How To Fish From A Kayak | Kayak Fishing Tips, Setup, & Gear

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The kayak fishing tips packed into this ultimate guide can turn any fishing trip into a great time with plenty of fish to fry up for dinner. While kayaks may not be the first thing that pops into your head when you think of “fishing boats,” their versatile form and minimal gear make them a viable choice for fishing in open waters. Their sleek shape easy glides through the water. Plus, the absence of a power motor make kayaks ideal for fishing species that spook easily.

Before you paddle on out to the great blue yonder, make sure you familiarize yourself with all the aspects of fishing from a kayak. From gear to location to safety, the finer points of kayak fishing can make or break your catch. Start with research and consulting others who have gone before you.

The tips laid out in this article can be applied to stand up or sit-in kayaks. The best kayaks for fishing are wide with a sturdy base, letting you sit higher above the water than traditional paddling kayaks. it is ideal to be able to transition from a seated position to standing with ease and speed. Here are a few other finer points to consider when choosing a kayak:

  • Color – a brightly colored kayak is better for being spied by large boats, ensuring increased safety.
  • Space – depending on the type of fish and amount of gear you will need, you may need a wider kayak with more space.
  • Features – kayaks have many various details that could affect your experience based on the trip you are planning.

When choosing a kayak, be upfront about telling the sales associate about your trip and get all the advice you can from the outset.

Kayak Fishing Tip #1: Pick a good destination

Your kayak fishing experience is largely dictated by where and what you are fishing. The temperatures, water clarity, fish species and season will determine what gear you need, what to wear and what questions you need to ask. In the United States, there are many destinations for kayak fishing. Coastal places like Hawaii, Florida, Alaska and California are known for their beautiful scenery and water. In addition, there are many inland destinations worth exploring. Okmulgee Lake in Oklahoma, Onondaga Lake in New York and Chattooga Wild and Scenic River in North Carolina. Experience Midwestern charm and species on the Eleven Point National Scenic River in Missouri and the Caney Fork Watershed in Tennessee. Or, go west and cast your line into Arizona’s Verde River, Colorado’s Gross Reservoir, Arkansas River or Ptarmigan Lake.

Worldwide, off the north coast of New Zealand is a favorite place to kayak fish. Beautiful scenery, ideal temperatures and clear water make it a pristine destination. Fish for tarpon in Puerto Rico. Roosterfish, snapper, blue jacks, yellowfin tuna and billfish in Panama; and pike, lake trout, Arctic grayling, inconnu and whitefish in Canada.

Top 5 Destinations in the US for Kayak Fishing

  1. Flint River, Georgia

This river is named for the flintstones speckling the banks. Flint River stretches nearly 350 miles (344, to be exact) covering Georgia from southern Atlanta to the southwest corner of the state.

  1. Oregon Coast, Oregon

Oregon Coast is renowned for its beauty because of the versatile terrain. Along this singular coast, you can experience many different types of land on beaches that range from tiny to miles and miles long. The Columbia River runs along the Oregon Coast toward California. The fish species are as diverse as the land. Cast your line for salmon, halibut, rockfish, sturgeon and many others. 

  1. Green Swamp Lodge, Florida

Historic phosphate pits make this area a unique destination teeming with wildlife. It is especially well known for its bass fishing.

  1. Charleston, South Carolina

Just a few hundred miles shy of 3,000, this coastal shoreline boasts flounder, trout, redfish, and tarpon. But the list does not end there. Ladyfish, croaker, amberjack, bluefish, mackerel, and many more call this grassy marsh home.

  1. Coosa River, Alabama

In addition to fishing, you can also catch some river rafting on the Coosa. This is great news for kayak fishers because the rapids, especially Mocassin Rapid, keep the power boats at bay–literally. Fish without fear of larger outfits or manmade wakes and you will find largemouth bass, spotted back and many others.

The possibilities for adventure are essentially endless in kayak fishing. Choose a part of the world you would like to see, or a fish you would love to catch, and you can find a place to do it.

kayak fishing tips

Kayak Fishing Tip #2: How to Make the Trek & Take Your Kayak Along

Mounting the Kayak

Kayaks are not just great for easy water travel but they travel well on land, too. Because of their compact size, it is unlikely that you will have to hitch it to a trailer. Many will be able to set up on the top of the vehicle, or in the bed of a truck. Provide cushion for the sides of the kayak with a cover, soft sided camping gear, beach towels or pool noodles. If you are traveling with a larger boat, you can also transport the kayak on the other boat, using the larger boat as a kayak trailer of its own.

