Kayak Fishing Ultimate Guide: How To Kayak Fish

Kayak Fishing Ultimate Guide: How To Kayak Fish

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Peacefully coasting through tranquil waters, kayaking will take you places otherwise unreached. Kayaks are environmentally friendly, cost efficient, portable and healthy. The popularity of kayak fishing is on the rise. Anglers are once again embracing the simplicity of kayaking. The gear, techniques and weather all require a different approach than powerboat fishing. This article covers the types of kayaks, fishing gear, health benefits and how to kayak fish. Now, let’s make the most of your adventure.

The Places To Go Kayak Fishing

Where to Go Kayak Fishing

Where do you want to fish? Rivers, lakes, creeks, marshes or coasts the options are virtually endless. There are plenty of launch options because boat ramps are not necessary. Because kayaks have a low profile, you are able to reach areas powerboats can’t take you. There are plenty of websites available that offer suggestions regarding local places to launch. Avoid paddling to close to shore so you don’t disturb the vegetation and fish spawning grounds. Take care not to disturb sensitive ecosystems while kayak fishing.

Benefits Of Kayak Fishing

Kayaking fishing will refresh your mind, body and soul. Ecological impacts are taking its toll on our waterways. Man powered kayaks keep our waterways free of pollutants like gasoline. The stealth quietness of kayaks does not disturb surrounding wildlife. Regardless of age or abilities, kayak fishing can be enjoyed by everyone. In fact, kayaks can be outfitted for persons with disabilities. Kayaks can be easily customized. Do your heart a favor and kayak. Health benefits include cardiovascular, muscular and mental. A low impact activity, paddling builds strength and muscle while reducing damage to joints and tissues. Peacefully enjoying the waterway is medicine for your mind. Get social and meet new people. Most communities have kayak clubs and excursions. Kayaks are affordable, low maintenance and portable.

Types Of Kayaks

Different Types of Kayaks Sit-in Sit-no-To

Sit-in (aka sik) or sit-on-top (aka sot)? Recreational, touring, pedal, tandem, inflatable or folding? Polyethylene, ABS plastic or composite? Choosing the right kayak may seem daunting but it is simply based on intended use. Regardless of use, choose a kayak with stability, storage and comfortable seating. Confused about which fishing kayak is right for you? Visit your local kayak dealer and ask to demo or rent the models that interest you. Kayak stores are happy to assist serious buyers and provide specs that you may have not considered. Remember, the best kayak is the one that is best for YOU. Visit your local dealer, talk to your local kayak clubs and try before you buy.

Click here to see the Best Fishing Kayaks Under $500

Sit-on-top Kayak Fishing

Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 90 9 Foot Angler and Recreational Sit On Top Light Weight Fishing Kayak
Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 90, 9 Foot Sit On Top Fishing Kayak.  Our Top Rated Under $500

The majority of anglers choose recreational sit-on-top kayaks. They are easy to get in and out and are user friendly. These kayaks have an open cockpit and are wider adding better stability. The enclosed hull keeps the kayak from capsizing. Sit-on kayaks are vulnerable to wind so they are best used when the weather is calm. Sit-on-tops are non confining and self bailing. You will get wet, making this type of kayak an extremely popular choice in warm weather. Using while fishing, the sit-on-top style of kayak allows you to easily exit and wade fish.

Sit-inside For Kayak Fishing

Perception Sound Sit Inside Kayak for Fishing and Fun
Perception Sound Sit Inside Kayak. Our #3 Ranked Under $500

Use a sit-inside (cockpit style) when kayak fishing in cold water. Sit-ins provide a dryer ride and will help keep you warmer. Touring kayaks have rudders that help to navigate the wind and currents. Use sit-ins for coastal fishing and longer excursions. But, it’s harder getting in and out making wade fishing difficult. Sit-inside kayaks are for intermediate and advanced paddlers. Smaller cockpits are easier to control and provide more protection in rough waters. Spray skirts can be attached to prevent water seeping in over the top. Larger cockpit styles are easier to get in and out of. Sit-in kayaks are typically shorter, making them easier to transport.

