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I was first introduced to kayak fishing as a kid. We would take family fishing trips to the boundary waters and our little resort offered paddleboats, canoes, and kayaks for use. Then in high school and my early college years, I would borrow kayaks to fish farm ponds and smaller bodies of water across my home state of Nebraska. But in 2016 my passion for kayak fishing was truly ignited. I purchased my first fishing specific kayak and began fishing local tournaments. I also started loading my kayak on the roof of my trailblazer, and embarking on many solo adventures chasing trophy pike and the elusive musky.
Fast forward a few more years, and kayak fishing has taken me all over the world. I’ve competed in kayak fishing tournaments across the U.S., as well as Sweden and Mexico. I’ve chased most all freshwater species and several saltwater species including sturgeon, stripers, walleye, bass, musky, tarpon, mahi, red fish, sailfish, snook, snakehead, and peacock bass, just to name a few.
Over the years, I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two, mostly from trial and a lot of error. I’ve also been a sponge around veteran kayak anglers, learning their kayak fishing tips and tricks as well. Here are some of my best tips, in hopes that they help you catch more fish.
Kayak Fishing Tips: Gear & Accessories
Demo different kayak models. When deciding on what kayak to purchase, always demo several brands and models. Kayaks can look one way, but perform an entirely different way. The only way to get a good feel for the overall comfort and performance of your kayak, is to actually get one on the water. Some shops have demo pools and or ponds on location, start there first.
Pick the right yak style. When you’re buying a kayak, consider the type of water you’re fishing. There are kayaks designed for big water, for rivers, and for grab and go applications.
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Check out small winches. If you have a truck or van to load your kayak into, a winch makes loading kayaks much easier.
Consider the kayak’s weight. Kayaks range from 30 pounds up to more than 175 pounds. Make sure you have the ability to load and unload and transport your kayak with ease. If you can’t get it onto your kayak rack, you will be much less willing to get it out on the water. Kayak trailers make life easier for those extra heavy yaks.
Tether all things important. All of us have donated phones to the drink. Tether your phone, keys and wallet in a waterproof box. Throw anything in there that would hurt to lose.
The best rod storage is horizontal. Finding ways to rig horizontal rod holders or utilizing those kayaks that have them built into the hull will save you breaking rods in tree limbs or going under low bridges if you forget your rods are sticking up.
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Put a keel guard on your kayak. Boat rash is the easiest way to damage a kayak, and putting a keel guard on it protects your investment and helps the resell value.
Carry bug spray with you on the kayak. For the no-see-ums and gnats, pure vanilla is a life saver. I’ve also used Victoria’s secret “Amber Romance” lotion (an older Cajun man told me that secret).
Always bring a paddle. Even if you have a motor and or a pedal driven kayak, you should have a paddle on board. Those other mechanisms sometimes fail, and if they do, you will need a way to get back to shore.
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Stay dry. Always bring a set of dry clothes and keep them in a dry bag.
Dampen noise. Get a deck mat kit like Marine Mat to keep things quiet and comfortable on those warmer days.
Learn to do more with less. For example, when buying rods, choose rods that allow you to fish several different baits on them, so you don’t have to fit as many rods in your yak. I have several “utility rods” for this purpose.
Kayak Fishing Tips: Safety
PFD is a must, even in shallow water. I know there are a lot of folks that don’t think this is necessary, but accidents happen when we least expect it. Wearing a PFD at all times in a kayak isn’t only smart, but it helps promote proper safety to those around you as well. NOTE- if you are on social media, big brands won’t share your content if you are not wearing a PFD.
Run NAV lights. If you put a motor on your kayak, make sure to have your red and green NAV lights. They are required in most states and are a good idea to have regardless.
Use a safety flag. When fishing areas with tall vegetation and air boat lanes, always have a safety flag that’s tall enough to be visible over the cover. This is especially important down in Florida, on lake O.
