Ultimate Guide To Kayak Fishing
Kayak Fishing Guide

Kayak Fishing Guide

Humans are the top of the food chain. Thanks to our intelligence, we’ve conquered the world and now act as it’s rulers and protectors. Hah!

Jokes aside, one sometimes does want to get back to a simpler mode of existence. Solitude, seclusion, peace and quiet. Finding your own food. Being at the mercy of the wild blue yonder.

Well, kayak fishing is a remnant from the time people had to rely on their predatory instincts in order to survive, and their place in the food chain was far less certain.

Some 4000 years ago, the Inuit (an indigenous people of the Northern Arctic lands) invented the kayak as a universal single person boat. They figured that they could stretch seal skin over a driftwood or whalebone frame and seal the holes with fat.

The result was a light, but sturdy boat which the Inuits used it for everything - transportation, hunting and fishing. It was an indispensable part of their culture and way of life. 

By George Francis Lyon (1795-1832) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Modern kayak fishing is much more about the fun than the survival. However, it’s a great way to reconnect with nature and to remember you’re a part of the living world. It MAY be handy in the event of a zombie apocalypse too - zombies can't swim, right?

You’re going out there, sitting low in your kayak, paddling through the water, hunting for food. Isn’t this exciting?

Well I think it is and we’re going to talk all about kayak fishing in this article. If you’re new to kayak fishing or interested in trying it out, make sure to finish this article as we’ll share some invaluable tips for beginners.

Advantages and disadvantages of kayak fishing

Kayaking puts you really close to nature. Your lower half is practically submerged or level with the water. If you're adept at trout tickling, you could probably catch a fish with your bare hands.

The kayak is a fast and nimble boat. Paddling can easily get you going as fast as a small propeller boat. At the same time, good bracing techniques can stop you dead and turn you around in your spot.

man kayak fishing in lily pads in yellow kayak

Trading in your propeller for muscle power gives you unexpected advantages. Kayaks are practically silent and you paddle barely disturbs the water. You can move stealthily in the water and approach schools of fish much closer than you normally would with a prop boat.

In the bay around where I live you can meet dolphins (friendly) and seals (scary) up close, and pretty much by accident. It's a very stealthy craft.

The Inuits knew that you can put a white cloth over the bow and you would trick less intelligent creatures to think you were just an iceberg floating on the water. Modern kayaks come in a range of colours, including camouflage, if you are so inclined.

Of course, there are some drawbacks, or perhaps it’s better to say challenges to kayak fishing. Kayaks are less stable and closer to the water. You have to be careful reaching out too far or you may end up going for a swim. Actually, you should get used to being wet more often.

Also, kayak fishing is a more intensive sport. You will need to focus, be organised and multitask in order to get things done. It’s tiring, but you’re into more faced-paced action, kayak fishing is very rewarding.

Kayak fishing is an extreme sport

Kayaking and fishing are sufficiently difficult on their own and in many occasions extreme. Doing both of them simultaneously needs you operating on a higher level. Kayak fishing requires skill, presence of mind, awareness and preparedness to react in case of emergency.

Kayaking in white water

You have to be experienced in kayaking. This is important! You need to be confident in the water first before you start fishing.If you’ve never paddled before, we advise to go get some training and spend some time practising.

At the very least, you should be able to:

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    Get in and out of the kayak from land and water
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    Paddle and brace in various positions
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    Recover from a capsized position
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    Maintaining balance while sitting, kneeling and standing up if the kayak allows
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    Be aware of your position and circumstances

If you’re an experienced kayaker already, great. You’re ready to start fishing.

Perhaps I'm just being overly safety conscious, but I think having some experience in the water is great before you tack on another skill like fishing.

Planning and awareness

Kayak fishing requires you to focus on multiple fronts. You’re paddling, fighting to control your position. You’re also fighting the fish, trying to go back home with dinner.

It’s easy to forget about your surroundings which cause accidents.

The last thing you want is to get blown out to sea where you’ll have to paddle like a mad dog to get back on shore. And, you definitely want to watch out for that huge log that’s overhanging from the river bank. Also, that ship crossing the channel - the one weirdly pointed towards your kayak - looks bigger than it did just a couple of minutes ago. Hey, is it starting to rain?

