Discover the essential gear every kayak angler needs! Our blog reveals the 8 must-haves for a successful fishing expedition. Don't hit the water without these essentials!

8 Kayak Fishing Must Haves

Kayak Fishing Basics:

When we start talking about kayak fishing, we need to start with the essential gear. We are going to start with a few assumptions.

  • You have a kayak.
  • You know how to operate a kayak.
  • You have fishing poles/rods. 
  • You know how to fish.

The conversation around picking a kayak can go on for pages. From hull design to seat heights. There are options abound that you can choose from in a kayak. The biggest piece of advice I can tell you about picking a kayak is to scope out the customer support. Make that a priority. At Vanhunks you can count on the best customer service in the world. You’re going to be family and the world’s best kayak support is only a phone call away.

Now that we have established you have a kayak, some fishing poles, and know how to fish, let’s jump into the top 8 list of must-have pieces of kayak gear. This list is based on my knowledge and experience of kayak fishing, through good times and crap times. Without further ado:

  • Personal Floatation Device (PFD)
  • Fishing Pliers
  • Fishing Net
  • First Aid
  • Hydration
  • Tackle Storage
  • Fish Finder
  • Dry Bags 

Personal Floatation Device (PFD)

Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) come in two flavors. Inflatable and Foam filled. Below we will outline the advantages and disadvantages of both. First, let's outline why this is priority number one when considering getting into kayak fishing. Let's talk hypothetically. Hypothetically you’re a great swimmer and its summer time. The water is calm and conditions are perfect for landing that personal best Largemouth. When you reach for your pole, something causes you to overextend past the kayak's tipping point, BOOM in the drink you go. We can swim though right? Well, that's fantastic, but what if you’re exhausted from paddling. Your phone goes to the bottom and you're in a 40’ deep lake. The nearest shoreline is half a mile away and you’re panicked. You can quickly find yourself in a situation where you are in a lot of trouble and there is no help.

Your life jacket, quickly makes a bad situation much better. You are already ahead of the staying alive game and now you just have to worry about remembering where you tipped and coming back to dive for your gear. You’re going home safe to your family, or your dog, or both. You remembered the most essential piece of gear, and one of the only pieces of gear that will almost assuredly mean you get back home every time.

Let's dive into the two types, their differences, and when is best to use them.



  • Lightweight and non-impeding
  • No awkward pressure points from foam being in the wrong spots
  • Very easy to store and transport


  • Need to make sure it’s always charged
  • Need to know the difference between manual and auto
  • Should always carry a spare charge kit, in case of accidental deployment.
  • Not many storage or access points for gear tethers.

Inflatable lifejackets are my go-to when im out kayak fishing. Most inflatable lifejackets are rated as Type III and above. A lot fall into Type V. The reason for being typed as a V, is that they are not inherently buoyant. If needed in a life safety situation, the only way it can be used is to be worn (can't be thrown as it will sink). You can get them in manual inflation or automatic inflation. Manual inflators require the pulling of a ripcord to deploy. Automatic inflators have the same manual rip cord, but also have a water dissolvable link that will allow the co2 cartridge to be automatically punctured on contact with water. I prefer auto inflators, in the event you’re unconscious the vest will still deploy. Unfortunately, when it comes to inflatables, they are typically designed to have a minimalist feel. Due to this, there isn't much in the way of attachment points or tackle/gear storage on them.



  • Always buoyant.
  • More storage options
  • Usually can be found more on the affordable side


  • Bulky
  • Can be restrictive
  • Need to keep an eye on the location of the back pad. If too low on the back, it will cause back pain on long sits in the kayak.

Foam-filled personal floatation devices are another great option for PFDs. You can get them with tons of storage. Plenty of d-rings for attaching lanyards and tethers to. They are offered in ranges from Type I to Type V. You won't often find Type I through Type II comfortable for kayak operations though. They can be bulky and inconvenient to store, but their “Always There” inflation is dependable and fail-proof.

At the end of the day, if choosing an Inflatable or foam-filled PFD, do your research. Go try them on and imagine how they would feel sitting in a kayak. Make sure that they are coast guard rated and go have fun!


