How to Fish From a Regular Kayak: 12 Essential Tips


Fishing can be done in all sorts of locations and methods. It is an activity that people all over the world can enjoy and often blend a love for both boating and fishing into one, but when it comes to kayaks, there is a debate if you should or shouldn’t do it. However, with the right planning, you can have a great time out on the waters! 

You can fish effectively in a regular kayak by effectively managing storage and bringing only what you need. It also helps to install quality of life improvements such as rod holders and GPS mounts. 

In this article, we will be going over the tips you need to know when fishing from a kayak. If you would like to learn more, read on!

Is It Hard to Fish From a Kayak?

Kayaking is a fun activity where you get to really “feel” the waters and experience nature around you close up. You sit close to the water and generally use a two-sided paddle to move forward. It’s definitely a good workout when it comes to boating in general!

Kayaks themselves are very small, just big enough to seat a person (or more if there are more seats). The rest of the boat is just there to keep you afloat. They are also relatively affordable compared to many other boating activities; you can get yourself a kayak for around $250 and up, depending on the type of kayak you are looking for. 

In summary, kayaking is fun for those who enjoy the outdoors, and it is one of the more accessible outdoor hobbies you could be doing. But you want to know what is also an accessible outdoor activity? Fishing! Combine both, and it makes for a unique experience, but there are things to take into account.

The short answer to if it is hard to fish from a kayak is it depends. If you aren’t prepared, it will be a very awkward/difficult fishing trip, but it can be a blast if you do it right!

Kayaking and Fishing – How Practical Is It?

Understanding that kayaks generally have very limited space poses a genuine question regarding combining kayaking and fishing: can you really do it effectively? The short answer is yes, but these are the two main challenges that stem from kayak fishing you have to be aware of:

  • Kayaks are very small. This makes fishing in the traditional sense a bit of a challenge. A traditional fishing boat is also relatively small, but you have plenty of breathing room for your cargo and maneuverability. And as any experienced angler knows, when fighting a tough fish, being only able to sit down makes that more difficult.
  • Being able to cast effectively. This also stems from the limited space of a kayak. When it comes to casting far, this isn’t easy to do when sitting in a kayak. You are low to the water, and since you aren’t standing up, you don’t have the “oomph” you need to really toss the bait out there. This is a problem with fish species that bolt when you approach them. 

There also isn’t just one type of kayak you can buy. Besides regular kayaks, there is also a kayak for anglers called fishing kayaks. Today, we will be covering how you can fish from a regular kayak.

So, if you came here and already have a traditional (touring) kayak but wonder how you can fish from it, the good news is that it is doable but a bit difficult. 

You can technically run out and buy a cheap touring kayak and get out into the waters with your paddle and fishing rod and land some catches, but the experience is going to be different. 

Bring the Right Gear

You will need to be adequately prepared for your fishing trip. The same gear applies, although now you will be able to bring even more things due to the ample amount of space. 

Another thing when it comes to choosing a paddle is the size. This will make an even bigger difference in your maneuvering experience. A bigger paddle will be more suited for more relaxed paddling, while a smaller one is better for more aggressive and active paddling. 

Minimalism is key when fishing from a touring kayak because there isn’t much choice in the matter. Gear that we recommend/should be bringing with you are as follows:

  • Backpack
  • Paddle
  • Paddle leash
  • Small tackle box with lures and hooks
  • Sponge or pump to remove water (if your kayak isn’t self-bailing)
  • Small fishing rod
  • Fishing net 

These are the bare minimum items to bring along with safety gear such as a first-aid kit and a signaling device (such as a whistle) as well as personal items such as your smartphone, water bottle, hat to combat the sun, and maybe an extra shirt in case it gets colder as time goes on.

If you currently have a medium or long fishing rod and plan to fish in a kayak regularly, we strongly recommend considering getting a small fishing rod that is no more than 7 feet (2.1 meters). Long rods are pretty unwieldy when sitting in a touring kayak and since casting long distances is difficult, it is good to have a shorter rod handy. 