Man and woman kayaking on sunlit water

The point is, you need to plan your fishing trips and remain aware of the circumstances. This will keep you safe and let you have fun.

Here are the most important things you need to consider before and during your trip.

What body of water are you entering?

Different waters offer different kayaking conditions which will have specific requirements for you and your equipment. The lake, the river and the sea are dramatically different environments that dictate what kayak you need, how you have to paddle and of course how you have to actually fish.

Each kayak is unique. It’s shape, dimensions, how high or low it drafts and other physical properties are designed to function in specific waters. There is no “one size fits all”. Some kayaks are decent for more than one type of water, but in the end, you’re always trading in some properties for others.

Kayaking at sea
At sea, the wind can be your ally or your biggest enemy. The waves, tidal movement and water currents will result in a less stable ride. 

Sea kayaks are long and narrow. They are great for chopping through the waves and maintaining a straight course. Some of them have additional features like skegs and rudders to further help you track and maintain your direction.

Sit-on-top kayaks on the beach

The narrow form allows the kayak to sit low in the water and feel less resistance. This helps you gain speed and cross large distances with less paddling.

What you gain in speed and tracking you trade in manoeuvrability. Sea kayaks are harder to turn, but luckily you won’t have to do as many sharp turns as you would in the river.

Kayaking in rivers
In the river, you’re going to combat the current, some rapids, floating debris, underwater rocks, logs and the ghosts of lost kayakers.

You will use a kayak that is nimble while offering stability to keep you afloat in rough waters. River kayaks are shorter and wider. They are very stable and significantly harder to capsize.

In addition, a short kayak can make very sharp turns, which is important, because there will be obstacles in your path. Often you will need to make a series of sharp turns, almost like a water slalom in order to pass through some rapids, or debris.

Wide kayaks draft higher in the water, often time on the very surface. However, getting them to speed is harder as the wide surface feels more resistance from the water. Thankfully, you will rely in parts on the flow of the river to get you where you’re going. Or at least get you back.

Kayaking on lakes
Lakes are somewhere in the middle. Typically, there are fewer issues to worry about. The water is mostly still with few obstacles to go around. It’s perfect to make your first steps kayaking on a lake, if you can.

Man Kyak Fishing

On smaller lakes, you should go with a shorter, wider kayak choosing manoeuvrability above all. On big lakes, especially in their interior, the wind can make the water choppy, therefore calling for a longer and narrower kayak.

What is the weather going to be?

Weather is very important. A fun fishing trip can turn into a nightmare and a dangerous experience. You must always check the weather reports before you go kayaking.

Heed warnings of strong winds, storm predictions and generally bad weather. If the weather is unforgiving during your trip, chances are you’re not going to have fun. Or worse, you can end up in a dangerous situation. Kayaks are small and at the mercy of the water.

Winds seriously impact your direction and speed. If you’re kayaking at sea and the wind is blowing against you, it will cause you to slow down or spend a lot of energy paddling. If it’s blowing from the side, it will cause your kayak to veer to either direction and force you do corrective strokes.

lightning storm over water

High winds will also cause big waves. If you’re paddling along a rocky coastline, this can become very dangerous very fast. You could get swung into the rock and get hurt. Also, if your kayak gets ruptured, you may end up in a sinking boat, far from home. Neither is an experience you want to go through. 

Fog is not particularly threatening, but without navigation equipment, you may end up lost. You don’t want to get lost while at sea.

Research the geographic locale

If you’ve never fished or paddled where you’re going, it’s good to do a little research in advance.

This is especially important if you’re going into a more violent and turbulent river. Rapids and small waterfalls can be great fun to overcome. If there has been more rain recently, the water will be faster and stronger. If you’re not fully prepared, you can end up getting hurt and even dead. That’s not fun at all, so do your research and even better, take somebody experienced with you on your first try.

Every region in every country in the world has its own peculiarities - little details that make it unique and beautiful. The composition and formation of the rocks and soil. The temperature and salinity of the water. The direction of the currents. All of these factors (and countless more) dictate the diversity of life, therefore fish, in the local area.

Unique rocks

Each area presents it’s unique challenges when fishing - particularly where the fish dwells, what it eats and how to catch it. As a kayak fisherman, you have the ability to go right where the fish is, so knowing that location is invaluable.

