Practical Info on Kayak Fishing and Gear
By Ken Schultz
Fishing from a kayak has increased significantly in the past two decades. Perhaps not coincidentally, so has the price of gasoline.
Certainly, kayaks are cheaper than power-driven boats, easily portable, perfect for backwaters and small fishing holes, and eminently maneuverable. I do some of my fishing out of a kayak and prefer this vessel to a canoe because the kayak has a lower center of gravity, meaning that you don’t feel tipsy, maneuverability is easier, and it’s more comfortable with the right seat and backrest.
There are now many kayaks that are marketed for fishing use, some really tricked out. You don’t have to get a made-for-kayaking product to fish from a kayak. You can use some sit-on-top as well as sit-in-the-cockpit recreational touring models perfectly well if you don’t tote a lot of gear and generally take short-duration outings. I use the latter, without many frills, and do fine for routine fishing.
I almost always bring two rods with me and keep the one that’s not currently in use either in a rod holder behind the seat, or strapped low along the gunwale using built-in stretch cords.
Tackle is kept to a minimum by using two or three small one-sided clear-lid utility-style lure boxes, which can be laid on the floor, placed behind the seat, tucked along the seat inside the cockpit, or kept in a small satchel strapped to the deck. A small dry bag (for wallet, keys, and cell phone) is always onboard and secured with a bungee or strap cord. This protects items from rain, splashing fish, and dripping paddle-scooped water.
Besides a double-bladed paddle, I never leave home without my PFD, which is actually mandatory, as is a signaling device (whistle) per Coast Guard regs (and a light if you’re out at night). Good short-bodied specialty PFDs don’t restrict paddling or casting movement; I prefer an inflatable Type III preserver, which you hardly realize you’re wearing.
Some Fishing Pointers
There’s not much to worry about with the right kayak when you’re fishing in generally calm waters. That includes rocking the boat when you set the hook. However, you’ll find that casting in heavy cover is more difficult since you have a low angle and cannot maneuver your arm overhead or sideways as well as when you’re standing in a larger boat. Some anglers stand up in their kayaks for a portion of their fishing, but that doesn’t suit me, and may not be feasible anyway in some water conditions.
A low sit-down boating angle also means that you can’t see into the water very well at much distance, but that may be a wash when you consider that quiet operation and a low profile allows you to get much closer to shallow fish than you would in other craft.
When kayak fishing in freshwater you seldom have to make long casts, since you can quietly sneak into position. But maintaining boat position is sometimes a chore, especially if there’s wind. Kayaks with foot-manipulated pedals excel at maintaining position, keeping your hands free to fish. Lacking a kayak with such a feature, consider bringing a sculling paddle that you can use for close-quarters maneuvering, in addition to a standard double-bladed paddle.
Some anglers using kayaks in coastal waters or in big lake systems paddle many miles to fish, although most go comparatively short distances. In all cases, you must pay attention to tide, current, wind, and wave direction when planning the day’s activities.
If you already have a kayak that you want to use for fishing, consider accessories. Portable sonar and GPS are at the top of the list, the latter especially for venturing in unfamiliar waters. A folding anchor is also useful, and you may want a spray skirt for an open-cockpit kayak, which will keep water out when it’s cold and rough.