Although I’ve been an avid paddler for years now, it took me a while to get into kayak fishing. And everything I knew about it was self-taught.
Fast forward a few years later, I can say I’ve achieved a level I’m proud of – but I’ll never forget that overwhelming, and at times, confusing, feeling that came with being a beginner.
I know how helpful it would’ve been if I had a guide like this – something to point me in the right direction or reassure me on those I-give-up days.
So, I’ve curated a list of the kayak fishing tips for beginners – based on my pool of trial and error, with a few years of experience I’ve put into the sport sprinkled on top.
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What Is Kayak Fishing? A Brief Introduction Into The Sport
Kayak fishing is – hang on to your hat – fishing from a kayak.
Alright, time for something you might not know:
Kayaking is a great exercise.
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when it’s time to shape up, but you could burn upwards of 400 calories in an hour while stoking your metabolism. Plus, it utilizes the entire body, targeting multiple muscle groups at once.
But if you plan to reap all these benefits, you’ll have to train for kayaking – like you would for any other sport.
Now that the fitness aspect is out of the way, how does kayaking combine with fishing?
Well, paddling is a true gateway to under-fished, remote areas that most anglers wouldn’t have access to normally.
You’re closer to the water – and your catch – and you get the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature fully. Even more so, kayaks are quiet; they won’t disturb the fish.
And despite what you might’ve heard, they still allow you to transport all the equipment you may need on a fishing trip.
If you’re an angler first and a kayaker second, the only thing that’s left is to brush up on some beginner’s paddling tips!
What Is A Fishing Kayak?
You wouldn’t go fishing without your fishing rod, right? Well, think of the kayak selection the same way:
You’re not going kayak fishing without a fishing kayak.
If you ignore my poor attempt at a play on words, the point remains.
You’ll need a specially designed fishing kayak – these specialized kayak models differs from your average recreational ‘yak:
- Stability – Fishing kayaks offer more stability than other types of kayaks. The primary contributors to this are their optimized length, width, hull’s shape, and center of gravity.
- Weight Capacity -- When picking out the right fishing kayak, you should keep an eye on its weight capacity. It needs to be enough to support you – and your fishing buddy if you’re bringing them along – plus all the fishing equipment on board. Fishing kayaks usually have a higher weight capacity rating than other kayaks – upwards of 400 pounds, and even up to 700 pounds for tandem fishing kayaks.
- Ability To Stand Up – Some fishing kayaks – the so-called stand-up fishing kayaks – come equipped with extra-wide hulls and spacious decks that make for excellent fishing platforms.
- Fishing-Friendly Features – Unlike recreational paddlers, you want to have the widest array of accessories on hand. And fishing kayaks give you just that. They sport features like highly adjustable lawn-chair-style seats, built-in rod holders, mounts for gadgets such as GPS, fish finders, and cameras, as well as multiple onboard storage compartments.
15 Kayak Fishing Tips For Beginners: All You Need To Get Started
#1 Completely New To Kayaking? Checklist For The Paddling Basics
Whether you’re a total beginner – or you’re looking to brush up on your essential paddling skills – these are things you’ll want to work on before heading out to your favorite fishing spot.
For starters, get acquainted with the proper paddling and maneuvering techniques. And by that, I mean learn how to paddle a kayak and get the hang of the forward stroke, sweep stroke, and reverse stroke.
And from the safety perspective, the critical thing is to learn the so-called “self-rescue” – how to re-enter a kayak from the water.
Oh, and as much as getting in and out of a kayak sounds easy in theory – ahem, I heard from a friend it’s not.
All jokes aside, I’ve had my fair share of capsizing before I learned how to enter and exit a ‘yak properly. And every beginner will, too.
But once you learn the proper way to get in and out of a kayak, all it takes is practice.
#2 Choose The Fishing Location Carefully
Finding the right fishing location can make all the difference between snagging big fish and leaving empty-handed. You know it’s true.
