The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Fishing

Maya Brown

October 2, 2023


Once you’ve mastered the art of casting from solid ground, launching your lure off a floating vessel should be your next move. So, welcome to the captivating world of kayak fishing! For those looking to dip their paddles into this dynamic sport, here’s the ultimate guide that will reel you right in and prepare you for the upcoming trip.

From selecting the right vessel to gearing up on all the accessory must-haves, kayaking offers a wide range of considerations to ensure you’re heading toward a successful trip. But no matter the exact technique and target, it’s all about staying safe and enjoying the journey. Only then you are equipped to optimize every outing for the best catches.

What Are the Benefits of Kayak Fishing?

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of kayaking, you know that few things are as calming as gliding on the water, paddle in hand, surrounded by nature’s soundtrack. Now, imagine adding a sprinkle of excitement to that with a tug on your line – that’s what this unique angling style is all about.

No gigantic fishing boats, no roaring engines – just you, the water, and the fish species you’re trying to land. But beyond the sheer joy of it, there are some pretty cool perks. Here’s why so many are trading in their motorboats for a simpler, more intimate experience:

  • Closer to nature – it’s a great way to spend time in nature and add a little bit of excitement to the whole trip,
  • Budget-friendly – there’s no need for a fancy boat that keeps on eating away at the fuel, all you need is a modest investment in a vessel, and you’re good to go,
  • Accessibility – you can navigate shallow waters, tight spots, and other places bigger boats only wish they could reach,
  • Stealthy approach – without a noisy engine, you can sneak up on your finned friends, giving you a tactical advantage,
  • Full body workout – kayaking offers a great upper body and core workout, so consider it like hitting the gym, but way more fun.
Kayak with fishing rods in the water
Kayaking is a great way to cover more water and get access to those tight spots

Factors to Consider When Buying a Fishing Kayak

Before we get all fancy with tactics and gear, let’s start with the basics – securing your trusty vessel. The market’s brimming with choices, which might feel overwhelming. So, it’s best to give it a whirl before committing. Most sellers host demo days, or maybe your buddy has one you could test.

What Is the Best Kayak and Paddle Length?

It’s all about finding that perfect fit tailored to your body type. For many, a 10- to 12-footer hits the sweet spot, offering a stable and smooth glide. However, that doesn’t mean that shorter vessels will be a problem – just keep in mind that it might give you a bit of a wobble. And when it comes to paddle length, the rule of thumb is – the taller you are and the broader your vessel, the lengthier the paddle you’ll require.

Sit-On-Top vs. Sit-Inside Kayaks – What’s the Difference?

Choosing between sit-on-top and sit-inside is like picking between a convertible and a coupe. With sit-on-tops, you’re literally on top, catching those sun rays and feeling the breeze. They’re often preferred for warmer climates and give you an easy exit if you fancy a swim.

Sit-insides, on the other hand, nestle you in, providing more protection from the elements. They’re great for chillier waters and when you want to stay cozy. All in all, each type has its perks, so think about your local conditions and personal preferences to choose the right one.

Man kayaking in a river
Take time to do a couple of test runs and find your perfect fit

The Essential Angling Gear for Kayaking

Once you’ve got your trusty vessel, it’s time to deck it out. You don’t need just any gear – you need the right gear suited for the waters you’re threading and the fish species you’re targeting. For example, kayak bass fishing can actually be a lot different from landing those small panfish lurking below, so it’s all about gearing up according to your intended trip and preferences.

The Best Fishing Rods and Reels for Kayaking

When space is at a premium, you can’t haul those hefty, extensive rods meant for the shore or a big angling boat. So, it’s best to opt for shorter, more responsive rods, often between 6 to 8 feet, as they ensure you’ve got the agility to cast and wrestle with your catch without any inconvenient obstructions.

Medium-fast to fast angling rods are perfect for the challenges you’ll face out on the water, and graphite should be the top choice for those who are hoping to land saltwater species. From my personal experience, here are the best-performing rods when it comes to kayaking:

As for spinning reels, it’s best to go for those with a smooth drag system – this is crucial when dealing with spirited fish and limited maneuvering room. The Penn Pursuit III and the KastKing Crixus are my personal favorites, but at the end of the day,  it’s all about matching them according to your setup and preferences.

Balancing Tackle Variety With Storage Savvy

It’s said that variety is a spice of life, and nowhere is this truer than in the angling world. Depending on the weather, water conditions, time of day, and even their mood, what the fish bite on can be unpredictably diverse. Therefore, having a broad array of tackle options at your disposal allows for adaptability and experimentation.

Here’s a brief overview of the best baits and lures for kayaking:

Bait/Lure Environment Technique Target Species
Soft Plastic Worms Freshwater lakes and rivers Texas rig, wacky rig, drop shot Bass, walleye
Paddle Tail Swimbaits Inshore saltwater flats Steady retrieve or jigging Redfish, speckled trout, snook
Crankbaits Deep freshwater lakes Steady retrieve with varying speeds Largemouth bass, pike
Topwater Frogs Lily pads and thick covers Steady retrieve with occasional pauses Bass
Spoons Open saltwater and deep freshwater Jigging or trolling Mackerel, salmon, lake trout
Jigs Both freshwater and saltwater Vertical jigging or casting and retrieving Almost all species
Live Shrimp Saltwater estuaries and flats Free-lining or under a popping cork Almost all inshore saltwater species
Cut Bait Saltwater bays and beaches Bottom fishing or free-lining Catfish, charks, red drum

While having a broad array of tackle options can be an angler’s dream, it’s crucial to remember that space is a premium commodity when kayaking. It’s all about smart choices – equipping yourself with a versatile range while ensuring they’re organized and easily accessible. A good tray like the KastKing HyperSeal Waterproof Tackle Box or even a specialized crate with rod holders is the way to go.

