Kayak fishing has recently exploded in popularity and bass fishing from a kayak is a part of that explosion. Kayaks are providing simple and affordable options for many people to pursue lunker bass in new places. The kayak can open up many new areas to fish for bass, places on big lakes where big boats can’t go or small lakes where access is limited. The kayak is a great way to catch bass and is the reason its popularity continues to grow. There are many great places to catch bass with a kayak, but this article will focus on an overnight river trip and the gear needed for an enjoyable bassin’ adventure.
There are essentially two types of kayaks for fishing, the sit-on-top and the sit-inside. While the sit-on-top is the most popular type for fishing the sit-inside is great when camping on your bassin’ trip. The sit-on-top kayak is a little more stable while the sit-inside has cargo bays that you can load with camping gear and food for your trip and the enclosed cockpit can keep you dry, especially when the skirt is used.
Whichever type you choose for your kayak bassin’, waterproof bags are essential. Even when packed inside the cargo bays water tends to find a way in and you never know when you might swamp your kayak and fill it with water soaking everything inside. There are many products on the market to keep your gear dry but you can come up with simple dry storage like empty plastic jars for items that you need to keep dry.
Traditional bass fishing tackle can be used when kayak bassin’ but I try to keep it as simple as possible. A baitcasting rig will definitely work and I plan on trying some of the new super lightweight reels on the market sometime in the future, but my choice for kayak bassin’ is a spinning outfit. When fishing from a kayak you are not always at the perfect angle for an overhand cast; therefore, I prefer the spinning gear which allows for easier casting when in less than perfect positions. I like a medium size spinning reel and a short rod, like a 5 foot 6 inch or 6 foot spinning rod with medium power. This set-up seems to cover everything you will need for river bass and with a little research you should have a good feeling about what lure to use for much of the trip. This research is important when keeping your gear to a minimum, which is vital when combining a fishing trip with a camping trip.
Soft plastic baits like the 4 inch Zoom Lizard or Big Bite Baits Squirrel Tail Worm works great when probing deep holes along steep banks. This presentation works best when the sun is bright and the bass are tucked away in deep holes. A great color for river bass is green pumpkin, if the water is dingy I like a little chartreuse. Both of these baits offer both or a combination of the two. If the river is known to have some big bass then I use an ¼ ounce Strike King bitsy bug in green pumpkin for clear to murky water and a black/blue jig for dingy to muddy water.
One of the best crankbaits for river bass is the Rebel crawdad in Cajun crawdad and Texas red. These baits have been catching bass for many years and still perform well. Shallow cranks work great on cloudy days when bass are scattered and shallow, but there are times when deep cranks out perform even plastics when used to probe deep holes. The Rebel crawdad mimics a crawdad perfectly as it glances off the rocks below triggering strikes when nothing else will.
Braided lines work great for all these presentations and casts well from a spinning reel. Recently I have been using the new Nanofil by Berkley and really like it. You can cast your lure a mile and the white color really helps you see the bite. Spiderwire Ultra-cast Invisi-braid in 20 pound test is a great line for kayak bassin’. The diameter is equivalent to 6 pound test monofilament and is a great choice for small crankbaits and jigs. This setup can accurately present your lure into cover, where river bass reside.
Camping is a great way to maximize your time on the water and have a great night under the stars on your kayak trip. The gear you will need is similar to backpacking but with the cargo bays you can carry more gear for your camp. Floating also helps with carrying more gear.
The tent is your home away from home on these trips and should be the best you can afford and all tents are not created equal. Hence, a well-engineered tent is a must for comfort. A bivy works great when the weather is nice but can be a headache if it rains, as it is so small it is difficult not to touch the sides which will wick the water into your tent and soak your sleeping bag. I use a bivy and leave the side opened when the weather permits but if you worry about snakes and bugs crawling on you at night you might want to stick to the more traditional tent. A good sleeping mat is very important as well, for a good night’s sleep.
Food is another important factor for a great trip. If you plan your menu ahead of time you can eat good the first couple nights at camp. On our kayak bassin’ trips we always pack Cornish hens and steaks. We don’t use a cooler so we wrap the frozen hens and steaks tightly with newspaper and place them in a waterproof bag. Pack them on the bottom of one of the cargo bays and the cool river water will keep them frozen as long as possible. I have seen the Cornish hens stay frozen until the second night when packed this way. Steaks can be done the same way but will not stay frozen as long. On a multi-day trip, steak on a stick is our first night’s meal and Cornish hens are cooked rotisserie style on the second. If your trip is longer than two nights then you will need to pack some nonperishable items to eat. Trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches come to mind but there are many camp foods available and you can make your own with a dehydrator, if you desire.
It is important to thoroughly plan your trip before embarking on your kayak bassin’ journey, especially on unfamiliar waters. I don’t mean just locating the good bass holes (although that is important as well). There are several reasons you should plan your trip before heading out and I will touch on a couple of those reasons here.
Knowing the river you plan to float is important to be safe and ensure that everyone will get home with great stories and memories of their trip. The river’s flow is important to know, especially if there are beginning kayakers in the group. There is nothing scarier than floating along enjoying the scenery wondering what the roaring sound is up ahead. It is easy to swamp a kayak in even small rapids or even fast current so you should know if there are any rough rapids in the stretch you plan to paddle. This will let you decide if you want to float a different river, brave the rapids or locate a portage route before your trip, so you can bypass the rapids when you get to them.
Planning for the weather is another important matter. Rainy weather usually means great bass fishing so I never cancel a trip because of a little rain. There are times, however, when too much rain can cause unsafe conditions on a river and each river is different. If you kayak where there is a lot of rain, like in the northwest, the rivers tend to handle much more water than in drier areas like the southeast. A little research can help you determine how the river you plan to paddle responds to rainfall. High rivers can be very dangerous for the novice kayaker and should be avoided.
Mapping your trip
One of the most important steps to planning a successful kayak bassin’ trip is mapping your route. To map your trip you should obtain a detailed map of the river you plan to float. This can be a paddler’s guide book or topographical map with your river on it, but my favorite way to map a trip is to use an online mapping program by Angling Technologies. The maps are clear and detailed and you can mark points on the map and export those points to your GPS unit. This is a great way to mark good fishing holes and it is also very important to locate camping spots along your route. Gravel bars make great campsites and are usually considered part of the river and public land, therefore no permission is needed to camp. You should plan your stops according to your plans. Normally I have a spot picked out every couple of miles, if possible. It feels good when I don’t have to worry about making it to where I plan to camp when it is 3 miles down-river at dusk. This mapping process gives you peace of mind and will allow you to focus on catching more bass.
When you prepare a map and have waypoints saved in your GPS you can be sure of where you are. Angling Technologies also allows you to accurately measure distance between points, eliminating the guesswork by providing precise distances that can be printed on your map. You can also share your mapping details with your friends so they can add input or concerns as well as print out their own map that coincides with yours. The technology is out there and with so little free time these days it makes sense to use them to prepare your next kayak bassin’ trip.
About the author: Ken McBroom is a freelance outdoor writer/photographer and active member of the Hoosier Outdoor Writers. For more information please visit Ken’s website, Rambling Angler, or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Alan Levine