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Bass Fishing from a Kayak: Our Top Tips to Tilt the Odds in Your Favor

Written by: Pete D
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The largemouth bass is America’s favorite species to catch, and there’s no more exciting way to do that than from a kayak.

Close to the water is close to the action, and whether you choose to flip and pitch frogs into thick cover, twitch a worm along the bottom, or thump a spinner somewhere in between, hooking a monster bass from your ‘yak is guaranteed to get your heart pounding!

If you’re new to fishing, or just new to kayaks, you may be looking for some tips and tricks to tilt the odds in your favor. And the good news is that we’re here to help.

As kayak anglers ourselves, we’ll be glad to share some of the secrets to our success.

*Just Published: Reviews of the best bass fishing kayaks for 2022, as well as a complete buying guide to get you up to speed quickly

Also Read: Bass Fishing Tips

Kayak Fishing for Bass: Our Top Tips And Tackle Recommendations

Location, location, location: get your kayak into the tight spots

A good realtor will tell you that location is everything; a good angler will agree.

And one thing that a kayak can do better than any bass boat is get you into places where other fishermen simply can’t go. 

The ultra-shallow drought on fishing kayaks allows you to slip into backwaters, creeks, and ponds where bass boats won’t dare to float, giving you access to bass that are just as abundant but a lot less pressured.

If you can find an inaccessible cove, you’ll enjoy the best fishing on the lake.

I’ve squeezed across shallows and downed logs on plenty of lakes, giving me the chance to fish some backwaters that held monster bass no one else could reach. And while the power boats raced across the lake to far corners in search of somewhere holding fish, I was tearing up the bass in plain sight of my fellow anglers.

Take a look at the best bass lakes in your area and really hunt for inaccessible areas. You’ll only need an inch or two of water to scoot across, and rocks, stumps, blowdowns, and other impenetrable hazards aren’t going to mean much for your kayak.

The water on the other side will be undisturbed and unpressured. And the fishing will be absolutely amazing.

Also look for lakes that lack boat launches. I’ve fished quite a few small ponds and lakes that were entirely inaccessible to large boats just by portaging my kayak a short distance. 

On one of these excursions, I caught my lifetime best after a heart-stopping fight around a stump. I have no doubt that the lack of pressure on that pond allowed this bass to reach full maturity as well as encouraging it to hit my in-line spinner.

Choose versatile or season-specific tackle

I don’t know many bass anglers who don’t have box after box of spinners, worms, creatures, jerkbaits, crankbaits, frogs, and everything else under the sun. And in a bass boat, you’ve got the space for tackle bags and boxes, allowing you to pretty much bring it all.

We’ve reviewed some of our favorites, and if you need help getting started, take a look:

Best Lures For Bass: Exploring The Best Options

But on your kayak, space is at a premium, and you might be carrying nothing more than five or six Plano 3600s. That’s not a huge problem, but it does mean that you’ll need to make some hard choices about what to bring and what to leave behind.

For me, one strategy to work around this is to specialize.

For instance, in the pre-spawn when big females are gorging on crawfish to fatten up, I might only bring soft plastics like the Rage Tail Craw, skipping the worms and swimbaits. I’ll tailor my crankbaits, too, over-representing options like Rebel Lures’ Original Realistic Crawfish Crankbait or red-colored Rat-L-Traps.

If you know the bass are after a specific prey item, specialize.

I know that the bass will be keyed-in on red/orange colors, looking for bottom presentations, and hunting for shapes and actions that mimic crawfish. I don’t need every option in BassPro.

Another strategy that works is to go versatile.

I’ll have a few of the best colors of spinners, worms, and crankbaits, relying on exceptional designs like the amazing Strike King KVD 1.5 Shallow Square Bill Crankbait. Since I already know I’ll have plenty of cover to fish, I can depend on bouncing these crankbaits off everything in sight to create an irresistible erratic motion.

Spinners like BOOYAH’s Pond Magic are a great choice, too, as they’re ideal for a variety of situations.

Choose versatile lures to make the best use of limited storage space.