Related: What is a Kayak

We recommend Vault Cargo’s Universal Folding Kayak Rack for easy and efficient kayak transport. It is a sturdy, well-made rack that attaches right to an existing cargo rack on your vehicle’s roof; and it is designed to keep your craft safe and secure. The best part is that when your kayak is safely affixed to your vehicle, your trunk or hatch space is wide open for your camping gear, food and clothing. Oh, and–on the way back from your trip–your coolers full of fish.

Vault Cargo’s Kayak Carrier folds down to make non-fishing season easier. It can fit in compact spaces without having to dismount and remount the carrier.

Kayak Fishing Tip #3: How to Outfit a Kayak for Fishing

Where would you be without a kayak fishing gear list? Up a creek without a paddle–or anything else you need. Before you commit to any particular purchase, it is good to do research from those who have fished before you. If you have a body of water in mind, seek out books and forums that explore the recommended brands and styles for that trip. Also, as with any fishing trip, know what fish you will be hunting to help guide your purchases. These are some of the basic necessities for your kayak fishing endeavor.

The fishing kayak setup is unique and looks different according to the size of your kayak and the size of your equipment. Here are the basics to start with.

Rod and rod mount

There are rods designed specifically for kayaks, but you also need to consider the type of catch you will be after. Once you settle on the rod you want to use, you will need to find a rod mount. A rod mount can be attached to the side of the kayak, and you can have more than one. They act to both store rods as you get settled in place for your fishing, and to hold rods you have casted as you maneuver about the water. Rod mounts come in many varieties at many price points so it is important to find the right thing for you through research.

Paddle and paddle leash

A kayak paddle may seem obvious, but in the case of fishing, a paddle without a paddle leash can become worthless in a matter of seconds. By tethering your paddle to the side of your kayak, you can rest assured that whatever happens while you reel in your prize, your paddle drifting away will not be one of those things. Paddle leashes do not take up much space, are not invasive to your fishing strategy and are relatively inexpensive–especially when compared with a new paddle. And if you are not willing to spend money on one, you can always fashion your own out of cord or rope–but be aware it may not be as effective if you wind up turtling as the professional grade leashes.

Anchor

When it comes to anchors for kayak fishing, you need something just heavy enough to keep you grounded in a current but not so heavy it bears down too much weight in the kayak. There are dozens of choices for kayak fishing anchors specific to the job of keeping you and your boat in one place.

It is also recommended to use a fastener like a carabiner to secure the rope to the anchor trolley, and also to attach a floatation device to the anchor’s rope near the clip. In the event of a larger boat or wave, you will be able to quickly detach from your anchor and paddle to safety. The flotation device will keep your rope above water so you can relocate and retrieve your anchor easily.

Tackle box

Since space on a kayak can be limited, you will need to keep that in mind as you choose the size and essentials of your tackle box. For fishing, you will need the basics like pliers, a net and bait. You can use live bait or soft bait, but we will talk about that more in the techniques portion of this article. A quick ten tackle box essentials are:

  • Food and water

Kayak fishing can be an all day endeavor. Unlike large boats or shoreside fishing, whatever you bring with you is all you have to sustain yourself all day. Be sure to pack efficiently and be smart about the food you bring–pack good energy-filled snacks and lots of drinking water.

  • Multi-tool

Just as the name would suggest, a multi-tool is multi-purposeful. You never can anticipate what you might need one for, so having one is a smart move. Cut nets, snip lines, bend lures–this is definitely something you will want on board your kayak with you.

  • Communication device

It is a huge rule of personal safety to make sure someone inland knows where you are headed for the day before you hit the water. It is also good to bring a reliable communication device in case of emergency or just to stay in the loop.

  • Lantern

Out in the wilderness or in the middle of the open water is the last place you want to be in the pitch black. Prepare for this with a self-powered or crank-powered lantern or flashlight.

  • Dry clothes

We hope you do not turtle, but if you do, have some spare clothes ready in a water repellent sack. It also might be beneficial to you to pack some clothes for the opposite weather you are expecting so if the winds change you are prepared for anything.

