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Kayak Fishing Conservation: 4 Ways to Conserve

As more and more enthusiasts catch the kayak fishing bug, more and more stress is placed on our waterways and oceans. It is vital as a community that we continue to be mindful of the ecosystems that we come into contact with and develop best practices to mitigate our negative impacts. While there is a lot to be said for kayaking as an earth-friendly way to get on the water, we still need to stay mindful.

There is so much we can do to ensure that we leave a vibrant, healthy environment to the next generation. Here are just a few steps you can take to do your part.

Kayak Fishing Conservation Tips

1. Practice Responsible Fishing Behavior

  • Engage in catch & release

While most kayak fishers already practice this, catching and releasing fish is an important step in conserving, protecting, and sustaining our earth’s aquatic life. But you might wonder why it is so important. When done correctly, catch & release practices allow the fish to keep growing and reproducing, be caught more than once, sustain the population of fish (particularly sensitive species), and create opportunities for the next generation.

However, it is important that you learn proper techniques so the fish survive to fight another day.

Avoid live bait. Fish are more likely to swallow live bait resulting in deep hooking situations that are more difficult, if not impossible, for the fish to survive. Choose artificial bait and lures instead and use single or barbless hooks.

Avoid a long, drawn-out fight. While there is an adrenaline rush when you have that fish on the line. Resist the urge to draw out the fight. Playing a fish to exhaustion makes it harder for them to recover. Stay close to the fish, use a net, and always attend to your lines to monitor and respond quickly.

Avoid handling the fish too much. Keep the fish in the water as long and as much as possible. Handle it with wet hands or gloves to reduce injury from loss of the fish’s protective layer and support it properly (around the belly or cradled in a net). Never grasp from the gills.

Remove the hook quickly. As quickly as possible (and as close to the water as possible) remove the hook. Stay calm, use the right tools, and if needed cut the line as close to the hook as possible.

Plan your photo op. If you are planning on taking a photo, be prepared. Keep the fish wet as long as possible and have your photography ready. Grip the fish well and swiftly bring it out of the water by the belly and tail. Let it calm for just a minute and then capture the image quickly. Return the fish to the water as soon as possible (or between shots if necessary).

Release well. Make sure to let your catch recover before releasing it. Hold it upright under water for a few moments. Make sure it is ventilating. You can even face it into the current for a “breath of fresh air” to get it revived. Let it swim on its own. If the fish was brought up from deep water, it might need more recovery time to avoid a condition known as “barotrauma” (think of a scuba diver with the bends). The swim bladder of a fish expands and can damage or kill the fish. If you are fishing deep water, there are devices and techniques for returning the fish to the proper levels at which the gasses can recompress and the fish can survive.

  • Adhere to limits

Another responsible practice is to know and respect the regulations that are in place. Some areas will restrict anglers to strictly catch & release practices. Often there will be a size/weight/number limit of “keepers” or further regulations guiding the rules on native species during spawning, etc. Know and follow the rules to ensure there are healthy populations for years to come.

  • Avoid stressful water conditions

There are times that are simply more stressful for fish than others. In low flow or high temperatures, it might be wise to take a break and watch the fish from the bank rather than contribute to stress in the wildlife.


2. Invest in Sustainable Equipment

There are more and more options for sustainable, biodegradable, eco-friendly equipment than ever before. Consider your purchases with an eye toward protecting our oceans, rivers, and streams.

Choose biodegradable & nontoxic. Manufacturers today are creating options for anglers that are eco-friendly, biodegradable, and nontoxic. Biodegradable lures break down more easily if they are ingested by fish and they can still be made in all sorts of colors and designs to attract your target. Eco-friendly weights eschew the lead for more non-toxic options that are less damaging if left in the water. Even fishing line can be found that is a biodegradable monofilament that breaks down faster than traditional line. 

Choose earth-friendly attractants: If you use attractants, make sure they are earth-friendly. Check out biodegradable, water soluble, gentle on the environment options.

Choose sustainable kayak materials: Even kayaks today are engineered with the environment in mind. Select non-toxic and recycled plastics, wood, or aluminum (which can also be recycled). Or research non-traditional options like nitrylon for a more eco-friendly inflatable or even a new sustainable kayak made with wool!


3. Minimize Environmental Impact

As in your everyday life, making a conscious effort to leave less impact on our environment can make a lasting difference.

Recycle. So many things can be recycled, but of particular interest to anglers is fishing line. If you aren’t using a biodegradable line, use a monofilament or fluorocarbon line as  they can be recycled. Look for recycling bins in bait and tackle shops, near boat ramps, on piers, and at other fishing access points.

Leave no trace As much as possible, whatever you bring with you should leave with you. Carry out your trash and leave nature the way you found it. Avoid leaving a mark. Try not to disturb habitats (and of course, obey instructions regarding off-limit areas and species.)

Handle kayaks safely. Watch your equipment. Make sure it isn’t leaking anything potentially toxic. Keep it in good shape and try to avoid catching it in/on underwater growth, reefs, etc. Kayaks are notable for getting safely into swallow spaces but make sure that you are respecting the land and water.

Protect water quality and quantity. The more you do to preserve and protect, the more you will have to enjoy. Ensure that you are doing your part to protect waterways from pollution and overuse. In fact, this can begin at home by conserving water, avoiding over irrigation, and fixing leaks promptly.

Prevent spread of invasive species. You can also do your part to stop non-native, destructive species. Practice clean.drain.dry. Especially if you have been fishing far from home, you want to ensure that you aren’t bringing back with you anything that might harm your local waters.  


4. Support Sustainable Fishing Practices

  • NO to overfishing

There is a tendency to want to point the finger and blame commercial fishing companies for the depletion of our natural resources but everyone can play a role, especially as more and more people pick up a rod and join the ranks. We all have a part to play in reducing the impact we have on fish populations. As already mentioned make sure that you are releasing your catch, watching your limits, and obeying regulations for species and size.

  • Pay the fees

Yes, buying a fishing license, getting a launch permit, or registering your craft (if required) are actually things you can do to support fish populations and a healthy sustainable ecosystem. Those fees provide the funding for a number of aquatic conservations projects as well as upkeep to public boat ramps and facilities, education and awareness programs, and state fish and wildlife resource agencies.

  • Support Marine organizations

You can further aid the cause of marine health by supporting organizations that work to keep our waterways healthy. Whether you give to an organization you believe in or get in on a local river / beach clean up, you can be part of the solution.


Let’s make sure kayak fishing can be a healthy, enjoyable activity for the next season and the next generation. Happy fishing!

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