Pedal For Kayak Fishing

Old Town Topwater 106 PDL Angler Pedal Fishing Kayak
Old Town Topwater 106 PDL Angler Pedal Fishing Kayak

Pedal kayaks are another option for fishing because they offer hands free operation. As the name suggest, they use pedals to turn a prop or push-pedals to power fins. Move forward or in reverse with ease. Pedal kayaks can get you moving fast but the steering is more difficult. By changing from paddles to pedals you swap maneuverability for speed.

Tandem For Kayak Fishing

BKC TK219 12.2 Foot Tandem Fishing Kayak
BKC TK219 12.2 Foot Tandem Fishing Kayak

Tandem kayaks (aka doubles) have two seating areas letting two people to ride together. Tandems are a perfect option for taking the kids out and for instructional paddling. They are typically wider providing better stability and faster due to paddling in unison. The stronger more experienced paddler should sit in the back to maintain the majority of control.

Inflatables For Kayak Fishing

Intex Excursion Pro Kayak, Professional Series Inflatable Fishing Kayak
Intex Excursion Pro Kayak, Professional Series Inflatable Fishing Kayak.  Our #4 Best Under $500

Inflatable kayaks are easy to store and transport. When properly taken care, Inflatables will last up to 10 years. Quality inflatables are surprisingly sturdy. They are available in single and tandem styles. Inflatable kayaks are made of strong rubberized nylon helping to limit or even avoid damage when hitting structures. But, always bring a repair kit just to be safe. These kayaks are available in both sit-on and sit-in styles. Economical, easy to use and great for travel, inflatables are an ideal choice for kayak fishing.

Click here to see the Best Inflatable and Collapsible Fishing Kayaks

Folding Kayaks For Fishing

Tucktec Advanced 10 Foot Foldable Kayak Folding Canoe
Tucktec Advanced 10 Foot Foldable Kayak.  Our Honorable Mention under $500 Fishing Kayak.

Folding kayaks are not as rugged as the sit-in or sit-on kayaks. However, they do offer comparable handling and are easily transported and stored. Canvas and / or nylon skins stretch over wood and / or aluminum frames. Easy to fold and assemble, you can get most folding kayaks moving through the waters in 10 minutes. In fact some styles, when folded, can be as small as 3′ x 2′. Folding kayaks are sturdy and can be either paddled, sailed, rowed or powered. They typically weigh less than 40 lbs. If you need a vessel that is easily transported, requires little storage space and gets you on the water quickly then a folding kayak may be the one for you.

Click here to see the Best Inflatable and Collapsible Fishing Kayaks

Materials Used To Make Kayaks

A major difference in kayak pricing is the construction and quality of materials used. Polyethylene plastic, ABS plastic and composites make up the majority of materials used for kayaks. Although polyethylene is inexpensive and scratch resistant it’s also the heaviest. Polyethylene can handle the abuse of dragging, dropping and bouncing. ABS is durable, lighter and offers some UV protection. Composite kayaks use lightweight fiberglass and ultra light carbon fiber. Roto-molded kayaks are more expensive however, this process used in production will keep your kayak in top form for decades. It is a one piece mold with no seams. Thermoformed kayaks are known to have issues in as early as a year. The process of roto-molded justifies the price.

Choosing A Paddle

AQUA BOUND Sting Ray Carbon 2-Piece Kayak Paddle
AQUA BOUND Sting Ray Carbon 2-Piece Kayak Paddle

The correct paddle is almost as important as choosing the correct kayak. The proper paddles will get you moving through the water efficiently with precision. The length needs to be long enough to comfortably reach the water but not to big it negatively effects handling. The two main styles of paddling that effects paddle sizing is low angle and high angle. Low angle blades are narrow and more comfortable while high angle blades are wider and short designed for power. High angle paddling, fast and aggressive, requires a shorter paddle because strokes are vertical. Low angle paddling, slow and relaxed, use a longer paddle because strokes are horizontal.