  • First Aid Kit

This goes without saying but no one ever wants to be faced with an emergency situation and nothing they can do about it.

  • Net

You may find it easier, especially if you are new to kayak fishing, to scoop your catch up rather than try to grab it out of the water. Even if you feel confident that you would fare just fine without a net, it is always better to have and not need than to need and not have.

  • Bait

Live bait or soft bait will due just fine, but make sure you also have the proper storage and space for whatever you choose. Also do your research on what kind of bait your fish want most.

  • Sunscreen

Layer up with sunscreen and continue to do so. Exposure to the sun’s rays reflecting off of water and with possible little tree coverage can harm your skin or even bring on heat exhaustion. Hydration and sun cover are vital.

  • Cooler

Learn more about the right types of coolers in the section on fish storage. It boils down to this: a soft sided cooler is flexible for small spaces but a hard-sided cooler may offer more utility in the long run.

Also prepare yourself for the day by bringing plenty of water, sunscreen and food. In addition to the gear on the kayak, there is a lot to consider when you are readying yourself for kayak fishing as well.

Related: Best Kayak Coolers

fishing kayak setup

Kayak Fishing Tip #4: What to Wear

Dressing for the part is vital to success and safety. From accessories to clothing, you should alter your outerwear for the seasons, and come prepared for the temperatures you will encounter on your trip. you will find that there is sporting apparel designed specifically for kayak fishing, and the attributes of the clothing is largely the same across all brands. A good rule of thumb is to always assume that in the world of kayaking, you will get wet. Dress in light layers when appropriate and bring a dry set of clothes that you keep in an air-locked bag.

Outwear

The first purchase you should make for any fishing trip is a life jacket. A life jacket is a baseline requirement for all water activity. There are vests designed specifically for kayak fishing that have the safety features of a life jacket and the fishing tools–namely many mesh pockets–of a fishing vest.

When the weather is warm, wear loose-fitting, light clothing. Not only will this mean quick drying, but light material will keep you cool while also protecting your skin from the elements. Proper accessories are also important when heading out to water. Make sure you have also packed water gloves (find some that are particular to the type of fish scales you may be encountering), a face protector (aside from sunscreen, there are masks for your head, neck and face made of light material), and a light hat.

Cold weather requires layers. As the sun rises and the day warms, you can shed light layers if need be, but it is better to have layers to remove than to come under bundled to an icy body of water. Your first layer should be a protective, dry-fit body suit designed for kayaking. Over that, add a layer of wooly warmth with a fleece pullover or shirt, as thick as you feel will be necessary for the temps you are up against. Make sure the top layer is a water-resistant covering; jacket, shirt, poncho–anything to keep the water from soaking the fleece and making for a miserable experience.

Footwear

Not all water shoes are created equal. Shoes designed for off-the-shore fishing may not be as resilient when it comes to wading in deeper waters; but shoes made for easy water movement could have trouble standing up against the harsh terrain of a bank or beach. When choosing the right footwear for kayak fishing, do your research and remember that the main boxes they should check are these: temperature appropriate, dry and easy to maneuver in on land or sea.

Eyewear

Finally, eye protection is vital to your success as a fisher and your physical stamina. In the middle of an open body of water, there may be few things to shield your eyes from the sun’s rays, which are stronger reflecting off the water. Not only will this cause eye strain and fatigue, but it will hinder your ability to spot your target and fish with accuracy. Polarized sunglasses are an investment that you will thank yourself for again and again, giving you more control on the water.

Kayak Fishing Tip #5: Techniques for Fishing from a Kayak

Once you are ready to hit the water and catch some fish, you will find that the techniques of kayak fishing are largely the same as other boats in terms of baiting, casting, reeling and catching. The biggest learning curve for fishing in a kayak is getting used to your surroundings on the boat and familiarizing yourself with the unique fishing kayak setup and how to conduct yourself in a smaller boat. Here are a few things to keep in mind that could make your kayak fishing adventure more successful.

Maneuvering through the water

For kayak fishing, it is best to look for a moving tide. Getting used to the pull of the water and paddling between casts will come with time and practice. However, experienced kayak fishers are able to use their casts to navigate their boats, helping to control some of the logistics.

Related: What Size Kayak do I Need?

If you do find yourself in a moving tide, you can use that to your advantage. The technique of “drifting” is great for kayak anglers, giving you more control. Follow along with the current and have your paddle ready to plunge into the water on either side to rapidly change directions.

