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Learn Kayak Fishing

Updated on November 27, 2009


Quietly you paddle into the cove as the sun slowly rises over the horizon. Up by the grass line 20 feet in front of you there is a swirl on the water, then another and another and another, like little underwater submarines moving just below the surface. Trying to contain your excitement and keep quiet you cast in front of the swirls. The lure makes a little splash; you start slowly reeling the line in. SPLASH! The water explodes and line starts peeling off of the reel. Zzzzzzzzz the reel is screaming. You set the hook and the fight begins. FISH ON!

How did you get here? That's what we'll discuss in How to Start Fishing from a Kayak. What type of kayak should you buy? What kind of gear do you need? How do you get it to the water? How do you carry all this stuff with you on the water is such a tiny boat? How far can you really go out in a kayak? How do you get that trophy fish back to shore? These are all valid questions that need to be answered.


There are many different styles of kayaks two basic models. There are sit in kayaks (SIK) sit in kayaks are made in different styles. They can be made for white water or calm water use. SIK's have only one hole on top and that is where you climb in to sit down. There is almost complete access to the inside of the boat and you can put your gear inside either behind or in front of you. Sometimes you will have a protective spray skirt which is an attachment that goes snuggly around you and attaches to the top of the boat. This keeps the lower part of you and the inside of the boat dry from paddle dribble and other sources. SIK’s can be faster in the water and usually a bit dryer but if you do roll one it’s much more difficult to right it again without it filling up with water. It you have one of these learn the Eskimo roll.

Then there are sit on top kayaks (SOT). Sit on kayaks are similar they can be designed for recreational use or surfing. Sit on kayaks are usually made of roto-molded plastic. They will usually have at least one small hatch where you can access the inside to store things; however most of your gear will go on top of the kayak including yourself. This is the one I will focus on as most people use a sit on because they make for a more stable boat and are usually large enough to carry all you will need.


You can go two routes to locate a kayak. You can go to a brick and mortar store or to the internet to locate a used boat. I prefer a face to face sale. When you go in person it gives you a chance to check out the boat. SIt in it. Imagine that you are fishing from it. Can you reach everything you need? This is especially important when purchasing from an individual with a used boat. If you do buy a used boat is be sure to look it over very thoroughly. Ask for a float test if at all possible. What you don't want is a boat with a leak. Leaks can be from very small cracks around the scupper holes, under seats, along the bottom or anywhere under the water line so being sure to check it thoroughly!


The very next thing that you will need to have is a Personal Flotation Device or PFD. I see people all the time paddling happily along without one or with it stowed neatly behind them. Please don't be one of these people! If you flip the boat, also known as a turtle, or fall off into the water that PFD becomes very important. Even if you are a good swimmer, excellent swimmers drown all the time if they are knocked unconscious or fall into freezing water and hypothermia sets in before they can get back in the boat. I recommend you get one that you are comfortable while wearing it and that you use it. I don't even sit down in my kayak without wearing my live jacket. There are lots of cool fishing specific ones now. They have pockets made for holding small tackle boxes or fly boxes.

If you are going to fish when the water temperature is below 60 a dry suit is a good idea. There are dry suits now made just for paddlers. If you can't afford a dry suit you can do what I do. Wear insulated waders and a dry top.

Always go with a friend or a group if you can so there is someone around if something does go wrong. Tell someone where you are going and when you intend to return so they know when to start looking for you. A hand operated bilge pump is a good idea to have in the boat just in case you start taking on water inside the craft.

VHF radios are an absolute necessity if you are going into the ocean. They can also make it easy to communicate with your buddies who are on the water with you. Make sure to get one that is waterproof and that floats. If you are staying inshore or in fresh water make sure to take a cell phone.

Take a basic safe boating class and a paddling course by a certified instructor it will pay off when things get hairy out there and that always happens when you least expected it. If you have a SIK you will need to take a certified course and learn the Eskimo roll. If you have a SOK Before you go out, while still in shallow, calm water with all your gear safely warm and dry back on shore you should practice getting back on top after you have fallen off. Put on your PFD and paddle a short distance from shore. Test the stability of your kayak. From a seated position lean hard from one side of the craft to the other. Boats have what’s known as primary and secondary balance points. The secondary is where it flips.

