Fishing from Your Kayak
Although it sometimes seems like a new idea, many of the
earliest kayaks were used primarily as hunting and fishing craft. Fishing
is actually the reason I started kayaking in the first place. I liked
to fish in places that were difficult to reach. Less pressure from
other fishermen meant more catching. A kayak allows me to get beyond
those areas that I could easily reach by walking and launch where there
isn't a boat ramp. For ocean fishing, I could reach areas that were
too far to comfortably run in a powerboat and even fish in protected
coves when it was too rough to run to or enter from the outside.
I still have a perfectly good power skiff parked in the garage,
But I found that it is so much easier to load, launch, rig, land
and then put everything away after kayak fishing that I seldom use
the power skiff anymore. While kayak fishing, I've caught salmon,
trout, rockfish, lingcod, cabazon, greenling, grayling, perch, barracuda,
mackerel, bass, pike, shad, crawfish, crappie and crabs. I've even
used a kayak to get out to dig giant clams on virgin mud flats that
I had all to myself.
Kayaks for Fishing:
If you already have a suitable kayak it will only require a few
accessories to get it ready for fishing. If you don't yet have
a kayak, I would recommend one that is stable enough so that you
don't risk capsize whenever the paddle isn't available for a quick
bracing stroke. Depending on how much tackle you like to carry,
you might be able to get along fine without hatches or a tank-well
where others might carry boxes, bags and buckets of tackle. You will want to consider where you will carry your catch.
A tethered mesh bag that you can set in the tank-well works fine
for most instances. You might be able to drag fish on a stringer
but don't expect to be able to paddle very fast with a stringer
of fish dragging in the water.
Many fishermen prefer to use sit-on-top type kayaks but traditional style
kayaks are fine for some types of fishing. Sit-on-tops usually provide lots
of places to mount accessory gear and clips. So far as I know, SCUBA tank-wells
(a good place to carry your catch) are not available on any sit-inside cockpit
kayak. For ocean fishing, sit-on-tops are often preferred chosen because
of safety concerns. They do not have the high risk of flooding if accidentally
capsized and are much easier to re-board from the water. I recommend that
you practice self-rescues. Otherwise you would have to do your best figure
it out, when cold, wet and startled by your first accidental capsize.
Do you want gear hatches? I don't like to carry much tackle if
I can avoid it. I try to carry whatever I might need in a vest that
is large enough to wear over my PFD. You should consider where you
might want to carry some lunch, and do not forget to take plenty
to drink! Opening hatches out on the water can be hazardous so I
would only carry those things inside a hatch that could wait until
I paddled ashore to reach.
You want some wide flat surfaces to mount a rod holder or two.
Flat surfaces on the top and sides also make adding clips and accessories
much easier. There is an accessory called a Rhynobar that gives any kayak angler a
space to mount rod holders, fish finders or other accessories.You
can also add hatches if there are suitable locations. Many kayaks
have been designed for optional hatches and this certainly simplifies
A suitable kayak for fishing will be determined by several factors.
The water and conditions that you intend to fish in (warm water,
cold water, lakes, fast moving rivers, bays or an exposed coastal
area are one consideration. Your size, balance, and the distance
you intend to paddle will also affect your decision. You will also
want to consider how you will transport the kayak. Lighter (and
shorter) kayaks might make transportation less of a chore.
A fishing kayak will probably be at least 11 feet long for adequate
tracking and carrying capacity. If the kayak will be used primarily
for fishing in fast moving rivers, I would then look for something
short enough for good maneuverability and I would avoid boats with
any kind of keel.
The kayak will probably be at least 24" if it is to have enough
stability to use for fishing. Wider boats generally offer greater
stability but less paddling efficiency. Although fishing will seldom
require much speed, if you expect to paddle more than a mile or
so to your fishing spot, you might want to avoid anything more than
28" wide. If you are much over 200 lbs., you may however, need greater
beam to get enough stability (and butt-room) to be comfortable.
The best way to tell is to paddle enough different boats so that
you can develop a sense of what feels best. After you have begun
to settle on a model, I would take it out for at least a one-hour
paddle to confirm your decision. Once you begin to feel tired, what
may have seemed like minor differences may feel more significant.
