A Shark Shield for peace of mind
by Ross C.
After purchasing an "Evolution Debu" SOT Kayak last Summer to chase Mackerel off South East Queensland beaches, during the first couple of trips, I started to become somewhat uneasy when I thought about the fact that I was dragging bait around to entice pelagic species which, after playing them alongside, I then had to gaff and bring aboard with the risk of blood and pilchard pieces trailing under my kayak. I figured that, if Mackerel liked Pilchards dragged behind a Kayak, then maybe Tiger Sharks or Bronze Whalers might like Mackerel thrashing around beside a kayak or even those hairy little white legs that sometimes appeared over the side when I was balancing my kayak to move around the deck.
I therefore decided to spend whatever it took to improve my odds if ever I had an offshore encounter with any type of dangerous Shark and, after a bit of research, it seemed to me that the only credible devices available were the Australian made electronic "Shark Shield" range.
Both Hooked on Kayaks (an Australian specialist kayak fishing distributor) and the licensed manufacturer (Seachange Technologies) pointed me towards the rechargeable "Freedom 4" model. The "Freedom 4" was the result of extensive research by the Natal Shark Board in South Africa as well as tests in South Australian waters and, even though it was developed primarily for spear-fishers and scuba-divers, it would last the four hours operational time that I required as well as being portable enough for me to adapt to my kayak.
Upon receiving the device I tested it in a bucket of saltwater and proved that the battery pack lasted more than five hours and verified that it put out an electric field by placing my fingers in the bucket (they were very quickly removed).
After a bit of experimenting I decided the best way to deploy the "Freedom 4" was to wear it on a sturdy webbing belt such that I could look down on my left hand side and see the green light flashing to indicate correct operation.
Freedom 4 mounted on LHS so indicating light can be seen
By having it attached to me instead of the kayak I reasoned that if I was ever dumped in the surf or became otherwise separated from the kayak then the Shark Shield would be attached to me and still doing its job.
Freedom 4 attached to waist belt
The only issue with this strategy was that I needed to have enough of the tail in the saltwater to completely cover the top electrode so that the device could operate correctly (there is a bottom electrode and a top electrode on the tail which is said to create a shark deterring electric field in the water surrounding the tail when properly deployed trailing beside and behind the kayak).
Initially I was just letting the tail loosely trail behind but as I paddled faster water resistance tended to lift the top section out of the water and the top electrode was not completely covered even though the Debu's deck is fairly low to the water. I overcame this by attaching a piece of foam noodle just behind my seating position and this now restrains the tail keeping it pointed more vertically into the water and the top electrode covered at all paddling speeds as can be seen in the photo where I have used white tape with an arrow to mark the start of the top electrode.
Foam "noodle" to prevent tail from dragging out of the water
Even when I slide forward along the deck, the electrode stays below the surface which means the device is working correctly at the time when I most need it (with my legs in the water).
Tail correctly deployed when moving forward on the deck
Seeing as I was wearing the Shark Shield on the left hand side of my belt I decided to balance things out by wearing my waterproof VHF radio in a leather case on the right hand side of the belt. To make sure both valuable pieces of equipment would float if I had to undo the belt, I attach a foam float that drags behind me as I move back and forth along the deck.
Webbing belt with Freedom 4, VHF radio, and foam float
After six trips using this system I have got used to wearing the belt and positioning the tail in front of the noodle with the float behind me as I climb aboard. In fact the deployment process requires minimal effort and so far the tail, being on the port side and usually trailing behind, has not got in the way when I have been fighting fish (I always work on fighting a fish with the bow pointed towards it and then manoeuvre it to the starboard side of the kayak once it becomes tired). So far I've only used my system on the "Evolution Debu" and am yet to try it on differently shaped kayaks.
For anyone considering a "Shark Shield" I suggest you do your own thorough research and make up your own mind as to its effectiveness because, so far, I have not proven that it actually works nor do I really want to be put in a situation where I find out. What the "Shark Shield" has given me, however, is greater peace of mind knowing that I have done all I can to make my offshore fishing safer, and I now enjoy my offshore fishing trips much more, comforted by looking down occasionally and seeing that little green light flashing on my belt.