Now that you are in the water and the kayak is upside down you need to get back on. Swim up to it and reach across to the other side. Grab the handle or rope, pull hard and use your body weight to right the boat. Then reach across again with both arms and kick your feet lifting yourself to a face down position lying across the boat with your belly in the seat. Next push yourself up to a seated position with your butt planted in the seat and then pull your feet in and now you are ready to move along.


Ok now you have got your boat and your PFD let’s talk about how you will propel your new craft through the water. Paddles can be made of wood, plastic, aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber. They can also be a combination of two materials like aluminum handle with plastic blades. Or aluminum handles with fiberglass of carbon fiber blades. They are measured in centimeters most commonly 220 to 240 centimeters. Generally you get what you pay for in a paddle. Get the best one you can afford. Personally I’d avoid the plastic bladed paddles because they generally are of lesser quality and are heavier. You want the lightest paddle if you plan on going very far. A spare paddle stowed below can come in real handy if something happens to the first one.


While we’re talking about paddles and something happening to the first one a paddle leash is a highly recommended accessory. A paddle leash is usually something stretchy with a wrap around Velcro connector on one end to go around the paddle and a clip on the other to attach to the kayak on the other. You will also want a leash for your fishing rod, pliers and anything else that can fall into the water never to be seen again. Fly fishermen use small retractable leashes to keep things attached to their selves. You can do the same. If it doesn’t float it is a good idea to tie it down.


Now what you need is a way to carry your stuff on the kayak. Rod holders are pretty much a requirement for a fishing kayak. Several companies make rod holders and drink holders and GPS mounts and anchor locks that you can carry a lot of things you may want to take with you. Most SOT kayaks have a rear well area. This is a depression in the kayak that you can use to stow things. Hopefully it is large enough for an office / milk crate to sit in. Milk crates are perfect size for those plastic tackle organizers that you probably already have to fit into. You can attach some vertical rod holders or pieces of 2” PVC pipe about 12 inches long to carry your fishing rods when you’re not using them. I know some people who even carry a portable homemade live well with them. Some of the newer boats have storage compartments and a live well built in.


Ok we’re going fishing so we are going to need a fishing rod or three. You want a rod that is not so long that you can’t handle it on the kayak but long enough to reach around the front or back when you are fighting that monster fish and it decides to swim towards and under the boat. A seven foot rod is a good all around choice for a kayak. You also want one that has a fairly short butt or handle as you will be fighting the fish with the reel in close to your gut. Different manufacturers have recently started coming out with kayak specific fishing rods. If you have the little bit extra cash these are well worth the money.

You will need a way to land the giant fish you are going to catch. A short handled net or lip gripper can do the job or you might want to learn the Kayak Kevin Leg Lift. The KKLL is where you put your foot into the water. Swim the fish in close to one side of the boat or the other and when it is right over your ankle / shin area lift the fish into the boat with your foot. I don’t recommend this for any fish with large sharp teeth because they end up a little too close to your sensitive bits and that could be bad. For Red drum, Striper, Bass, Catfish and others this works quite well.


You are going to be spending long periods of time sitting in your new ride so one thing you may want to consider is an aftermarket seat. I have one that inflates and is like riding on a cushion of air. There are gel seats and other styles of seats but you want some cushioning for your rear and some support for your back. I like a high back seat so I have something so relax back into and support my back on a long paddle.


This article was in no way intended as an exhaustive treatment of everything about fishing from a kayak. My hope is that you will do some of your own research read some good books on the subject. Take a class. Follow some of the many kayak fishing website forums and learn as much as you can before going out. Join a club. Go with a friend. Start in a quiet pond near home and move up from there. Some of those quiet ponds have some big fish in them! One of the best things about fishing from a kayak is that you can go where other boats cannot and you can sneak up on fish that have not seen a boat in a very long time.

Tight lines

wolf fish from Johan Svenson of Norway courtesy of Kayak Kevin
wolf fish from Johan Svenson of Norway courtesy of Kayak Kevin


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