Kayak Fishing: How To Get Into It

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kayaksAffordability, portability, accessibility — what’s not to like about catching fish from a kayak?

Six years ago I started kayak fishing. It was fun back then, but today it’s better than ever thanks to on-going improvements in boat designs and gear catered to paddling anglers. Far from a fad, kayak fishing is here to stay and it’s one of the easiest, most affordable and most fun ways to catch fish.

Accessibility

There are many perks to fishing from a kayak but arguably the biggest advantage is accessibility. My 12-foot kayak unlocks remote lakes and small rivers that are off limits to my 17-foot aluminium fishing boat. In a kayak, these water bodies deliver outstanding angling action with the added bonus of the serenity of being the only soul on the water.

Back-lakes aren’t the only scenario where kayak accessibility pays off. Any strip of public land along a water’s edge serves as a put-in; launch ramps aren’t required. A cart makes it easy to wheel a heavy boat to the water.

A kayak is also a vehicle to get to great fishing grounds. Steelhead anglers are using kayaks to run down rivers, then hop out and wade-fish hotspots. In a similar vein, those with white-water training are paddling down rapids, then beaching their boat and fishing the pools from shore. Kayaks can also be used to skim through tiny connecting streams between lakes.

User Friendly

Don Theoret is owner/founder of Yakfisher.net, a popular kayak fishing message board. Since it’s inception in 2008, he’s seen a wide range of people get hooked on this angling approach for a variety of reasons.

“The kayak fishing community is extremely diverse. People from all walks of life are enjoying the craze these days. Busy parents like that there is minimal preparation time or logistics required to sneak out for a fish for a few hours after work or early morning. Young anglers are realizing a kayak is a fishing platform that will afford them the freedom to get away from shore to explore new waters. Coupled with the fact that they are so inexpensive, a big reason kayaks are so popular is that it doesn’t take long to learn the basics and feel comfortable fishing in one.”

Many kayak experts I’ve talked with over the years echo Theoret, particularly as solo kayak paddling has a faster learning curve than solo canoe paddling. My own experience is that kayaks are easier to fish from than a canoe. This is most pronounced as it relates to boat control. Overall, a kayak’s position is easier to manage and specific accessories, such as a rudder and a drift sock, only boost its functionality and easy-to-use as a fishing platform.

Affordability

The reduced costs of kayaks when compared to powerboats are another selling feature. Recreational and angling-specific models range from $600 to $1,500. Adding a paddle, PFD, fishing accessories, and safety gear will push the total between to $800 to $2,000.

Another perk is reduced fuel costs. Towing a kayak on a roof rack or a trailer will increase vehicle fuel consumption, but it will be marginal compared to the gas burned when towing a powerboat. Plus, since you’re paddling there are no outboard engine fuel costs to contend with. Kayak maintenance and upkeep expenses are also minimal. The added bonus is paddling provides great exercise.

Paddling Universality

Booming in popularity in conjunction with the social media maelstrom, there is a wealth of kayak fishing information online from across the globe. Boat and gear reviews, how-to videos, fishing reports and message boards are just a click away.

Paddling and kayak fishing skills themselves are also portable. The past two years I spent time in the southern hemisphere, and being a kayak angler let me seize an array of opportunities. I used a resort’s recreational kayak to catch trevally from lagoons in Vanuatu; I rented a model in Australia and participated in a bream kayak tournament, and went on a guided kayak trip off the coast of New Zealand for red snapper. All of these adventures were affordable, especially when compared to a powerboat equivalent experience.

If you’re planning domestic or international travel in the years ahead, taking up kayak fishing is a wise investment to be able to seize paddling and angling opportunities. Pack lures and a rod-reel combo in your luggage and then search out kayak rentals once you arrive — it’s that easy.

An Array of Options

Angling-specific and recreational (i.e., general paddling) models feature stable hulls and ample deck space. There are several styles to choose from.

The most popular angling model is a sit-on-top (SOT) kayak. With a SOT, you sit on the deck. There’s plenty of room to move as well as to accessorize the rig for fishing. It’s easy to get on and off, as hulls are wide and stable. They also have a rear tank-well for transporting gear. The design leaves your body completely exposed to sun and rain, so proper apparel is critical.

With a sit-in kayak (SINK) your lower body fits inside the cockpit. This helps you stay dry and protects legs and feet from the sun, but the sacrifice is freedom of movement as the cockpit is more constrictive. A SINK also requires more finesse and coordination to get into and out of than a SOT.

Hybrid kayaks are the third and more recent option. These models combine the agility and paddling experience of a kayak with the stability, capacity, and comfort of a canoe. Native Watercraft’s Ultimate and Wilderness Systems Commander are two examples.

Each style of kayak has pros and cons and a great way to learn what you like best is to attend a demo day or rent different models from a local paddle shop.

A Few Other Considerations

The majority of fishing and general recreation kayaks are made of roto-molded plastic for its affordability, durability and minimal maintenance requirements. The drawback to plastic is its weight. In rough terms, 10-foot, plastic kayaks weigh around 40-pounds and 16-foot models are around 70-pounds.