I would recommend almost anyone begin their search by looking at
either a (12' X 29" X 56 lbs.) Scrambler XT by Ocean Kayak (OK)
or a (13' X 28" X 62 lbs.) Ride by Wilderness Systems (WS). These
two kayaks are very stable, both have a tank-wells are easy enough
to paddle and comfortable for most people. If you want something
a bit faster, look at the (16' X 28" X 63 lbs.) Tarpon by WS
or any of the (15" X 26" X 56 lbs.) Scupper Pro models by OK,
one has a tank-well. Paddlers who want an efficient hull in a
slightly lighter (and less expensive) package might try the (14" X
26" X 48 lbs.) Scupper Classic. Curiously, even large paddlers
may find the shallower seat of the Classic more comfortable than
the Pro (but they will need better than average balance to stay
upright.) Smaller paddlers who desire a lighter boat might also
consider the (11' X 28" X 45 lbs.) Scrambler (NOT XT) by OK.
If you are a XXL+ paddler, you might consider the (12.5" X 34" X
58 lbs.) Drifter by OK or even a (12' X 35" X 61 lbs.) Malibu
II, a double kayak which can be paddled as a single. If you are
thinking of drift fishing in fast moving rivers, the (10.5" X
30" X 53 lbs.) Yahoo might be what you want. Other manufacturers
make some good fishing kayaks too. These are models we sell and
I know them best.
These can work fine, particularly if you are not going to paddle
through any rough water and you hope to stay dry. Regardless
of the type of kayak you choose, you should not neglect the possibility
of a capsize. (Do not paddle a kayak anywhere you are not prepared
to swim.) You might consider these type of kayaks so long as they
feel stable to you. A large cockpit opening like the (12' X 29" X
49 lbs.) Pungo by WS, is fine but not essential for fishing.
If you intend to take a sit-inside kayak into conditions where
there is a significant danger of capsize, you might want to consider
equipping the kayak with inflatable sponsons. When sponsons are
properly installed and inflated, they can add a great deal of
stability and reduce the likelihood of capsize. They can deflated
and even removed for normal paddling.
Hardware for mounting Accessories:
Stainless steel fasteners with washers and nylock nuts are the best
way to go, but you must be able to get a wrench or socket inside
of the boat to tighten them. This is not a problem when the bolt
is to be located within an arms reach from a hatch, however not
every boat has a hatch where you might need it. In this case there
are special blind "Pop" rivets for attaching hardware to plastic
(do not use rivets if you have a fiberglass kayak.). They expand
with a large X shaped head holding inside the plastic and work
quite well. Because they are aluminum, they will need to be replaced
every three or four years if you paddle in salt water. If you
have a fiberglass kayak or you want something that doesn't need
to be replaced every four years, you should consider using well-nuts
for blind fastenings.
You can use a sealant like Lexel or "AquaSeal" under everything
you attach to help seal water out.
While paddling to the area you want to fish, you may need a place
to park the rod where it will not get in the way. I don't like
clips that hold the rod alongside the cockpit because they can
be "knuckle busters" and get in the way while I'm paddling. You
can use flush or bracket-mounted rod holders. They can be mounted
in front of or behind the cockpit. I would start out with the
simple PVC rod holder you can make
yourself for about $3.
Deck mounted rod holders are also fine. Neither will require that
you cut any big holes in the deck. At least not until you are certain
where you put it is where you want it to stay. If you are going to
mount a flush-mount rod holder, be sure that the bottom is not open,
as this would let water enter the hull. You will also need to make
sure that there is enough room inside so that the tube that extends
inside the hull will not bottom-out before the top flange reaches
With a deck-mounted rod-holder, I like the bracket to be fairly
low profile so there isn't a huge clump of plastic left there when
I remove it. When mounting one that has a wing nut, be sure you
put the nut on the side so you can still adjust the rod angle. Allowing
plenty room for the rod butt if it will rest against the kayak.
Fishing from an anchored or drifting kayak isn't very difficult
and very little is needed in the way of explanation. I like to carry
whatever gear I might need in a fishing vest so that it is easy
to reach. Trolling from a kayak takes a little more preparation.
