Fishing Kayak Guide: Catching Game Fish
If, after reading this, you feel you are prepared for this great adventure. You will be among the many anglers who are now finding a lot of satisfaction in paddling and catching game fish while kayak fishing.
When kayak fishing, you’re down close to the water with what many commercial fishermen call ‘a wet butt and hungry gut’. There is not much room for groceries in a fishing kayak. It is also a very silent experience. No engine noises, alone out on the ocean, it can be a very introspective experience.
The swell moves up and down, and you gradually will make adjustments in your balance. You have to pay attention to your environment at all times. There is no napping out there, or ignoring a distant thunderstorm, and there is no speedy ride back to the beach when kayak fishing.
Hook a big fish, and the fish could tow you for miles. If your reel’s drag is too tight, the fish can actually turn the boat or even pull it under. If a big shark shows interest in your hooked fish, it can get really exciting. So, you will need to be prepared and ready for anything the ocean throws your way!
Best Size Fishing Kayak for game fishing
The standard kayak for going offshore is a 12-foot, sit-on-top ‘ocean kayak’ model. They’re manoeuvrable, fast, and one can easily climb back aboard after a mishap. Many kayak veterans say that the models shorter than 12 feet squat too deep in the water. While a longer 15-foot tandem, built for two fishermen is less manoeuvrable.
We highly recommend using our 13-foot Black Bass fishing kayak for any offshore fishing. If you are a little smaller you may want to try the 12-foot Tarpon fishing kayak. Both have rudders and are perfect for kayak fishing for game fish.
Target the Jetties and Gulf Platforms for kayak fishing
Some of the best locations for targeting game fish in Florida are the many local jetties and old Gulf platforms standing in state waters. Many of these are located far from any boat ramp. You will have to launch your fishing kayak from the beach at the closest point to a favorite fishing spot and paddle out to the fishing spot. Make sure to get a few lures in the water to trawl on your way out, as you never know when you might get a strike.
Some of the Gulf Platforms can be as far as nine miles out in the ocean. This means you will need to be a strong paddler. You also need to make sure that you have all the correct safety equipment on board in case you get into trouble.
Game fish, particularly Dorado (Dolphin Fish), love to hang out under the platforms and hunt close by. Trawling lures close to the platforms is a great way of picking up one of these incredible game fish.
Another very popular game fish you can catch near the jetties, is the Kingfish. If you are planning on catching this incredibly powerful fish while kayak fishing, you should use the local favorite bait for kingfish. The longtime favorite is a silvery eel called the ribbonfish. This is a type of bait that has to be drifted or trolled very slowly and it’s perfect for kayak fishing. Use the silent approach to catch kingfish. The process is to alternate a slow troll with occasional drifts.
Best Baits for Game Fishing on a Kayak
Catch your own ribbons, they’re a whole lot bigger than from the stores. You can also dress up a ribbonfish a little with a Sea Witch skirt in front of it. A lot of times in the middle of the day, kingfish stay deep, maybe 20 or 25 feet, and a little weight certainly helps.
There are also lures like the Sebille Magic Swimmer. This bait is expensive. You might not want to feed a store-bought, expensive lure to a bunch of fish with impressive sets of teeth, so order some blanks and paint them yourself. They will need to be 9 to 9.5 inches long and made of hard plastic.
We also highly recommend going to your local bait shop and chatting with the staff. Get the lowdown on what game fish have been active and engaging, and the baits they have been getting caught on. This is also the best place to get some information on the best lures to use for trawling while kayak fishing. Each area of Florida is slightly different, so chatting with the locals is always a good idea.
Fishing techniques for catching Game fish on a kayak
Kayak fishing techniques are as numerous as paddle options, but some simple rigs translate across most fisheries. For most pelagic fish, you should have two live-bait rods with stinger rigs and one jigging rod. You should use one rod as a flat line, and the other goes deep. There’s not much room in a kayak for tackle, except for a small box for hooks, plugs, weights and extra jigs. Targeting specific species allows a kayaker to specialize with gear that ranges from 20- to 100-pound tackle.
Fighting a big fish isn’t easy from a plastic boat the size of a bobsled. Always keep the fish away from the kayak, off the bow, especially if it’s fighting at or near the surface. Marlin, sailfish, dorado, tarpon and even sharks could jump right into your lap! So be prepared for anything.
Many kayakers fight the fish way too long and then can’t revive their catch. Also, don’t bring the fish in so green that it’s dangerous to you on board your fishing kayak. Always make sure you have adequate hand protection. Make sure you get a good grip on both the head and the tail, before getting the fish into your storage hatch.