A fishing net is also something you should bring. Once you finally catch a fish, reeling it and putting it into a net will make life easier. It can be very challenging to try and unhook a fish while preventing your rod from falling into the water while sitting in a tiny kayak. But as we’ve stated, since storage is limited, factoring a net into the equation can be tricky, but it’s doable.

Next, a paddle leash will help keep the paddle out of the way as you are fishing, and it is also a safety feature to prevent you from losing it. You will be able to keep it off to the side and land more fish comfortably. 

If you intend to keep fish rather than catching and releasing, you will need a cooler, but at this point, you likely already have used every last millimeter of usable space, but a cooler doesn’t have to be huge. 

Install a Rod Holder

Touring kayaks by default don’t include a rod holder, but installing one is cheap and easy. This is especially useful if you plan to bring multiple fishing rods, as many enthusiasts like to do. A few things to consider before installing one, however, are as follows:

  • Interference – You’ll want to ensure that when the rod is in the holster that it doesn’t get in the way and prevent you from paddling. 
  • Room – You also have to make sure that your kayak has enough room for a rod holder. If you have a cramped touring kayak, it can be difficult to find adequate space.

If you are bringing one fishing rod, you won’t necessarily need a rod holder. You can place it at the length of the kayak while paddling; just don’t let it fall into the water! 

Buy a Kayak (if You Don’t Have One) – What You Need to Know

Kayaks generally start off cheap, with entry-level models starting at $200 and high-end ones all the way up to $2,000. That’s quite a large price range and for a good reason. Some models have features such as pedal-drive, which frees up your hands for fishing. 

Another purchasing piece of advice is to not skimp on comfort. Remember, kayak fishing is an activity that you’ll likely spend hours at a time doing, sitting down, with water surrounding you. Avoid hard-molded seats if you can help it, which are the consequences of the cheaper kayaks on the market. If you are on a tight budget, however, you can invest in a kayak seat cushion. 

Lastly, look for these features when buying a kayak. They will make all the difference when being out on the waters:

  • Dry hatch – Also known as closed storage. It will keep precious gear dry, protecting it from slashes and water sneaking its way into the cabin. 
  • Paddle holder – Keeps your paddle safe, secure, and out of the way.
  • GPS/fish finder mount – A lot of anglers these days are incorporating technology in their fishing trips by using GPS fish finders. These are handy for telling you both where you are and where the fish are.

A kayak is generally a long-term investment and so looking for something that is a “good value” rather than “cheap” will be the way to go for most folks. 

Since this part of the piece is aimed at people who might be new to kayaking in general, here is a short but helpful video on some of the rules to follow:

Bring Food

Also, bring food. Like with hikers, you need to keep up your strength with all that paddling and battling fish! A day of fishing can oftentimes last as long as a work shift, and you will definitely start to feel hungry after some time. Some of our suggestions would be:

  • Beef jerky – Lots of protein, portable, doesn’t require any cooling or cooking. This is a staple for the outdoors. 
  • Trail mix – This is calorie-dense by design. As the name implies, it was made for hikers and is the perfect food for outdoor activities because it is lightweight and contains healthy fats, carbs, and protein. 
  • Sandwiches – This can be anything; just store in a cooler until you are ready to consume. Ensure it is a different cooler than the one you intend to put a fish into if you plan on keeping it.
  • Civilian MRE – Want a hot meal outside? MREs are designed for this exact purpose and shelf stability. They come with their own heating element, utensils, and extras. There are many meals to choose from. The only drawback is they can be costly if you aren’t buying from the right place. Some eBay listings fetch a fair price, and we recommend starting there. 

Furthermore and especially, bring 2 gallons of water. You can never have enough water, and with exercise and especially the hot sun, you are going to be pretty thirsty! Plus, having enough water is important should an emergency arise. 

Be Mindful of Weight Limits and the Weight of the Boat

Kayaks have the capacity to hold essential gear comfortably, believe it or not, but considering that you are still on a tiny boat, you need to be careful not to bring too much with you. Kayaks will have a carrying capacity that you shouldn’t exceed, and it will be listed on the specs. 