Watch the weather. Check the weather before your trip and monitor it during the trip. Pop up storms are common, and you don’t want to be caught offshore during a bad one.
Don’t leave valuables in the truck at boat ramps. Trucks at boat ramps get broken into more often than you might expect.
Stay in touch. Make sure someone always knows where you’re fishing and check in periodically.
Light it up. Adding a spotlight on the kayak comes in handy on lakes that are stump ridden when you launch before safe light.
Be aware of snakes. You’re a lot closer to the water when kayaking then you are when in a larger boat. Plus, kayaks can get back into the “thick stuff” where snakes live. I’ve had a snake get in the kayak once or twice before.
Keep your spine in line. Those famous words were taught to me by one of the founders of kayak fishing. If you keep your spine in line with your kayak, you won’t tip it.
Don’t reach. If you drop something overboard, don’t make a knee-jerk reaction to reach out and grab it. This very well may result in tipping your kayak.
Kayak Fishing Tactics and Strategies
Find the secret spots. Kayaks have access to those smaller, electric only lakes you hear about. This means much less boat pressure, which usually is an indicator of some really epic fishing.
Stay cool. On those extra hot, southern summer days, heat exhaustion is real. One of the best ways to avoid this (other than packing plenty of water) is to take a quick swim. This quickly cools your body down. If you aren’t in an area where it is safe to swim, simply dipping your hat in the water does wonders. Also, check out portable battery powered clip-on fans, and those micro cooling towels. Thank me later.
Scout your spots. Google Earth is your best friend when it comes to scouting remote areas to launch a kayak. You can often find pull-offs and public parks where launching a kayak is possible.
Hit backwaters. If you can squeeze through a culvert that leads to a back water area, do so, and fish it. There’s almost always amazing fishing on the other side that most folks can’t access.
Compete in a tourney. If you are competitive, check your state’s local trails. Almost every state now has one or more local clubs that are incredibly welcoming.
Dip your board. If you want to measure the length of your fish, always dip the board in the water prior to putting the fish on the board on those extra hot days, especially if the board is metal. Also try to store your measuring board under your seat or in a shaded area.
Float with a buddy. Grab a friend and do a float trip on your local river or creek. It is as easy as dropping a truck a few miles below your put in, and it is a great way to explore a lot of water.
Fish with someone more experienced. The best way to learn more kayak fishing tips is to watch a successful angler who has been at it for a long time. If you are new to river fishing, take someone with you who has a lot of experience. Especially on stretches with rapids.
Research boat ramp etiquette. Both boaters and kayakers need to be cognizant of each other when trying to use the ramp. You don’t ever want to use the ramp as your “set up” space. Instead, pull off to the side (and out of the way) and get everything ready.
Be friendly. If you’re fishing a tournament, it’s natural to want an area for yourself. But if you find someone close to your area, avoid that awkwardness and simply say hello. It’s amazing what a few words can do to break the tension.
Play the wind. Plan where you’re fishing according to the wind direction and speed. You can use wind to your advantage for feeding fish. Know where it will muddy up the water, or make certain areas very difficult to fish.
Balance your boat. Don’t think that you “can’t” fish out of a kayak because you have bad balance. Kayaks have become much more stable over the years, and many companies offer stand to assist bars and other accessories for stabilization.
Hit deep water with crankbaits. When deep cranking, long lining is your friend, and the most effective way to do so out of a kayak.
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Be sneaky. This is one of the most important kayak fishing tips: Remember one of the perks of a kayak is the stealthy approach. Kayaks can truly fish around shallow, spooky fish much more effectively then power boats can. Use this to your advantage
Final Thoughts on Kayak Fishing
The most important thing is to have fun! Kayak fishing means something different to everyone, but it’s a universal source of joy. Take the opportunity to get out and watch the world come alive on the water. There isn’t a more intimate way to explore mother earth’s diverse fisheries, than from a kayak.