Even if you are going to fish calm water, you should seriously consider
using some sort of tether to attach your rod (as well as your
paddle, net, bait bucket, portable depth-finder, VHF, cell-phone,
GPS, tackle box, and what ever else that might be dropped) to
the boat. Divers often use webbing straps with snap hooks, which
is a pretty slick way to leash gear to the kayak.
Backrest and Seat:
If you are paddling a sit-on-top,
you need a backrest. If your back ever gets sore, get a tall backrest
like the one made by Surf to Summit. If you have any back trouble,
consider getting a tall backrest with an inflatable lumbar support.
I like backrests that have a pouch so I can carry water bottles
and maybe a snack. There is also a backrest specifically designed
for fishing that has rod holders built-in. If you are considering
a backrest with built in pockets for water bottles, first check
to see that the pockets will fit your cockpit. Most of the better
backrests will have a seat pad as part of them. I would be cautious
adding extra padding to the seat. Increasing your seat elevation
will quickly raise your center of gravity and can reduce your stability.
Paddles are priced from around $40
to $400. Even the inexpensive ones are plenty strong. I like paddles
with a dihedral (raised ridge) face. They are very smooth stroking
and don't flutter when you dig in. Less expensive paddles are usually
heavier, often made of aluminum (which is cold to the touch and
corrodes particularly on 2-piece jointed paddles. If you have a
2-piece paddle, store it in two pieces.)
Light paddles are really nice to use. Even at cruising speeds,
a kayaker is only maintaining an average propelling force of around
five pounds. Paddling a kayak forward is done using powerful muscles
of the shoulders, arms and abdomen. The muscles used to hold the
paddle up are less powerful. If you can shave off a few ounces,
the difference is quite noticeable. After an hour of paddling, the
difference is enormous! If you have a light paddle, I don't recommend
trading it with any paddling partner that is using a heavy paddle
to try out, unless you don't mind waiting until you get back to
the beach for him to return it!
Lighter paddles may also be less rugged. If you are rough on gear,
I wouldn't go very light. If you want a paddle you can use to push
off of rocks get one with molded plastic blades. Surprisingly, I
see tough paddles break as often than the light ones. I suspect
that paddlers tend to abuse tough, heavy paddles and exercise care
with premium ones.
A leash keeps the paddle with you and allows you to drop it in the
water when fighting a fish. You can simply use a piece of line
or various specially made designs. I like paddle leashes that
will attach to the bow toggle so I don't have to add an attachment
point (an eye strap.) You want the length such that there isn't
much slack in it but I don't want to be pulling against the elastic
at any time while paddling.
Personal Flotation Device:
It must be comfortable, because I am going to wear it whenever I'm
on the water. I like ones with a zipper so there are no long tangled
straps and once its adjusted, I don't have to mess with it. I
like pockets too.
If the water is too cold to swim in, you should wear a wetsuit (or
dry suit) to keep you warm and to prevent hypothermia, particularly
if you capsize. A neoprene hood or cap will also help you to retain
Full wetsuits may keep you plenty warm but I find them uncomfortable
to wear while paddling. If you are going to wear a full wetsuit,
you might consider wearing a Lycra "rash guard" to prevent chafing
under your arms. I like to wear a farmer john suit while paddling.
It is like a pair of farmers overalls made of neoprene. Although
a 3 mil (1/8 ") suit is fine for regular paddling in our area, I
prefer a 6 mil (1/4") suit when fishing because I find I expend
less energy fishing and it takes more insulation to stay warm. I
take along a nylon-paddling jacket in case I start to get cold but
it is usually too hot to wear.
Neoprene booties are the standard footwear. I like high top boots
to keep the coarse gravel out and rubber soles so I can get out
and walk around comfortably. Six mil boots will obviously keep your
feet warmer than thin boots
Gloves? I am blessed with warm hands so I don't have to bother
with gloves. If your hands get cold, you may need neoprene gloves.
You might be able to cut out the tip of the index finger and thumb
to preserve your sense of touch.
A net may not be needed to land smaller fish but may be required
by fishing regulations. I have a large net with a short handle
that I keep in clips on the rear deck. Landing a fish in a net
from a kayak can be difficult.
