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The 2018 Definitive Guide to Kayak Fishing and the Gear You Need to Get Started

If you’re a bank-bound angler frustrated by limited water access or a boat owner tired of spending lots of money on fuel and maintenance, it’s time to explore the world of kayak fishing.


Kayak fishing is all the rage right now and it's for good reasons. I recently spent a month talking to the community of kayak anglers trying to build the ultimate guide for 2018. And in doing so, I found the most important points to address kayak fishing challenges and get you started for this summer.

In this blog post, I’ll show you:

  • Why you should try Kayak Fishing (or why you should continue).
  • How to choose the Best Kayak for Fishing (even if you own one already).
  • The best way to outfit a Kayak for fishing (hint: Keep things simple or go wild).
  • A simple, but Essential list of Kayak Fishing Safety Gear.
  • Where to Go Kayak Fishing in Freshwater and Saltwater (without needing to ask).

Let’s get started.


Kayak Fishing: 10 things you need to know to get you started in 2018


Below is our top 10 items you need to address to prepare for kayak fishing in 2018. Not all of them will be relevant to you. That’s a given. So, to save time, I’ve added a table of contents so you can jump to the things that interest you most.

Tip #1: Why fish from a kayak
Tip #2: Top advantages of fishing from a kayak
Tip #3: Tips for choosing the best kayak for fishing
Tip #4: Sit-Inside vs. Sit-On-Top Kayak
Tip #5: Understanding Kayak Length, Width & Hull Shape
Tip #6: Paddle, Pedal, or Motor-Driven Kayak for Fishing
Tip #7: How to Outfit a Kayak for Fishing
Tip #8: Essential Kayak Fishing Safety Gear
Tip #9: Freshwater Kayak Fishing Opportunities
Tip #10: Saltwater Kayak Fishing Opportunities


Ready? Let's dive in.


PART 1: Why Fish from a Kayak?


No matter what species you’re targeting, finding success on the water often depends on your ability to cover lots of water to find fish. Kayaks, which have been used by anglers and hunters for thousands of years , have proven to be some of the best fishing vessels available for the job—so long as the angler is willing to work for it.

That ‘yak won’t paddle itself...or will it? More on kayak propulsion later.

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6 top advantages of fishing from a kayak


In case you need convincing, here are some of the top advantages of fishing from a kayak:

  • #1. Access — Launch where most boats can’t. Few waters are off limits in a kayak. Escape the pressure, find more fish.
  • #2. Low maintenance — Take that money you save on boat repairs and put it in your car’s gas tank for more fishing trips in the future.
  • #3. Stealth factor — Sneak your way into casting range with careful paddle strokes. The fish won’t know you’re there until it’s too late.
  • #4. Versatility — With a single kayak, you’re able to fish a huge variety of water types from large lakes and reservoirs to tidal estuaries. Wherever the fish are biting, go for it.
  • #5. Customizable — Whether you’re a lure-slinger or a fly caster, a fishing kayak can be outfitted to match your personal fishing style.
  • #6. Environmentally Friendly — A very good reason to use a kayak for fishing as opposed to a motorized boat is the fact that kayaks are eco-friendly.z

PART 2: Tips for Choosing the Best Kayak for Fishing


As with most things fishing-related, there’s a substantial barrier to entry when getting started kayak fishing. And one of the first questions you’ll have to face is “What kayak is best for fishing?”

Practically any kayak can be modified for fishing, though some are better suited than others. If you have a strong DIY spirit and a spare weekend, that old kayak you have laying in the backyard could easily be transformed into a worthy fishing vessel. However, if you’re planning on buying a new kayak to get into kayak fishing, the best move is to go with a fishing-specific kayak.

Let’s look at some qualities of a fishing kayak to help you figure out which is right for you.

Sit-Inside vs. Sit-On-Top Kayak


Modern fishing kayaks fall into two categories: sit inside and sit-on-top.

kayaks-sit-on-top-vs-sit-inside-copy

Sit-on-top kayaks — are generally regarded as the best kayaks for fishing for several reasons. Fishing-specific sit-on-top kayaks—like the Jackson Cuda 12 —are designed to be very stable and easy to get in and out of. Some sit-on-top kayaks are so stable you can stand up to fish out of them. SIKs, as they’re known, also have lots of deck space for stowing your gear and mounting the essential kayak fishing accessories. Many sit-on-top fishing kayaks can even accommodate full-size coolers. Plus, sit-on-top kayaks are hollow, which means they’re practically unsinkable.

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Sit-inside kayaks — while they aren’t as widely used by anglers, are a good choice when fishing in certain conditions. If you fish in extremely cold, windy weather, sit-inside kayaks offer better protection from the elements than sit-on-top kayaks. Sitting low to the water, sit-inside kayaks are inherently very stable. Lack of deck space, however, is one of the biggest drawbacks of sit-inside kayaks for fishing, but if you pack light or only take short trips, this might not matter. If you’re looking for a fishing-specific sit-inside kayak, the Jackson Kilroy is an excellent choice.

