Kayak Fishing 101

| August 1, 2012 | 16 Comments

We realize that not everyone that buys a kayak from ACK is looking to wet a line (lingo for casting a fishing line into the water) but we also know some of you may be curious or in some cases ready to jump right in. While fishing from a kayak is almost as simple as fishing off the bank, you do need to consider a few differences. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of outfitting your kayak for fishing, what to expect on your first fishing adventure and a couple of tips to make your experience a safer more enjoyable one.

Outfitting Your Kayak

Native Watercraft Manta Ray outfitted with a few basic accessories geared towards kayak fishing.

Fact of the matter is you really don’t need much to get your kayak outfitted for fishing. When somebody asks me what it takes to turn a kayak into a fishing kayak, I jokingly say “grab a rod next time you go paddling and go fish”. While that holds a lot of truth, the reality is there is a massive selection of products to help make your experience a better one. While many anglers customize their boats with hundreds of dollars worth of gear, you can start with a few basic items.

Rod Holder – Get your rod out of the way and secure it.
You need something to keep your rods in place. Your boat can flip or your rod can get hung up on a tree. Last thing you want to do is lose your rod and reel combo. Rod holders are typically made of plastic material and can be mounted with bolts or rivets. Three of the most typical applications include:

Scotty Baitcaster (Secure Mounted Rod Holder)

Flush Mounted Rod Holder – A tube that is inserted into your kayak or sometimes molded into the boat. The end of the rod is simply inserted into the tube and can then be secured with a rod leash. Flush Mount Rod Holders are usually installed behind the seat on the top deck area.

Secure Mounted Rod Holder – Provides a more secure hold than a Flush Rod Holder by “grasping” your rod and reel. You’ll typically find these installed on the center of the deck between your lower legs and sometimes behind the seat.  The adjustability of these make them a popular choice when you want to keep your rod tips pointed lower than the flush mount option allows.

Kayak Crate/Tackle Boxes – Another popular option combines both tube like rod holders with a crate or boxed in area with a lid to store and protect your gear all in one easy to manage package.

Anchors – Stop your boat or you may miss the fish.
Like fishing from a motorboat, you’ll want to stay put when you find that “honey hole”. Securing your kayak in a specific location is key when fishing and there is no better way to do it than with a small anchor and line. Since you are limited on space and capacity, don’t get anything over 3 lbs. The two that we recommend are:

Folding Anchors – Folding anchors tend to be the most popular design due to their ability to provide a good hold in most environments and their portability.

Claw Anchor – If you want an anchor that can hold you in place even in the softest bottoms this is the anchor you need. It may not be as portable as a folding anchor but you can rest assured you won’t be going anywhere.

Coiled Paddle Leash

Paddle Leash – When a fish is on, the last thing on your mind will be your paddle.
Secure your paddle. We’ve all heard the term “up the creek without a paddle” — avoid it. By installing a simple device that secures your paddle to your boat, you’ll never have to worry about losing a paddle when you catch the “big one”. One end simply ties to a piece of hardware or installed accessory on the boat and the other to your paddle shaft. The leash is typically coiled or made of a “bungee” material. Most kayaks also have built in paddle tie downs but leashes are easier to deal with when in the moment.

That’s about all you’ll need to get started assuming you already purchased a paddle and PFD. However, you will find hundreds if not thousands of great products made specifically for kayak fishing such as anchor trolleys, drift chutes, kayak rudders, stake out poles and much more. Here is an older article I published featuring other gear you may want to consider.

What to Expect When Kayak Fishing

Planning Ahead – Fishing can be addictive. What was supposed to be a one-hour fishing trip can easily turn in to half a day excursion especially when the fish aren’t biting. Expect to fish longer than you plan and be prepared. Load up a small ice chest with plenty of water, snacks and a sack lunch. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and/or apparel made for spending long periods of time outdoors.

Introducing gear to your kayak adds weight, launch with care.

Launching Your Boat – As you prepare to launch your boat, keep in mind that with all the extra gear you have, it may paddle a bit differently than you are used to. Balance your gear with the heaviest items towards the center of the boat. When launching, be aware that depending on how much gear you’ve loaded, your freeboard (boat out of the water) may be less than you than what you typically experience. Launch with care.

Understanding Fish From Above – I am not a fish expert but I do know that they are extremely skittish. The good news is that with a kayak and what makes kayaks a popular choice is their “stealthiness”. As you creep closer to your honey hole, you can easily glide into position with a few gentle paddle strokes. Just be careful not to bang your boat when putting your paddle down and lifting a rod, the slightest bump will scare them away. Want to see what you’re casting at? If the water clarity is somewhat clear, get some polarized glasses, stand up and do a little sight casting. Boat not stable enough? Get a pair of these bad boy stabilizers.