Weighing down a kayak too much will result in letting water inside, which will cut your trip short. Even if your model is self-draining, you’ll still have to contend with having a harder time getting it to move. Overall, just bring what you need.

Also, consider how you will be transporting the kayak. They are larger than a typical touring kayak, and properly transporting them is essential. You can transport a kayak by the truck bed, trailer, or roof rack as long as it is secured properly.

Not all Kayaks are heavy; some are as light as 35 pounds (almost 16 kilograms). The vast majority of them aren’t this light, however. In comparison, more feature-rich ones can weigh as much as 250 pounds (around 113 kilograms). But if you have a heavier one, getting it in and out of the water can be a little tricky. 

Get the Kayak in and Out of Water Properly

If you have another person with you, lifting it and placing it in the water will be the easiest method and prevent potential wear and tear of dragging it over the abrasive ground. But if you are alone, you have a couple of options for going about this:

  • Drag – Dragging is usually not an ideal method due to the wear it can cause if done over rougher terrain, but it is fine in moderation since it is expected that if the kayak is heavy enough to the point, you have to drag it, that is likely what you’ll do. Some kayaks even have a “skid plate” to protect the boat’s material.  
  • Kayak cart – One of the better methods is to use a kayak cart. These essentially turn your kayak into a little trailer that you can pull by hand. They prevent you from needing to drag and carry and are excellent tools for heavier boats. You can also load up the Kayak beforehand with your gear, so you are ready to go once it is in the water.

Have Safety Equipment Around

Having water surrounding you at all sides is a great experience, but it also poses dangers if things don’t go according to plan. This is why you should always wear a life jacket, otherwise known as a personal floatation device (PFD). We recommend a lure angler jacket for kayaking anglers, such as this Nrs Chinook Fishing Pfd Life Jacket. They feature compartments for carrying small tackle boxes, which make reaching for hooks and lures more convenient. 

A compass is also a good thing to have and to take things further, a GPS. Even if you already have your phone on you, it is still good to have a dedicated GPS when kayak fishing to save your phone’s battery life for emergencies. Also, consider a large power bank and a survival flashlight. 

Lastly, bring a first-aid kit. It doesn’t have to have much – just enough. American Red Cross sells one that you can use to patch yourself up if you get bitten or cut. 

Learn How to Cast

When casting from a kayak, it can feel weird at first. The boat will rock, which spooks new kayaking anglers into thinking that it will tip over at any moment. But you don’t need to worry! Remember, these boats are built for this, and you have to trust it. 

Kayaks have initial and secondary stability. The former is when you are sitting still and paddling, while the latter is when you cause the boat to rock when making movements. There is a special technique when casting from a kayak, and that is simply staying “loose,” re-lacing your lower half of the body and allowing yourself to move with the boat, letting it do its thing. 

You should also learn how to be proficient with casting with one hand if you aren’t already. This will keep your other hand free for maneuvering with a one-arm paddle if your kayak doesn’t have foot pedals. 

Consider Bringing an Anchor

Stopping and staying in place when in a kayak is a challenge; that is why many anglers like to bring a folding anchor with them. They don’t weigh much – around 1.5 – 3.0 lbs (0.7 – 1.4 kg) and make staying still effortless. 

A folding anchor works by laying on its side and gripping the bottom. One thing to be aware of when choosing a folding anchor is known as “scope.”

The scope is the ratio of a water’s depth to the amount of line you’ll need. Generally, 7:1 works best for kayaks for effectively holding them in place across most of the waters kayakers will be on. 

If the waters are shallow enough, you can simply use your leg to stop the boat, which is how many anglers give themselves leverage when they land a fish in shallow waters. Although this is trickier when doing this in a sit-in kayak. Speaking of landing a catch, that brings us to our next tip.

Try to Keep Your Center of Gravity

Like when you are casting a line, getting a bite, and attempting to reel in and fight will cause the boat to start rocking – stay focused! As we already went over, the boat is designed not to tip over when you bring in a fish. 