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Bottom line: For the overwhelming majority of kayak anglers, sit-on-tops are the winning design.

Understanding Kayak Length, Width & Hull Shape


Typically, the longer the kayak, the more stable it is and the faster it glides through the water. For example, sea kayaks designed for long-distance travel are very long and skinny for better speed and tracking. The main drawback of long kayaks, however, is their lack of maneuverability.

Short kayaks, on the other hand, are more nimble, able to turn on a dime and navigate through tight quarters. But as you reduce a kayak’s length, stability and speed suffer.

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As fishing kayaks are concerned, anything over 13 feet would be considered a “long” kayak. Kayaks under 9 feet are generally deemed a little too short for kayak fishing. For the best balance between stability, speed, and maneuverability, look for a fishing kayak in the range of 10 to 13 feet long.

A kayak’s width also has a tremendous effect on its handling in the water, with wider kayaks being more stable. But as a kayak’s width increases, its top speed drops off significantly. As a result, kayaks designed for stand up fishing are some of the widest—and slowest—on the market.

Most fishing kayaks measure anywhere from 28 inches to 40 inches wide. To perform in the broadest range of water conditions you might encounter while fishing, 31 to 33 inches tends to be the sweet spot for stability and speed.

In addition to length and width, the shape of a kayak’s hull—i. e. the bottom and sides of the boat—has a dramatic effect on the kayak’s handling and performance. Need help figuring out whether to get a kayak with a rounded, V-shaped, or pontoon-shaped hull? This article on the Austin Kayak blog will help.

Paddle, Pedal, or Motor-Driven Kayak for Fishing


No longer is kayaking strictly an upper body workout. While traditional paddle kayaks have long been the only option, innovative companies like Hobie and Jackson Kayaks now offer fishing kayaks with hands-free propulsion.

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  • Paddle kayaks — One of the major pitfalls of using a paddle instead a pedal drive is the fact that you’ll need to juggle your paddle with your fishing gear in windy conditions or a current. However Getting into the water requires fewer steps and put simply, traditional kayaks are less expensive. Pedal kayaks start at about $2,000, while a traditional kayak with a paddle can cost you less than $500!

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  • Pedal kayaks — Using foot pedals to power fins or a propeller under the kayak, with a pedal-drive kayak, you can scoot around the water just like you’re riding a bike. With all the physical work delegated to your legs, your hands are available for casting, reeling, and landing fish. For more info on pedal kayaks, check out this article by Sportfishing Magazine .

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  • Motorized kayaks — Combining the benefits of a motorboat with the convenience and stealth of a kayak, motor-driven kayaks—like the NuCanoe Pursuit —use electric trolling motors for propulsion. Great for cruising at precise trolling speeds or when an extra push is needed to fight strong currents or tides, motor-driven kayaks are powerful fishing tools, though they come at a premium price and are very heavy compared to traditional paddle kayaks.

Although these cutting-edge new fishing kayak designs offer some impressive benefits, it’s hard to go wrong with the simplicity and reliability of a traditional paddle kayak.

If you’re seeking advice on specific fishing kayaks or need help comparing the best kayaks for fishing currently available, Outdoor Life did a great write up on Six of the best kayaks for fishing .


PART 3: How to Outfit a Kayak for Fishing — Kayak Fishing Accessories Explained


Once you get your new fishing kayak home, the work of customizing it to make it your own begins. Keep things simple or go wild—it’s your kayak and you make the rules.

When you’re ready to start shopping for the best kayak fishing accessories, here are the essential items to include in your fishing kayak build:

Kayak-Fishing-Paddle

Paddle — Your main method of transportation on your kayak. You’ll find kayak paddles at all price points, but if you see yourself sticking with kayak fishing, invest in a high-quality carbon fiber paddle from the start. For more insight on choosing the best kayak paddle for fishing, check out this article by the Adventure Junkies .

Purpose: Paddling, movement on water
Essential item ?: Yes
Price Range: $50 – $200
Look for: Adjustable feathering, carbon fiber or fiberglass blend

Kayak-Fishing-Seat

Seat — Most kayaks come with seats installed at the factory, but you might want to upgrade. For an added height advantage for better sight fishing, go with an elevated kayak seat like the Diablo Larry Chair , or for extra comfort, the Sea to Summit GTS Expedition seat.

Purpose: Support your back while fishing.
Essential item ?: Yes
Price Range: $30 – $250
Look for: Non-skid bottom, built-in gutters to flush out water, adjustable straps, stay comfortable under duress.

