Your Honest Kayak Fishing Guide (The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly)

kayak fishing

I began writing a kayak fishing guide, and while researching all the aspects to take into account combining kayaking and fishing, I quickly realized it wasn’t as simple as I had initially made it out to be in my mind. In my head, it was a fun way to spend a day and the prospect of cooking up my catch of the day seemed as easy as paddle out, cast off, reel in. Clearly a newbie train of thought! There’s a lot to take into account, especially as a beginner. So here is v2.0 of my less naive, more informed take on what all needs to be prepared, planned, and carried out with precision for anyone interested in taking on the multitasking, multifaceted extreme sport of kayak fishing safely and successfully.

In the Beginning

For beginners, a bit of a serious chat is needed to open your eyes to why you need to heed the following advice regarding kayak fishing with caution. Fishing on its own, even from the banks of a lake, or shore of a beach has its own dynamics to master all at once. From the shoreline or lake bank, you have time to be fussy about which bait and equipment setup you’ll be using. You get to have a good grasp on your rod and grip it with both hands while you’re facing your tackle coming in from the wild ocean, or wherever. You have your footing firmly on the earth to stabilize you and to dig deeper into for support as you brace for the final stretch of reeling in your catch.

Kayaking on its own requires you to master the elements, with tides, winds, and currents all in play at the same time, depending on what body of water you’re choosing to engage with. Without having the skill set to self-rescue, or read the natural elements, or the foresight to research your paddling location ahead of time and look at hourly weather forecasts, you could come up badly injured, or worse: dead. Kayaking on its own also allows you to navigate with both hands on the paddle and focus on dodging floating obstacles and avoiding low hanging elements while reading currents and checking the horizon for any potential hazards coming up.

Kayak fishing is next level multitasking. You need to be able to do both sports at the same time, often with only one hand on each piece of equipment. One-handed casting and one-armed paddling is a thing with kayak fishing, and unless you are strong in the water and confident with your ability to pull it off safely, it’s strongly suggested that you first come to terms with kayaking on its own.

Perhaps look at getting some training to teach you the following:

  • Getting in and out of the kayak from land and water,
  • Paddling and bracing in various positions,
  • Self-recovering from a capsized kayak,
  • Balancing while in sitting, kneeling, and standing position, and
  • Being aware of your surroundings and positioning at all times.

You catch my drift?? There’s a lot going on all at the same time. Your head needs to be screwed on properly when you go out for a day of kayak fishing.

kayak fishing

Plan Ahead

Next in my kayak fishing guide is planning and preparation. This aspect of the sport can’t be emphasized enough. Each spot you visit will have its own unique elements and weather system. The weather could be consistent, and it could be erratic. There could have been heavy rainfalls which would amplify the currents and winds could funnel in strongly through specific sections blowing you off course and alignment from your intended course. Check the daily weather forecasts, and research before going on a kayak fishing road trip for what you should take into account at each respective destination. Community forums and facebook groups are a great source of reliable information, and locals are usually only too happy to help visitors with information and great places to fish and kayak from. They also know the hazards and potential issues you could face. 

If you haven’t gone kayak fishing before, the general consensus on the web is to go out with an experienced friend or someone else who’s happy to add ‘watching a newbie’ to their multitasking, multifaceted environment while they take their tackle on too. If you do want to try it out on your own after you’ve acquired the skill sets mentioned above to ensure you’re safe, why not try out a smaller body of water with less likelihood of choppy water and currents… like a medium-sized lake? Streams and rivers require you to be able to be nimble with your kayak control and manoeuvre quickly, so a still, flat lake is going to offer the easiest learning environment.

I wouldn’t recommend an ocean for the first time either, especially if there’s rocks or reefs around. If the wind comes up and you’re not able to control the vessel adequately, you could end up being dumped on the rocks, or your kayak could rupture and sink if it dings a reef, and then you’re stranded in the ocean with your kayak on the floor. More tragic than Jack and Rose after the Titanic sank!

