Having fished with my kayaks (and canoe) for over twenty years in a lot of different rivers, I can tell you that not many anglers take advantage of the unique characteristics and advantages a kayak brings on medium to large rivers with wadeable water.
My adoption of the "fishing with your kayak" technique has its genesis in a book my mother bought me when I was fourteen years old, some fifty-plus years ago. Entitled Worming and Spinning for Trout by Jerry Wood (1959), it that introduced me to the importance of quiet upstream approaches to fish holding tight to cover, and the efficacy of upstream spinning is rivers and streams. Over the years I've honed my skills using ultralight spinning gear, casting light spinners upstream in rivers holding trout, smallmouth, white bass, spotted bass, and all types of sunfish. The technique is deadly and far more effective than the typical cross-stream techniques. Run a spinner parallel and close to a deep hide on a river, and you'll likely connect with a fish. But on a lot of medium-to-large rivers, getting yourself in position to make an upstream cast can be difficult for the wading angler. For an angler fishing from a boat, it can be impossible.
Where I live now, if you find yourself on one of our hundreds of miles of blue-ribbon streams and you see anglers in a boat, it’s a drift boat - and there are a lot of them. From drift boats, anglers cast to likely holding water while the drift boat driver slowly keeps the boat steady while moving downstream. Rarely do drift boat anglers get more than one cast at any given holding spot, and a lot of water is missed as the boat floats downstream between casts. The few canoeists and kayakers who chose to fish from their boats have the advantage of more maneuverability, but solo fishing from a moving kayak in a swift river brings its own problems. As the boat should always be your first priority, taking care of the boat limits your ability to effectively fish all the productive lies, especially with a fly rod.
My "fishing with your kayak" techniques started taking shape in the early 1990s on the Upper Potomac and North and South Forks of the Shenandoah Rivers in Maryland and Virginia. At the time I had an aluminum Grumman “Sport Canoe” that I powered with oars and a small clamp-on trolling motor. Once I got familiar with the waters around Point of Rocks, Brunswick, Woodstock, Bentonville, and Front Royal, I’d drop the canoe in the water and use the trolling motor to move upstream. As I found water shallow enough to wade, I'd exit the canoe, tether it to my waist, and fish upstream on foot. When I found shallow mid-stream ledges and shoals, wading was still possible with the security of the canoe nearby. I found that I could fish three or four miles upstream in a typical day, then float/row back to where I put in. Although I continued to use my Sport Canoe this way for many years, in 2005 I bought my first real kayak, a Liquidlogic “Mantra Ray”. I rigged it out with a few rod holders and a secure tether. The "fishing with my kayak" technique really took shape.
The idea of tethering your kayak (and the methods to do so) really evolved from inshore flats anglers who wanted to stalk fish in shallow water out of their kayaks but keep the boat close by. At the time, I was living on Lake Jordan on the Coosa River about thirty five miles north of Montgomery, AL. Just a few miles from where I lived, over seven miles of Coosa River tail-water was one of the most productive and challenging spotted bass waters in the state.
I say challenging water because, at flows averaging 4-5000 CFS during the summer, the best fishing occurred in, above, and below three sets of class II rapids that flowed across extensive ledges in the river. Most of the best water was less than waist deep, but floaters zipped by it while wading anglers with kayaks tethered to their waist could prospect every nook and cranny in the extensive shoals and water willow around the big limestone ledges. A major tributary of the Coosa, the Tallapoosa River just east of the Coosa tail-water provided a similar opportunity. With convenient access only at the head of the tail water, the kayak angler could float downriver several miles and fish back upstream through cool, productive water. With only one take out for fourty miles, very few anglers fished this river without a tethered kayak to work their way upstream.
In early 2008, I succumbed to the hype and purchased my Native “Ultimate 12 Tegris” as a lighter-weight alternative to the Manta Ray. When I moved to southwest Montana in the fall of 2008, the Ultimate 12 was the perfect solution to the “fishing with my kayak” technique on the area’s swift-flowing trout rivers. I was no stranger to wade fishing or fishing from a drift boat for trout with ultralight spinning gear or the fly rod. Fishing upstream, especially with light spinners, was in my blood and had put a lot of trout on the books over the years. Now, in the fall of 2008, I began exploring southwest Montana’s premier rivers with my kayak tethered to my waist. For the last seven years, I have rarely fished large trout rivers without my kayak.
And fishing “with my kayak” rather than “from my kayak” is indeed a contrary technique, practiced by few if any anglers I know of. It is a technique that I’ll elaborate more on in Part II, and will provide you the opportunity to efficiently fish the most productive waters of any river in solitude.