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Ultimate Guide to Kayak Fishing Mastery

As more and more people discover the joys of fishing from their kayak, more and more people are seeking to learn and hone their kayak angler technique. If you are hoping to master the art and science of kayak fishing, you need to be a student of your craft. While the theory is fairly simple, there are still lots of things to learn and nuances to tease out when you attempt to fish from your kayak.

Become a Kayak Fishing Master

Why to Kayak Fish

Kayak fishing has continued to grow in popularity over recent years as it ticks so many boxes for the water enthusiast as well as the recreational and professional angler. Kayaks are lightweight, economical, and accessible.

Both fishing and kayaking can appeal to a wide range of people.

  • Like to go with a group? Check.
  • Want more solo endeavors? Check.
  • Looking to go all in? Check.
  • Wanna just keep it casual? Check.
  • Ready to drop a quick line? Check.
  • Planning a multi-day excursion? Check.

There are all sorts of ways and means to kayak fishing and you can hone it to your needs.

Kayaks can be rigged for all sorts of activities and skill levels. They can even be adapted and accessible for all paddlers. Sitting or standing, anchored or drifting, you can get the kayak to work for you as you reel in your catch.

Now, any new activity or sports will have some costs involved and that is definitely true of kayak fishing as well. It certainly isn’t without cost. However, it is way more economical than buying, fueling, insuring, registering, storing, and maintaining a boat. So, if you are already a boat angler, you might find kayaking to be a huge cost savings. And kayak fishing lends itself to simplicity, so if you can manage your tack, you can save on equipment as well. Just a few rods, reels, and lures – just enough to fit in a milk crate and you are good to go. Your biggest expense is likely to be your kayak, but once you have that, they are pretty simple and inexpensive to maintain.

Where to Kayak Fish

The “where” and the “why” of fishing from a kayak are often synonymous. The ability of kayaks to get almost anywhere that a motorized vessel can AND THEN SOME, is the reason that many anglers are switching to a ‘yak. Lightweight, portable, maneuverable, economical, kayaks are a great choice for getting on the water quickly and easily. And the list could go on: fishing in shallow water, flowing water, and oceans, lakes, and rivers. Kayaks let you drop a line in all sorts of situations.

Just about anywhere you can float your kayak, you can fish from it. Urban waterways and wilderness backwaters, 5 inches of skinny water to fathomless depth, your kayak is ready to take you where you want to go.

What You Need to Kayak Fish

The very first note on equipping yourself is While it  might be tempting and even necessary to outfit your rig with gear tracks and fish finders and cupholders and gps and . . . remember that every ounce counts. Anything you add to your yak, you will need to schlepp around. So, keep a minimalist mindset.

  • Kayak

The first thing you will need for kayak fishing is a kayak. But it isn’t quite as easy as picking up the first ‘yak you see. There are some important considerations that may inform your choice.

Long or short: Kayaks come in a range of lengths from long, thin kayaks that are excellent at tracking and speed to those shorter kayaks that are maneuverable and steady. Fishing kayaks tend to be shorter than their recreational / touring counterparts.

Wide or narrow: The wider the kayak the more stable it tends to be. It provides a nice steady platform for standing, casting, etc. Narrower kayaks lend themselves to speed and may be a bit more pitchy and not as conducive to fishing.

Sit-on vs. sit-in: Kayaks today come in two common designs, sit-on or sit-in. The traditional kayak is a sit-in option that allows you to slip into the kayak and provides the most protection from the elements. A sit-on-top kayaking option has risen in popularity over recent years as it allows for easier in/out of the vessels. It is often the choice of kayak fishers because it allows for more range of movement, including letting you stand to cast / fish, and accessible storage, including space to store your rods / lures.

Frame seat or low-profile:  Another consideration for your kayak is whether your seat sits low on the kayak (which will be unavoidable with a sit-in) or whether you opt for a seat that allows you to sit higher on the kayak. A frame seat usually sits higher on the kayak, allows for adjustments, and can be more comfortable. Many kayak anglers prefer a frame seat because they spend more hours on the water and like to see more of the water for catching those whoppers.

Pedal vs. paddle: When purchasing a kayak, you should also consider how you will propel your craft. If you choose the traditional paddle option, make sure you invest in a decent paddle. Paddling is great to really sneak up on the fish as it can be done very subtly. However, many fishers choose pedal because it allows them to have their hands free for casting.

  • Fishing rods holders

Flush mounted: This option is a rod tube placed into the shell of the kayak (or in one piece with the kayak). The opening is flush with the deck of the kayak. It provides probably the most secure hold so it is great for trolling or bait fishing.

Raised mounted: Usually an attachment that is mounted on the kayak and raises the rod above the kayak. It keeps your rods out of the water and can be attached to a gear track for easy removal/adjustment.

Horizontal: A mount that keeps the rod horizontal. This option keeps lines from snagging on low overhangs.

Vertical: This mount option is mostly used for holding your rod when it is not in use or while ferrying from ship to shore.

  • Lures / tackle

The best rule of thumb with tackle is to keep it simple. If you are able, rig a few rods in advance with a couple of lure options and then leave the rest at home (if you can!). Take a little time to find out what it is biting and target your trip with that in mind.  

  • Crate / organization

Be ready to go on a moment's notice by getting organized. A very popular option with kayak anglers is a milk crate - easy to carry, small footprint in your yak, and able to be divided/organized to keep your gear in line. Secure a few rod mounts and slip in your favorite lures and you are ready for a day on the water, especially if the rods are pre-rigged. One or two trips from the car to launch and you are on the water. Easy-peasy.