Now, the first step is deciding what type of fish you want to catch. Not only does this help narrow your options down, but it determines what fishing equipment and bait you’ll need, too.
I’ll give you an example:
If your target is a surface-feeding fish, you should arm yourself with birds, weed patties, and baitfish. On the other hand, if it’s a bottom-dwelling fish, dead baits, sardines, or cigar minnows will get the job done.
I won’t dwell too much on this as my focus is on the kayaking aspect – but you get my point.
Also, different species gather in different areas. So, for example, bass like hanging out near stumps and entrances of shallow coves.
Alright, but how do I find those areas?
It’s best to look for interactive fishing maps. These are dotted with places that provide plentiful – and diverse – fishing opportunities near you.
The next dilemma arises:
Small ponds or dams, lakes, rivers, canals; the ocean?
Even if you’re a pro and have superior angling skills, choose the body of water according to your kayaking skills and experience. Small, calm lakes or ponds are your best bet as a beginner.
Finally, do your research – or, better yet, take a walk and scout the area.
Take note of the surroundings, and then choose your get-in and get-out points and fishing spots accordingly.
Lastly check the local fishing reports, these provide an insight of the fishing conditions in the area, and will help you decide if you should go out or not.
And if you’re a tech lover, why not take your fishing game to the next level with a drone? These mini-copters can be used to survey fishing locations, bait an area, and even cast lines into inaccessible places not easily reachable with a rod.
#3 Join A Fishing Club
Joining a fishing club is an excellent way to learn from others; I’m sure experienced kayak anglers will gladly give you some valuable tips and an inside scope of the top fishing spots in your area.
Plus, you’ll make new fishing buddies – and you’ll always have someone to brag to about your latest catch!
You also get a chance to participate in competitive fishing events and tournaments – if that’s your cup of tea. If you ask me, some friendly competition is more than welcome. It will motivate you to hone your skills even further.
#4 Make Sure To Check The Weather
Checking the weather forecast can make all the difference between an enjoyable day of fishing and absolute misery.
If you don’t have much paddling experience, here’s a piece of advice:
Wind-speed-wise, 10 knots should be the limit until you gain a bit more confidence. Stick to this until you’re ready to test your skills in slightly stronger winds – and waves.
Difficulty maneuvering your kayak aside, fishing rods and lightning do not mix well together.
I think I don’t even have to elaborate on this one.
Then again, you don’t want to miss out on a great day because of a poor long-term weather forecast. It’s all about planning while being aware of the real-time changes.
Weather is unpredictable – and can change in a heartbeat.
So, always check the weather a few days before the trip, on the day – as in, before you head out – and re-check during your fishing trip, just to be on the safe side.
#5 Safety First
As with any other on-the-water activity, you’ll need to follow some basic safety principles to ensure you’re – well, safe.
First and foremost, always – and I cannot stress this enough – always wear a life vest, aka a personal flotation device (PFD).
It could save your life one day.
I know it seems like an unimaginable scenario, but a split second is all it takes to lose your balance and capsize – and a PFD will keep you afloat while you recover.
And here’s the cool part:
Nowadays, life vests are designed to resemble fishing vests, featuring extra pockets to keep your tools close at hand.
While we’re talking kayak safety, let a family member or friend know about your paddling trip.
That way, if anything unexpected happens, you’ll have someone aware of the details of your trip – such as where you were going and when you were supposed to return – to alert the authorities.
Communication is critical here, though.
How can anyone assist you if they don’t know that you’re in need of help?
Always carry some form of a marine-grade communication device, such as a marine radio, an emergency beacon, or an SOS GPS alarm. At the very least, keep your smartphone charged and on-hand – preferably in a waterproof case.
Finally, make sure to tick off the following items on your kayak fishing safety checklist:
- Sunscreen and a hat
- A spare paddle
- A paddle leash
- An extra bottle of water
- A bilge pump
- A first aid kit
They often get overlooked – but they’re pretty important safety-wise.