I seldom use one but since there are times and places they might
come in handy. I like the 2-lb. Folding grapnel anchors best for
kayaks. If you expect it to hold, you will probably need an anchor
line that is at least four times the depth of the water. Better
yet, if there is kelp, take something you can use to tie on to
Have two depth finders I could mount on my kayak but so far, I never
have. One is a Hummingbird portable unit, the other is a (Bottom
Line, Fishing Buddy) unit that has the transducer on an attached
tube and runs on flashlight batteries. If I thought I needed it,
I would hook it up but so far, have not. (Ok, it is on my list
of things to do.)
A five to seven foot rod is fine for trolling, jigging and bait
fishing. Some kayakers like using short rods and a few like using
longer rods. Decide what works best for you and the intended catch.
Select the action that suits the weight of line, tackle and fish
you are going after. You will probably find you prefer using light
gear for kayak fishing. I like to set the drag just enough to
keep line from pulling out. This will give you some time to grab
your rod after a strike and eliminates the risk of "Old Moe" from
pulling the kayak over. I would choose rods with long butts so
they will rest in the rod holder securely.
Use whatever you like best. I've even used hand lines successfully.
I like reels that are simple, rugged and work just as well after
they have been dunked in the water.
Anchored or Drifting with Bait or Jigs:
This is easiest. I have to assume that you already at least know
the basics. Some fishermen use drogues to reduce their drift,
you can also slow your drift some by dangling your feet in the
water. If you start getting uncomfortable, you can also swing
both legs over the same side and sit "side-saddle" if you can
balance and are comfortable that way.
Trolling takes a little experimentation and practice. You will have
to experiment a bit to decide where you want to set your rod while
you paddle-troll. I used to just wedge the rod butt under my knee
with the tip extending out beside and slightly aft of the seat.
It worked ok but wasn't really convenient and was pretty rough
on rods. It took some experimentation to find a way to mount a
rod holder so that while I was trolling, the line and rod didn't
interfere with the paddle
Some fishermen prefer to use rod holders mounted behind the cockpit.
They are definitely out of the way there. You will probably want
a drag that makes enough noise so you will know when to drop the
paddle and grab the rod.
I like to mount the rod holder up near my feet. The Rod is beyond
the normal swing of my paddle. The line runs straight back over
my head and doesn't foul with the paddle even while turning. The
tip is held high and out of the way but I can still see when the
rod starts jumping and easily reach the rod to reel ‘em in. Depending
on where you are able to mount a rod holder on your kayak, you may
have to scoot forward and out of the seat to reach the rod.
Depending on what I am trolling with, I will either cast out or
drop enough line so that the lure reaches well into the water. I
often begin paddling backward and let twenty or thirty feet of line
out before I turn the boat in the direction I'm going to troll.
Then I set the drag very lightly so that the movement of the boat
is enough to pull out line. When I'm satisfied I've let out enough
line, I tighten the drag just enough to hold it from pulling out
further. I change my trolling speed from time to time, make wide
and short turns, whatever it takes to excite the fish.
When a fish strikes on the troll you can drop the paddle in the
water if it is on a leash or slide it under your leg or a gear
strap. Wait until the fish is really spent if you are going to
and land it. If you are using a net, hold the rod high with one
hand and slide a net under the fish. I often dispense with the
net if I can get a hold of the gills. Of course, if the line is
strong enough, you can lift small fish aboard by the line. I would
hesitate to use a gaff from a kayak but if you want to try it,
that is up to you.
You should have a bag or stringer handy to transfer the fish to
immediately when, or even before, you unhook it. It is just a short
jump and he'll flip right out of the kayak. Take a cotton rag along
so you can wipe fish slime off of your hands.
Casting lures, flies or bait:
You shouldn't expect to make very long casts while seated in a kayak
but don't let that stop you. You may be able to get much closer
to the fish with a kayak than you would by wading or with a powerboat.
If you are using heavier line, don't expect that you can just haul
back hard on the rod and break it. If you try this, you will likely
just flip the boat. If you can't work the snag loose, try wrapping
the line on a cleat or something on the side of the boat. Let
the swells provide the pulling force or paddle away to bring the
line tight. Don't go out in a kayak with very heavy line or you
might regret it.