Finally, I’ll have different heads and hooks to rig worms a half-dozen different ways, from Ned to Jika, Texas to Carolina.

Scout with a fish finder

Serious bass fishermen know how valuable scouting can be, and there’s no better tool for the job than a good fish finder like the Lowrance Elite FS 7

Fish finders aren’t just for imaging fish under your kayak. Instead, think of them as the premier scouting tool for big bass fishing.

Use your fishfinder to locate humps, depressions, points, and other structure that can tell you where the bass are congregating or staging. You’ll also want to find live weed beds adjacent to drop offs, blowdowns and submerged brush piles, and other cover that will hold prey items.

Once you’ve found them, mark their locations on your GPS, and with the powerful mapping software available from Lowrance, you’ll have amazing contour maps of the bottom, complete with marked prime locations to fish.

Never underestimate the power of an accurate contour map.

This is a tip that really separates the avid anglers from the weekend adventurers, and if you want to catch consistently like the pros do, you’ll scout just like they do.

Use the right line, rod, and reel for the job

We have a lot to say about bass tackle, and for the full rundown, you should check out our articles to help you pick the right equipment for your needs:

If you’re just starting with the sport, the range of choices might leave you a bit confused. 

A rule of thumb to follow is that for single hook applications like worms, you want a rod in the neighborhood of seven feet with a firm backbone and a sensitive tip. Typically, you’ll want to choose a rod with a medium-heavy to heavy power and a fast action.

For instance, as all-around bass rods, it’s very hard to equal the Dobyns Rods Fury Series. For almost every bass fishing application, there’s a perfect rod to pick. Dobyns is a name to trust in the world of bass fishing, and these rods have built a reputation for flawless manufacture and consistently superb materials.

The exceptions to the “go heavy” rule are finesse techniques like the drop shot or Ned rig, where lighter rods that increase sensitivity are the way to go.

If money is no option, nothing’s better for finessing bass than the G. Loomis IMX-PRO 820S DSR. But much less expensive rods work well, too, including options like the Ugly Stik Elite.

The Ugly Stik Elite proves that you don’t need to spend a lot to get a lot.

The G. Loomis is the angler’s dream, a high-end finesse rod that’ll be the envy of anyone who sees you fish it. Super sensitive, it still has the backbone to fight big bass. By contrast, the bargain-priced Ugly Stik is nearly unbreakable and priced right for nearly anyone. It fishes well, pulls like a Mac truck, and demonstrates that reasonable price points don’t mean lesser tackle.

For the treble hooks on jerk- and crankbaits, nothing beats medium to medium-heavy powered rods with a slightly slower action to help cushion hooksets and really get those trebles to hold. Here, rods like the awesome St. Croix Rods Legend Glass set an unmatchable standard.

The use of high-end fiberglass gives this rod just a bit more parabolic flex than stiffer materials like carbon fiber and graphite, and with crankbaits, that’s just what you want. And from butt to tip, handle to guides, St. Croix only uses the best materials.

Shimano’s Curado DC features revolutionary, game-changing tech.

Matching reels are easy to find, and for baitcasting, it’s hard not to love the Shimano CURADO DC. Designed to flatten the learning curve for casting and almost foolproof even in heavy winds, the DC uses a tiny microprocessor to apply differential braking. 

The enhanced performance is stunning, as is the general Shimano quality throughout.

For my spinning tackle, Pflueger’s legendary President continues to be a top pick for kayak anglers everywhere. Easy to cast even in gusting wind, hard fighting, and smooth as silk, the President is a must for any kayak angler looking for a quality spinning reel that won’t break the bank.

Finally, you’ll want to select the right lines.

Monofilament like Stren Original has a lot more going for it than you might expect. It’s tough as nails and very abrasion resistant, ties securely, and provides just enough cushion to make it tough to throw when a bass leaps and shakes its head in an effort to dislodge your hook. 

It’s also nearly invisible, making it great for main line and leaders.

Braid, on the other hand, is what I run when I need sensitivity and maximum test strength. But be aware that it’s not very abrasion resistant, nor is it very secure unless you tie the right knots. 

It’s also hard to dye well and isn’t available in clear.