Fishing Pliers

You might think it's a bit peculiar to be listing something like pliers as a number 2, but the first time you don't have them, you will make them a priority. Now when we talk about fishing pliers, we aren't necessarily talking about specific branded fishing-only pliers. for the sake of this article, we are covering all kinds. Some kinds of pliers are listed below, but are not limited to:

  • Multi-tools
  • Split Ring nosed pliers
  • Hemostat style pliers
  • Needle Nose style pliers

Multi-Tools are fantastic, a must-have in most situations. They can be kind of cumbersome when fishing though. The other issue is they can be expensive. Some things in a rig need to be expensive, but your pliers do not. Why? well, I have bounced more pairs of pliers than I can count, out of the kayak. I don’t personally like to tether things to myself, so I am definitely partial to blame. If you're going to use those fancy expensive multi-tools, then get a decent tether. Keep your multi-tool limited to gear repair and the like though. Fishing hypodermic needle hooks out of the mouth of bass aren’t the best application for them.

Split Ring Nosed style pliers are the jack knives of the kayak fishing toolbox. In my humble option, they do almost everything you need to do. Make sure they have a great set of braid cutters (or you will throw them in the water when they make you mad). Preferably spring-loaded handles as well. That makes operating them one-handed, on a windy lake, in choppy water, a little easier.

Hemostat-style pliers are great hook extractors. When you get that hookset that happens a little deeper in the mouth than you’re used to, these puppies save your hands and the fish. You’re not going to tighten a bolt with them or crimp split shots, but they will get that deep hook out. Even on those shark-toothed pickerel.

The most common pliers in existence in the boating industry, are needle-nose pliers. God forbid you go and swipe your Dad’s pliers, you didn't get that advice from me. You can get them dirt cheap at Harbor Freight. If you lose them in the water or forget them on the tailgate, no worries. They can grab those hooks out of a fish, crimp the split shot, and ALMOST tighten the battery terminal.

Again these arent your only options, but they are solid starters to figure out what exactly you're looking for. Don't be afraid to experiment, just try not to commit them to the murky deep by accident. Been there, done that.


Fishing Net

We have all watched that guy, in the bass boat rip a 5lb bass out of the water and land it right on the deck of the boat right? He/she has all the time in the world to do what they need to before checking that fish into the live well. Well, that's cute…we don’t have that luxury. What we have is a 28” wide deck (if we are lucky), that's full of bait packs and terminal tackle, and sometimes poles. There's a pesky paddle and maybe even a peddle drive in the way. We have to land that fish between our legs and manage it to the catch board before it flops and plops back into the depths. Enter stage right, the kayak fishing net.

A kayak fishing net isn't your grandpappy's old aluminum net, with a 2-foot wide hoop and neon green netting. They have come a LONG way since then. Most specifically made for kayaking, feature a short arm (some with an extended arm brace). They have rubberized netting as well. You will find with the rubberized netting, there is less chance for your hook to puncture into the actual webbing material, making retrieval easier and less emergency room prone.

Having a net allows us to dunk stressed fish back into the water to give them some breathing time, while we get everything laid out to take that measure. It gives us and our fish a safe place for hook extraction, during the hectic landing process. It's certainly something that improves the overall quality of our fishing experience. More importantly, it increases the survivability of our fish. This allows us to return them safely to the water to be caught another day.


First Aid

We need to always be on alert for First Aid issues. It can be something as benign as a blister or small cut, or it can be serious like heat stroke or a barbed hook buried in the hand. We need to be vigilant and prepared, so that whatever we encounter we can handle it. Let's cover the basics of what we should have in our first aid kit.

  • Antiseptic
  • Bandages
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Eye patch
  • Cold compress
  • Electrolyte mix
  • Water sterilization tablets
  • Hemostat pliers
  • Butterfly bandages
  • Super glue
  • Styptic powder

Please don’t consider this list all-inclusive, but this is the primary basis for ALL of my first aid kits. My suggestion is to brush up on basic medical treatment procedures so you are familiar with identifying, triaging, and treating injuries.



Hydration is fundamental to any sport. If you don’t stay hydrated, you will obviously become dehydrated. Once dehydration sets in, so does fatigue, disorientation, heat stroke, and even worse. I stick to Gatorade or Powerade zero.  Hydration and electrolytes are a great combination. You can carry water as well, but no full-sugar drinks. I would also mention staying away from energy drinks as they will dehydrate you as well.