Be sure to check wind directions and speeds too. If the wind is blowing in a direction that’s not conducive to making your experience easier, you’ll spend more time repositioning your ‘yak and paddling harder just to get half the distance you would if the wind was in more supportive conditions. You’ll just end up frustrated and exhausted if the wind is not on your side on the day.

Now that I’ve lectured you and almost scared you off of the sport completely, if you’re still into the idea, the next step is ensuring you have the right equipment. We’ll get to the ‘fun’ stuff after we’ve got all the serious stuff out the way. 

What you’re going to need

Safety First:

The kayak fishing shopping list is extensive, and for good reason, especially if you’re going out to sea, or alone. The first thing on anyone’s priority list when going out, whether new, seasoned, or competitive, needs to absolutely be your safety and security. For this reason, the top of the shopping list features the following:

  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD): Don’t be a cowboy. You’re going to regret not having one if something goes wrong. It’s the bulletproof vest of kayaking and is designed to save your life. Not all PFDs are bulky and bright orange. You get some really comfortable impact vests that you won’t even notice you’re wearing. Although PFDs and life jackets are not the same, the terms are used interchangeably without much thought for their differences. Life jackets are only allowed to be red, yellow, or orange, need to have a whistle, and are designed to turn an unconscious person in the water face up so they can breathe. PFDs are designed to keep a conscious person afloat and the bulk of the flotation foam is distributed evenly throughout the construction. Life jackets have most of the flotation foam on the front so that it flips the person over. Regardless of which one you go for, the main thing is that it keeps you afloat and above water if you capsize or get stuck in a current or need to tread water for ages and get tired. In the USA, it’s a mandatory item to have on any vessel, with access to a PFD quickly and readily available for each person. Check out the Coast Guard Regulations  in your area for more info.
  • Communication Devices: A mobile phone is not quite going to cut it if you’re out in the ocean and out of signal or battery. Think more along the lines of VHF radios, and GPS devices that are waterproof. These days there are handheld VHF devices that float and have more wattage for broader communication range. Voice clarity and sound are also superb quality with the technology of our day that ensure the sound of the waves crashing or rapids rushing won’t dampen out the quality and clarity of a potential SOS. Decent quality devices even come with the capacity for water to drain out, so you don’t have to fret that your gadgets are going to get waterlogged or damaged. GPS is important, but luckily, wristwatches come fitted with precise satellite and GPS positioning so it’s not even something you have to think about losing if the kayak tips over or you get lost in fog for hours and hours and don’t make it home by nightfall. Which brings me to the next item on the kayak fishing guide shopping list:
  • Lighting: Coast Guard regulations in many countries request that all vessels under navigation must exhibit lighting required by sailing vessels, and if not, a torch or electric lantern is needed at the very least. A torch on board is handy if you get stuck out past dark as a signal for others to find you after the sun has gone down.

katak fishing

Fishing Equipment:

  • Tackle Box: You definitely want a tackle box that’s in easy reach and well organised, but because of how quickly you’re going to have to make your movements while you’re multitasking, you’ll want to choose items that are easy to put on and take off so you can make the most of your fishing time. The tackle box you take on your kayak will be smaller than one used when fishing from the shoreline or banks.
  • Bait Box: You’ll want a bait box for sure, but also be sure to choose bait that’s not a mission to put on and you don’t have to spend a bunch of time preparing while the elements are busy moving your kayak around.
  • Fishing Rod: In the beginning, it’s definitely a wiser choice to take a lighter set up with you that can be cast and operated with one hand. Remember, if you’re in water with a current or in windy conditions, your other hand is going to be busy with the paddle for navigating and keeping the kayak facing the direction you want to cast in. You’ll want a versatile and easy set up you can recast quickly.
  • Paddle: Obviously.
  • Fish Handling Tools: A net is always a great idea to land the fish in. Sometimes the line can cut you if the fish is still in full resistance, so a net is useful in supporting the fish while you cut the line.
  • Leash: Unless you come up with a smart way to keep everything secured to your kayak, the general rule to assume is that if it’s not attached with a leash, chances are eventually you’ll lose it all. Fishing rods and leashes specifically need leashes. 