Just go on the Internet and check out the local communities. Talk to locals who fish, local kayakers and best of all, local kayakers who fish! Collect all the local wisdom before you go and you will see that your experience will be much more pleasurable. You may even find some company and friends to share it with.

Kayak fishing techniques

Your success at kayak fishing depends on your individual skills as a paddler and a fisherman. Even though you can effectively learn fishing while already in your kayak, learning to paddle while also tackling the fish is practically impossible.

Practising fishing and kayaking separately will allow you to focus on the fine details, mastering both disciplines and increasing your overall prowess. We recommend all beginners to seek training or at least an experienced friend to show them how to hold what.

One hand paddling and casting

Paddling and casting is fairly simple when you have two hands available. However, kayak fishing will frequently put you in a position where you’re already fighting the fish when your kayak starts to move in the least desirable direction.

You might be able to put your fishing rod into a holder, then paddle to reposition yourself before you return to fishing. But really only applies to trolling. Your fish is not going to wait for you to get ready. Managing to maintain control in these situations is really the art of kayak fishing.

Casting with both hands is only possible if the direction matches the long axis of your kayak. Try casting in a perpendicular direction and you can capsize your kayak, going for a swim.

In order to solve these problems, you will want to learn to operate both your paddle and fishing rod with one hand.

If you trade in your long fishing rod and heavy reel for lighter and more nimble ones, you can become very successful at casting with one hand. In fact, so much that you may end up casting one handed as your preferred method.

Paddling with one hand is harder. Wielding the paddle becomes possible by locking it to your forearm and using your elbow as a pivot. This will allow you to somewhat control your kayak and reposition, but paddling for more than a few meters will get your arm tired very fast.

Angle Oar offer mounts and holders that support your paddle and allow you to use either hand to paddle, get up to speed and clear significant distances - all the while using your other hand to fish.

More ways to steer and reposition

Another great tip, though more applicable in still waters is to use your fishing rod for slight adjustments of your position. You don’t need to grab your paddle if all you want to do is make a couple of scoops to rotate a bit or move away from a log. You can use your hands, or feet or even your fishing rod.

Even better, you can cast and reel empty to practically pull yourself towards the end of the fishing line. The resistance of the bait and sinker moving through the water is enough to nudge your kayak in still waters.

Some kayakers embrace technology and equip their kayaks with additional propulsion and steering mechanisms.

Kayak sails are particularly effective in windy conditions and where you have large open surfaces to navigate - at sea or in a big lake. At times when the wind is favourable, you can operate your kayak as a sailboat and conserve energy.  

Drag chutes help you dampen the effects of excessive wind and strong water flow. It operates just like the parachute, but underwater. When set, it will resist flowing through the water and slow you down. They are great to slow you down a river to give you more time and opportunities to fish.

Finally, if you really want to stop dead in the water, you can set down an anchor. However, if you opt to use one, make sure you understand the mechanics of anchoring your kayak. As a rule, you want to fix your anchor to either the bow or the stern of the kayak, never to the port or starboard. If not done correctly, the anchor can capsize the kayak and force it underwater and you along with it. It’s important to have some quick release mechanism if things go south while anchoring.

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Catching fish

This is what it’s all about, isn’t it - catching fish?

On the shore you have the creative freedom to experiment with your fishing setup and choosing different baits, lures and hooks. In the kayak, you have limited space, relative stability and bunch more things to worry about.

Spending too much time setting up your rig before casting will cause you to lose a lot of time with your lure out of the water and at the end of the day catch less fish. Instead, we recommend choosing a versatile and easy to cast setup. Something that you can recast quickly with few modifications.

Short rods and light rigs allow you to work with just one hand, while using the other for navigation. They are great for beginners and recommended when you’re just starting out kayak fishing.

Trolling from a boat

However, as you progress, you will find out that longer rods provide more control when you’ve actually hooked the fish and also help you hunt for bigger game.

Just as with choosing a kayak, choosing a fishing rod is a constant tradeoff between properties. Choosing the right ones will once again depend on your research, what type of fish are you going for and of course, your personal style of fishing.

Another tactic you may want to try out is kayak trolling. Cast your line and secure the fishing rod to a rod holder. Adjust the drag so it’s not too tight. Then, you want to get up to speed and paddle for a while. You’ll know if you’ve hooked something - I just hope it’s not an old shopping trolley.

