The origins of kayak fishing goes back thousands of years to a time when sustenance hunters were looking for alternatives to the strenuous effort of land caught dinners. Today, the sport is much more of a recreational pursuit, and the fish are smaller—although, occasionally, whales and other mammals surprise kayak anglers fishing in the ocean. Kayak fishing hasn’t changed much over the years; it’s basically you and a fish in a tug of war.
To get started, you need a kayak. More expensive kayaks have pedal or electric drives that make it easier to travel farther and faster than you could while paddling. A drive also makes it easier to fish hands-free so you can ready to react quickly and keep the line tight when a fish strikes.
Regardless of the way it’s propelled, when choosing a kayak, size, stability and weight matter. Try to rent or borrow a couple of different kayaks to see what best fits your needs and your budget before investing in one.
The most popular length is about 12 feet. The general rule is longer and thinner kayaks go faster, and shorter and wider kayaks are more stable.
The most popular style for kayak anglers is a sit-on-top, also called a SOT. This type of kayak serves as a platform that won’t sink and is easily remounted if you should happen to fall in. It typically has a suspended chair too. The other style called a sit-in (or SINK as many kayak anglers joke) can easily fill up with water when overturned, making this style much less desirable—obviously.
After fishing all day, the last thing you want to do is lug a heavy kayak back to the car. Pedal-style kayaks typically have removable mountable wheel units that allow you to wheel the kayak from the car to launch.
Beyond the kayak (and a way to carry it on your car), you’ll need a PFD, or life vest, a paddle, a rod and reel, rod holder, and a lure, bait or flies. Some kayaks are outfitted with fish finders, storage crates and, occasionally, a downrigger (a device used for troll fishing, which is typically a manual or electric winch and weight (cannonball) that carries your fishing lines and lures to a specific depth, where feeding fish are to be found.
In most states, adults will need a license but children may not. Always check before you head to the water.
If you prefer bait or lures, use a small tackle box or container to hold your equipment and only take what you need for the day.
Your gear also needs to be within reach so you can maintain your balance while changing lures or bait or re-rigging your rod. If you flyfish, try to eliminate anything in or on the kayak that will catch the fly line when you are casting or retrieving the fly.
Fishing methods vary by the type of water you are fishing. The best method is to troll your lure or fly slowly and change the depth of the lure until you find the fish. If you see fish jumping, stop the kayak, wait a few minutes and cast to the fish. Because you are low in the water, you’re less likely to scare the fish than if you were in a boat. You’re also more likely to see them.
When you finally hook a fish, try to remain calm and reel it in while keeping tension on the line. If you get too excited and move around, you could tip the kayak.
It’s best to use a net, especially for large fish like a salmon. A net allows you to easily manage the fish before you put in a stringer or release it.
When everything comes together, kayak fishing is magical. If you want to learn more, there are thousands of kayak anglers eager to share their stories, tips, experiences, and photos of themselves and their catch. A simple search for “kayak fishing” on YouTube and you will find yourself wondering where the hours went.