Optional But Recommended Extras:

  • Anchor: Kayak anchors can be extremely helpful when you’re fishing from a kayak. There are multiple anchors on the market that are designed specifically for kayak fishing. Many of them are easy to use, with folding designs and compact sizes making it easy to store the anchor away from fishing gear. These anchors are mostly 4-fluke grapples which are ideal for sandy, weedy, or rocky bottoms to ensure you’re not that guy fighting for your kayak position and not the fish! Anchors should always be attached to the kayak on the bow/stern and not port or starboard sides. When choosing an anchor for your kayak fishing expeditions, ensure whichever one you choose has a quick release mechanism in case you need to drop it like it’s hot if things get ugly.
  • Fish finder: Okay this may be cheating a bit, but nobody said you have to be a purist, especially if you’re hungry and after some dinner! Fish smart, not hard. Many kayaks on the market these days are designed to have fish finders on board. You’re probably not going to need one if you’re fishing in shallow or clear water, however.
  • A Multitool: You’re going to need a knife at some point, to cut lines, and bait, as well as pliers to remove hooks from the fish to avoid cutting yourself or getting bitten by your catch. It’s eat or be eaten out there!
  • Food and Beverages: You’re going to be out on the water for a long time. Sometimes it can take the whole day before you make a catch. Other days you’re going to hit jackpot early on with a handful of big ones. On the off chance that ‘today’ isn’t your lucky day, pack breakfast, lunch and even dinner!
  • Cooler Boxes: One for your fish, and one for your food. You don’t want them too big, you’re going to have a lot to fit in your kayak, and it’s a lot to carry. Fishing kayaks do come with compartments to stash your ‘ish, but in the event you’re on a winning streak, you have the option of a cooler box as added storage.
  • Dry Clothes: You’ll need to get used to being wet, but on the occasion that you capsize and get completely drenched, a backup set is always a wise idea. You wouldn’t want the only thing you catch to be a cold!
  • Nylon Sheet: Not only are nylon sheets really handy in a number of applications, specifically in the wild they’re great as protection from bugs and critters as well as the elements when they lash out through rain, heat, cold, and wind.

Finally, Some Fun

Once you’ve armed yourself with self-rescue and kayak control tools, and planned and prepared your trip to ensure you’ve accounted for everything important, you can look forward to the benefits of kayak fishing, and reimmersing yourself in the way of the wild. Kayaks are one of the oldest forms of transportation and date back thousands of years to when the ancient Inuit civilisation invented them for hunting. As ‘primitive’ as they were back then, the ‘qajaq’ they created is still the model modern manufacturers base their creations on. 

Ancient Ancestors

With vessels made from light driftwood or a whalebone frame, covered with seal skin and whale fat for waterproofing and buoyancy, ancient kayakers navigated using the stars to align their course and took on whales, seals, and other huge sea creatures for the sake of feeding their tribe. They were fully connected to nature, and part of the food chain. Today’s lifestyle sees us getting our food from chain stores. Most people are trapped in a lifestyle that seems more like a tame circus animal doing tricks for the ringmaster. The glory of the former centuries where humans took on wild beasts and endured harsh elements to ensure there was a supply of food throughout the year is all but gone. That instinct to hunt and be a part of nature and the wild is still in our DNA, which is why there’s no better feeling of wellbeing than when a day has been spent connecting and engaging with the environment around us.

We’re lucky enough to have devices with satellite maps, GPS, and weather forecasts by the hour. Our ancient kayaking ancestors had only the feeling in their bones to go by and the signals their surroundings gave them. What was normal, natural, everyday survival skills for the average human to acquire back then is only seen by the likes of highly trained and skilled humans along the ranks of Bear Grylls and Indiana Jones. Is it any wonder deep down inside there’s a part of us that comes alive when we get back to our instinctual selves out on the water and in nature to catch our own food? Even if it is some flat glassy water, that peace and quiet amongst the elements really balances and aligns us with our inner beings again when our daily lives are lived in a concrete jungle full of electromagnetic waves and technology distorting our natural energy patterns.