How to Choose a Kayak Paddle

The rule of thumb in determining your correct paddle size is based on your torso height and kayak width. In general if your height is 5’10” or shorter and your kayak is between 17″ – 23″ choose a paddle between 220cm – 230cm. If you are 5’6″ – 6’2″ with a 23″ – 25″ kayak choose a 230cm – 240cm paddle. For over 6’3″ with a kayak over 25″ go long using a minimum of a 240cm paddle.

The most common length for relaxed style paddling and average height paddlers is 230cm. No matter what brand or model you buy, too short of a paddle will have you hitting your hands on the sides of the kayak. Too long and you are adding extra strain to your shoulders and will be exhausting. Because lightweight materials improve performance and requires less effort, choose the lightest paddle in your price range. Keep in mind that straight shafts are more common but bent shafts are easier on your wrist.

Safety First While Kayak Fishing

NRS Touring Safety Kits for Kayaking
NRS Touring Safety Kits for Kayaking

Choose your location, know the weather and tell someone where you are planning to kayak. If you use a sit-in kayak, learn how to wet exit, self rescue and T rescue.

Kayaking | How to Self-Rescue || REI

Also, make sure to have a bilge pump, spare paddle and a tow line. ALWAYS wear a life jacket with an attached whistle. Angler life jackets are designed for added storage so they have multiple pockets to keep essentials close. Place cell phone, identification and flashlight in waterproof storage. According to the American Canoe Association, if the water temperature is below 60 degrees fahrenheit you should wear a wetsuit to prevent hyperthermia. NEVER use alcohol or drugs while boating and drink plenty of water avoiding dehydration. Bring along a compass, first aid kit and extra food (protein power bars). Not needing the safety tools is great, but having them when you do need them is life saving.

Get Ready To Go Kayak Fishing

Now that you have chosen a kayak, paddles and safety gear let’s get ready to fish. Rig your kayak with multiple rod holders. Most anglers bring 3 rod reel combos. Prepare them ahead so you can quickly and easily switch tactics based on what you run across. Secure your paddles to your kayak using paddle clips. Bring a sonar GPS fish finder to help locate the fish. Grab an anchor in the event you find a hot spot to avoid drifting. Secure your gear to the kayak in case you flip because if it’s not secured it’s lost. There is an abundance of securing tools available. Inexpensive pool noodles are fantastic flotation devices. Cut them to the desired size, thread with fishing line and then tie them to items that are at risk of sinking. And, don’t forget to bring your fishing license, bug repellent and sunscreen.

Let’s Go Kayak Fishing

Learn How to Kayak Fish Fishing

Find that quiet lake, stream or pond and immerse your kayak. Prepare to catch fish, kayaks are naturally quiet allowing you to sneak up increasing bite potential. Compared to powerboats, kayaks can’t quickly change locations so commit to an area and stick with it. Space is limited so bringing the correct gear is crucial. Choose versatile equipment to accommodate a variety of scenarios. Bring a catch net so when the big one bites it will be easier to get inside the vessel.

Live Bait For Kayak Fishing

High Altitude Baitshark Kayak Bait Bucket
High Altitude Baitshark Kayak Bait Bucket

Using live bait increases your odds of success. Yes, live bait is messier and harder to use while kayaking but in certain situations it is absolutely worth the effort. Artificial baits have come a long way but will never completely substitute the appeal live bait has to fish. The scent and natural movements of live bait are hard for fish to resist. Bait fish are easy to get: buy it, catch it, trap it or cast for it. The trick to using live bait is to actually keep your bait alive. To do this, use a self contained live well system. Your live bait choice should be based on the current feeding trend, in other words, match the hatch. Seasons, time of day and environment are all conditions effecting fish diet. Live bait works well whether using under a bobber, free lined, or weighted bottom.


Minnows are the go to when fishing for largemouth bass and panfish. One way to effectively use a minnow is to float it beneath a bobber. In the shallows let the bait swim suspended in cover. Drift fishing with minnows is another great option, use a split shot weight. Try both simultaneously by placing the rigged bobber in a rod holder and then use another rod to jig with the drift. Use a flexible lightweight rod for both techniques. When fishing lakes and ponds use the shoreline. Fish use vegetation for cover and feeding, so start your hunt there.


