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Backcountry Kayak Fishing: Reaching Untouched Waters

If the lure of uncrowded access, unpressured fishing, and untouched waters is singing your song, you might want to put a backcountry kayak fishing trip on your bucket list. Finding those pristine waters and untouched fish isn’t always easy, but it can be worth it. 

Backcountry fishing can be found from Florida to Minnesota if you put in some effort to find it. You probably have some fairly untouched waters not too far from where you live. The challenge can be getting to it. One of the joys of kayaking is that these crafts can access some of these hidey-holes. 

Backcountry Kayak Fishing Techniques

  • Navigation
  • By its very nature, backcountry (or untouched) waters are going to be less chartered than more accessible (and therefore more thoroughly mapped) waters. Spend time on websites for state & federal parks, use digital maps and satellite views, peruse guidebooks, and definitely lean into local groups / chat rooms / etc. Be prepared to deviate from the plan as nature makes changes to your course. Access to these backwater locations can be challenging. Put in points might be difficult to hike to and parking might be non-existent so proper preparation is key. 

    Once on the water, you can navigate more straightforwardly, but you must stay vigilant. Courses will change because of storms, water levels, down trees, etc. If you don’t have GPS or if it fails, you should travel with a compass and paper map (freshwater) or chart (salt). And you should also know how to use it. Without getting into the weeds of navigation, a few essential questions you should be able to know from a map/chart and compass: how do I follow a bearing, how do I know where I am on a map, how do I navigate to a point on the map from my location, how do I estimate the distance I’ve traveled?

  • Fishing
  • Now that you’ve reached that elusive spot, it’s time to fish. Keeping it simple is key for kayaking in general and even more so when you are carrying or paddling everything with your own power. Instead of the whole kit and caboodle, pare down your gear to the minimum. Two rods so one can troll while you cast or one can be pre-rigged with your second choice lure if the first doesn’t yield much. Take a small variety of lures for different depths as you find out where the fish are hiding. 

    Of course, you can use the advantages of a kayak. Sneak up on the fish with your stealth ‘yak. Reduce paddle or pedal use as you get close and don’t drop or knock your paddle on the kayak. You can also get into “skinny” water. These areas of shallow water can often produce some nice strikes as the fish hang out and feed.   

  • Portage Etiquette
  • The likelihood of having to carry (or portage), on a backcountry trip is pretty high. So make sure you know the “rules of the road” when it comes to carrying your kayak. While, you are likely hoping to avoid seeing a single soul on your trip, if you do be courteous. Don’t leave your gear in the middle of access / entry points. Hikers should yield right of way to those carrying a canoe or kayak. If someone is faster than you, allow them to pass. And above all, be friendly. 

    Backcountry Kayak Fishing Tips

  • Leave no trace
  • If you are looking for pristine, untouched spaces, make sure that you leave them for the people who follow you. Whether on a day trip or a multi-day camping excursion, you should make sure that whatever you pack in, you pack out. Don’t leave trash, don’t cut down live trees, and don’t disturb the wildlife. Leave your campsite as you found it – or better. Camp and hike on durable surfaces. Bury human waste or pack it out with you.  

  • Weather safety
  • Always keep an eye on the sky. Before you begin your trip make sure to check the forecast. It is better to postpone a trip than to be caught in a dangerous situation. If a weather event does spring up while you are paddling, get to shore as quickly as possible. 

    Try to find shelter. If you can’t find shelter, at the least get away from the water. Lightning will strike the tallest objects first, like a tree or pole, so seek out a low point and make yourself as small as possible. Crouch or knee on clothing or something that doesn’t conduct electricity. Make sure you are wearing shoes as well. Don’t lay flat on the ground (lightning travels horizontally and you want to have as little contact with the ground as you can). If you are with others, spread out and don’t huddle together as a group. Try to keep 5 meters between kayakers. 

    Storms can also bring strong winds and rising waters. Again, getting off the water is important. If you must paddle with strong wind and current, be sure to point yourself into the wind. 

  • Hanging / storing food
  • Play it safe with your food and make sure to keep it high and dry if you are staying overnight in the woods. Whether you are in bear country, want to avoid dampness, or fear rodents, hanging your food off the ground (and away from the tree trunk) is your best bet.  

  • Know your area
  • Make sure that you have researched your trip beforehand. Even if it is only a day-trip paddle up a backwater tributary, you need to know the lay of the land. While there are numerous apps and GPS devices available today, a paper map or compass can also come in handy. Or even better hire a local guide to take you to some little touched areas. 

    Backcountry Kayak Fishing Gear

  • Fishing gear
  • Smaller kayaks (inflatable, foldable) and stand-up paddle boards are excellent for backwater paddling. They are easier to carry / portage and allow access to skinny water.

    When fishing in the backcountry, it is important to remember to keep it simple. Since access is more difficult, getting to your spot can mean extra effort. The goal is to keep the weight down and streamline your load. Foldable and retractable items are good. Limiting lures and rods to the bare minimum is important.

  • Safety gear
  • Thinking safety first is particularly important in backcountry kayak fishing adventures. The further off the grid you go the longer it will take for help to arrive – if you are even able to send for help.

    Make sure you have a good first aid kit and know how to use it. Wear your PFD at all times on the water. It doesn’t do any good stashed on the bottom of your yak. If you don’t have cell phone access, you should consider a satellite phone or at the very least leave a float plan for someone who can call in the calvary if you don’t arrive back when expected.

  • Survival gear
  • The gear you need to survive may vary greatly depending on the water that you are paddling so pack smartly. Always include sun protection (even in cold / cloudy conditions). You will be exposed to UV rays no matter what, so cover up exposed skin with appropriate clothing or lotion. Be sure to include lip protection. 

    Consider your nutritional needs, especially as you will be exerting energy to paddle. Include snacks for energy. Hydration is also key. Whether you are packing it in or filtering it on-site, consider bringing something with electrolytes. 

    Layers, layers, layers. No matter where you are fishing, bringing lightweight, protective layers is a gamechanger. Whether you get unexpectedly dunked or a surprised storm rolls in, you want to be prepared. 

  • Camping gear
  • With all the effort needed to get to backcountry waters, many kayakers like to make a multiple-day camping trip out of it. If that is your plan, remember to think more like a backpacker than a traditional camper.  Keep your gear list small and lightweight. Depending on the weather you might just need a tarp rather than a full tent. You can eat your catch or bring freeze-dried meals, but focus on keeping it simple. 

    Enjoying a backcountry expedition can be a delightful way to get away from it all. With a little bit of preparation and motivation, you can dip your lines where no one has before (or at least a lot fewer anglers have). Happy Fishing!

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