Kayak-Fishing-Rod-Holders

Rod holders — Having your fishing rods within arms reach yet completely out of the way is critical for productive kayak fishing. You’ll need at least one rod holder in the cockpit area to hold the rod you’re actively fishing with, then one or two rear-facing rod holders behind the seat to hold extra rods or trolling rods. Choose rod holders based on the style of reel you’re using—fly, spinning, etc.—and the mounting system of your kayak. When in doubt, it’s hard to wrong with any rod holder made by Scotty or RAM.

Purpose: Securing your rod to the kayak in order to go hands-free.
Essential item ?: Yes
Price Range: $20 – $150
Look for: An adjustable clamp.

Kayak-Fishing-Anchor

Anchor system and anchor trolley — To maintain your position in the water, an anchor system for your kayak is needed. Along with the anchor, you’ll also need to purchase a trolley system which is used to deploy the anchor from any position on the kayak from bow to stern.

Purpose: Maintain your position in the water, perfect for relaxing.
Essential item ?: No
Price Range: $20 – $50
Look for: Rust-resistant, durable marine-grade rope, folds for easy storage.

Kayak-Fishing-Leashes

Leashes for paddle and rods — Accidents happen and important items go overboard. Make sure your paddle and rods make it back to shore by securing them with kayak paddle leashes.

Purpose: Secure your paddle with leashes.
Essential item ?: No
Price Range: $10 – $30
Look for: Rod holders that comes with leashes.

Kayak-Fishing-Tackle-Storage

Tackle storage and organization — All your hooks, lures, flies, leaders, and other tackle need to stay within easy reach while you’re seated in your kayak, yet secured and dry when not needed. For one of the most utilitarian and cost-effective storage solutions for kayak fishing, check out this video on how to build a DIY kayak fishing crate.

Purpose: Keeping tackle organized, portable, compact and tough.
Essential item ?: Yes
Price Range: $90 – $2O0
Look for: straps and padded skid pads, built-in retractable rod leash, removable dividers.

Kayak-Fishing-Cooler

Cooler — If you plan on staying out all day, having a cooler full of ice, drinks, and food can make the trip much more enjoyable. Most fishing-specific kayaks have space behind the seat to accommodate hard-sided coolers, but if not, soft-sided coolers like the Yeti Hopper offer a more space-efficient option.

Purpose: Enjoying cold beers and deli sandwiches while fishing.
Essential item ?: No
Price Range: $50 – $300
Look for: flip-top opening, resistant to punctures, closed-cell foam, leak-proof liner.

Kayak-Fishing-Net

Landing net. It can feel like a juggling act when you finally get that fish to the boat and prepare to hoist it aboard your kayak—a landing net makes everything easier.

Purpose: Enjoying cold beer, fizzy waters and deli sandwiches while fishing.
Essential item ?: No
Price Range: $60 – $150
Look for: forearm grip, compact and easy stowage.

Kayak-Fishing-Dry-Bags

Dry bags — If you spend enough time kayak fishing, you’re bound to take a spill at some point. Be prepared by keeping your electronics and anything you don’t want getting wet secured away in dry bags.

Purpose: Keeping your supplies dry while kayaking.
Essential item ?: Yes
Price Range: $10 – $2O0
Look for: light-weight design, features stabilizing construction, valve-free for easy waterproofing.

Kayak-Fishing-Drift-Chutes

Drift chute — When fishing water with a current, there are times when you want to slow down your kayak but don’t necessarily want to stop moving completely with an anchor. That’s where a drift chute is useful as it drags behind the boat to slow your speed.

Purpose: Help you set up the proper drift in heavy wind or current.
Essential item ?: No
Price Range: $10 – $50
Look for: Automatic opening, neat collapsing for storage, clippable to an anchor trolley or other attachment points.

Kayak-Fishing-Cart

Kayak cart — Getting your kayak from your vehicle to the water can be quite a chore. Luckily, you don’t have to carry everything by hand thanks to the wonderful invention of kayak carts.

Purpose: Wheeling your kayak.
Essential item ?: No
Price Range: $30 – $200
Look for: A collapsible, folding cart or small cart that will fit in your kayak.

Kayak-Fishing-fish-finder

Fishfinder and GPS — Give yourself every advantage to catch by rigging your kayak with a sonar fish finder. Get a compact unit with built-in GPS—like the Raymarine Dragonfly 4PRO —to get fish finding and navigation capabilities in one small, kayak-friendly package.

Purpose: Tracking location.
Essential item ?: No
Price Range: $100 – $500
Look for: Color touchscreen, glove-friendly touchscreen display, micro SD card slot, handheld or mountable.

For more information and inspiration on how to rig a kayak for fishing, the guys over at the Totally Awesome Fishing Show put together a video detailing how one successful kayak angler likes to set up his ride. Super helpful!


