to see a super-wide 6 or 7mm underwater lens for this camera (equivalent to a “real” 16 or 18mm)… but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting!
As I said at the outset, the Nikon AW-1 offers 14.2 megapixel resolution and it can shoot in both RAW and J-PEG. It also records quality HD video, including bursts of slow motion, if you’re into that. In my opinion, the image quality for both stills and videos is pretty damn good. I’ve had plenty of photos from this camera published in magazines and used on-line. You’ll find a few sample images I’ve taken at the bottom of this blog. Video capture is equally acceptable, both above and below water. In fact, a few short grabs I’ve shot using this camera have actually made it onto free-to-air television as part of “The Offroad Adventure Show”, so I guess you can say it’s broadcast quality! You’ll find some samples of video shot on the AW1 in the accompanying video clip, here.
The biggest trick to getting acceptable underwater images — both still and video — is to have super clear water and plenty of sunshine… You simply can’t beat those two ingredients, no matter what camera you’re using.
Although it’s a reasonably small camera in my hands, the ergonomics of the controls aren’t too bad. There’s an on/off switch on top, the shutter release is next to it, and the video button sits next to that… Oh, and you can snap high-resolution still images WHILE you’re actually shooting video (without stopping the video recording)… That’s neat!
On the back, we have the three inch (7.5cm) LCD monitor, which is your viewfinder, playback screen and menu screen. It’s quite bright and clear, but like most of these things, it’s hard to see outdoors in direct sunlight, especially if you’re wearing polarised sunglasses… a pain in the butt, in fact. And there’s NO optical viewfinder… at all. That’s probably the thing I like least about this camera.
The typical controls you find on this sort of camera all work well, and there are a couple of nice little short cuts using the main command dial: such as toggle left to adjust your shooting rate, from single frames to 5, 15, 30 and even 60 frames per second! However, if you go that fast, you’ll only get a brief burst before the buffer for the memory card fills up. Also, at the fastest rates (over 15 fps), auto focus locks on whatever it was for the very first frame, so it won’t follow a moving subject. For those reasons, I rarely go faster than 5 or maybe 15 frames a second. There’s also the option of 10, 5 and 2 second self-timer settings, which are great for “selfies” holding a fish or whatever… except that they only work for ONE shot, then you have to go in and set them again, which is rather annoying! There might be a way around this, but I haven’t found it yet…
Toggling right on the main control gives you access to exposure compensation. At the default zero setting, I’ve found that highlights often wash out, so I spend a lot of time shooting at -0.3. That seems to work well, except in very dark, gloomy conditions. Interestingly, this exposure compensation setting stays where you set it, even if you switch the camera off and back on, despite what I’ve read to the contrary in some tests. This is good in a way, but not if you forget!
Toggling up on the main command dial takes you into shooting modes. There are some interesting and useful modes, too, including miniature effect, selective colour, easy panorama and so on… One thing I would say, though: don’t worry too much about the “Underwater” mode, especially if you’re working within a metre or two of the surface. It’s really for divers going significantly deeper, where colours shift dramatically… And if you use it, you can’t capture images in RAW.
Toggling down takes you to different flash modes for the built-in, pop-up flash, which works both above and below water and is reasonably effective. However, using flash underwater only works when there aren’t too many suspended particles in the water… otherwise you’ll capture a snow storm! It’s also easy to end up with over-flashed and washed-out images, so you may need to play with exposure and flash compensation.
Of course, you can get to all of this stuff through the standard menu, as well, and it’s pretty straightforward, but do spend a bit of time studying the printed manual to learn exactly what lives where… I didn’t always find the location of functions within the menu be completely intuitive.
Staying on the back of the camera, there’s a display button to bring up or hide various on-screen data… Oh, and another interesting button, right next to the thumb rest on the back. Holding it down actually allows you to cycle through the various shooting modes by tilting the camera one way or the other! Pretty clever. It’s designed for divers or snow skiers wearing thick gloves and, to be honest, I’ve never used it! Just be careful you don’t activate it accidentally if you have fat fingers like me. Pity it doesn’t have a “lock”.
Moving to the bottom of the camera, we have a standard tripod socket and the access door for the battery and memory card. The access doors on the AW-1 all have a fail-safe, double-locking system for underwater work, and if you leave a button unlocked, you’ll see a little yellow warning panel exposed. The battery is a lithium ion job and naturally enough, you get a charger with the camera. I’ve found the battery life to be fair to reasonable, without being great… maybe a couple of hundred frames per charge. Turn the built in GPS/compass thingy on and that battery life goes right out the window… the GPS really chews battery power! Leave it off, I reckon.
The overall ergonomics and handling of the camera are okay, although it would be fairly easy to drop it when operating in the water… and it sinks like a stone! Have a think about fitting a wrist strap or whatever.