Trolling is especially good for when you decide to try another location or head back to your initial position.You will be paddling anyway, so why not cast your line and troll.

Other kayak fishing gear

Outside of the equipment already mentioned, there are a bunch of other important things you need to take with you. You’re practically unlimited in the number of customisations you can do to your kayak - from rigging sail systems to using expensive fish finders.

However, you’re limited with your storage space. You need to learn how to organise your kayak, so you have all of your equipment readily available when you need it. Taking too many gadgets with you will slow you down and give you even less working space.

We recommend beginners to take only the most necessary items and expanding their rigs as they get more experience managing their kayaks while fishing.

However, the items listed below are extremely important in order to have a successful and safe fishing trip.

Tackle box
You will need to adapt some storage device to hold your fishing tackle. Plastic tool boxes with multiple compartments will do a good job, but you have to make sure they don’t take in water. You need to arrange them so they are easy to work with, have a fast locking system and offer easy access to things you need. 

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We still recommend to limit the variety of tackle you take with you, so you can focus on actually fishing. However, you need to take at least a few options for your lures, bait and hooks, according to the variety of fish you can target on your trip.

Fish handling tools
Once you reel the fish in, you will have to get it on board and unhook it. We already mentioned that reaching out of your kayak can result in capsizing and taking a swim all while losing your hard earned fish.

Instead, when you have the fish at a close distance, and if the fishing line is not strong enough to pull it out, you will rely on either a gaff or a net. I would always try to land a fish in a net or similar because that monofilament or even braided line has the potential to cut into your fingers nicely. Consider equipping yourself with either (or both) and keep them handy.

landing a fish with a net

At the very least, you will need a pair of pliers to pull the hooks of your fish. Going at it bare handed will often result in wounds and bitemarks, especially with bigger fish. A multi-tool that has pliers in the set is perfectly suitable and can help you tremendously if you have to repair your gear in the middle of the water.

Knife
Always carry a good knife with you when outdoors. This applies to camping, kayaking and fishing.

Leashes
As a general rule, everything that is not leashed to you or the kayak will eventually be lost. At the bare minimum, make sure your paddle and fishing rods are leashed and that your communication equipment is either leashed or stored in the hull of your kayak.

The more organised you become, the more of a second nature it will become to leash your stuff or store them in the locked compartments of your kayak.

Safety gear
As we said at the beginning of this article, safety is the number one concern when kayak fishing. Make sure you have a personal flotation jacket on you at all times. This is the bare minimum. Depending on what you’re planning to do, you may need additional equipment.

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As a general rule, you should let somebody know where you’re going and what you plan on doing. If you get hurt or you’re unable to contact help yourself, they can initiate a search and rescue operation.

Communication and navigation
Especially if you’re going out at sea, you should get a reliable means of communication, in case of emergency. When close to the shore, your mobile phone maybe sufficient; however it’s likely not waterproof and depending on your position you may not have a signal when you need one.

VHF radios are the best. You can use them to keep track of the weather. However, you will likely need to obtain training and a license to use them for transmissions.

vhf-radio

A GPS navigation and a compass will ensure you can get back if you’re lost. Learn how to use them and keep them safely stored in a dry compartment of your kayak.

Food and water
Fishing is often a waiting game. You can be out in the water all day, so make sure you pack enough water and food to get you through.

Dry clothes
Especially for beginners, kayak fishing is a very wet sport. Unless you have a hot sunny day, you will want to always have a set of dry clothes, which you can put on. Otherwise, you risk of coming back with a cold. That’s no fun. (if it’s a dry, sunny day then please remember your sun lotion!)

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First aid
Accidents happen. You’re working with sharp tools and toothed fish. Packing a good first aid kit will allow you to fix yourself up from small cuts and wounds and not ruin your trip.

Outro

There are so many things to kayak fishing. Fitting all relevant information in a single article would have us publishing a book. However, in this guide we covered the most important skills which you need to train and master in order to become a successful kayak fisherman.

If you’re a beginner, it’s best that you meet your local community and seek from the wisdom of experienced kayak fishermen. There is no good alternative to practicing and practicing some more. Make sure to be safe and take the necessary precautions, even if they get a little boring at times.

Most of all, have fun and happy paddling.