If you’re new to kayak fishing we’d like to offer you a big welcome!
A kayak is my personal favorite fishing platform, and I’ve snuck my ‘yak into places no power boat will ever reach, landing big bass and monster reds.
Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two - often the hard way. And for new kayak anglers, I’ve assembled a few of my favorite kayak fishing tips.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Kayak Fishing Tips
- 1.1 Use Drift to Your Advantage
- 1.2 Keep your Paddle in Your Lap
- 1.3 Master the Sidearm Cast
- 1.4 Learn What Your Yak Can Do--and What You Can Do on It!
- 1.5 Research Your Location
- 1.6 Know What You’re Fishing For
- 1.7 Have The Right Kit
- 1.8 Use Sunscreen and Protective Clothing to Reduce Sun Exposure
- 1.9 Don’t Forget About Hydration
- 1.10 Essential Safety Gear
- 1.11 Bugs, Bugs, Bugs
- 1.12 Bring a Buddy and Share a Paddle Plan
- 2 Final Thoughts
Kayak Fishing Tips
Once you’re safe, it’s time to turn your attention to the fish.
Here are some of my top tips for beginner kayak anglers.
Use Drift to Your Advantage
I spent many a morning and afternoon on the upper James River in Virginia, catching smallmouth after smallmouth in stretches that powerboats couldn’t navigate.
The rocks, islands, downed trees, and changes in the structure of the bank create pockets of calm water and lazy eddys where the smallies would wait for a meal.
But of course, there was also the current to contend with--though I quickly learned how to turn that to my favor.
Since I was launching from the same spot I’d end my day, I’d begin by paddling up-river for several miles. Then, as the dawn broke, I’d drift downstream, using my paddle to position me alongside an eddy or pool.
I let the current slide me silently past, casting as I went. Or if the calm water was big enough, I’d get into the lee of the current and sit quietly while I worked the water.
Fishing on a river, you’ll soon learn that fighting the current is no good. You’ll work hard, and even if you do manage to do so stealthily, you won’t keep it up for long.
Instead, make the current work for you.
Keep your Paddle in Your Lap
On open water, stowing your paddle isn’t a bad option.
He knows he’s going to need that paddle instantly, but it’s out of the way while he fights.
But on small water like wind-blown ponds, creeks, and rivers, you’ll need your paddle constantly. Even strapping it down won’t work--you’ll need it that much.
I found that tucking my paddle up against my abdomen worked well. Held in place by the angle of your thighs, it won’t move, and I’ve never had a problem with it falling overboard.
It was out of the way for casting and fighting, and if I really needed to, I could drop it on the deck in the last stages of a catch.
Check out our guide for the best kayak fishing paddles
Master the Sidearm Cast
Your ‘yak is going to keep you close to the water, and that can be a good thing.
True, it’ll kill underarm pitching, unless you learn to stand, but that can be a blessing in disguise.
By mastering the side-arm cast, you can learn to skip a small lure up under overhanging vegetation and under docks, finding fish that are hiding from the sun and hungry predators.
As a result, I’ve been able to work some ridiculously thick cover, finding bass that other anglers left behind.
Learn What Your Yak Can Do--and What You Can Do on It!
Kayaks exhibit two kinds of stability: primary and secondary.
Primary stability affects how hard it is to get your ‘yak up onto it’s “edge.” Basically, it’s a question of how easy it is to get your kayak rocking.
Secondary stability comes into its own at this point, answering the question: “How hard is it to flip your kayak at that point?”
Most sit-on-top kayaks have poor primary stability but excellent secondary stability, and that’s something you can really learn to work with.
Pick a nice, warm day where you’re willing to go swimming.
Put on a PFD, get your ‘yak in the water, and see what you can do. (This is also an excellent time to practice self-rescue!)
Try working your way forward to access the front hatch of your ‘yak, or grab the front carrying handle. Eventually, you will snag it with a treble hook, and you’ll want to have practiced this maneuver!
Try standing and casting, too. Many kayaks are stable enough for this technique, and they’re an excellent platform for fly casting and sight-fishing.
With some practice, you’ll learn to scamper around your kayak like a pro, and that’ll pay off in spades when the pressure’s on.
Research Your Location
Even an accomplished swimmer would not perform to the best in unknown waters and kayak fishing is no different. Deciding on your ideal location requires in-depth research into the conditions, landscape and of course - the fish!
Your fishing spot is about more than where you’ll find the best the catch, it’s crucial to also consider personal safety. Capsizing in your boat is a real possibility and every kayak fisher should know exactly what they’re up against. Some waters are more dangerous than others and the weather will change day-to-day.