Casting off a Kayak – For many, the idea of casting off a kayak seems awkward. Sure many kayaks are made for fishing and extreme movements may be not match but for those with tippier kayaks, this could pose a problem. Practice your cast and reaching around your kayak (tankwell, dry hatches, etc.) before you launch into deeper waters. It’s all about using more arm than body and casting with a bit of finesse. The same applies if not more to casting while standing. If the water favors it, many kayak anglers side straddle their kayaks meaning they sit side ways while their legs dangle in the water. Keeps you cool but also provides a general feeling of balance and many find it a bit more comfortable of a position especially if paddling and fishing for long periods of time. A general rule of thumb is to always keep your body upright and your head centered over your kayak. If you lean over in any direction too far — splash!

Norton Fish Grips

Catching a Fish – So what do I do when I catch a fish on a kayak? May seem like a silly question but for those that have never fished off a kayak, this is a very important one. Make sure your hook is set and stay focused. Keep a tight line by holding your rod up above your head (watch out for those trees) while you double check to make sure your paddle is secure. If you are anchored down, try to steer your fish away from the anchor line or this could quickly get messy. Once you reel your fish close enough to land it (always leave some slack in your line), do take care in how you handle the fish especially if you plan to catch and release. Fish have a protective coating so try to avoid holding the fish with your hands but if you do (photo op, release, etc.) be gentle. I always recommend a fish grip designed to do just this and carry a pair of pliers or forceps to remove hooks. There tends to be a lot of difference in opinions when it comes to catching and releasing fish, here is a great article that I recommend you read. Finally, if you do plan to keep fish be sure to bring a fish cooler with you especially during the warmer months to keep your dinner cool and fresh.

Not Catching a Fish – You’ve heard the saying, “it’s not called catching for a reason” and for good reason, don’t expect to catch fish every single time you go fishing. I’ve got many friends and family who have all together given up fishing off a kayak because they didn’t catch anything on their first outing. Sure it may be the gear you are using but there is also a good chance that water and weather conditions are the culprit. Don’t loose hope, persistence is key. Do your research, see what’s working and what’s not. Don’t worry, you’ll catch one and when you do, I promise you’ll be hooked (pun intended)!

Safety! – Not to scare you out of kayak fishing but you are introducing the possibility of getting yourself hooked, bitten by a snake or some creepy crawler and dealing with less than ideal weather conditions. Of course this is the same with any paddling sport but as an angler, you will find yourself under trees, into waters full of vegetation and along banks making yourself more susceptible to encountering wildlife. Be cautions of your surroundings, always take a first aid kit and like any other paddling sport, wear a PFD! I can’t stress how important this. When flipping a kayak with all kinds of fishing gear, your first reaction may be to try and recover your hard earned dollars — stay focused on you instead, everything else can be replaced. I don’t think I need to tell you this but hey, it always helps to stay in tune with the weather forecast regardless of what outdoor adventure you plan to partake in.


Gear up but only take what you need!

Go Easy on The Gear – We could write an entire book on the type of actual fishing gear you’ll need but since it can vary so much by style, season, body of water and region, we’ll stick to the kayaking aspect for the sake of this article. That said, I recommend you do some research, find what’s biting and where and the gear other anglers are using. While many kayak anglers prefer to take everything but the kitchen sink, I prefer to keep it simple with only the gear I know I will use. Your boat deck is limited on space, so before you know it you’ll have hooks, worms and countless other items strewn across your boat. Keep it organized in a small tackle box or bag and place it in an easily accessible area.

Secure Your Gear – The best thing you can do to avoid losing your gear is to properly secure it. This includes your paddle, anchor, tackle boxes, etc. If you don’t have lash points, install some simple pad eyes and get some deck line. While bungee is great for securing a few large and light items, it may not hold up to some of your heavier gear such as a tackle box or ice chest. Tie it down!

Go With the One That Knows – Most kayak anglers are introduced to kayak fishing from those who already have some experience with it. That is hands down the best scenario. If you have yet to be invited, invite yourself or join a local forum or group. While competitive and sometimes secretive by nature, most kayak anglers are a friendly bunch and always willing to offer up some advice or even meet up with other anglers with same interests. Those with experience are a wealth of knowledge, learn from them. A word of advice, before you go posting “hey, I’m a newbie that’s never been kayak fishing, any advice?” do search the forums. Chances are, hundreds of others have already asked the same questions you are about to ask and the answers may be there right there in front of you.

Practice Safety – As referenced above, it may be a good idea to practice casting but also capsizing. During warmer months, I always advise paddlers (angler or not) to force themselves to turn their boats over in a controlled setting and practice getting back on a boat. It never hurts to take a class or two on paddling technique and safety.

Buff Headwear

Wear the Proper Apparel – I have to admit, it’s pretty silly when you go out kayak fishing only to find that most anglers are wearing similar outfits to what you have but for good reason, it’s apparel made for it. In warm weather, look for clothing that is light, loose fitting and dries quickly and long sleeves and pants that will keep you cool. Most performance fishing wear will do just this. Water gloves, face protection and hats are also recommended. For fishing during colder months you’ll want to layer up. Start with a base layer of a synthetic material such as this Immersion Research Thickskin Union Suit, a mid-layer of fleece and an outer layer of splash wear such as this NRS Endurance Jacket. The idea is that as the day warms up, you have the option to shed a layer or even two.