#6 Keep Your Kayak Fishing Gear Secure
Currents, waves, and winds will all try to steal your fishing equipment and carry it off before you even notice.
So, how do you prevent this and secure your fishing gear in a kayak?
Well, I’d start with learning some basic tie-down techniques since this will be the most common way to secure your gear and keep it in place.
For example, you could use bungee shock cords and paddle leash on rods and strap your tackle box to the kayak’s deck.
Here’s the good news:
Fishing kayaks are generally designed in a way that makes mounting and securing gear easier. You can even store your non-waterproof electricals in a dedicated, water-tight storage space.
#7 Learn To Use One Hand
Okay, this might sound silly – but imagine the following scenario:
You’re fighting a fish with one hand, and you’re attempting to steer your ‘yak slightly to the side to avoid an overhanging branch.
How do you get out of this scenario?
By mastering one-hand techniques – both kayak and fishing-wise.
And let me tell you, paddling a ‘yak with one hand is no joke. But it isn’t impossible, either.
However, you ought to master all of the basic paddling techniques I’ve mentioned above before you even think about practicing their one-handed equivalents.
The secret to one-handed paddling is finding the perfect leverage point for the paddle.
If you’re using your right hand for the forward stroke, you can use the left side of your torso – upper chest, shoulder, and neck area to support the paddle, while the right hand will grip the shaft firmly just above the blade – a bit like using a canoe paddle.
And for the reverse stroke, your main leverage points will be the arm and elbow you’re using to paddle.
If that sounds confusing, here’s how the technique looks like when it’s put to practice:
As for one-hand fishing, the best technique to use is the so-called flip and pitch casting method. Check it out:
To get into the habit of one-hand fishing, I suggest practicing on dry land. Start practicing standing up – and then try it sitting down, as you would in a kayak. Once you have mastered it on land then move on to shallow water to finesse your stand up fishing casting.
#8 Invest In A Fish Finder
Every angler will have one of those days when the fish simply won’t bite and are nowhere to be found. It happens to everyone – sooner or later.
But let’s face it:
No one wants to go home empty-handed – let alone become that person who always tells tall tales of “the one that got away.”
The solution could be as simple as investing in a fish finder, though.
This handy gadget displays the location of the fish – but it also provides other helpful info, such as the distribution of fish, their approximate size, and water depth
Make sure to add one to your essential fishing gear list.
#9 Beware Of Wildlife
Knowing how to avoid wildlife encounters before heading out will make your entire kayak fishing experience much more enjoyable – not to mention safer.
I mean, I doubt that sharks are on your catch bucket list. Or that bears are the fishing buddies you had in mind.
To avoid a scenario like this – or even worse – eliminate the chances of any blood draining into the water. Don’t over play hooked fish, and please don’t leave the fish flopping and dangling off your ‘yak.
Sharks can mistake any of these for a dinner invitation.
Alligators aren’t particularly attracted to kayaks and are likely to pay little attention to you – but be careful not to provoke them first.
Yes, I’m talking to you, stringer users.
But if an animal takes your catch, cut the line and allow them to have it – so make sure you keep your knife or fishing line cutters on hand
#10 Dress For The Water, Not The Weather
Many paddlers rely on the weather forecast when deciding what to wear.
Here’s why that’s a mistake:
Even if all the signs hint at a pleasant, warm summer day, you need to consider the temperature of the water, too.
Sure, your plans may not involve taking a dip, but that’s not to say that you’ll stay completely dry on a kayak – because you won’t.
And since hypothermia and cold shock are the most significant risks for someone who dives into cold water, it’s recommended that you wear a wetsuit – or a drysuit – in temperatures lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you will be paddling in the summer heat, though, go with breathable moisture-wicking clothes, preferably made of polyester. Even though it might sound counterintuitive, cotton isn’t a good choice.