Lens swapping takes a bit of pressure, for good reason. The seals are tight and they’re backed up by rubber O-rings, lubricated with a special silicone grease. You need to keep these O-rings clean, re-grease them occasionally and ideally replace them every year or so… it’s all in the manual, and you’ll be reminded about it by a pop-up screen message every time you turn the camera on. Obviously, it’s pretty important!
So, basically, that’s it… the Nikon AW1… I’d have to say it’s the closest thing I’ve yet found to being the perfect fisherman’s camera. Yes, there are a few little things about it that niggle me — like that lack of an optical viewfinder — but overall, it hits the mark beautifully. If you’re a keen angler, a fishing guide, a crew member on a charter boat, a skipper or a budding fishing journalist, I think you’ve probably GOT to have one of these. They’ve been a bit of a well kept secret up until now, but I can tell you that a lot of the shots you’re seeing in magazines and on-line these days are coming from these, and the pro’s have been playing that fact a bit close to the chest! I guess I’ve now let the cat out of the bag.
For well under a grand if you shop around a bit, they’re also pretty good value for money. (If you’re shopping for one, have a look here at Digital Camera Warehouse, or here at JB Hi-Fi for an idea of current pricing.) I know I’d be lost these days without my Nikon AW1, and when I finally break this one, or drop it over the side of the boat, I’ll definitely get another one… Who knows, there might be an Mark-2 version by then: with an optical viewfinder, better battery life and a few of the other little niggles ironed out. Until then, the Nikon AW1 wins my vote as the ultimate fisherman’s camera!
Below is my listing of the major pros and cons of this camera (in my opinion), and below that are a few of my favourite images captured so far on the AW1. Also, make sure you watch my YouTube clip about this camera. You’ll find it on my Starlo Gets Reel YouTube channel, or you can go directly to it simply by clicking here, or going to https://youtu.be/YX6sMZf1cBU. Tight lines and happy snapping!
Here’s a fantastic new option for mainland anglers planning a Tasmanian fishing trip!
The acronym “FIFO” stands for fly-in, fly-out and is most often used in relation to remote mining operations employing workers who fly to the site to commence their week or fortnight of shifts, then fly home afterwards for a break with their families. However, with the advent of fully-equipped “turn-key” hire packages of vehicles and boats, the FIFO concept now has genuine relevance in fishing circles as well!
In late spring 2015, my wife Jo and I took advantage of exactly such a business that’s now operating on the island state of Tasmania. The brainchild of Ulverstone tackle shop proprietor, Clinton Howe, Tassie Boat Hire kicked off in mid-2015 offering a single boat rig and 4WD vehicle, but has already begun expanding with the addition of new hire packages.
Jo and I were picked up from Launceston airport upon our arrival by Clinton in his first full rig: a 420 Quintrex Renegade towed by a 2011 model Mitsubishi Triton dual cab ute. Clinton drove to a nearby service centre to run us through the rig and complete the necessary paperwork, and then we were off under our own steam for a wonderful week in the Central Highlands chasing Tasmania’s famous wild trout on fly.
From the outset, Jo and I were totally blown away by Clinton’s professionalism and the incredibly high standard of every component of the hire gear, from vehicle, boat and trailer to the smaller but equally important stuff like safety gear, battery charger, drift drogue (sea anchor), marine radio and on-board electronics. Everything worked exactly as it was meant to!
Tassie Boat Hire’s 420 Quintrex Renegade is powered by a 40HP Evinrude 2-stroke motor on the stern, has a Minn Kota Terrova auto-pilot electric up front, as well as all the “fruit” you could possibly need for full-blown freshwater, estuary and inshore work in between… It really is ready to rumble!
We confined our activities to the Central Highland’s Lakes, concentrating on Penstock, Woods, Arthurs, Little Pine and Crescent, but this rig is also spot-on for chasing Tassie’s big, blue-nosed bream in the state’s many estuaries, or even venturing up to a couple of kilometres offshore (on the right day) to tangle with all manner of goodies, right up to kingfish and even tuna!
We experienced very strong winds during our time in the high country, with the Bureau of Meteorology issuing small boat warnings for the lakes on several of the days we fished. The hired rig easily took these demanding conditions in its stride and we stayed surprisingly dry.
The boat’s generous, fully-plumbed live well was wonderful for keeping a few trout alive and healthy between photo shoots, or to bring one home at day’s end for the table, and will also suit tournament anglers perfectly. In fact, with the blossoming bream tournament circuit in Tasmania these days, it’s hardly surprising that a large proportion of Clinton’s customers are mainlanders flying south to compete in various ABT events.
The diesel Triton tow vehicle was also clean, comfortable and reasonably economical to run. It never missed a beat and handled the sometimes corrugated dirt roads with ease.