The Special Thrill of Kayak Fishing
Is a fish big enough fish to give you a sleigh ride. You will have
to hold the rod tip near the bow to get much of a ride, even from
a large fish. If you hold the rod tip out to the side, the lateral
resistance of the hull will probably prevent the fish from pulling
you very fast.
I once watched a demonstration of how the Greenland Kayakers would
manage the pull of a harpooned seal. The demonstrator had a dozen
guys take a line and try, tug a war style, and pull as if they were
the seal. The paddler tied the line to the boat, stuck his paddle
in the water and laid the kayak over on its side. The lateral resistance
of the kayak and paddle blade made it very difficult to pull him.
Cars & Trucks:
A pickup truck is undoubtedly the easiest way to transport a kayak
although a 14" long kayak will be too long to carry in the bed
of any pickup. There are foam pads, padded straps (like surfboard
carriers) and roof racks. Unless you can leave your boat near
the water, you are going to need to decide which one you need.
If you are driving more than a couple of miles, get a good sturdy
(Thule, Yakima or Quick & Easy) roof rack.
I advise cam-lock-webbing straps for tying your kayak down. If you use rope,
use nylon instead of poly rope because it has more elasticity and will hold
the kayak (and knots) with less risk of slipping. Nylon bow and stern lines
are advised. If you put kayak saddles on your rack, it will mount rapidly
If it is a long trip from the parking lot to the car, you may want
to get a cart. There are lots of choices; you can even make
I would look for one with wide inflatable tires so it rolls smoothly
over rough surfaces and doesn't dig in like a plow on soft sand.
One nice bonus to having a cart is that you cam then use your kayak
as a wheelbarrow and carry the boat and all your gear in one trip.
Be prepared for anything that you can think of that might create
a problem for you. Carry a loud whistle, basic first aid kit, a
VHF radio or a cell phone is also a good idea if you are paddling
within range of a signal. A brightly colored paddle will not only
help other boaters to see you; you can use it to attract attention
if needed. Smoke signals, flares, dye marker, a flag tied to your
paddle or a long wide strip of orange ribbon can also help rescuers
locate you. You might consider carrying an emergency blanket, dry
clothing, waterproof matches, and extra water. If you encounter
rocks, surf, caves or heavy brush, wear a helmet. I cut charts in
to 8 ½ X 11" sections and have them laminated so they are
waterproof. Some people use clear plastic chart cases but I've heard
some of them gripe about soggy charts.
Wind, Waves and Fog:
Wind and waves may be the greatest threat. When the wind pipes up,
you might not be able to make headway against it. Waves are usually
less of a problem except that ocean swells could build up to the
point that breaking waves develop over offshore reefs and beach
landings become difficult. Be alert to the conditions and particularly
if wind and/or winds appear to be increasing. They can increase
rapidly but there is usually some warning if you are alert and
understand the local weather patterns.
Fog is disorienting and can cause you to become lost but usually
occurs only with light winds. Stay out of fog. Carry a compass and/or
GPS if there is any risk of fog. By watching the direction of waves
and swells, you may be able to maintain some sense of direction.
Listen for breaking waves, buoy sounds, motors, barking dogs and
voices. Above all, don't panic, study your situation before deciding
on a course of action and do not just dig in and paddle blindly
until you reach something (you may be paddling in circles or headed
for the wrong continent.)
If you are going paddling out through the surf, you should first
take some time to practice surf launches and landings through
small waves (and away from any board surfers, so you don't accidentally
run them over.) Watch a kayak surfing video, study a book and
then strap on your helmet, PFD and wetsuit and give it a shot.
Better leave the rods and tackle box in the car at first or its
going to look like you are setting up for a yard sale on the beach
after you get dumped. Study the waves for about fifteen minutes
to get a sense of how big the waves can get and how to anticipate
the windows of smaller waves where you might make a dash for it.
Start out with one or two-foot breaking waves; paddle around in
the soup zone and then work your way up as you become comfortable.
Be prepared to do some swimming; you will!
Caution! Kayak surfing can be extremely addicting! Don't
forget that you are only trying to build skills that will enable
you to go out and fish. If you allow yourself to become seduced
by the waves, you could end up becoming a SURFER! So please
maintain your focus and keep a clear head!
Tight lines to ya . . . Dude!
--contributed by Dave Martin, Noyo Pacific Outfitters