Using Crawfish Bait for Kayak Fishing

Live crawfish attracts bass, trout, panfish and catfish. Use crawfish around their natural habitat of rocks, docks and covers. Fish your bait parallel to the rock structures keeping it close to the cover. Alternate the depth until you begin getting the bite. Both drift fishing and casting are good techniques. Cast in front of the fish and when the bait is next to rocks / structures try to jig natural crawfish movements. Let the bait settle for a moment allowing the bass to check it out.

Live worms, grasshoppers and crickets are also viable options.

Artificial Bait For Kayak Fishing

Artificial bait is easier and more convenient to use while kayak fishing. There are three kayak lure fishing techniques: jig, baitcasting and trolling. Salmon, bass, walleye, trout and panfish are good freshwater targets for using artificial bait. Jigs, spinners, spoons, plugs and flies are also commonly used. Artificial lures are painted with bright colors and have attractant scents to tempt the fish to bite. The main categories of lures are metal, soft, hardbody and fly.


Booyah Pond Magic Spinnerbait Fishing Lure
Booyah Pond Magic Spinnerbait

Spinnerbaits are one of the most versatile type of lures. Spinners are an excellent choice as a search bait. Spinners have two types of blades. Long skinny blades (aka willow leaf) and shorter rounder blades (aka Colorado blades). Willow leaf blades have less vibration and more flash while Colorado blades vibrate more with less flash. Know the water temperature. The slow roll technique, sinking bait to the bottom with a slow retrieve, is best in cooler water. The yo-yo technique, up and down rod movements, works better in warmer water. Casting your spinnerbait beyond the target and using a slow retrieve method is often successful. Spinnerbaits are a great choice for use around structures. The Premier League 3/8 River Series, chartreuse / pearl, is a great overall choice for most anglers. Spinners are best used for catching perch, pike and bass.

Topwater Lures

Strike King Tri-Wing Buzz King Bait
Strike King Tri-Wing Buzz Bait

Topwater lures are exciting to use. Fish come up from underneath the bait striking with great force. Topwater lures replicate the sound of service food the fish are hunting. Top water lures float and are typically made of wood, rubber or hard plastics. Best used at dusk and dawn when the temperatures are warmer. Topwaters are equipped with treble hooks increasing the odds of the fish remaining hooked after the strike. Commonly used topwater lures include prop, buzz, popper and floating / walking. There is no one answer when it comes to retrieval. Try both slow and powerful retrieval methods until you find the one that works. Some fish are attracted to a pause while others to the jerk. Use topwater lures to target largemouth bass, trout, pickerel, ladyfish, reds and blues.  

Soft Plastics

Zoom Bait Finesse Worm Type of Fishing Lure Bait
Zoom Bait Finesse Worm

Soft plastic lures come in just about every design imaginable. Artificial substitutes for minnows, crabs, shrimp and worms they are a popular choices for freshwater fishing. You can find an artificial bait that matches just about any fish target. Soft plastics can be used with and without weight. Soft plastics land quietly making them effective for flats, surf and sight casting.


Booyah Black Green Pumpkin Skirted Fishing Jig Lure
Booyah Black Green Pumpkin Skirted Jig

A versatile lure every tackle box must have. Jigs are a sinking bait, work best when flipped or pitched and rely on action. This go to lure is perfect for kayak fishing. Jigs are available in a wide array of colors and forms resembling common prey. The action of a jig draws the strike with an erratic wounded visual. The hooks are on top helping from getting snagged. Jigging can be done with a lighter rod which is functional when kayak fishing.

Click here to read Different types of Fishing Lures for Freshwater Fish

Best For The Situation

Imagine you are the fish. What do you see from beneath the water? What will make you take a bite? Depends on what type of fish you are. Here are some quick tips to remember. The further you drop your bait the more the color fades. Silver and golds are best used on sunny days because of the reflection of light. Use your Fluorescent lures on cloudy days because they benefit from UV light. Use dark colored lures in murky and brown waters to blend with the natural habitat.