Many people learning to fish in a kayak get stuck when the fish gets close to the boat as they are reeling it in. This is because lifting the fish out of the water and securing it can be tricky in a kayak. 

When the line length is less than the rod’s tip to the fish, place the rod in your opposite hand and while keeping tension, pull the rod away and just slightly up. With your free hand, you should be able to grab the lip of the fish, net it, or cradle it in your hand. 

During the catching process, try to keep your center of gravity as much as possible; when trying to land big fish, it is easy for new inexperienced kayaking anglers to fall in the water or flip the boat. When lifting a large fish, use your leg to get under the fish and lift it up and into the cockpit. But again, this is very tricky in a sit-in kayak. 

Going after big fish, we recommend wearing gloves for comfort; fighting and lifting heavy fish can do a number on bare hands.

Store the Fish in a Cooler

If you plan on keeping your catches, it is important to keep it fresh since it is now food after humanely killing it. The fish should be stored in a cool place such as a cooler, which many anglers will have on hand. 

Now, with the limited space of a regular kayak, you will probably need to use a tiny cooler. In this case, a small fish kill bag might be a better idea since depending on your current situation when it comes to storage. 

If you can’t seem to fit a fish kill bag or a cooler, a small, insulated lunch or snack box/pouch is likely best for this situation. They are very small and will do well for fish you are likely tackling from a kayak. Simply load it with either a frozen bottle or ice. We also recommend freezing the bag itself along with some ice/water bottles to keep it cool for even longer. 

We have learned a tip that works well to avoid a watery mess after the ice in the cooler melts– is to use frozen plastic water bottles instead of ice cubes. Or you can simply keep the ice in a thin plastic bag.

However, there’s just one little problem that needs to be addressed: the mess of the fish and the inevitable smell. This is easily solved by placing the fish in a plastic bag and tying it up before placing it in the cooler. This way, the blood doesn’t make your cooler messy, and it traps the smell inside the bag. 

And if you are using the “ice in a bag” trick, it doesn’t hurt to use a second bag to place on top of the fish for more peace of mind!

Try a Fishing Trip Simulation

Before doing any of this, try to simulate a fishing trip in a kayak if you already have one. Sit in it and see if you will be able to use the essential gear required. Not all kayaks will have storage compartments or large ones at that, and really, that is going to be your biggest challenge. 

Putting everything together, we are talking about here. Consider what you can and can’t get away with. Ultimately, this is up to you, depending on how long you plan to be in the water and what area you are fishing in. But safety is number one in this instance so ensure you at least have a pocket compass, pocket first-aid kit, small power bank, and a fully charged phone. 

Understanding Fishing Laws and Etiquette

  • One universal tip for fishing out of a kayak (or fishing in general) is to make sure you have your fishing license and understand where you can and can’t fish. Most readers already understand this, but kayaking is often done on different waters than larger boats. A yearly fishing license is the best value for your money and can be had for as little as $30 but as high as $150.
  • Look up legal fishing and kayaking spots in your area and be sure to check the type of fishing allowed (catch and release vs. keeping) and if you can use live bait. Looking up spots also helps with going to areas where fish are plentiful and hungry, resulting in more chances for a catch. If you would like to learn more about fishing laws, this guide is helpful. 
  • Be kind to other anglers by giving them plenty of room to avoid crowding and stealing their catches. Around 30 to 60 feet of room is a good rule to follow.

Conclusion

Kayaking and fishing are great hobbies, and combining the two is like pairing peanut butter and chocolate provided that you are bringing a kayak with at least a dry hatch storage compartment and the correct gear with you!

Fishing in a touring kayak can be done, but it is quite tricky due to the limited space and low profile seating. But still, it is perfectly doable, and many people do it! If you are interested in getting started with kayak fishing and already have a kayak, we strongly recommend ensuring that you can incorporate essential gear into your fishing trip. 

The act of fishing on a kayak might be jarring at first, but once you get the hang of it, we think you will love it!

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