1. Consult a Kayak Fishing Expert: “Expert” is a relative term. Many of the serious kayak anglers have been at this sport for three to four years. They usually do not consider themselves experts, but they are a gold mine to the inexperienced.
Consider your local paddle shop. They can provide insight into kayak selection and paddling techniques.
2. Where to Kayak Fish: Kayaks are very versatile; there is no limit of places to fish. Your choices will depend on paddling distance, time frame, and/or ability. Kayaking is great exercise and age is rarely a barrier to the sport.
Fishing smarter will catch more fish than fishing harder and paddling farther. Good planning can make up for lack of paddling ability or time available. Use a map like Google Earth when planning to fish areas that you do not know well. Choose a circular route that will give you more fishing opportunities.
3. Develop Multiple Species Versatility: Learn the positive and negative influences on the fish in your area. Consider the weather, moon phases, season of the species and the environment. Keep a log of some type. Use this log to develop a strategy that will give you a more successful fishing trip. On the other hand, kayak fishing is fun even without the catching.
4. Kayak Selection: Before looking into purchasing a kayak consider these questions: Where are you likely to fish? Freshwater or saltwater? Ponds, larger lakes or big rivers? Bays or launching in the surf? What are your target fish? Will it be big game or bluegills? Will you be fly fishing? Or perhaps you will do all of the above. Some of the more important considerations are: stability, comfortable seating, storage compartments, and how you will transport the kayak. Most kayak stores will let you demo or rent the kayaks you are interested in. Take advantage of any kayak festivals or shows within driving distance. You’ll be able to see & demo lots of different kayaks, and will also have the benefit of talking to the manufacturer’s reps.
5. Customize your Kayak: Whether you have an old kayak or are purchasing a new boat, you will want to customize it. Some of the most important aspects of a fish-friendly kayak are a comfortable backrest, rod holders, a paddle leash, paddle holder/clip, an anchor, a cooler, and storage. The challenge in customizing your kayak is putting everything you need within reach while on the water. You will have to determine potential attachment sites. Identify storage areas for tackle, gear and miscellaneous gear. Kayak anglers need to travel light, and you should plan for versatility and maximum storage.
6. Transporting Your Kayak: In most cases one of the greatest things about a kayak is that it doesn’t need to be trailored. Big foam noodles make an inexpensive & easy way to cushion your kayak. Most noodles have a hole bored through the center that you can use to insert a nylon tie. Commercial foam car top carriers with more foam are available. Vans and pickup trucks are the most convenient ways of transporting your kayak. Another mode of transportation is via a “mothership”. A rigged kayak, ready to fish and strapped to the deck of a larger boat, is a great way to get to distant water.
Most kayaks are light enough for two people to carry. A cart helps if you have to carry your kayak a distance or if it is too heavy. A couple of wheels can turn your kayak into a wagon that can carry all of your gear. If you encounter soft sand, mud, or rough terrain you may need a cart with all-terrain wheels. Commercial kayak carts are available but usually expensive. A cheaper alternative is to make your own. Yakangler.com has several designs of DIY kayak carts.
7. Kayak Angling Skills and Techniques: These skills range from handling the kayak, paddles, anchors, and other kayak equipment, to how well you access and handle your fishing equipment, especially when varying environmental conditions and opportunistic situations are presented.
Boat positioning: Always have your paddle lying at-the-ready in your lap. Kayak anglers are on the move, casting repeatedly to targets and often changing direction or adjusting position while fishing. You should practice using the paddle with one hand while holding the rod in the other hand.
Drifting Techniques: Generally speaking, you can locate more fish by kayak while drifting. You can control the direction of your drift very easily with a minimum of paddling. Your kayak will never stay pointed directly downwind - it will vary to some degree. You simply change orientation from port (left) to starboard (right) or back again by one backward thrust of the paddle on either side of the kayak.
Fishing Upwind: One the most difficult kayak fishing situations is when you need to travel and cast artificial up current or upwind. The stronger the wind or current, the less efficient the paddler becomes. You can paddle onto matted vegetation if the wind is not too strong. It will hold you in place while you cast before paddling further upwind or current to the next clump of vegetation. A shoreline bank can be used by partially grounding the bow of the kayak as you advance. An anchor or a stick-it pin attached to an anchor trolley will keep you facing your target and your direction of travel.
Sight Fishing: Sight fishing is traditionally done from a raised platform. The low position of a kayak makes it difficult to see below the surface. However, the low perspective that takes away from underwater visibility exaggerates other visible cues to the presence of fish. “Nervous water” appears much more obvious when sitting low. It can be caused by a single fish or a large school. Sometimes fins and tails become visible over deep water as schools of fish often travel and sometimes even appear to sleep or rest at the surface. Tails are more commonly spotted in shallow water, where “tailing” behavior occurs where various species of fish feed on the bottom in water so shallow that their tails stick out of the water. Some anglers want the advantages of fishing from a kayak, but refuse to give up their traditional sight fishing methods where they stand to spot fish. Standing in a kayak is not a mainstream skill. Only the most stable kayaks will allow it.
8. Fighting Fish from a Kayak: A kayak is a backup drag system for your reel. Even a strong 4 or 5 lb fish can tow your kayak around. If your drag is too tight or your reactions are too slow, the fish will still have a difficult time breaking the line in open water environments. If your tackle is very light, you may need to increase line capacity to allow for longer runs. In open water, a 6 lb test line spinning outfit should have about 250 yards of line or more. On a 10 lb test outfit, 200 yards should be just fine. A baitcasting outfit with a medium to heavy action 7 to 7 ½ foot rod and w 20 lb test line should be about 200 yards of line. [There are many different combinations of rod, reel, and line in use for different species and conditions – yours may vary. –Ed.] The 20 lb line will allow you to be towed in your kayak for hours without breaking. Unless you are planning to go offshore to fish for marlin, swordfish, or bluefin tuna, these three outfits will handle just about anything you are willing to bring next to your kayak - including some hefty inshore sharks and tarpon.