Of course, actually being part of the food chain for a change, and being at the mercy of mother nature ensures our attention is in the present moment to ensure our safety, which is the healthiest place for us to be mentally. When our attention is in the present moment, yesterday’s worries and tomorrow’s fears slip away and what’s left is full indulgence and interaction with life. Hanging out and reflecting on your surroundings while you wait for a fish to take bait will also add increased value in the form of wellbeing, and being anywhere in the here and now can become a meditative experience. Add to it fresh air and moving your body regularly throughout, and that’s a recipe for a healthy, happy human.

Kayak Fishing Benefits

Health and wellness aside, when it comes to the actual fishing aspect of this kayak fishing guide, there are so many benefits. Some of the bigger ones are:

  • To get closer to where the fish are. With a fish finder this is especially cool. Not only do you have access to places you can’t cast into from the shoreline or banks, you can stealthily sneak up on fish with careful paddle strokes and drop your line fairly unnoticed for the more skittish fish. You can also get into hidden and tight spots that boats can’t fit in to explore and check for fish.
  • It’s way more affordable than a motorboat! A decent fishing kayak is going to be a fraction of the cost of a motorboat, and you won’t really need to worry about maintenance, fuel, insurance or launch costs. Obviously the more gadgets you add and the more you pimp your ‘yak, the more money you can spend. And there are a lot of cool gadgets out there to enhance your fishing experience.
  • Accessing the water is also much easier. You’ll end up driving by any random body of water and end up daydreaming about what sort of fish you’d catch there. You’re not going to have to wonder how you’re going to get a kayak in there.
  • The kinds of water you can fish from are countless, along with the kinds of fish you can catch from a kayak. There are lakes, rivers, springs, estuaries, backwaters, lagoons, straights, seas and oceans. Many fishing kayaks are wide enough to stand in and fish from too. This is great when pitching underhand casts at targets. Standing in the kayak and being able to see where you want to cast will be an advantage too in flat still water.
  • Kayaks are not that much of a mission to transport either. For the longer 12 and 13 foot kayaks, you’ll probably need a second set of hands or a kayak trolley, but that’s about it as far as launch labour goes. There are roof racks and trailers to assist you in logistical management to and from your destination.

kayak fishing

Clear Conscience

  • Fishing from a kayak is much more eco-friendly than fishing from a motorboat. There’s not as much noise pollution, so chances are you’ll catch more fish because there’s no motor noise to scare the fish off.
  • The fact that there are no fumes coming from the kayak is also a great way for you to keep a clear conscience about your carbon footprint. Kayaks are ‘self-powered’ vehicles that are much safer for the environment, and if you’re looking to clean up your footprint even more, there are kayaks being produced these days that are made from recycled plastic collected from the ocean and beaches.
  • Motorboats not only affect the water and the delicate ecosystems under the water, but also the state of the banks and shorelines and the life within. The decisions we make to be more respectful towards the environment with our choice of equipment can mean life or death for specific creatures. Oil and fuel are the biggest culprits of water pollution and motorised water vessels play a big role in the state of the water systems seeing as how common it is for boats to leak oil and fuel. The fish you’re after aren’t going to stick around if the environment around it doesn’t support its life! Kayaks don’t have oil or fuel to leak. They don’t reach excessive speeds that can disrupt the ecosystems and shorelines. In general, the fish are going to be happier, and so will you. Kayaks for the win!