All up costs for hiring the 4WD, boat and ancillary gear, plus airport transfers, come in at less than $350 per day (at time of writing), which is excellent value in my opinion, especially when split between two or three anglers. Discounts are also available for extended hire periods, and both the vehicle and boat are available for separate hire, if need be. Weighed up against the time, hassle and expense of driving your own rig to Melbourne and catching the ferry across Bass Strait, Clinton’s service makes a great deal of sense. For Melbourne residents, in particular, it means that a fast getaway for a weekend or long weekend of fishing on the Apple Isle is now eminently do-able… and affordable!
If you’d like to learn more about this unique FIFO service for serious anglers visiting the Devils’ Playground, scan the QR code accompanying this review to watch the short YouTube video clip that Jo and I put together during our stay, or simply click here. If all else fails, Google “FIFO Tasmanian Trout” and you’ll soon find the clip.
You can also find out more, get detailed prices or make a booking by visiting Tassie Boat Hire’s website at www.tassieboathire.com.au, going to their page on Facebook, or giving Clinton a call on (0429) 475 550. Be sure to tell him Starlo sent you and he’ll look after you extra well!
Lots of anglers still struggle to crack the bream-on-lures code. Truth is, these fish are no pushover. But if you follow my simple, five-point plan below, and watch the accompanying video clip here, I’m confident you’ll be posing for a photo with your first bream on a soft plastic very soon!
As I travel the country fishing, researching stories and gathering material for this blog and the many publications I contribute to, I come across increasing numbers of anglers who’ve embraced lure fishing and, in particular, the use of soft plastic lures. The uptake of soft plastics has definitely been one of the most significant trends in Australian recreational angling over the past 10 to 15 years, and its popularity shows no sign of diminishing any time soon.
Softies are great lures and they’re not all that hard to use. Most new chums start catching at least the odd fish very early in their plastic-flicking careers. But some species are tougher nuts to crack than others, and the humble bream is perhaps the trickiest of the lot. It’s also the one I get asked about the most. The question typically begins with a statement along the lines of: “I can catch plenty of flathead on plastics, but I’m damned if I can work these bream out!”
If you’re in that camp, I’m here to help! Below I’ve listed a simple, five-step strategy for cracking the bream-on-plastics code, and this is accompanied by this short, no-nonsense how-to video clip on my “Starlo Gets Reel” YouTube channel. You can go straight to that video by scanning the QR code at the bottom of this page, or by typing this URL into your browser: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wuLI5-M3UQ
Okay… Are you ready to learn how to catch your very first bream on a soft plastic? Here we go:
- Use the right gear: The perfect tackle for chasing bream on soft plastics consists of a 1.9 to 2.2 m “flick rod” with a nice, light tip, usually rated for 1 to 3kg line. Match this light rod with a 1000 to 2500 size spinning reel and fill the spool with quality 2 or 3 kg monofilament line, or braid carrying a similar strength rating. (If you choose braid, always add at least a rod length of clear monofilament leader of a similar strength to the end before tying on your lure.)
- Choose the right lures: Start off with small, curl-tailed grubs or wriggler-style plastics measuring somewhere between 50 and 100 mm in length. Pick natural, life-like colours that mimic prawns, worms or little fish. Combine these tails with light jig heads weighing anywhere from about 1 to 3.5 g (about 1/30 to 1/8 ounce) that carry sharp, fine-gauge hooks in sizes from No. 6 up to No. 1 (a No. 4 or No. 2 is usually perfect).
- Rig the lure straight! You’d be amazed how many people get this important bit wrong, and it makes a huge difference on bream. Take the time to properly rig every tail and if it’s not right, do it again. (Study the accompanying video on my YouTube channel for step-by-step instructions.)
- Fish where the bream live. You won’t catch ’em if you cast where they ain’t! Bream love structure, including man-made structure. Concentrate on snags, rock bars, creek mouths, bridge or jetty pylons, weed bed edges, oyster leases, boat moorings, breakwalls, channel markers and the like, and cast your lures close to these structures.
- Work your softies slowly. As a rule (unless the spot you’re fishing is very snaggy), start by letting your rigged plastic sink all the way to the bottom. Then work it with a series of fairly slow lifts, hops and drops. Again, study my basic how-to video on the “Starlo Gets Reel” YouTube channel for more details and a demonstration.
And that, folk, is about it! As I like to say, it ain’t rocket science! Follow this simple five-point plan, watch my accompanying video for additional information, and I can all-but guarantee that you’ll start catching bream on soft plastics sooner rather than later… So, what are you waiting for?
Here’s my first video review (below) of some of the features I like best about the MotorGuide Xi5 (with PinPoint GPS): a sophisticated, bow-mounted electric motor , or “trolling motor”, as our American friends call them. I also have a thorough write-up and evaluation of this unit coming up in the July, 2015 editions of the three Fishing Monthly Magazines (QLD, NSW and VIC/TAS) and will blog that review here on StarloFishing after it has appeared in those publications. Don’t forget you can follow me on Facebook via my StarloFishing page, and subscribe to my YouTube channel: Starlo Gets Reel. Tight Lines!