PART 4: Essential Kayak Fishing Safety Gear


An idyllic day on the water can quickly turn into a nightmare situation if you aren’t prepared with the right kayak fishing safety gear. In an article on NRS.com , diehard kayak angler Isaac Miller shares his insight on kayak fishing safety gear. Here are the essential safety items he recommends no kayak angler should leave shore without.

  • PFD (personal flotation device)
  • Whistle
  • Knife
  • 360-degree visibility light and flag
  • Dry suit or wetsuit
  • Sun protection clothing
  • VHF marine radio
  • Flares
  • Tow rope and throw bag
  • First aid kit

PART 5: Where to Go Kayak Fishing


With a fishing kayak rigged up to your specs, seemingly **endless fishing opportunities ** await you. The versatility of a kayak allows you to explore practically any body of fishable water, whether freshwater or saltwater, moving or still. Just swap out your rods and lures according to the species present and start paddling in search of the bite.

Freshwater Kayak Fishing Opportunities


For many kayak anglers, some of the most accessible fishing grounds are in freshwater. Lakes and man-made reservoirs are the obvious choices for kayak fishing as maneuvering and fishing in stillwater versus water with a current is much easier, especially for beginners. Species like trout, bass, walleye, pike, musky, and catfish can all be found in the many freshwater lakes throughout North America. Chances are, there’s a lake near you that’s perfect for a full day paddling and casting.

Kayak fishing in rivers can be an exciting challenge that will test both your paddling and angling skills. The continuous pull of the current takes some getting used to and often times the best solution is to simply go with the flow. Trout, salmon, and steelhead are some of the most thrilling species to chase in rivers on a kayak, but in some regions like the Northeast U.S., striped bass dominates the attention of river-bound kayak anglers.

  • Freshwater Kayak Fishing experiences on Fishtripr:

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Saltwater Kayak Fishing Opportunities


Transitioning from freshwater fishing to saltwater fishing can bring quite a shock as everything is bigger and more powerful—the water, the fish, the sun. Fortunately, saltwater kayak fishing can be experienced on many levels from ultra-tame to the utmost extreme. Choose your own adventure and don’t be afraid to take it easy in the beginning.

In terms of approachability, inshore saltwater fishing is where new kayak anglers should start. Inshore waters are those areas of saltwater that are close to shore and oftentimes protected by various features like barrier islands, reefs, bays, and jetties. In the U.S., species like redfish, speckled trout, and flounder are the top inshore fish to chase in a kayak, although other predatory fish like barracuda and sharks can be hooked inshore.

Nearshore saltwater kayak fishing takes place out in the open ocean but within sight of shore. Out here, you’ll encounter larger fish species like mahi mahi, amberjack, grouper, and reef fish like snapper. Learning how to beach launch your kayak is required to access nearshore waters—see how it’s done in this video by the Paddle Guy on Youtube.

Then there’s offshore kayak fishing, where gutsy anglers head out into the open ocean to hook into fish that can easily grow larger than a fishing kayak. Pelagic species like marlin, tuna, wahoo, and others are the main targets out in the blue water and targeting them should only be attempted by competent kayak anglers with lots of experience under their belts.

  • Saltwater Kayak Fishing experiences on Fishtripr:

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BONUS: Kayak Anglers to follow


As a Panama native, Sara grew up fishing wherever she could. Soon, she developed a real passion for kayak fishing, because of the thrill and added challenges this embarcation offers. Now living in Florida, she spend her time catching everything (like sharks) from her kayak.

sarasalt2-1

My first kayak was a simple one from West Marine. A few hundred dollars and we were off! This is my advice for beginners. However, for more serious or advanced kayak anglers, in my experience, you can not go wrong with Hobie. I've tried a few of the models and there is something for everyone!


Kristine started kayak fishing in 2015. Today, she's flourishing as a guide and as a professional kayak fisherman. She now works for Caney Fork and regularly fish in national tournaments out of a Hobie PA 14.

kristine

Incredible blog, with lots of pertinent information! Great job!


Tarucheros is a team of Kayak Anglers from Argentina. They promote amazing content on outdoors, and especially on Kayak Fishing.

tarucheros

Our idea and project is to make foreigners discover Kayak Fishing (as well as other fishing experiences) in Argentina. We really want to bring people fishing, especially those who never tried this sport before.


Cole is a Fly Fisherman from Texas. He regularly posts amazing videos of him fishing from his kayak in freshwater (like on The Devil's River).

cole-1

I have a real passion for Kayak Fishing that I try to spread to everyone around me. I would definitely recommend stand up kayaks like the Diablo, being that they are such a game changer for fishermen.


CONCLUSION: Kayak Fishing is Here to Stay


Although there’s nothing new about fishing from human-powered, anglers around the world are discovering the virtues of fishing from a kayak and making the switch. Will you be joining the growing global force of kayak anglers? If so, we hope our guide to kayak fishing gave you the insight and inspiration to get your kayak fishing adventure off to a great start!