Anchoring

Other fishers, however, prefer to drop an anchor before they cast. Because of their smaller size, kayaks are more prone to drift aimlessly even without being paddled. An anchor is a good way to control the kayak in amidst the current. To use your anchor, find the place where you want to stay a while, and lower the anchor into the water. As mentioned earlier, best practice for anchors includes using something like a carabiner to attach the anchor rope to the trolley on the side of the kayak so if there is danger nearby, you can quickly remove yourself and your boat from the anchor and get to a safe place. Adding a flotation device to the anchor’s rope near the fastener will help you find your anchor faster once danger has passed.

Bait

You can use soft bait or live bait when fishing from a kayak, but it is recommended for beginners to kayak fishing to start with live bait. Soft bait is made of synthetic materials (usually plastic) that are rubbery and pliable. In contrast, live bait is just what it sounds like–using the live food of your catch as a tasty snack to lure them in; be that worms, frogs or even smaller fish.

The benefit to live bait is that as you get used to the active current and fishing set-up, live bait will do a lot of the work for you in pursuing a fish. Once a fisherman gets more comfortable, many of them will switch to soft bait which is less messy to bring onto the kayak.

Techniques

When you are in the boat, keep the paddle in your lap at all times, even if you have it leashed to the boat. Kayaks are light and agile and as a result are easily moved by external elements. Kayak angles should have control over their paddle so they can be as agile in the water as their boats. Learning to paddle with one hand while holding a rod in your other hand will take some time but once you master it, you will be king of the kayak.

If you are attempting to move against the current, you may find that maneuvering is an exceptional challenge. But it is not an unbeatable one. Up ahead of you, seek out patches of matted algae or vegetation on the water’s surface that will act as a sort of carpet for you to gain some traction. You can cast from these patches and use them and the shore’s edge to give you leverage against the current. Once you land where you want to be, be sure to drop your anchor.

Safety

Kayaking and kayak fishing are a lot of fun, but safety still must be the highest priority at all times. Especially because of the isolated nature of kayak fishing and the proximity to the water, the threats posed to kayak fishers are greater than those on larger boats or land. At the very least, the must have items you need in your equipment are a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or life preserver; a whistle (preferably attached to your PFD); a safety belt to attach to your kayak’s bow line; a surplus of drinking water; a first aid kid; sunscreen, sunglasses and head protection; a paddle leash; a communication device of some kind; a flag for visibility; and a light source.

The three main areas you will encounter potential danger are these:

  • Other fishers

Big boats are the greatest man-made danger to kayaks and kayak anglers. Kayaks are noticeably on the smaller end of watercrafts but are agile enough to navigate the same waters as large boats, putting you at risk to be in the line of large boat traffic.

The easiest solution is to avoid high traffic areas with large boats. If you happen to get caught in a path or on a wake, try paddling quickly to safety. And if it is a split second decision, abandon your kayak and swim to safety. Bright colored kayaks, flags and bright lamps or lanterns are effective ways to signal your presence to other boats.

  • Weather

Not unlike land, being alert of the weather is important to preparing correctly. However, much different from land is that in a kayak you are often far from shore and without cover. If there is a thunderstorm or storm activity in the forecast, plan your day and route around it. In extreme circumstances, consider foregoing your day all together in favor of better weather.

Stay alert of the weather as you are on the water, as well. The most important element to be aware of is lightning. A key indicator of lightning is faint buzzing from your rods. If you hear or feel vibrations off your rods, get off the water immediately and store your rods in the kayak instead of upright so to not attract lightning.

Fog and wind can hinder your trip or success on the  water. Wind can create chops or wakes that may affect your balance; in truly tumultuous wind, you may have trouble staying afloat. If you feel the threat of capsizing, head for the shore. If you cannot make it to shore, angle toward the waves and remain calm.

In the event of fog, avoid unknown waters or waters with heavy motor boat traffic. Also use your light to notify bigger boats of your location and make efforts to hug the shoreline. A GPS or compass device is also incredibly useful in this circumstance.

  • Wildlife

Besides the fish in the water, it is important to be aware of the many other species of wildlife that inhabit the wilderness you find yourself in. From water dwelling creatures like alligators, sharks or even larger fish to land beasts like wolves or bears, preparation is key. Do thorough research of the area you’re going, the animals that live there and how to deal with unwelcome visitors.