Tailored Tackle Fishing Hooks Kit 150 Pc Accessories Box | EWG Worm, Octopus, Bait Holder, Circle Fish for Freshwater Bass Trout Catfish Panfish Crappie Bluegill | Hook Supplies for Gear and Equipment
Tailored Tackle Fishing Hooks Kit 150 Piece

Popular choices of hooks include bait, circle, treble, worm and aberdeen. Worm hooks are used to rig plastics and used in weeds, rocks and timber. Trebles have 3 points and are used for artificial lures. Aberdeen hooks are made of light wire, keeping live bait moving longer. Best used in thick cover because the hook flexes and is easier to pull from structures. Circle hooks are easier to remove and do less damage to the fish vs barb hooks. To remove, get your hand to the hook then give it a little twitch and it usually pops right out. Studies show that bass caught with a circle hook are 11 times more likely to survive compare to J hooks. Treble hooks are more likely to strike a blood vessel and kill the fish. Soft wire hooks naturally bend and are more humane but they are less efficient than traditional hooks.

Rods For Kayak Fishing

High Altitude Brands Backcountry Telescopic Fishing Rod Pole Case Photo3_750
High Altitude Brands Backcountry Telescopic Fishing Rod Pole Case

Because you are limited in space, the equipment you bring needs to be functional and fit on your kayak comfortably. The majority of kayak anglers cast from a seated position so they prefer the longer rods to obtain longer cast. Shorter rods can increase accuracy but make it harder to retrieve fish from inside the kayak. The average size rod for kayak anglers is 7′-71/2′. It is strictly a personal preference. Just make sure it is long enough to bring around the bow when a fish is on line. Lightweight carbon fiber spinning rods are the way to go. Just make sure the rod is strong enough to pull fish from covers. On average anglers will bring three rod reel combos kayak fishing. Choose a rod with a shorter butt section. Because kayaks are compact, shorter butts give you more flexibility to move around.


Flip the Bail By Hand for Spinning Reels

Baitcasters vs spinning. Bait casters are best used for fishing heavy cover and when using heavy lines and lures for bigger fish. Spinning reels are easy to use and effective almost anywhere. Because you are seated, skip casting is easier from a kayak using a spinning reel. Baitcasters allow for heavier lines and lures, so are a good choice for pulling fish from thick cover. The Classic 4 pound monofilament line will cover most applications. However, when fishing brush and weeds jump to a 10 pound braid especially for largemouth bass.

Bobbers aka Floats

Types of Fishing Bobbers and Floats
Read More: Types of Fishing Bobbers and Floats

There are three main types of bobbers: ball, pencil and slip. Ball bobbers are inexpensive and easy to use. Their drawback is they have a lot of resistance. It is more difficult for fish to pull ball bobbers underwater sometimes resulting in a drop. When fish feel resistance they sense that something is unnatural. Pencil bobbers are less resistant and oblong shaped. Because of the lower resistance, fish are more likely to hold bait long enough to set the hook. Keep some slack in your line casting and when your bobber settles tighten up. Bait on a slip bobber can be suspended at the depth you choose. Slip bobbers appeal to a multitude of fish using just one bobber. Walleye and catfish who bottom feed, panfish and pike hanging out in the middle and trout cruising the top.

Kayak Fishing Tips And Techniques

Top Big Bass Kayak Fishing Tactics

Check out the area before you launch. Note, currents are not as strong in shallow water. Fishing shorelines is easier to maintain position and upstream paddling will be easier. This will save paddling time later on. Fish in a circular route. Distance can be tiring so commit to an area. If your bite is slow then change tactics and target a different species. Give your spot another shot. The key to successful kayak fishing is be organized, stay focused and multitask. When using an anchor, fix it to the bow or stern and have a quick release mechanism. Avoid attaching the anchor to the port or starboard. Doing this is more likely to cause capsizing.