So there you have it, Kayak Fishing 101. Yep, there is so much more to it but I hope this starts you off in the right direction. As always, we want your feedback. Got your own tips, any experiences of your own you would like to share with those that have yet to try kayak fishing? Comment below, we want to know!

– Roland @ACK

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Category: Kayak Fishing, Knowledge, Resources

Comments (16)

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  1. Charlie says:

    Anchoring in a flowing river or area of flowing current will cause you to capsize!!!
    The boat will swing to face sideways into the flowing water, and swamp you.
    Avoid this by buying Austin Kayak’s anchor trolley system that lets your anchor line move to the front (or back) of your kayack so it will swing like a weather vane into the wind – or in this case into the oncoming current.
    [Overall great article Roland, just thought I should mention this.]

  2. Kim Erbivelli says:

    In your opinion, what is the best fish finder to use for kayak fishing. I have a Ocean Kayak Trident 11. I fish in both salt and fresh water.

  3. Roland says:

    Charlie, a VERY good point. That’s happened to me before! Another option that many customers configured involves a setup where they utilize snap clips to create a small leader so to speak that connects to the boat and then use another snap or quick release hook at the end of that leader. The extended section of the line will have a float attached to it so that if they had to unhook it for any given reason (catching large fish, sudden current or wind change) they could retrieve it later. Thanks for pointing that out Charlie…good stuff!

  4. Roland says:

    Kim, I personally don’t use one but I o see how many of our customers and my fishing pals do benefit from them. Budget plays a big role in this but for less than $100 you can get outfitted with a system that will do the job just fine. We carry Humminbird products: http://www.austinkayak.com/brand/119/Humminbird.html You’ll see our full like from $89-$2,799.00. As you can see, prices vary quite dramatically. I recommend you read some of the reviews but our more popular models are the 160 due to price and the 385ci Color Combo which comes with an OK compatible transducer (http://www.austinkayak.com/products/1678/Humminbird-385ci-Color-Combo-Fishfinder-Ocean-Kayak-Transducer.html). Of course, you can also buy the OK compatible transducer on it’s own:http://www.austinkayak.com/products/2625/Humminbird-Transducer-for-Ocean-Kayak-Fishing-Kayaks.html

  5. D-Sea says:

    For relatively shallow water like saltwater bays and creeks, the kayak stake ACK sells from Yak Attack also works great. I tie from the side cleat so I can sometimes stop larger reds from getting to docks and other structure or can quickly release if the fish goes out towards open water.

  6. Julian says:

    I agree, Yak Attack stake out pole is great. Another big advantage I didn’t realize when I started fishing out of the yak was I could retrieve my lures, unlike when I got hung up bank fishing. I just shove the handle end down on the hangup and it comes loose pretty easily. As far as fishfinder goes.. I’m using the Lowrance Elite 4 DSI. It has gps and downscan. I mainly use it for depth for which is very helpful on the yak in murky water. You never know what you might hit. I almost hit a ripped up submerged dock that was swept away in the last storm. Luckily I noticed it on the downscan and the depth was real shallow which alerted me also. I’m still not sure what an actual fish looks like since it’s my first ff and am still getting used to it. The ff records my tracks and I’ve used them to navigate through debris by following the track I made the last time while the water was lower. A ff is a great addition to a fishing kayak for more than finding fish!


  7. Roland says:

    D-Sea and Julian, agree as well. In fact I too use it for a variety of purposes. I’ve actually used it to pole around in shallow waters while sitting in my yak.

  8. Arline says:

    Using an ice chest is mentioned. I bought a mesh wire trap & put an 18″ red drum I caught. However, when I attached the trap to my kayak and started paddling, the drag was unbelievable with the trap in the water. It took all my energy to get back to the take-out spot. I have a 12′ kayak but a small cockpit. Where can I put a small ice chest? Is there any other way to take back a fish? Someone said that it isn’t good to use one of those spiked lines that go thru the fish gills because a shark may attack the fish. Please help with a solution. Thanks in advance.

  9. yakker615 says:

    This is a very informative post! This is a must read for anyone new to the sport of kayak fishing. Thank you for writing this.

  10. Luke says:

    This is a nice resource, but you totally missed out on covering fish finders. They are an integral piece of equipment these days that shouldn’t be overlooked. We wrote a guide here http://www.sonarwars.com/best-kayak-fish-finder/

  11. Henry Kale says:

    Cheers for the great info! Great guide! Thanks!

  12. Be sure you know what to do once you have the fish on your kayak so you don’t capsize! 😉 We put together a helpful guide on fishfinders for this, too: http://fishnmarinecenter.com/fish-finders/best-for-kayaks-fishfinders/ – definitely a big help when you don’t want to paddle around forever looking for fish blindefolded.

    • Devyn Stewart says:

      haha Very true! Thanks for sharing your guide, having a fishfinder is a game changer when you’re out on the water.

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