Different ‘Yaks for Different Water

You’d be surprised by the variety of kayaks there are for the different kinds of water conditions you can expect absolutely anywhere. Specifically relating to kayak fishing, some options are going to be better than others based on what kind of water you’ll be frequenting. Kayaks shorter than 11 foot are more easily manoeuvrable while kayaks longer than 12 foot can pick up more speed. If you’re on a small lake or pond, being able to manoeuvre the vessel easily is going to be your top priority. Longer kayaks are better suited to dams, oceans and bigger lakes where you’ll not only cover distance quicker but also be more stable in the choppy water. 

If you have a fuller sized body or are planning on standing and fishing, and mostly visiting small ponds and rivers, a wider kayak is going to be the obvious choice as they are more stable. The narrower kayaks are easier to paddle and are great for anglers needing to span some distance throughout the day.

You’ll want to consider a keel too. It’s a ‘fin’ shaped part that assists with tracking in the water. There are kayaks with retractable or integrated keels, and then there are kayaks that don’t have a keel. You want a keel if you’re fishing in open or deep water. For shallow, closed in environments, and rocky rivers, you won’t really need one.

The Tricky Stuff

This kayak fishing guide would not be complete if I didn’t give you some tips on the more challenging aspects. One-handed paddling and one-handed casting, and doing them both at the same time is a skill you’re going to need to develop. It looks difficult, and at first it is, but as with learning any new skill, it gets easier the more you do it, and eventually your body develops muscle memory and the movements become second nature.

Single-handed Fishing Bandit

  • With one-armed paddling, it’s about using the rest of your body to leverage the support you need that your other hand isn’t available for. This technique is highly useful when you’re trying to keep a line in the water while maintaining your kayak position against the currents and wind.
  • For the forward stroke on the starboard side (if you’re right handed) you can use your upper chest, neck and shoulder on the left of your body to compensate your left hand being occupied by the fishing rod. You’ll lean forward with the paddle braced on the left-hand side of your body while you pull back on the right-hand side of the paddle with your right hand. For the forward stroke on the port side, you’ll use your right elbow and forearm as leverage while your right hand controls the stroke, crossing over your body.
  • With a quick flip of the paddle, you can use the same forearm and elbow for the backwards stroke on the starboard side. For backstroke on the port side, you’ll reach across and to the back as you use your torso/mid-section as the leverage point. You can then change the angle, just as with regular paddling, to get more of a sweep if you need it. You may need to ‘disengage’ the paddle and put it on your lap to reel or give it slack and then engage and reel in the slack with one hand. Just reach your fingers over the reel and turn your handle shank with your middle and pointer finger, while your other hand keeps you in place.
  • One-handed casting is probably the trickiest bit of learning to fish from a kayak, especially for anglers who are used to using both hands on the fishing rod from a boat or shore/bank. Casting with both hands is only possible if the casting direction matches the long axis of your kayak. If you try casting at a perpendicular angle, you could roll your kayak and lose all your gear. An experienced kayak fisher has developed the ability to cast with one hand most of the time with either spinning tackle or bait casting, so you’ll want to make sure you have the right gear. For the most part, you’ll want to get the hang of using a lighter set up and then practice sitting in the kayak on dry ground and casting off from there to see how much space you have around you to work with. Flip casts are usually successful a lot of the time for how low the kayak sits in the water.

Conclusion

And there it is. That’s a whole lot of really important information to know about embarking on your expedition fishing from a kayak. Having done some light fishing and light kayaking, I thought I’d enjoy doing both together, and I probably will, but it’s not the naive daydream I held in my mind. In my head, I had some rods and the ocean was flat and still, and I had a net to dive off and catch crayfish, mussels and oysters. It’s possible and even probable, but I’d have to know what I’m doing first of all before I can enjoy my seafood platter of the day. 

That’s my ultimate motivation really… spending time in nature, getting back to authentic immersion and engagement with the elemental earth, being surrounded by all that water, and occasionally letting it wash over me throughout the day. Followed by the best homemade seafood feast I can cook up, and going to bed feeling sunned out, with my worries blown away by the wind, and my soul washed clean by the ocean… feeling like the most content human I could possibly be… all part of the bounty of life when you’ve got the courage to go out and do it yourself.