Fishing tackle on a wooden table
It's all about having a wide range of equipment while staying as organized as possible

Safety Equipment and Other Accessories Every Kayaker Needs

Besides the necessary angling gear, a checklist of safety must-haves and other accessories will help you set sail on your aquatic escapade as smoothly as possible. After all, being prepared isn’t just about having the coolest setup – it’s about ensuring you return with epic tales and not tales of woe.

Let’s dive into the essentials that’ll have you covered from head to toe, and everything in between:

It's Important to Have Appropriate Clothing

While cotton may feel cozy, once it’s drenched, it becomes a heavyweight contender against your comfort. In summer, go for lightweight, water-wicking attire. As the temperatures dip, it’s time to layer up – start with a water-resistant or wicking base, add a warm, lightweight middle layer, and top it off with buoyant vests or jackets.

The Personal Flotation Device Is Non-Negotiable

The beauty of kayaking lies in its unpredictability, but with unpredictability comes risk. So, always make sure you have a personal flotation device (PFD) on you, no matter how confident of a swimmer you are. This isn’t just another accessory – it’s a literal lifesaver.

Some Trips Require Special Lighting and Reflective Gear

As day turns to dusk or when the skies decide to play moody, the need for visibility cannot be overstated. Special lighting and reflective gear aren’t just for show – from illuminating your path to signaling for help, these tools are crucial for safe navigation when angling at night or in low-visibility conditions.

Staying Connected on the Water

Even amidst the allure of serene waters, staying connected is crucial for safety. A reliable communication device, be it a waterproofed phone or specialized tech such as the Retevis RM40 Handheld Marine Radio, could be the difference between a quick rescue and a prolonged search. So, while you’re off the grid, make sure you’re still on the radar.

Always Prepare for the Unexpected

Naturally, we all hope for smooth sailing on our trips. However, it’s still smart to gear up for potential hiccups. That means securing your essentials — tether them with leashes and snaps, or stash them in dry bags. In the unpredictable world of water escapades, being anchored in preparation means you’ll never be caught off-guard.

Some Helpful Tips on Casting and Retrieving From a Kayak

Mastering the art of casting and retrieving while on water is a unique experience. Unlike on solid ground, the water’s motion and your vessel’s balance play a significant role. This dance of patience, precision, and understanding of the aquatic environment transforms a simple cast into an exhilarating challenge.

It’s All About Knowing How to Anchor and Position Yourself Right on the Water

Positioning isn’t just about finding a comfortable spot – it’s about becoming one with the water and using it to your advantage. Where and how you anchor plays a pivotal role in casting success. Get it right, and you’ve got an edge – get it wrong, and you might be fighting against the very nature of the water.

Here are some useful tips that will help you with the positioning, no matter what kind of waters you’re threading:

  • Always ensure you’re anchored in a way that offers maximum stability, minimizing wobble and sway,
  • Depending on what you’re aiming for, anchor at a depth that gets you closer to your target while ensuring safety,
  • As a general rule of thumb, your anchor rope should be double the depth of the water,
  • Use the wind and water currents to your advantage when positioning, all while ensuring they don’t throw you off balance,
  • Using nearby visual cues, such as rocks or distinct vegetation, can help you maintain a fixed position and avoid drifting.

Navigating Currents and Waves While Keeping a Stealthy Approach to Spook Less Fish

Staying silent and unnoticeable on the water is key – currents and waves can either be your secret weapon or your loudest alarm bell. So, when you’re starting out, it’s best to always angle in the same location to understand the water’s patterns, respect its rhythm, and weave in sync with its flow.

Man in a kayak holding a fish
Keeping a stealthy approach is the key to landing lots of trophies

Advanced Kayak Fishing Techniques for the More Experienced Anglers

For those who’ve conquered the basics and are hungry for the next challenge, there are plenty of ways to fine-tune your approach. Here are a couple of pointers that can elevate your game:

Casting in Deep Waters

No matter if you’re threading saltwater or freshwater environments, venturing into deeper waters opens up a world of possibilities and fish species to discover. Deep water casting is about understanding the abyss below, being patient as your lure sinks to the desired depth, and mastering the retrieval technique that mimics the prey of deep-sea dwellers. It’s a dance of depth, and when done right, it’s profoundly rewarding.

Trolling from a Kayak

Trolling isn’t just dragging a baited line behind you as you move – it’s the art of adjusting your speed, choosing the right lure, and setting the perfect depth. The slow and steady movement can entice even the most elusive of catches.

Using Electronics and Sonar

The underwater world is vast, mysterious, and sometimes downright elusive. But with the advent of technology, anglers have a new ally in their quest – sonar devices. High-quality tools such as the LUCKY Wireless Fish Finder give you a glimpse into the underwater realm. This will help you identify schools of fish, underwater structures, and the perfect spots to cast your line.

Reeling It All In – Final Thoughts from the Depths

As we drift back to shore after our deep dive into the world of aquatic angling, let’s remember one thing – it’s not just about the catch. Sure, the thrill of the chase, the pull of the line, and that final victorious moment are exhilarating. But equally rewarding is the dance with nature, the quiet moments on the water, and the ever-evolving challenge each outing presents. All in all, always cherish the journey as much as the destination.