Case Against Stringers


The Case Against Stringers


The kayak angler, like anyone else in the fishing community, is prone to learning from the “School of Hard Knocks.”  While many of the lessons learned are pretty tame, the people who decide to tie off a fish to their kayak and then throw the stringer in the water have the wildest stories to tell.   Every one of these stories ends with eyes wide and the very loud statement, “I’ll never do that again”.

With the possible outcome that exists, if you decide to go that route, I hope we at least get to hear your version instead of just seeing the story on the news.    Don’t leave it up to reporters to tell your story.    In the age of “video”, so many situations are now being captured by people out on the water.   Watching quietly from a distance I see some big risks being taken.

There are numerous reasons not to tie off a fish to a kayak (or to yourself, if wade fishing) but the biggest one is that it is creating immediate danger for yourself.   It is an unnecessary risk taken when a fish that is being harvested could be stored in other ways, preventing what could quickly turn a perilous situation.   Those who don’t understand the risk, give me a call and I’ll also consult you on what kind of polarized sunglasses to go buy!  If you are paying attention to what is down in the water, you know what I mean.


Reason #1 I will call “Things with big pointy teeth.”   Florida coastal waters are filled with sharks that enjoy a shot at an easy meal.   In 2010, while on a charter, I witnessed a man catch a trout, attach it to a polycord stringer and drop the fish in the water.   I said to my client, ”I’ll be right back.   I’m going to offer to put that fish in my cooler.”  I didn’t get even get moving that way before I heard frightened screaming and saw this man’s kayak was being pulled sideways and eventually under the waterline with the force of a significantly large shark that had its teeth caught on the polycord when it inhaled the trout whole.    Polycord or other stringer materials are part of the problem because it’s very possible their teeth won’t cut through it right away.    Therefore, that stringer you have attached to your kayak is also attached to an agitated (and subsequently “threatened” shark, the most dangerous kind).

When I got to him, he was clinging to his swamped kayak and terrified with the shark a short distance away, fighting to free itself from the stringer.   I told him to let go and sit perfectly still as I rode the kayak and the shark a good distance away from him, took out my knife and cut the rope.  The shark, roughly a ten-footer, now untethered- angrily and aggressively attacked the kayak twice before it slowly swam off.   This man did not give up on fishing because I still see him, but he will never do what he did that day ever again.

Do you want to be in this guy’s situation?    I would like to note that this situation was completely human error, not the shark’s.    My own close call was an eye-opener and I got lucky.      As that story goes, after having fish tied off to the drawstring of my bathing suit while wade fishing-“that was the day that I learned how to make a pair of shorts out of a tee-shirt.”    I had only lived here for a few months, but I did find a great fishing spot.   Toward the end of the day I was considering heading home and wanted to get the fish on ice anyway.   Realizing that I was being towed into water above my head, lifting up my legs seemed like the only solution to “separate” from a shark that was polycord-bound to my midsection.   I learned my lesson and fish will always go safely in a cooler or my Fish Bag.


Reason #2 I’ll callThe rotten fish.”    Personally, I’d like to eat a fish that’s fresh.   A fish that’s dead in the hot water for even a few minutes isn’t going to be as good as the flesh of a fish that’s iced down thoroughly and immediately.   From the upbringing of “if you’re going to kill it, don’t waste it” there are options for the kayak angler to do this, eliminating the aforementioned risk of shark encounters and preserving the quality of the harvested fish.  Most modern day kayaks now have the capacity to take a cooler along.   Many anglers will utilize the “tankwell” area for their fishing supplies, eliminating the ability to put their cooler in that position.  The solution is the fish cooler of fish bag.   Smaller to larger insulated fish bags are readily available.   They can be placed in various locations such as inside hatches or on other open areas.   For the sit-on-top kayak owner, the fish bag may be bungeed to a surface area toward the bow if other deck space is being utilized.   Frozen water bottles or ice can be put in the fish bag and the fish is safely and properly placed and preserved for the anglers’ dinner.    The now-and-then angler can get a freezer bag from a grocery store but the serious angler should invest in a fish bag that’s insulated and designed for holding your catch, such as the Watertrail fish bags by Native Watercraft.

People I have addressed who do utilize a stringer instead of a fish bag and are aware of the risk, they use quick release attachments to their kayaks but all admit in the discussion:  They may be eating fish that isn’t exactly fresh if they do not stay alive on the stringer.  One admits “I just threw it out anyway because I was nervous about eating it.”   I grew up being told that if you kill it, you should eat it so the cooler or fish bag also prevents unnecessary waste.

A majority of the year, with substantial populations of sharks lurking in the same waters you fish, ditch the stringer and do something safer and smarter.   I contend that sharks are not inherently dangerous or an immediate threat to humans.    They don’t want to bite you, but they will certainly take a bite out of a fish you tie off to your kayak.   Trolling for danger:   It is your choice.   You can take my word for it, or you can tell your story later.

Think it through:  the risks exist in other situations for the kayak angler.    Case in point:  A hooked fish under attack from a major predator.  If you reel that fish up to the kayak, did you or did you not just bring the “target” right up into your personal space?   Putting your reel into free-spool may prevent the prey from being eaten, reduces your own risk and if the predator leaves, you may enable you to finish the catch.   It would be wise to evaluate each situation and decide “should I bring this fish in closer?”     Prevailing wisdom, sometimes the answer will be a resounding “No.”


Ultimately-The question you need to ask yourself: Do I really want to end up in the water with a feeding, very agitated shark?  If you disregard the message, “roll the dice” and keep using a stringer my question is:  Are you going to be the next person telling the “I’ll never do that again!” story?   That is, if you get to tell the story.      If you read the article maybe you heed the warning.   If you read it and don’t adjust what you are doing:  Darwinism still needs more evidentiary support anyway!

Neil Taylor Owner and Guide:
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Neil Taylor
Full time kayak fishing guide, Neil was an advocate for conservation since before the time he started guiding. Outdoor writer, speaker and radio show host, Neil connected closely with Captain Mel Berman and did many positives with Mel to promote ethical angling. After Mel passed away, Neil managed and eventually became that web site’s owner.