  • Capsizing

In a kayak, when the boat turns over and spills you out, the term is called “turtling.” It is wise to practice this in familiar, gentle waters so that you can make a plan ahead of time. Know how to fasten your gear to your kayak so it does not escape, know how quickly you need to hit the surface for air, make sure you will not get caught in any of your gear and most importantly practice getting back into the kayak from the water after a capsize.

how to fish from a kayak

Kayak Fishing Tip #6: How to Catch & Store Big Fish

We do not have a definitive record of all the fish ever caught from a kayak but there are certain ones that are so big they have made headlines. Like the 8-foot sturgeon two men caught on Snake River in April of 2018. Thankfully, due to Idaho’s state regulations, sturgeon must be released back into the water–there are probably not very many kayak-friendly coolers that can fit that monster catch. And that is on the smaller side of impressive catches!

In 2014, just off the coast of the Norwegian island Andörja, a lifelong fisher caught a 13-foot, 1,247-pound Greenland shark. After the initial catch and a 90-minute struggle, Joel Abrahamsson brought the massive fish aboard a leader boat with the help of his team to officially break the world record for heaviest catch from a kayak. Thereafter, he released the shark back into the water.

While it is unlikely your target will be a 1,200-pound monster fish, there are still things you can do to keep yourself aware of how to battle a big fish safely from your kayak. First, have hand protection in the form of strong gloves so that when you have a chance to get a grip of the tail or mouth of the fish, you can do so without fear of injury. Put pressure on the line to pull the fish out from the water; or another method is to keep a harpoon on board and use when the fish gets close enough to the boat before bringing it out of the water.

An important tip is to make sure you know whether the fight is worth it. If you do not think you will be able to reel it in at the end of a long struggle, let it go and wait for another.

After you have made your catch, here are some ways to store it.

Storing your fish

There are a few options for storing your catches on a kayak. The right choice for you will depend on your kayak size, the size of the fish you are catching, and your location. In addition to storing your fish, you may also need a cooler to keep your drinking water and food safe and fresh.

A popular choice of kayak fishers is a large cooler bag. These bags have thick walls and insulation that will keep fish fresh and food cold with just a few frozen water bottles. Plus, the soft sides make it a malleable solution that will store nicely under the front hatch of the kayak. Not only is that great for space, which is already limited on a kayak, but it will also keep your fish and food out of the sun’s rays.

Hard sided coolers with lids do not store as easily, but they are sturdy and can also be used as a seat. A note about ice versus frozen water bottles: while ice is fine, frozen water bottles are ideal because block ice will last longer, and in an emergency could be used for drinking water.

There are also storage options specifically designed for kayaks. Large triangular bags rest on the bow of the kayak and can hold several large fish–even as big as a King Fish.

If you are in freshwater or a body of water that allows for it, a fish stringer is great storage. Tying your catches to the side of your boat is relatively simple, smaller than a cooler to transport and does not require ice or space once it is in use.

The most important thing to account for in fish storage is to accommodate the weight of the fish. Especially if you are using a stringer, you may have to shift yourself one direction or another to stay afloat and comfortable.

Extra Kayak Fishing tips for Extra Success

Keep a Trip Log

Keep track of your fishing conditions–water clarity, temperature, weather, fish activity. Especially when you are learning the nuances of how to fish from a kayak, it is important to take note of everything. Not only will you be able to refer to your records for when and where the fish you are after are most active, but when you move onto another location in the future, you will have a better idea of general best practices and techniques that work for you.

Practice and research

Remember, the most important part of any outdoor adventure is the work leading up to it. Practice prepping your kayak, going over your checklist and checking the security of your gear. On a small body of water, practice your paddling, your casting and even your capsizing. While it may seem counterintuitive to intentionally flip yourself and all your gear into the water, practicing before your trip will help you stay in control in the event of an actual capsize on the water.

Do your research. Pick a destination and find others who have been there. Read about their trials and errors; discover what species you will encounter in and out of the water and prepare for them; and do not be afraid to ask many questions until you feel you have all the necessary information. There are thousands of anglers who have experienced the ins and outs of kayak fishing and have made their knowledge available via online articles, paper books, and videos.

The more research you do and practice you get, the better your trip will be. Good luck out there!