Kayak fishing comes with a steep learning curve. Even if you clocked hundreds or even thousands of hours on the water before, the whole game changes the first time you try to cast from a kayak.
In our opinion, kayak fishing is the ultimate exercise in self-reliance. It’s up to you to propel yourself to the perfect fishing spot. It’s up to you to keep your boat upright when you try to land a big one. And it’s up to you to get yourself home again safely.
The benefits of mastering this art are many. Kayaks allow you a stealth-mode you’ll never get from a motorized boat. You can also take almost any position in the water to meet the fish where they are. Plus, you’ll be as closer to the water as possible (without standing in it), which puts you more in tune with nature.
A kayak even allows you to get up and go. You don’t need gas, storage, trailers, insurance, maintenance fees, or anything else. If the weather’s right, you load up and hit the water.
But before you can reap the benefits of kayak fishing, you need to do a lot of preparation. Our guide takes you from choosing a boat to reeling in a whopper.
Start Here: What Is A Kayak?
Kayaks are slim boats that resemble a canoe in shape. However, kayaks have the distinctive flat bottom, which makes them more stable than a typical deep bottom canoe. Kayaks also come with a two-bladed paddle whereas canoes use a single-bladed paddle.
Kayaks come in many designs and sizes to accommodate the use the owner has for them. You can find lightweight kayaks that are easy for even novices to maneuver. Some kayaks are for touring and thus have a more robust build and a storage compartment for supplies.
Fishing kayaks can come in different shapes and sizes. A fishing kayak is typically a stream-lined vessel with a very narrow width to allow it to navigate tighter spaces. However, you can also fish from recreational kayas, which are broader and provide more stability.
You’ll want to choose a kayak that you have the skills to paddle, and that reflects the water you intend to fish in.
For example, a recreational kayak may not fare well on the river because it doesn’t use a design conducive to making quick turns or using eddys. If you intend to do most of your fishing in fast moving rivers or streams, then a river kayak is the best solution.
Why Use A Kayak For Fishing?
Why use a kayak for fishing when you have a perfectly good motorized boat?
People started fishing in kayaks some 4,000 years ago. Using a kayak isn’t an outdated method of transportation but an acknowledgment and appreciation for the traditional way of fishing. A kayak allows you to fish in stealth-mode in a way no other boat can.
If you are unfamiliar with kayak fishing, you may mistake fishing kayaks for the recreational kayaks available to rent at your nearest public beach. Today’s fishing kayaks couldn’t be further from those recreational toys.
A fishing kayak includes running lights, live wells, crates, and anchor trolleys perfectly designed to support you over a full day of fishing.
You can outfit your fishing kayak with the latest in sports technology—it can even rival some of the most expensive fishing vessels. You can easily install GPS systems, invest in a motorized paddle, and bring out inflatable pouches.
Those who commit to kayak fishing tend to invest in kayaks that allow you to both fish and paddle from a standing position.
How To Choose A Fishing Kayak
As mentioned, new fishing kayaks come with all kinds of customization opportunities. Generally, fishing kayaks come in two base designs: sitting-on top or sitting in the kayak. Both offer different qualities, and we’ll cover those as well as finding the right seat in the How to Find the Right Fishing Kayak Seat section.
From here, you’ll make distinctions for features based on:
- Length and width
- Your height and weight
- The water you intend to fish in
There are so many variables in play that writing a complete kayak guide is impossible. However, you should know that you don’t need to buy a top-of-the-line professional kayak to get started. At a minimum, you do need one that supports your height and weight.
If you are new to kayaking and fishing in a kayak, in particular, then you’ll want to start with a broader vessel. Wider kayaks offer more initial stability, which gives you some wiggle room when you cast or reel. Shorter kayaks are also idea for new paddlers because you don’t need to be a pro to get them into and out of tight spots.
How To Find The Right Fishing Kayak Paddle
The kayak itself is critical, but you aren’t going anywhere without your paddle. Finding the right paddle is the difference between heading out for a few hours or paddling to the perfect spot.
You’ll find the paddle market saturated with different styles and types, and each manufacturer tries to tell you theirs is unique.
For fishing, you want a paddle that’s lightweight but strong enough to give you full control in the water no matter the conditions. A strong shaft is a must because it works against the current on your behalf. The glide on the paddle is also important for cutting through the water.
Prepare to spend on an excellent paddle that is robust. Remember that because you need to anchor down near the shoreline, your paddle will come into contact with trees, rocks, and sandbanks.