I like Power Pro or Sufix 832 in 20-pound tests for finesse applications, and if I’m worried about abrasion resistance or visibility, I’ll use a mono of fluorocarbon leader, typically in 6- to 10-pound test.

Fluorocarbon is a lot like mono: tough and nearly invisible. But it’s hard, and knot integrity isn’t great as a result. Still, it’s more sensitive than mono, and plenty of anglers like it as main line or leader material.

If you choose fluorocarbon main line, don’t skimp on quality.

My favorite is Seaguar’s InvisX as it’s more pliable than the competition.

Know bass behavior

This last tip may seem self-explanatory, but there’s a lot more to it than you expect.

In fact, the better you understand how bass react to seasonal changes, how their senses function, and what prey items they prefer, the better you’ll know where and when to find them and what lures and techniques will improve your chances.

We’ve written quite a few articles about largemouth bass, and you should give each one a careful read:

That’s a long list, and even then, we’re only scratching the surface. That should tell you something: there’s a lot to know about bass behavior and feeding, and the more you know, the more you’ll catch, guaranteed.

To get you started, let’s cover the basics.

Bass are primarily sight predators, and as you’d expect, they prefer clear water to make the most of their ability to spot prey at a distance. They use their senses of hearing and vibration detection as backups when visibility is poor, but these senses also key them in on where prey may be so that they can take a close look.

Just looking at a bass tells you they’re sight predators.

What that means for you is that lures need to be shaped roughly like the primary prey items they’re feeding on at the moment, and in clear water, they should be colored to “match the hatch,” or mimic the abundant prey.

In murkier water, you’ll typically want brighter, contrasting colors to stand out and get some attention.

Beyond that, you’ll want your lures to make the right kinds of noises, typically low-frequency thumps that sound like the tail flutters of shad and minnows or the tail movements of crayfish.

To know what bass are feeding on and how they’ll be feeding, you need to understand the bass “seasons.” 

The first is the pre-spawn in spring. As the water temperature rises to about 55 degrees, female bass will be triggered to begin feeding on high fat, highly nutrient-dense foods like crayfish. This will give them the energy and minerals they need to produce their eggs and see them through a period of starvation during the actual spawn.

Lures that mimic crayfish in shape and size, as well as motion, are typically deadly in the pre-spawn, just as you’d expect.

Crankbaits like the Rebel Lures Original Realistic Crawfish are deadly for pre-spawn fishing.

But you’ll need to find those areas where the female begin moving from the deep water they call home in the winter toward shallows where they’ll spawn. That area will be the place to be in this “season,” and that scouting we discussed above will let you know where to start ringing the dinner bell.

During the spawn, the females will stop eating, and both sexes will be aggressively guarding their eggs. Give up on the crawfish imitators, and start buzzing those nests with lures that look like fish or lizards.

Jerkbaits like the KVD really irritate aggressive females guarding their eggs.

Those angry ladies will quickly grow annoyed and start striking anything that looks threatening.

Once the spawn is over and summer starts to heat the water in earnest, oxygen levels will drop and bass will withdraw to the depths. One strategy is to chase them there by jigging into the hollows and depressions you’ve spotted and marked with your fish finder.

But by far, our preferred approach is fish for largemouth bass at night.

As the sun sets, the bass will move shallow into the cooling water, chasing prey. Knowing where the structure and cover provides prey items like shad, minnows, and frogs a home is critical. Again, your hard work scouting will pay off, and the best bet for a trophy bass is definitely under a full moon.

Dark-colored spinners like this Booyah Pond Magic can be amazing at night.

I switch to loud lures in dull colors at night, since I’m looking to increase vibration and provide just enough flash to create some excitement.

Final Thoughts

If you follow these tips, you’re sure to improve your odds of catching bass from your kayak, and you just might hook the trophy of a lifetime.

But bass fishing is complex, technical, and deeply grounded in knowledge of largemouth behavior, so we hope you’ve learned something from this article.

But we know we can’t cover everything here, so we’re ready to field any questions you might have.

Please leave a message below, and we’ll be sure to respond.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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