How To

Kitting Up and Paddling Out: Kayak Fishing 101

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Kayaks are popular for fishing in coastal waters as well as inland lakes and streams. Note the Roberts-style rod holder mounted on the bow.

Kayaks are popular for fishing in coastal waters as well as inland lakes and streams. Note the Roberts-style rod holder mounted on the bow.

Kayaking and kayak fishing are among the fastest-growing watersports activities, and with the arrival of summer weather and water conditions, now’s a great time to give “paddle fishing” a try. Once you launch a kayak with fishing in mind, you’ll see why it’s so popular: the easy access these adaptable boats offer—from vehicle to water and on the water itself—is incredible, allowing you to hook-up in places you could never reach from a conventional craft.

Any kayak can be used for fishing—and that goes for anywhere you choose to angle. I’ve seen traditional “sit-in” styles used in sweltering South Florida and “sit-on-tops” in the frigid conditions of Alaska, going against the common argument of using sit-on-tops for warm weather and the sit-inside styles for harsher environs.

The point is that you can use any style of kayak you happen to have available for fishing anywhere, anytime you want to. That said, many kayak fishermen prefer the sit-on-top (SOT) style. They are easy to get into and out of, you can swing around and fish side-saddle, and easily get to rods and gear stashed on the deck fore and aft.

Sit-on-top kayaks are popular among anglers because of the ease of movement and alternative sitting positions they allow while fishing.

Sit-on-top kayaks are popular among anglers because of the ease of movement and alternative sitting positions they allow while fishing.

If you don’t own a kayak, my advice is to try out several styles on the water before buying. Most dealers organize on-water demo sessions to allow potential customers to experience the boats before buying a particular style.

No matter what type of kayak you end up using for your first fishing forays, you’ll probably get hooked on the paddle-angling option and want to make the activity a little easier to enjoy. If that’s the case, you may want to add only a portable accessory or two that can be easily rigged and removed for use only during occasional fishing trips.

On the other hand, if you want to jump into kayak fishing with both feet, you’ll find plenty of aftermarket accessories available to feed your newfound fishing habit. As with any boat, it’s easy to go overboard when rigging a kayak into a fishing machine, so think about the options you will really need and use before going head over heels adding every bell and whistle on the market.

One piece of equipment that will do more to make angling easier from any kayak is a rod holder. My recommendation is a two-piece surface-mounted holder, often referred to as a “Robert’s style,” available from Scotty, Atwood, Cabela’s, RAM, and other sources. These portable holders feature a small base that is installed and left on the boat, flush-mounted and out of the way.

The holder itself, which is slipped into the base and cradles the fishing rod’s butt section in a tube, can be stashed and out of the way when not needed. When in place for fishing, the tube section can be rotated and its angle adjusted and temporarily fixed in a variety of positions to hold the rod in a particular position. The multi-positioning feature allows the holder to serve as a secure, out-of-the way storage rack for the rod when paddling to and from the fishing grounds, and then adjusted to cradle the rod at an angle when trolling, for example. That infinite adjustment feature even allows kayaks that come with molded-in, flush-mount rod holders to benefit from the addition of the aftermarket models.

Once you have fished from a kayak fitted with a simple rod holder, you won’t want to be without the handy accessory. Other items you will want include a leash for your paddle, and it doesn’t hurt to have a tether for the rod and reel as well. A small box for tackle and a pair of needle-nosed pliers for pinching sinkers, cutting line and removing hooks round out the basic rigging gear required to make any kayak into a more efficient fishing craft. From there, the sky’s the limit.

Images by Dan Armitage

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  • Great article to get people into kayak fishing! Kayak fishing is such a unique fishing experience. The mobility of kayaks and excitement to be fighting fish in such a small boat is a lot of fun. I also utilize inflatable Alpacka packrafts in combination with The Packraft Table for ultra light-weight/portable kayak fishing.