If you are planning on keeping your fish, we recommend having a spear gaff or a solid, but short stick on board. Use this to kill the fish quickly before getting it on board. You will save yourself a lot of potential problems by doing this. Some kayak fisherman also keep a short handle gaff on board, but make sure it is stowed correctly as to not get gaffed when paddling through the surf zone.
Getting through the surf zone on your fishing kayak
A kayak angler is most likely to dump over at a surf launch or re-entry. Be proactive by tying down accessories and rods to the kayak, and place gear inside your hatches. The beach launch is where you stand the most chance of losing gear, so make sure you are prepared.
Before heading into the waves, take a few minutes to watch the wave patterns — look for sandbars, rip currents and wave-set frequencies. There might be a better spot to launch just up or down the beach a short distance. So always take the time to make sure you have found the best spot for your launch. Never rush into the surf!
When launching, always hit the swells straight-on and paddle as fast as you can. On the way in, time your return with the wave set, and keep the hull straight. You will want to use a wave to assist your momentum into the beach.
Remember that on the way back, your fishing kayak will be heavier (Hopefully with a large load of game fish), so allow for this when coming through the surf and hitting the shore.
Be prepared for being out on the open ocean
Kayakers must take all precautions, just like boaters, when it comes to safety gear. Being out on the open ocean kayak fishing can put you in dangerous situations. Vital gear includes, but is not limited to, a personal locator beacon (if out of cellphone range), VHF radio (to talk to buddy boats), personal flotation device, loud whistle, small flares and GPS unit. Always pack bottles of water, plus snacks like granola, fruit or protein bars to stay energized.
Flares are the best choice for signalling for help, better than a cellphone that can have spotty connection. So always make sure that your flares are not expired and that you have them on board your fishing kayak.
Another problem you may have to face kayak fishing, will be getting in the path of large boats. Out on the ocean you will come across them. Aside from a flag on a tall pole, a bright colored kayak and paddle help boats and ships to spot you on your fishing kayak. If a boat or ship is moving toward you, hold your paddle above your head and flail it around to get their attention. If they are under power it is highly unlikely that they will hear a whistle. If you feel they have not seen you and there is a high chance of collision, use a flare. This should only be done as a last resort.
Catching a dream billfish while kayak fishing
There is no doubt that a billfish appears somewhere on every angler’s bucket list. For most, though, the high cost of booking a charter prevents fantasy from ever becoming reality.
Thankfully, things are changing. There’s a growing trend in Florida that doesn’t involve charters, fibreglass, diesel, or high horsepower outboards. But, it does entail Atlantic sailfish, one of the most popular gamefish along the state’s Gold Coast. Forsaking custom sportfishers or brawny center consoles, a new cadre of anglers is heading offshore via paddle power to capture sailfish with regular frequency.
On a fishing kayak you can only carry three or four rods, so you’re at a disadvantage. But for whatever reason, sailfish like to congregate around fishing kayaks, just like Dorado. This is thought to be due the vessels looking like a bait attracting structure in the water. The billfish are looking to feed and will pounce on your lures with a huge strike.
Fishing kayaks are able to fish in waves three to four feet high, since they ride over the crests rather than through them. This gives you an advantage over bigger sport fishing boats.
With the close proximity of the Continental Shelf and deep water within yards of the beach, Florida kayak fisherman don’t have to venture too far offshore. Most range less than one mile and rig their crafts with a depth sounder to help them stay in the sailfish zone.
For sailfish you need to be at a depth, generally around 100 to 175 feet of water. Color changes are a huge target. Seeing flying fish is another big flag for the depth you should be fishing. We would advise running one line on a downrigger and one on a flat line, slow-trolling. If the wind and current are favorable to drift, you can run two flat lines.
The key is to stay tight on the fish once you’ve hooked up. Keep your kayak pointed at the fish and hold on for the first five to 10 minutes and enjoy the show. This will normally be a long fight and the fish could drag your fishing kayak over a large distance.
A simple mistake can cost you a trophy. Try to bring the fish in as soon as possible in order to ensure a successful release.
There is no doubt that Florida is one of the best destinations on the planet for big game fishing. If you are an experienced kayak fisherman, you could not ask for a better destination.
It is important to note that this is not for beginners. You need to be a strong paddler, experienced on the open ocean and an excellent fisherman.
If you tick all the boxes above though, you will want to load up your fishing kayak and go out there and hunt the big game.
We hope you and your fishing kayak catch the big one!