In our opinion, you’ll want a fiberglass shaft for durability and reinforced polypropylene blades. It’s true that fiberglass is more expensive than a typical paddle. However, their value becomes immediately apparent. These paddles are less strenuous to use, which helps you build up endurance as you grow accustomed to kayaking.
You’ll have a longer and more enjoyable day on the water.
How To Find The Right Fishing Kayak Seat
Sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks offer different things on the water.
Generally, those in the industry acknowledge that sit-on-top kayaks best suit those who fish in warmer areas or during the summer. Sitting on top gives you better airflow to keep you cooler. On the contrary, sit-in kayaks trap heat inside and need a strong sea breeze to counteract the effect. Plus, when water gets in the sit-in kayaks, it becomes almost like a steam room as the water evaporates.
Now, kayaks come with seats included. However, if you intend to go out for more than a short paddle, you’ll likely need more support than the standard seat will give you.
We recommend looking at a third-party seat. If you have any back problems, a seat with a comfortable back will save you days of back and neck pain after your trip.
If you have lower back pain, use a seat that provides the proper support through deep padding.
Make sure whatever seat you choose is simple to secure to your kayak to prevent you from jerking about in the water.
How To Choose Your Fishing Pole, Bait And Tackle
Poles, bait, and tackle make a difference no matter how you fish, but they need special consideration when you cast from a kayak.
Bring The Right Pole
If you’re new to kayak fishing, you’ll want to start with a short fishing rod.
A shorter rod keeps you nearer the kayak cockpit, which keeps you stable as you’re training to become a paddle master. Your trusty short rod, however, comes with a few caveats that make form very important.
You’ll need to be able to swing a 360-degree circle around your kayak when you cast. If you don’t, you risk the fish taking your rod straight out of your hands if it cuts under your cockpit.
One of the best kayak fishing tips anyone can give a person just starting is to use your cheaper, well-worn short rods during your first few trips. Do not bring your most expensive (or favorite) rods out if you can help it. You will probably flip your kayak a few times as you learn, and it’s better to watch a standard rod sink to the lake or riverbed than your Abu Garcia rods.
Bait And Tackle
The bait and tackle you use depend on what you fish for and where you do it.
However, it’s worth noting that baits with resistance (chatter baits, crankbaits, and spinner baits) can help you steer the kayak. You can use this to your advantage when you cast and use it to subtly use the cast to adjust your position without using your paddle.
Tips For Before You Hit The Water
The next section of tips is for those who have their kayak, a rod, and a dream and are ready to start planning their trip.
Whether you are heading to the pond by your house or further afield, your preparation will always determine how your day goes. These tips will get you started.
How To Find A Kayak Fishing Spot
As someone who loves spending time on the water, you already know: your best bet is to fish smarter—not harder. Location (and a bit of skill) is the difference between a prize fish and bobbing in the water for hours.
If you are already a keen kayaker, then you also need to know that your favorite whitewater spots will not be prime fishing grounds.
So how do you find new spots?
Some guides say to ask a friend, your local sports shop, or even other paddlers. You can do this, but don’t hassle them. Everyone has their favorite fishing spots, and they don’t want to give them up. More importantly, kayak fishing is above all an exercise in self-reliance and adventure. It’s only you on your kayak on the water, so take the same approach when you find a spot.
Use old forum posts, reading fishing reports, do some research on Google Earth. Get out on the water yourself for some good, old-fashioned trial and error. You’ll get out of your research what you put into it.
If you haven’t already, acquaint yourself with concepts around patterns and fishing holes. We recommend learning the old-fashioned way in addition to using high-end electronics because you never know when those will die. Some helpful resources will include:
- Contour maps
- Google Earth
- Depth charts
Keep in mind that your first few trips won’t revolve around catching anything. Instead, you’ll spend your early few days or even weeks learning new areas, especially if you entertain off-shore spots.
Looking for great information that’s seasonal? Start with the local fishing guide association, who often produce literature on the best local spots to give you an idea of what you’ll need with you on the water. TakeMeFishing is another useful resource if you want to head out to a new spot.
How To Map A Lake Or Pond
When you fish in a new pond or lake, you’ll want to map the water to help you find your spot on future outings. If you previously used a motorized boat with graphing electronics, then you’ll be familiar with the concept.
Mapping a lake without a motor and tech isn’t difficult. What you’ll do instead is use your lures to locate the features of the lake.
You can do it in three simple steps:
- Count down the lures
- Use fan casting to dissect the lake
- Use contact lures
As you learn the lake’s features, take pictures or make notes of hard spots, high, spots, and cover off the bank.