Also, make sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeve shirt, and sunscreen to shield yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays!
Oh, and don’t forget a pair of polarized glasses that block the sun’s glare on the water and help with sight fishing. Your eyes will thank you.
#11 Keeping Your ‘Yak Still: Kayak Anchor Or Drift Sock
Whether you’re enjoying the surroundings, taking a break from fishing, or snapping photos of your catch – the legend says, if you haven’t caught it on camera, then it never happened – you’ll need to anchor your kayak.
The fastest way to secure your ‘yak is to use a kayak anchor-- recommend buying a folding anchor.
Folding anchors are a wonderful choice, particularly if you have little space; the blades on these models fold flat to avoid scraping your deck or hull, and they’re small enough to be readily stowed on-board without much effort.
That said, many expert kayak anglers like to combine an anchor with a drift sock to prevent the kayak from swaying when all they want to do is concentrate on fishing.
#12 Be Prepared For Paddling In Low Light
Eager to try your luck with the night bite?
I can’t blame you. Kayak fishing at night opens up an entirely different world:
Calm water, crisp air, zero crowds, and your ‘yak gliding gracefully in the direction of the moonlight. Besides, many species of fish feed freely at night; the catch can be exceptional.
But if you decide to go night kayak fishing, you’ll need to put in some extra effort. Low light conditions and poor visibility can be a recipe for disaster – unless you’re well-prepared, that is.
Here’s one piece of advice regarding paddling at night:
Make sure you can see – and keep yourself easily seen, too.
Arm yourself with a high-quality headlamp and a pack of spare batteries. And while you’re at it, pack a kayak flag and a noise-maker; you never know when you might need to make yourself not only seen but heard, too.
#13 Keep Your Gear Close, And Essential Gear Closer
Without proper fishing kayak rigging, things can get messy pretty quickly. And by “messy,” I mean – well, fish are deceivingly slippery and fast. You get the point.
So, once you’ve gotten that bite, you don’t want to be searching for your pliers, gloves, fish grips or dip net. It could cost you your catch. And given Murphy’s Law, it would’ve probably been the best catch of your life.
So, instead, have all your gear neatly organized and use up the dedicated storage space on a fishing kayak wisely.
Also, resist the urge to pack those small items you know you won’t use, but you bring them every time, nevertheless. Cramming your center hatch with unnecessary stuff can result in a lot of wasted time – and every second is essential.
#14 Practice Makes Perfect
If you haven’t recognized the pattern by now:
Practice is the key.
Seriously, though, practice every chance you get. Work on your fishing skills on land until you fine-tune your fishing technique. You can also practice the fine “art” of one-hand fishing that I talked about earlier.
You might also want to work on making your paddling strokes as quiet as possible – unless you want to spook the fish.
Also, consider going on a kayak fishing trip with someone more experienced. It will help you develop your paddling skills and pick up a few tricks – and you’ll be ready to incorporate some more advanced techniques before you know it.
The best advice I can give you is:
Try to find the right balance – don’t stay in your comfort zone for too long, but make sure you are ready before jumping to the next level.
#15 Purchase A Kayak Cart
Before you even get to the paddling part, there’s one last issue to tackle:
How do you transport a fishing kayak to the water? And is there a hassle-free way to do it?
My vote goes to the kayak cart as the most convenient solution.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a large parking lot, a trail in the woods, or a long stretch of coastline; your back will be grateful if you spare it the pain of hauling a massive kayak.
Kayak Fishing Tips For Beginners: Summary
In the end, it’s true:
The wise fisherman – and paddler – never stops learning.
Becoming proficient at kayak angling is a marathon, not a race. You’ve already taken the first step in the right direction, though, and if you put these kayak fishing tips for beginners into practice, you’ll be more than ready to start paddling – and catch some fish – in no time.
And I hope to see you out on the water on my next fishing adventure!