by Jacob Freeman
Skishing can be a truly intense and thrilling sport, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to be properly equipped for the conditions in which you will find yourself. Being properly equipped goes a long way toward your safety while you are in the water, and failure to follow these guidelines will greatly increase your risk of serious injury or even death. That said, within each category there are many options and variables. If you are considering taking the plunge, take the time to do your research and figure out what will suit you best.
I will attempt in this article to outline the gear that is essential, in my opinion, as well as optional gear that I would recommend you carry. I will also speak a bit on the subject of safety in general, and things to be mindful of before and during your swim.
Essential Gear Checklist:
· Wetsuit – The most obvious piece of equipment. There are many different kinds of wetsuits on the market, and obviously not everyone wears the same type or thickness. What will work best for you really depends on your build, how much ‘natural’ insulation you’re carrying, and the water temperature in which you will be swimming. There are a couple things to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a suit. First of all, you’ll be a lot better off in a thicker suit than one that is too thin. If you get a bit too warm, just let a little water in and you’ll cool right down, but if you’re not insulated well enough and getting cold there’s nothing you can do about it when you’re 200 yards from shore. You’re generally not expending a whole lot of energy when you’re drifting, so it’s much easier to get chilled than if you were surfing or swimming constantly. A thicker suit also provides a bit more cushion when you get slammed into a rock by a wave, and provides a higher level of buoyancy. When shopping for a suit, keeping mind that you do not want it to fit so tightly that it restricts circulation to your extremities, as this will hamper your ability to stay warm and can also lead to muscle cramps. Many folks prefer a 5 or 7mm farmer john style suit, while others prefer a full suit. Personally, I have very little in the way of ‘natural’ floatation or insulation, and am comfortable in a 7mm Bare Arctic full suit for water temps above 60 degrees. For water temps below 60 degrees, I add a 7mm hooded shorty vest over the top of my full suit, which gives me a full 14mm on my torso from the knees up. Check out www.scubatoys.com for some great deals!
· Boots & Gloves – In cold water you need to keep your feet and hands warm as well. A pair of 5mm – 7mm dive boots will run you about $40 and keep your toes toasty. Neoprene dive gloves in the 3 – 5mm range will also run you around $40 for a decent pair and you’ll be glad you spent the $. In addition to keeping your hands & fingers warm, gloves are essential to protecting your hands from cuts and scrapes on barnacle encrusted rocks.
· Fins – Really any fin will work, but most prefer a short to medium length fin. Force Fins are popular among the Montauk skishing crowd. Though I’ve not yet tried Force Fins, I’ve really had no major issues using a standard length dive fin. One advantage I can see of using a shorter fin would be that they would be easier to walk in during your entry and exit from the surf, or when climbing onto a rock. I currently use Tusa Expert split fins, modified with screws through the bottom of the foot pocket to provide some traction on slippery rocks.
· Compass – This is an essential piece of equipment if you will be going out on a dark night or in foggy conditions. Do NOT leave the shore without one in these conditions and make sure you take a reading before you go in the water so that you will always know which direction you have to go to get back to shore. I use a wrist mounted compass like this:
· Knives – In the event that you get tangled in fishing line, hook something much larger than you can handle in the water, or encounter a larger tooth bearing fish, you’ll want a knife. If you drop your knife, you’ll want another one. I carry a medium sized folding knife on my belt, and a larger blade on my calf. Make sure you keep these sharp and rust free. Titanium blades are becoming fairly economical and are much less prone to rusting than any stainless blade in the same price range. Most other tools I carry are leashed, so that I do not lose them, but I prefer not to leash my knives. I do not want anything like that getting in the way or hampering their use when I need them.
· Pliers – Get yourself a good pair of corrosion resistant pliers, with a cutting edge strong enough to cut a hook, and a sheath, to aid in hook removal and line cutting. Again, since these will be completely submerged in saltwater most of the time, it is a good idea to get a pair that is not at all prone to corrosion or wash them thoroughly after each swim (not something I tend to have time for). If you insist on using barbed hooks, it is essential that your pliers be strong enough to cut through a hook in the event that you end up with it buried in your flesh. I strongly recommend crimping the barbs on your hooks, as this not only makes it much easier to unhook a fish while you are swimming, but it also will allow you to pull it out if you stick yourself inadvertently. I ALWAYS crimp the barbs on my plugs and anything else with a treble hook. Unless bluefish are prevalent, I usually do not crimp the barb of jigs, eel hooks, or single hook tins. Leash your pliers to the sheath to prevent loss should you accidentally drop them.