When you use counting down, fast casting, and contacts to find cover, you can find your cover spots that don’t get overfished by everyone else who comes out on the lake.
How To Pack For A Fishing Trip
As we reiterated elsewhere in this article, kayak fishing is an exercise in self-reliance. It’s just you, your boat, and your abilities. Your packing list needs to reflect this.
Packing for a kayak fishing trip is an art and science. You have limited space, so every single item needs to work for you.
Let’s start with the essentials. You should not leave home without these items.
Pack These Items First
There are certain pieces of kit that you can’t do without, they include:
- Your paddle
- Life jacket and protective gear
- Bottled water
- Fishing poles
- Sun protection
- Fishing license
Some of these seem obvious, but you should go through the checklist every time you pack. Any kayak enthusiast who says they never once left home without their paddle is lying. And you clearly can’t get any kayaking done without it.
Your life jacket and protective gear are critical not only as you start out but even as you become well acquainted with the water. Most states require you to wear at least a life jacket, but some people still try to get away without it. You never know when conditions will change and when your life jacket and flotation devices will be the difference between making it home safely and drowning.
Bring more water than you think you’ll need. One liter for every three hours on the water is a good benchmark. Kayakers tend to end up in exposed spots, and sunstroke comes on quickly. Carrying more water than you need is a safety issue, and it allows you to stay out longer if the fish don’t feel like biting.
Just as in another boat or on shore, you’ll want multiple fishing poles for the day. However, heed our previous advice about leaving your high-end poles at home—at least at first.
Sun protection is key and goes hand-in-hand with water. You want a hat, sunscreen, and protection for your skin. Sunburn happens even on cloudy days, and it’s important to remember that the sun tends to reflect off the water.
Your knife isn’t just for fish. It will help you cut bait, switch bait, and get you out of tricky, tangled situations.
Your anchor is a must. We discussed finding the right anchor for a kayak earlier.
Whistles are another safety measure, and it’s generally useful. You can use them to let boats know you’re there and let other kayakers know if your line gets tangled. Find one that can be heard up to a mile way in the event you get lost or injured.
Finally, always bring your fishing license. Although most states won’t kick you out of the water if you don’t have it on you, they will put you in time-out until they confirm you have one. That’s valuable time lost. Plus, you make it easier for rangers, and their jobs are hard enough.
Everything else in your kayak should cater to your particular trip. Pack bait, tackle, and all other items according to where you fish, what you want to catch, and how long you intend to be out on the water.
How To Pack Your Fishing Kayak For Success
What you pack and how you pack it are equally important. What’s the point of having your pliers if you can’t reach them when you need them?
Packing and securing your gear means you’ll have it at hand when you need it and avoid losing it when things get crazy.
Here’s what to do.
Pack A Waterproof Bag
Your dry bag is your best friend, and you’ll use it to secure your most essential items. You should pack:
- Bottle of water
- First aid kit
- Electrical equipment
- Space blanket
- Change of undergarments (including socks)
Then, store this dry bag as far out of reach as necessary. Or, use it under your knees to support your hips and back while paddling Ideally, you won’t touch it during your trip.
You won’t need these unless you find yourself in a worst-case scenario, but these items (and keeping them dry) will save your life if that happens.
Make sure you tie down any ice chests and tackle boxes because they will outmaneuver your bungies every time.
Pack Your Gear
At this point, you realize how important it is to do your research before heading out on the water. It all becomes even more apparent when you start to pack your gear.
More gear means more weight on your boat. So only bring the bait and tackle needed for the fish you expect to find.
Additionally, you’ll want your fish handling gear including:
- Fish grips
- Line cutters
- Survival multi-tool
Ideally, your multi-tool or pliers can attach to your life vest (or personal flotation device) so its always on hand when you need it.
Why bring a net? The net brings the fish closer to you, which eases the strain while also leaving your fish halfway in the water.
It’s Time To Fly: Getting To Grips On The Water
You’re packed, you’re ready, but now its time to deal with the unknown: casting and reeling from a finicky boat propelled by a clumsy human.
Learning to fish from a kayak takes time and patients: two things you already have if you love fishing.
How To Control Your Kayak When Fishing
Fishing from a kayak is, in reality, as simple as fishing from the bank. However, there is the matter of the boat. You’ll control the kayak three ways: with your paddle, anchor, and your body.
The two items you’ll use in addition to your rod are your paddle and an anchor. Your anchor stops your boat, so you don’t have to keep paddling. A folding or claw anchor provides enough hold to keep you where you want to be without weighing down your boat.