Kayak Fishing Basics: Paddling Skills for Kayak Anglers

Whether you are a beginner or an expert kayak angler there will always something new to learn. Practice makes perfect. Hold your paddle on top of your head. Your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle and keep your knuckles pointed up. The blades on your paddle should be perpendicular to the ground and the shorter side of the blades on the bottom. If the paddles are concave, the concave side should face you. A paddlers box is the area formed by your arms,chest and paddle shaft. Learn to keep your stroke within this box to keep your body properly positioned. Keep your grip relaxed and wrists straight to avoid fatigue. The four strokes you need to know are the forward, reverse, sweep and draw.

When paddling, use your core muscles to power the stroke and not your arms. This technique will help with fatigue. Sit upright to help maintain balance and use a paddle leash. Keeping your legs together will help your body rotate more efficiently. Keep your knees slightly bent and pressed against the kayak wall for extra stability. Your arms and shoulders transmit the power while your torso and legs should be doing the majority of labor. Poor posture and insufficient torso rotation are the two most common mistakes while paddling.

Learn One Handed Paddling And Casting.

Fish are not willing to wait for you to be ready. So, unless you are trolling you need to be efficient in one handed paddling and casting. When fighting a fish you will need to keep your kayak under control. Paddling with one arm will help you avoid obstacles and currents while bringing in a big catch. One technique is locking the shaft along your arm and steer using the paddle. The room between the water and the seat on kayaks is thin. Certain styles of casting using two hands will be very difficult. Using lighter reels and rods will make learning this technique a bit easier. Until you feel comfortable get an oar mount for your kayak.


Tips And Tricks: How To Cast From A Kayak With Chad Hoover

Casting from a kayak while standing feels unstable and awkward. Fishing kayaks are designed to wobble but remain stable when fishing. Try to relax and trust your kayak. With practice, this standing cast technique will become easier. Most anglers cast while sitting but standing gives you an increased line of sight and farther casting ability.

There are two main styles of casting from a kayak. Overhead and side arm. Most kayak anglers use the overhead method. Overhead is a technique of casting from above the shoulders. This enables you to cast further. However, it causes a large splash and may spook the fish. When using overhead casting on calm water you need to cast beyond the fish. Side arm is a technique of casting below the shoulder and has a quiet presentation. This cast makes it easier to target specific locations and avoid common obstacles. Position your kayak so you are casting forward and when the fish bites it will be easier to set the hook.

Bring In The Fish

To avoid the frustration of not being able to bring in the catch, you must have the proper gear. Fish grips, pliers, nets, line cutters and gloves are the must have fish handling gear. When you catch and release, reduce air exposure by keeping the fish wet. Even after a release, a fish with too much air exposure will die. When releasing, hold the fish in front of its tail then slowly sway back and forth pushing water over its gills. Keep your rod tip high / vertical while bringing up to the boat. The tried and true method of getting your catch onto the kayak is using a landing net. When your catch is next to the kayak, drop your net down to scoop it up.

Capture The Moment

GOPRO: Kayak Fishing Mount

Get yourself a waterproof camera. Choose an action camera with good image stabilization. Mount the camera to the front of your kayak by using the hooks on the bow to strap in place. This mount can capture either a water level shot or paddling selfie. Bring along an extra power bank in case you have an epic fishing day, you don’t want to miss a thing.

Fun Fact

Boys in kayak, Nunivak, Alaska, photographed by Edward S. Curtis, 1930
Boys in kayak, Nunivak, Alaska, photographed by Edward S. Curtis, 1930

The oldest known kayak is on exhibit at the North America department of the State Museum of Ethnology in Munich Germany. Kayaks were originally developed by the Inuit, Yup’ik, and Aleut. They used the boats to hunt on inland lakes, rivers and coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean, North Atlantic, Bering Sea and North Pacific oceans. The first kayaks were constructed from stitched seal and other animal skins stretched over a wood or whalebone-skeleton frame. Western Alaskan Natives used wood whereas the eastern Inuit used whalebone due to the treeless landscape. Kayaks are believed to be at least 4,000 years old.


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