  • Anchor or anchor trolley

Another important consideration for those who wish to fish from a kayak is an anchor. Kayaks aren’t always the easiest to anchor because they sit so close to the water and you can be in danger of swamping the boat. But if you want to sit and fish a certain area of water an anchor is a nice option. Another option for a kayak is the anchor pole or spike which lets you stay in place in swallow water. An anchor trolley system is also a good idea as it lets you move the kayak to take advantage of wind and current without endangering your kayak or yourself.

  • Leashes, floats, and PFDs

Safety is always important on a kayak so having your leashes, floats, and PFD in order is a must. Make sure that you have an appropriate personal flotation device that fits and it ON your person. (It does no good stashed in the bottom of your yak.) Also consider a paddle leash or float for your paddle to be secured when you aren't actively using it. The last thing you want is to be up a creek without a paddle. . .

  • Transportation & storage

Finally, make sure you have the necessary equipment for transporting and storing your kayak. If you choose a traditional hard-shell yak, you might need to invest in a roof rack and kayak rack mount. However, there are a lot of portable options - even for the kayak angler - available today that makes storing and transporting much easier.

How to Kayak Fish

  • Entering and exiting

Getting the hang of entering and exiting your kayak is probably the most difficult skill when learning to kayak. Whether you are sliding in from shore or perfecting a deck entrance, check out our blog post, How to Get In and Out of a Kayak for some tips on technique.

  • One-handed casting & paddling

If you are interested in kayak fishing, one skill that is vital to hone is your one-handedness. Being able to paddle one-handed means you can control your craft even as you fish. Casting one-handed also lets you keep your paddle at the ready on the other hand. While you don’t need to spend the whole day with your paddle in one hand and your fishing rod in the other, there are moments when you need to be able to navigate both to stay safe and land that fish!

  • Use your feet

Another unique aspect of a kayak is that you are able to use your feet in ways that you don’t in a different type of vessel. Because it is so close to the water, you can actually drop a leg in to help you steer, flip that catch into the boat, (carefully) push off an obstacle, snag a branch to stay in place, or cool off a bit. You can also use your feet if you’ve opted for pedal propulsion. This leaves your hands free for fishing.

  • Cast to steer

Because of the lightweight nature of a kayak, it doesn’t take much to steer it in the direction you wish to go. In fact, depending on the current and weight of your jig/lure, you can cast in the direction you want to go and as you reel in, your kayak will follow. This allows you another way to navigate your yak and keep two hands available for fishing.

  • Standing or sitting

Another skill you might want to develop as you delve deeper into kayak fishing is learning to cast from a seated position (or eventually learning to stand up in your kayak). Because of the nature of a kayak, you are much closer to the water than in a traditional boat. This will require you to adjust your cast. Keep your back cast high so you don’t slap the water behind you. As you improve your core strength and balance, you can also stand in your kayak to cast and get a better view beneath the water. This works best on a sit-on-top kayak with a stable platform. You can even invest in a stand-up assist band that secures to your kayak and helps you pull yourself into a standing position.

  • Jigging / Drifting / Trolling

Get your kayak to work for you as you work to snag that whopper.

Jigging: Jigging requires you to move the rod tip so that the lure appears to jump and jig like live bait. This often requires a more vertical angle than a low-profile seat in a kayak allows. Kneeling or standing in your kayak will help to improve your angle.

Drifting: Kayaks can drift differently, but you can let the current work for you. Again, your leg or foot can come in handy for adjusting the angle and speed of your drift.

Trolling: Setting your line and trolling is also effective on a kayak. The average speed on a kayak is around 3 miles/hour which is great for trolling. This is pretty simple if you have pedal power as you can work your line as you continue to move; however, you can also troll with paddle power. Bring your kayak up to speed, cast your line and set your rod, then continue to paddle.

  • Hooking and landing a fish

The fight is on! You’ve finally got a hit so set that hook hard. This is particularly important in a kayak since you are so close to the water and might not have the angle advantage if you are seated. With your lightweight kayak, you can quickly find yourself on the ride of your life. A fish might try to drag you into danger so be prepared with that paddle (one-handed is a necessity once again). Reverse with your paddle or pedal. If you are paddling, get your kayak positioned with your bow away from danger as quickly as possible.

Use the rod to drag against the fish and steer the kayak. If the fish goes left, draw the rod to the right side of your yak. If it goes deep, lift your rod high. Reel in so the line is short and the kayak stays in position over the fish, if possible.

Landing a fish in a kayak can be an exciting, whole-body experience. Draw the fish alongside the kayak. If it is small enough, you might be able to just swing it into the boat on the line. If it is bigger, you can dip your leg in the water and lift the fish into the kayak - and then cover it with your legs to keep it from flopping out. (Be aware of spines or teeth and have a rag ready to cover if possible.) A landing net can also be used if you have space for it in your kayak.

Don’t forget to measure and photograph before you release. If it's a keeper, you might want to consider a soft sided cooler as it is lightweight and easier to fit, but sometimes that is more work than it is worth.

Kayak fishing continues to rise in popularity as more and more anglers discover the excitement, accessibility, and delight of fishing from the water in a kayak. There is a great community of like-minded individuals ready to share tips and tricks. Happy Fishing!


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