At the same time as you buy your anchor, you also want to buy a paddle leash. A paddle leash attaches your paddle to your boat so that you can let go of your paddle without being “up the creek without a paddle.” A paddle leash is one of the best tips an experienced paddler can pass on to a new kayaker.
But how do you stay in control when you cast off a kayak? This is where starting on a broader kayak comes into play. Tippier kayaks come with a much steeper learning curve. There is no secret trick to casting off a kayak: you have to do it. Practice, however, makes perfect. So, practice casting while also reaching for other parts of your kayak—and do it before you paddle out to the middle of the lake.
The same principles apply to casting while standing, which is possible from a kayak. Though, it does require more finesse.
Your form is important here, so you want to keep your center of gravity in control. Remain upright with your head centered at all times. Don’t lean to cast or reel. Lean an inch too far in any direction, and you’ll find yourself getting use out of your lifejacket.
Do you feel like it’s just not working for you? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Go out with a kayak angling group, who will be more than happy to offer you advice.
How To Drift In Your Kayak
What happens after you cast? How do you stay in control?
Keep your boat where you want to be even without an anchor by learning how to drift.
To drift, you’ll paddle in one direction and then roll with the current. You can then control your boat with single strokes (on the right or left depending on your target) to stay on track.
If you are out frequently, consider using a drift chute. These catch water under your kayak to minimize momentum without bringing you to a halt.
How To Settle Into An Eddy In Your Kayak
Are you fishing on a river? Use the eddies to help you protect your spot and take a break from the constant paddling.
First, paddle past your spot, and then tuck into the eddy to settle in. Keep in close to the shoreline near the shallow water to mitigate the force of the current. Vegetation slows the current, but you’ll need to be careful not to get caught.
Once you tuck in, you can stay until you decide it’s time to move on—and you won’t even have to use your paddle.
Kayak Fishing Safety
You can here to learn about the technical details, but you have no business being on the water if you don’t know the first thing about water safety.
Whether you kayak alone or in a group, safety issues are far more critical than any fish you’ll ever catch. And even the best planning can’t predict a freak accident. Your best bet, then, is to prepare yourself for the worst and know what to do.
As a general rule, you should always follow these safety tips:
- Wear plenty of sunscreen and reapply
- Pack more water than you need
- Wear light-colored and lightweight clothes to cover your body
- Replace electrolytes where you can
- Check the local weather before paddling
- Carry a safety whistle
- Bring a communication device (if your phone doesn’t work)
- Tell someone where you intend to go and when you’ll be back
- Learn about local hazards (alligators, snakes, etc.)
- Pack a dry bag with essential items to prevent hypothermia
- Don’t take on trips you aren’t ready for
- Participate in paddling and safety courses with certified professionals
What To Do If You Suspect Heatstroke
You should have sun protection gear, plenty of water, and an emergency whistle with you to help ward off heatstroke and ask for help.
But what do you do if it sets in while you’re on the water?
If you suspect heat exhaustion (or stroke), call for help immediately.
After calling for backup, cool down as quickly as possible. Drink plenty of water and splash cold water on yourself if possible. Do your best to move your kayak into the shade while you have the strength and sit in the cold water on the bank when it’s safe.
Be wary of warm water, which can happen when the air temperature is very hot, and there’s no wind.
Why You Should Practice Capsizing
Almost every kayaker—whether fishing or not—will capsize if they go out on the water more than once. You’ll see some weak casts coming out of your neighbor’s kayak because they’re afraid of just that.
Capsizing is an inevitability, not an option.
One of the best tips we have for any kayaker and those fishing is to practice capsizing safely.
Force your boat to roll in a controlled setting without your gear, i.e., in the shallow area with no current and few obstacles. Practice getting in and out of your boat from the water here. It gives you a better idea of the body movements needed to clamber back in and removes some of the fear associated with tipping over.
If you intend to head out into a fast-moving river or on a body of water that presents challenges, take a class on safety before you go. You’ll pick up techniques that you will aid you in case of an emergency rather than having to learn them the hard way.
You’re Ready For Your First Adventure
By the time you reach the end of our list of helpful kayak fishing tips, you should understand that kayak fishing is as much about preparation as it is about technique and strength on the water.
Getting down to the lake and finding you left your paddle at home means you have to stay on the shore. Additionally, it requires you to take on a long list of safety considerations to protect yourself, and others in your group, from the hazards that come with water sports.
Still, there’s no better way to get closer to the fish. Settling in on the water for a long day of fishing is both a challenge and a joy. We hope these tips will make your first or tenth trip just a little bit easier.