9. Kayak Fish Handling: Releasing your fish is a great way to handle them. If you do keep a few, practice conservation and only harvest the amount of fish that you will need for dinner. If you do release a fish, it should be given every chance to survive. Take any extra time required to fully resuscitate the fish before releasing them. You will need to keep water moving over their gills in order to transfer enough oxygen to their bloodstream.
Once you have whipped a fish you intend to keep, you will need to store it somewhere. Smaller fish can be stored in a cooler with ice; you might consider a fish bag with ice for a medium fish that will not fit in a cooler. Wrap large fish in towels or netting and strap it to the deck of your kayak. It is a good idea to carry a burlap bag to keep the fish wet and to control fish slime.
A fish stringer could also be an option, but if you are fishing in brackish or salt water a stringer could be a bad choice. You could be presenting a temptation to sharks, especially if your catch is bleeding. In freshwater in the southern states, this could also be a temptation to an alligator. If you choose this option, make you have a quick-release attachment so you can separate yourself from your catch if the sharks or alligators decide they want it more than you do.
10. Kayak Fishing Safety: This article is not intended to be the last word or authority on kayak angling safety. No amount of information can prepare you for all possibilities. Be careful out there. Always fish with a buddy & let someone know where you’re going.
Weather: Weather should always be checked and taken into account. The two most common and violent causes for storm activity are frontal conditions and summer thunderstorm activity.
Wind: Wind means rough water, which creates a potential for overturning. Kayaks can take quite a bit of rough water, especially when paddled by an experienced kayaker. The key is not to allow the waves to catch you broadside. If a big wave hits you broadside, it can turn you over. You want to keep the bow or stern directed at an angle to the waves. You want to be wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) with a whistle attached. The most important thing is not to panic. Stay with your kayak, even if you are unable to reboard.
When the weather has any chance of getting ugly, do not commit yourself to paddle large expanses of deep open water.
Lightning: If you are on the water when a storm is coming and you hear a faint vibrating or buzzing sound coming from your fishing rods, get off the water. This usually indicates that the ions in the air are highly charged, and lightening could strike at any time. While paddling toward shore, lower your rods from the upright position so they don’t act as lightning rods. Once on shore, stay low and reduce your contact with the ground (e.g. by getting into your car).
Fog: It’s easy to get lost when you can’t see, and these conditions can leave you open to the threat of being struck by a larger boat. It is best to stay off larger waters where motorized craft travel when it’s foggy and visibility is poor. It is also a good idea to stay close contact with the shoreline to prevent getting disoriented and traveling in circles. When paddling on larger bodies of water, you should have a compass or a GPS onboard.
Exposure to the elements: Hypothermia is a threat any time you’re on the water. The weather does not have to be freezing. It just has to be significantly lower than your body temperature for an extended period of time. If you’re wet and windy conditions, your body temperature can drop without you realizing the danger. Be sure to dress appropriately – plan to get wet.
In warm weather, a kayakercan become overheated and suffer exhaustion or heat stroke. If this happens, cool down. You should always have plenty of water to drink onboard. Overexposure to the sun’s rays can result in a painful case of sunburn. Long term neglect can lead to skin cancer. Sunscreen or good SPF-rated clothing are your best friends You may be tempted to wear your bathing suit, but make sure you have a hat, good sunglasses, and the right clothing on board.
Hooks, fins, and teeth: With such a low profile on the water, a kayak gets an angler closer to the prey than any other watercraft. With fish fighting for their lives, some extreme behavior is displayed. Fish with mouths full of sharp teeth or barbed trebled hooks can launch into aerial displays with wild head shaking attempts to throw the hooks right back you. It is a good idea to restrict the use of treble hooks, or crimp your barbs so the hook is easier to remove from your skin. Use caution when handling fish at the end of a fight. Many fish have sharp teeth as well as sharp or spiny areas.
Scary critters: Aside from the fish that you pick a fight with, there are some other threats - real and imagined.
Alligators are rarely a serious threat in daylight, however they become bolder at night. Sharks are probably more of a threat in your imagination than they are in reality - unless, of course, you hook one, pull it up to your kayak, and face the consequences. If you do not want incidents with sharks, be careful of creating any blood trails in the water, do not drag any fish on a stringer, and if you are fighting a fish on your line when a shark suddenly attacks it, let him have all of it. Sit quietly until he’s gone.
In rivers or areas with low-hanging branches snakes can be an issue. Sometimes they will drop and land into a boat. Try not to panic. Get the snake out of the boat as quickly as possible, and try to keep from capsizing. Watch for overhanging limbs when kayaking. If you come across a swimming moccasin, paddle quickly in reverse and assume that the snake will aggressively defend its territory.
The most frightening and dangerous creatures to a kayak are powerboats. Try & avoid the boating channels and high-traffic areas. The biggest threat is being run over by one. Consider a brightly-colored kayak to lessen the chance of not being noticed. If you are paddling in rolling waves where you are intermittently hidden, you should display a bright flag high above your kayak. Night paddling involves an even greater threat from boaters. You will need to carry a bright light to get their attention.
A minimum list of safety equipment: PFD with whistle attached, safety belt (attaches to bow line), drinking water, paddle leash, first aid kit, sun block, and a raised visibility flag. For longer trips that are farther from civilization I would suggest a flare, compass, GPS, VHF radio/cell phone, flashlight, and anchor.
I hope these ten tips are helpful to get you starting in kayak angling!