Before you head off to your destination be sure to confirm the conditions ahead of time. Even an ideal body of water can turn treacherous with heavy wind or rain. If you’re heading down a river then check for dams or other obstacles to make sure you aren’t left with any surprises along the way. Using a fish finder can help you determine what kind of landscape lies below and what kind of water depth your dealing with.
Know What You’re Fishing For
Knowing what it is you want to catch is an important step that many beginners tend to overlook. Research into your destination will mean nothing if you don’t know a thing or two about what you’re looking for. Each species of fish will require a unique technique to source and catch, but there are some general rules to adhere to. Check out our fishing tips and guides to help you narrow in on what species your after.
Drifting in your kayak will often help to locate more fish quickly. Kayak fishing is optimal for stealth, as you are able to glide with little disruption through the water. Keep careful control of your direction and at all times stay away from your position from the shore.
It’s worth taking the time to understand the species and build your confidence - a big fish will have the power to tow your kayak around without the proper handling. By knowing exactly what you’re after you’ll not only be safer and more competent but catch more fish!
Have The Right Kit
You’re an able kayaker with a map and a dream, but before you run off in search of adventure you need to check one last thing; your kit. A kayak fishing rod, live-bait, and bucket are boating accessories that most fishermen will already have. But you’ll also need a personal floatation device, anchor, rod holder and navigation light to succeed.
Check out our buying guide and reviews of our top picks:
- Kayak Fishing Rods
- Kayak Fishing Reels
- Kayak Fishing Rod & Reel Combos
- Kayak Fishing Fish Finders
- Kayak Fishing Coolers
- Kayak Fishing Anchors
Without the proper tools, even an outstanding fisher will struggle to make (and keep!) their catch, let alone stay upright on the kayak. If the weather conditions take a turn for the worst then you’ll need to be wearing a helmet. Capsizing is an inevitable part of kayak fishing, if you haven’t found yourself in the water yet then you haven’t been doing it long enough. A helmet can keep you safe from any sharp boulders hidden below.
To get a full run down on the gear need for your fishing kayak setup please see our full guide: Fishing Kayak Setup Made Easy: A Quick Rundown of the Essentials
Use Sunscreen and Protective Clothing to Reduce Sun Exposure
As you consider basic gear like a kayak or a personal floatation device, you’ll almost certainly be concerned about how long-term UV exposure can affect their integrity.
But most of us don’t give a thought to that same effect on our skin.
Fun in the sun? Only with the right protection!
The American Academy of Dermatology reports that skin cancer rates have skyrocketed since the 1970s, increasing by as much as 263% for dangerous cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma.
And if you think your tan or dark skin protects you, think again!
While light-skinned people with blue, green, or gray eyes (and especially freckles) are the most easily affected, people of all skin colors are diagnosed with skin cancer. Darker skin provides more protection but can also delay diagnosis, making potential cancers even more dangerous.
That’s exactly what happened to Bob Marley, who died at age 36 from melanoma!
So whatever your skin color, avoiding sun exposure is an important step to staying healthy.
Unfortunately, skin cancer is expected to affect 1 in 5 Americans and is now the most common type of cancer diagnosed across the US. That number is higher for anglers and other sportsmen, and preventing cancer should be something you really think about when planning a fishing adventure on your ‘yak.
That’s why our first tip is to reduce sun exposure. Sun-protective clothing isn’t just a good idea--it’s essential gear for anglers. And on a kayak, where there’s no escape from the sun, essential doesn’t even begin to cover it.
A durable pair of sunglasses will protect your eyes from UV damage, and with options as affordable as KastKing’s Skidaway, everyone can have effective, glare-reducing eye protection.
And, of course, a good hat is a must. We’ve talked about that before, and I really like the Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero. Lightweight, comfortable, and cool, it’ll keep the sun off your face and neck and keep you in the action longer.
But don’t forget a long sleeve, lightweight shirt, a neck gaiter, and gloves, all of which are increasingly popular ways to decrease sun exposure.
A cool-wearing neck gaiter like this one from KastKing is ideal.
HUK’s Current Camo Double Header offers SPF 30+ protection while remaining easy-to-wear and cool, even in the worst heat. KastKing’s Sol Armis Neck Gaiter shields your face and neck from sun damage and DNA-wrecking UV, and it’s something every angler should really consider. KastKing’s matching gloves extend that protection to your hands, a seriously good idea if you’d like to enjoy angling for years to come.
And please don’t forget about your feet! Keep them covered with something like HUK’s Rogue Wave mid boot. Sunburning the tops of your feet is a terrible idea--I’ve been there--and the long-term damage isn’t something you want to ignore.