· Waterproof light – On night swims you will want to make sure that you bring along a waterproof light. I prefer a headlamp type light, but instead of wearing it on my head, I pull it down around my neck. This eliminates the possibility that it will get swept away when a breaker crashes over me. This light is not only there to help you see when necessary, but it is also there to help you be seen at night. Boaters at night will not usually see you unless you have a light on you and swimming without one increases your risk of an accident. Do not keep it on all the time, but if a boat is headed your way, make sure you switch your light on in their direction to increase your chances of being seen and maybe they won’t run you down. Personally, I try to avoid skishing in areas frequented by boat traffic at night. There are several decent waterproof headlamps on the market. I use a UK Vizion dive lamp and it has proven to be one tough little light.
· Waterproof Reel – Your reel is going to be completely submerged 90% of the time or more. You must have a reel that can hold up to use in these conditions. Van Staal and ZeeBaaS are really the only options in my opinion.
· Rod – A surf rod rated for 1 – 4 oz in the 10 to 11 foot range is preferable. The length of the rod does two specific things for you when you are skishing. First, it aids casting distance. When casting with only your head and shoulders above the water, especially in heavy swell, a longer rod helps you get above the waves with your cast and helps make the effort put into a cast more effective. Secondly, a longer rod provides more leverage when fighting a large fish. When fighting a fish in their environment, a little extra leverage goes a long way.
· Rod Leash – A lanyard between your rod and your body to prevent loss if dropped. There are a number of effective ways to leash your rod, and preferences vary. I prefer a leash with some stretch to it, with one end attached to the rod just behind the reel seat and the other end clipped to a D-ring on my belt. I’ve found this arrangement to provide me with the greatest range of motion.
Some folks prefer a short leash from the rod to their wrist, but I like to be able to drop the rod and have my hands completely free at times such as when I am unhooking a fish. I also have a leash on my pliers and boga.
· Additional Safety Items– in addition to a compass (mentioned above) and the other gear mentioned above, I would also recommend that you carry a loud waterproof whistle, emergency strobe light, and a length of cord that can be used as a tourniquet. Going with a buddy is also a very good idea.
Optional gear recommendations
· Plug bag – The plug bag you carry should close very securely so that there is no chance that it will open unexpectedly. The belt bags I use have both Velcro and a quick release buckle. If you bag only has a Velcro closure, make sure there is plenty of it. Add some if you need to or add a buckle. Velcro is not as effective when it’s wet, especially if it gets choked up with sand or weeds. I once made the mistake of relying on the Velcro alone and not taking the extra couple seconds to clip the quick release buckle together. Next thing I know, I get rolled by a breaker and spend the next 15 minutes looking for the plugs that floated out of my bag when it opened. If you’re eeling or jigging, you can remove the tubes from your bag and use it to carry eels in Ziplocs as well as bucktails, pork rinds, and a swim shad or two.
· Boga – (or similar lip gripper) This is a really handy tool to have when the bluefish are around, especially if you fish plugs with trebles (ALWAYS crimp the barbs on those trebles for an easier release!!). I carry mine in an Aquaskinz sheath which helps keep it free of sand and weeds, but clipping it to a D-Ring on your belt is also a viable option.
Before you get in the water, do your homework on the area. Look at nautical charts of the area and learn the submerged structure. Learn what the currents do at different stages of the tide so you do not find yourself sucked out to sea in a current faster than you can swim. Use the currents to your advantage to get where you want to go (and back again if you time your swim around a tide change). Look at the forecasts for approaching storm systems and wave height. If it’s too wild out, don’t risk it.
This article is a work in progress, and I will be adding more information and photos as I find the time. If you are interested in getting into skishing, please take the time and spend the money to equip yourself well, pick your days, and do it as safely as possible. There are inherent risks involved with any activity that puts you in the surf zone and in the home of all manner of toothy sea creatures. Know the risks involved, use your head, and have a blast!
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