School's In: Kayak Fishing 101

Thinking about trying a kayak to get to those skinny-water fish? Here’s what you need to know.
School's In: Kayak Fishing 101

Choosing Your Kayak Fishing Hull Design

What type of water are you fishing mostly? Is the local lake or bay system centralized or do you have fairly large areas of water to paddle? Are you looking for a stable casting platform or a sleek, fast-moving boat to chase blitzing fish?

Basic Hull Designs

Boats come in two basic styles. If you’re looking to cover large expanses of water of a mile or more, you might want to consider a hull design from 12 to 18 feet long. The longer hull design, although more of a portage challenge as compared to shorter versions, is a more efficient, wave-breaking machine. The longer hull design acts as a wave buffer and increases your paddling and speed efficiency. However, what you make up for in paddling ease and speed, you lose in some maneuverability and casting stability. Longer boats tend to have a shorter beam, or the distance across the widest part of the boat, and might wallow a bit.

Kayak fishing hull design

Photo credit, Mark Olis

If stability is a key concern, such as what’s needed for fly-fishing or beginners, consider going for a shorter boat in the 8- to 12-foot range. Shorter boats tend to carry more of their width closer to the tail and nose — imagine an oval-shaped boat rather than a sleek cigar or arrow-shaped hull design. Moreover, as I’ve discovered on recent adventures, I’ve actually stored the boats on a skiff and motored a majority of the way to fishing holes. I’ve then launched and paddled a short distance into a back lake. If you tend to have a larger fishing area, need to cover great distances of water to get to different holes and storage space is at a premium, a shorter boat might fit the bill. Also, the stability of a shorter boat can afford the more daring angler to stand atop the boat and get a better look into the water.

Paddle Design

Paddles come in a plethora of styles and types. The most important factors to consider when choosing a paddle are strength and efficiency. You’re the motor behind this toy, so you want a paddle that best fits your paddling style and you. Consider spending a few dollars on a carbon-fiber paddle and being properly fitted to the paddle. Carbon-fiber paddles are more durable than aluminum or plastic paddles, and are more rigid and will not “give” during the paddle stroke. Ask a local kayak dealer what blade type he recommends for you. A short narrow blade will be lighter and offer less wind resistance but will sacrifice some “bite” on the paddle stroke. A longer, wider blade will exhibit greater wind resistance, but will be more efficient in the stroke. The choice depends on local fishing conditions, though, so ask the locals for advice.

Rigging Your Fishing Kayak For Success

Comfort, dryness and purpose are the key factors to rigging your “slow ride.” To be comfortable, you need a lot of stuff, including lunch, drinks, a first-aid kit, maps and fishing gear. And you want to keep your gear dry. Buy and use a midsized duffle, two medium-sized bags that will fit in the duffle, and four smaller bags for eyeglass/sunglass cleaners, cameras, money, cell phones or VHF Radios.

Also, buy every type of bungee lanyard, rod leash, paddle leash, dry bag leash and bungee tiedowns you can get your hands on, and keep two 18-foot sections of rope with you at all times. Tie down and leash everything. A good rule of thumb: if it’s not built into the kayak, tie it down.

Most fishing kayaks have built-in rod tubes. However, if your kayak doesn’t have one, buy one. Typically, it’s best to take two rods. If you’re not using one, place it in the rod holder and tie it down with a rod lanyard. Many kayak anglers have one rod rigged with a sub-surface rig and the other rigged with a topwater rig. As conditions change, it’s easy to grab either rod. Tackle, maps, GPS and communication devices should be rigged between your knees and readily accessible. Here again, dry bags are essential. You never know when a rollover might take place.

Kayak Fishing Safety

If you’re a kayak fisherman, a rollover is inevitable. When it happens, don’t panic. Remember, everything should already be tied off to the kayak, and if it isn’t, you’ll only lose tackle, and that can be replaced. Stay calm and remember you’re a prepared kayaker — you never leave the dock or wading area without wearing a PFD. Word of advice, don’t use a water-induced inflation device. If you do … it will go off — typically in the middle of a long technical paddle.

Before you leave, make sure you’ve notified someone where you’ll be fishing, for how long, and when you expect to return. For added protection, it’s always a wise choice to post the information on your car window in case of an emergency. Be sure to pack a standard Coast Guard first-aid kit with flares, a noise-making device, cellphone and waterproof GPS unit. On a kayak, safety should always be the utmost concern.

Kayaking can be an exhilarating experience. With kayaks fitted with every form of fishing warfare known to man, anglers are now using the oldest mode of water navigation to fight fish in rivers, lakes, bays and intracoastal waterways. And some fisherman are even venturing out into the deep to battle tuna, sharks other species commonly thought to only be the quarry of large long-range boats. Kayaks have arrived. Get outside and get in touch.


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