Beyond that, any exposed skin needs a generous, repeated application of sunscreen. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends “a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.”
I like the sprays as they’re easier to apply, and one of my favorites is Coppertone Sport in SPF 50.
Neutrogena Beach Defense is another excellent option, with an SPF rating of 70.
If you don’t think this is important, just ask BassMaster pros like Mark Davis and Kelly Jordon or SaltStrong’s Joe Simonds.
Don’t Forget About Hydration
Kayak fishing can be physically demanding, and the first time you fight a strong tide, run from a looming storm, or make a long paddle to and from your honey hole, you’ll feel it.
I wouldn't ever bring less than two liters of water or sports drinks.
And by the time you feel really thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. That’ll reduce peak performance, making that paddle even harder, and when summer temps are really sweltering, it can be downright dangerous.
Two hydration strategies are common: a hydration pack or water bottles.
Products like Mubasel Gear’s Insulated Hydration Backpack can really make a difference. Two liters of water kept out of the way and ready to sip is nothing to sneeze at in the heat.
I prefer water bottles myself, as I don’t like wearing a hydration pack on a hot day. Instead, I’ll stash a couple of 32-ounce Nalgene bottles filled with partially frozen Gatorade.
They’re easy to clean, simple to use, and all kinds of durable.
Essential Safety Gear
Keeping to the theme of safety, basic emergency equipment is a must.
A good light placed high can keep you safe in low light.
No one plans on an accident, but you should plan to respond to one. And from inattentive power boats to sudden storms, you want to think ahead, especially on open water.
A personal floatation device is a true life-saver. Don’t even think about not wearing one.
You’re looking for a good fit: if it doesn’t stay put when you hit the water, it’s worthless!
Comfort and durability are critical, too, but always look for a PFD that has won the approval of the US Coast Guard.
Check out our buying guide and top recommendations for the best kayak fishing pfd!
Fortunately, excellent PFDs like Stohlquist’s are designed with anglers in mind, offering plenty of room to paddle and cast as well as lots of storage for gear.
Especially for saltwater anglers, there are other concerns that should be just as high on the list.
If you’ve ever paddled your ‘yak out into open water, and then had fog drop like a gray blanket cutting off your view of the shore, you know how scary that can be. Ditto for the long ride a tarpon or grouper can offer, leaving you miles from where you intended to be.
And getting injured--say, tearing a shoulder muscle--with a long paddle ahead and night closing in is enough to send chills down your spine.
In situations like this, a hand-held VHF can mean the difference between a rescue and a tragedy. Inexpensive, portable, and simple to use, Uniden’s MHS335BT is equipped with DSC and GPS, meaning that a rescue can be launched immediately--and they’ll know exactly where you are.
Don’t think you’ll need a VHF radio? Think again!
Low light makes it hard for powered vessels to see your ‘yak. You won’t appear on the radar to large vessels, and smaller power boats just aren’t looking for low-profile, slow-moving kayaks in the dark.
The best solution is a raised light and flag combo like YakAttack VISIpole II.
If you don’t think this is a concern, just take a look at this article from paddling.com or this video:
Bugs, Bugs, Bugs
I’ve fished in places where the only flies were the ones I was casting. But I’ve also chased reds in salt marshes where the no-see-ums and mosquitoes left me pale from blood loss. Worse yet, I have some honey holes that vacillate between these extremes depending on the vagaries of the weather.
And if you’ve never been besieged by a swarm of angry insects looking for a quick bite, you don’t know how bad it can be. I’ve seen folks driven off of a great spot by no-see-ums until they were forced to retreat to the boat launch!
Do yourself a favor: always carry strong bug repellant, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
Along the Gulf Coast, Avon SKIN-SO-SOFT Bug Guard PLUS is legendary. I’ve also gone through gallons of OFF! Deep Woods in my fishing career, and I use both of these products liberally when the bugs are biting.
Fishing’s not just more fun with a friend; it’s a lot safer, too.
Notice this angler wears protective clothing and a PFD, and if you look carefully, you’ll see the pole of her light/flag combo.
The best way to play it safe is to have a friend along for the adventure. A fellow kayaker can offer assistance or share essential gear if yours is lost or destroyed, and of course, you’ll have someone to share the story with later!
Seriously, the buddy system works--especially when combined with a shared paddle plan. Let someone you trust know where you’re going, when you’re leaving, and when you plan to be back.
That extra insurance can be critical if the worst does happen, and you’ll have people who start looking for you that much sooner.
Stay safe, enjoy your time on the water, and keep your lines tight!
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