I would keep water treatment tablets on hand or a water purifier as well. If you find yourself in a serious situation a long-term water solution is essential to survival. If you're going to stick to carrying water bottles, stick to using Nalgene style (Lexan) water bottles. Try to make a conscious effort to drink every fifteen minutes, regardless of if you’re thirsty or not. Thirst is not a strict dictator of your level of hydration. Do not wait until it's too late. If you feel yourself starting to get dizzy or disoriented, find your way to the shade and get off the water immediately. Make sure you notify someone as soon as possible and hydrate.


Tackle Storage

Is tackle storage going to save your life, nope? Is it going to prevent a hell of a lot of frustration? Absolutely! Organized, secured, and readily accessible tackle storage is a necessity when trying to manage multiple poles and baits. Waterproof storage is great, Plano makes a waterproof lure box line that has heavy-duty latches and a nice waterproof gasket. They don't just keep things dry, but if you capsize or get clumsy, they float. You're going to want at a minimum:

  • Lure Boxes
  • Terminal Tacklebox
  • Spinner Bait box
  • Soft bait binder

I have found that the waterproof Plano boxes are great for lures. I carry two of them, one on each side of my Vanhunks Elite Pro Angler. They are great for organizing the lures and keeping hooks separate and waterproof. The larger size boxes are ideal, Plano offers them in three sizes - Large, Medium, and small. They also offer three packs of small terminal tackle boxes. Each box has 6 storage slots. The Plano edge Spinnerbait box makes storing your spinners and buzz baits a breeze. For the soft bait binder, there are many options on Amazon or at your local fishing retailer. Choose what fits you’re style best.


Fish Finder

Fish finders are not an absolute must. In fact, learning how to find fish without them makes it easier to understand what your looking for in a fish finder. Do your research and figure out what you're looking for in a fish finder. I run a Garmin UHD 73SV on my Elite Pro Angler. I made my decision based on a few things. I have operated smaller fish finders with 3 and 4-inch non-touch screens. They are all sub-200$ and just didn't fit what I was looking for. I wanted Maps/Charts, integration with my phone, Touch screen, Side scan, and down scan. Garmin’s solution provides the best platform that checked all of my boxes, at a price I could afford.

Once you get your purchase nailed down, it's time to figure out where and how to mount your new piece of fishing technology. Most well-made modern kayaks come with in hull transducer mounts. That makes a great spot to get your transducer in the water while keeping it protected. The fishing line of Kayaks from Vanhunks Boarding USA has awesome in-hull transducer mounts. For mounting the fish finder, I went with the YakAttack cellblock with a fish finder mount. It was east, straightforward mounting with awesome wire storage.

You will need a good clean power supply for your electronics. Use a premium quality Lithium battery. Something in the 12ah range is perfect. Amped Outdoors makes a premium quality battery and has support that is second only to Vanhunks’s support. Do not use the same battery you use for your trolling motor if you have one. You don’t want electrical noise introduced into your finder's power feed.


Dry Bags

You have critical things that you need to keep dry on your boat. These things might include:

  • ID
  • Car Keys
  • Fishing License
  • First Aid Kit
  • Flares
  • Food
  • Phone

Again not an inclusive list, but a starting point. Dry bags are essential to keeping everything critical, safe, and dry. If your kayak gets capsized, not only will your stuff stay dry, it will float. That could mean the difference between surviving or not. Vanhunks sells top-notch, rubberized 20L dry storage bags. I keep one in my kayak for all of my essentials that just CANNOT get wet. In a worse-case scenario, you can also leverage your dry bag as additional floatation if you need it.



Never skimp on your essentials, they are the difference between a successful trip and an absolute blunder. You can buy the cheapest stuff out there, and you might get by a few times, but eventually, it will catch up with you. Check your gear before every trip. Make sure that it is functioning properly and is not a safety hazard. If it is worn out replace it. Make a checklist and knock them off one at a time as you’re running through the gear. Most of all, enjoy your time on the water. A day on the water is better than a day at work.


Vanhunks Pro-Staff team member Eric Valli