Composite kayaks made of fibreglass, Kevlar, or a thermoforming process using plastic that’s lighter but stiffer than roto-moulded kayaks are other options. Favoured for overnight trips and touring, these boats feature light, hydrodynamic hulls, but they’re at least 25 per cent more expensive and less impact resistant than roto-moulded models.

Kayak length is another important consideration. Twelve feet is a great all-round option providing good tracking, manoeuvrability, and load carrying capacity. Ten and 11-foot boats are more agile, a good choice if fishing in tight quarters, like a fast-flowing stream. Those needing to paddle long distances or fish big water prefer fourteen to 16-foot kayaks. Extra length also equates to increased weight capacity, an attractive feature for anglers who carry a lot of gear.

Kayaks are available in solo or tandem models. The latter being 14-footers or longer. Tandems are a great way to introduce kids to kayak fishing or enjoy some time on the water with your spouse.

A final overview note on kayaks is that there are more options than just paddle power. Foot peddle-drive systems are available on Hobie and Native Watercraft kayaks, while Ocean Kayak’s Torque features a Minn Kota trolling motor. This is just a sampling as there are several after-market products as well.

Gear and Accessories

Kayaks, particularly SOTs and hybrids, are well suited for outfitting and customization. Many angling models will come pre-rigged with features, but it’s just as easy to turn a basic kayak into a fishing machine with the installation of certain key equipment.

At a minimum, a kayak should have rod holders for the simple reason that you can’t paddle and hold a pole at the same time. For tackle organization consider a milk or office crate. These easily fit in the tank well and secure with bungees. Use screws or zip-ties to attach to the crate PVC tubes or a 3-tube vertical rod rack for additional rod holders. The interior of the box will hold tackle trays and other gear.

From this basic set-up there are several add-on options. A range of mounting hardware is available for rigging electronics, rod holders and digital camera mounts. Track and hub mounting systems that act as a base upon which other mounts can be added are extremely popular. These foundations help reduce the number of holes you need to drill in the boat to mount various items. Be advised that drilling holes may limit or void the manufacturer warranty, so research this first.

Consider installing a rudder to improve steering and manoeuvrability when paddling or drift fishing. An anchor trolley is another worthwhile accessory. The business end is used to hold a drift sock, anchor, or stake-out pole — each of which are helpful in maintaining boat position in a range of deep to shallow water scenarios.

Catch-and-release tools are a must. Have pliers and other tools within reach at all times. It’s a good safety measure to carry a net (store it in a rod holder) and use single or barbless hooks.

Also, vital to your well-being is the required pleasure-craft safety equipment. Carry a Canadian Coast Guard Approved PFD, buoyant heaving line, propelling device or anchor, bailer or manual water pump, sound signalling device and waterproof flashlight. You’ll also need navigation lights if operating before sunrise and after sunset. For further details and whether you need a Boating Card, see Transport Canada’s Safe Boating Guide.

Fishing Tips

When it comes to fishing from a kayak you can pretty much do anything you would in a powerboat, with a bit of adjustment. Casting from the low-to-water seated position demands slightly different mechanics than standing on a deck in a powerboat, but the benefits are many. The low profile makes it extremely easy to skip lures beneath docks and overhanging cover where fish often lurk in the shadows.

Being low to the water provides a unique perspective. Fans of using top water lures will be pleasantly surprised at the additional detail visible from a kayak. Sideways attacking fish appear like torpedoes — rocketing through the subsurface towards the floating offering, and only increases the intensity of surface fishing.

The surge-pause paddle stroke of a kayak is perfect for trolling a lure and imparting a natural variation to its action. The stealth of a kayak also makes it an excellent choice for trolling shallow water or targeting skittish fish high in the water column.

Drifting is also advantageous in a kayak. An anchor trolley combined with a drift sock as well as a rudder will dramatically improve your ability to maintain boat position. From here you could drag a bottom-bouncer and spinner for walleye or fan cast a weed flat for cruising fish, to name just a few options.

The list of perks and advantages of kayak fishing goes on, but in a nutshell it’s an incredibly fun way to be on the water. Give it a try this season. You’ll be glad you did.

Dressing for Paddling

Layering is crucial when kayak angling. A waterproof shell protects you from wind and rain. Quick-dry long-sleeved shirts, pants and a wide brimmed hat provide protection from UV rays. You will sweat paddling, so wear clothing with moisture-wicking properties. Opt for sandals in warmer weather as entering and exiting a kayak is easier if you don’t mind getting your feet wet. In cold temperatures wear paddling boots.

Safety First

  • Here are some important safety measures:
  • Take a paddling course.
  • Stay visible. Purchase a brightly coloured kayak; always wear a PFD and bright clothing. Adding a flag to the stern is another good practice.
  • Hugging the shoreline helps avoid unnecessary interactions with power boaters.
  • Monitor the weather and stay close to shore on big water in case you need to quickly get off.
  • Be careful around cold and fast-moving water.
  • Paddle in groups and leave a trip itinerary with someone at home.
  • Carry communication devices (like cell phones and hand-held or VHF radios), and make sure they work.
  • Pack plenty of water, food and sunscreen.
  • Keep a spare set of clothes in the car to change into at the end of the day in the event you get damp when paddling — after all, it is a water sport.

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