Getting Started in Kayak Fishing: 6 Things to Know

I’ve met a lot of kayak anglers and learned how they got involved with the sport. The interest in kayak fishing comes from 2 basic groups of people.

The first is shore and dock anglers who want to get out on the water and expand their options for fishable water. Kayak fishing can be an affordable way to accomplish this goal.

The second group of people are power boat anglers who’ve heard about the benefits and thrills of kayak fishing and want to learn more about the sport and experience it.

No matter which group you’re in, I’m going to share the basics so you can make informed decisions as you research and purchase kayak fishing products and select waters to fish as you get started. There are a wide variety of products and price points for gear and equipment. There’s also an amazing amount of do it yourself (DIY) knowledge in the kayak fishing world. It’s fun to see how other kayak anglers have engineered homemade solutions and rigged their yaks for almost every aspect of the sport. You tube, social media and websites are bountiful sources of information. Kayak anglers love to share their innovative creations, unique rigging approaches and talk about the sport. As a group, we’re very welcoming to newbies and enjoy passing along the knowledge and experiences we’ve gained.

I’m going to teach you 6 basic topics that you should know about as you venture into the sport.          

1. What’s the difference in kayak types?

Not all kayaks are the same. There are different categories for different uses and activities. Sea / Touring kayaks are long and narrow side-to-side. They cut big waves and water easily and are fast, but they’re not great for fishing. Freestyle / Whitewater kayaks are very short, can turn on a dime, go over rocks and waterfalls but aren’t the best for kayak fishing. Kayak anglers prefer wider kayaks that are medium length that are very stable, not tippy. The combination of length, width and special hull design enables kayak anglers to stand and fish from a very stable platform.

Molded plastic sit on top and sit inside kayaks are preferred for kayak fishing.

• Sit-inside fishing kayaks have a closed cockpit that keeps you partially out of the wind or rain, keeping you warmer and drier.

• Sit-on-top fishing kayaks have an open deck, are easier to get in and out of and have more room to stretch out. Virtually all pedal propulsion kayaks are sit on top models.

Fishing kayaks are subject to rough environments. Shallow rocky areas. Areas with dead heads or trees in the water or hanging over streams and more. Molded plastic hulls are best suited to kayak fishing since they resist cracks and scratches and are extremely durable.

2. Finding the best fishing kayak for your budget & fishing style

What’s the best fishing kayak? It’s a common question from people getting in to the sport. Prices and features have a wide range. First, consider what type of fishing you like to do. If you like to fish small, shallow streams, a shorter kayak without a pedal drive sticking out the bottom makes sense for those situations. If you want to get out on big water, a longer, wider kayak, possibly with a pedal drive makes more sense. That boat will be more stable and handle better in big waves. Electric motors are even getting popular on kayaks, that’s another option. Think about the water you will be on most of the time. This is important when selecting a specific kayak that’s best for you.

Your second consideration is budget. Keep in mind that you’ll need some basic accessories in addition to your kayak purchase. One way people get a little more kayak for their budget is shopping the used kayak market. High quality fishing kayaks are roto molded plastic. They’re extremely durable. Most kayaks will get a “rash” on the bottom from being dragged on shore or over shallow areas. If you’re looking to buy used, expect some level of minor scrapes on the bottom. There are many online groups dedicated to used kayak sales and dealers sell demo models, usually at the end of each season.     

Prevent kayak buyer’s remorse! TRY, TRY, TRY before you buy! Most dealers have demo days each week. You can get in different models and try them on the water. I also suggest you try yaks from different manufacturers. Try both pedal and paddle models. Take your time. I’ve seen people purchase the lowest price kayak they could find without testing it on the water first and not enjoy the sport due to choosing the wrong kayak. Some common problems with inexpensive kayaks are the seats aren’t comfortable, they’re not very stable and you can end up sitting in a puddle of water. You won’t enjoy the sport if you’re wet, uncomfortable or spend all your time worrying about tipping. 

3. Transporting, loading and unloading your kayak

Different sizes and models of kayaks vary in weight. For transporting, you can remove the seat, accessories and pedal drive (on models that have them) to reduce weight when you’re loading or unloading your yak. Car top racks are one solution for transportation. Take all the accessories off your kayak and you can lift the plastic hull on to car roof racks and strap it down. There are even some car top racks with a “lift assist” feature that makes it easier to get the kayak on or off a roof rack. If you have a pickup truck, you may be able to put your kayak in the bed of your truck with the tailgate down and use straps to secure it. If you have a short pickup bed and a longer kayak, a bed extender can support a kayak that extends past your open tailgate.     

Trailers come in a variety of shapes, styles and configurations. There are manufacturers that make trailers specifically designed to carry kayaks. Other options include small boat trailers or jet ski trailers. They can be easily adapted to hold your kayak(s). Trailers are another area yak anglers bring DIY (do it yourself) innovations to solve problems or save money. Do a search online for “kayak trailers” and you’ll see many creative ways users have customized kayak trailers. You’ll see some with hardened storage boxes added, some with lockable tube rod holders, built-in task lights and some that can hold eight or more kayaks.     

One of the biggest advantages kayak anglers have is we can get our yaks into places other boats can’t access. We can go down narrow trails to remote lakes and streams. We can take our yaks down hills, stairs or over rocks. Kayak carts are small, wheeled dollies that attach to one end of your kayak to make it easy to “roll” to and from the water.

4. Basic accessories

Safety first! These basic accessories are a must from the start.

Always wear a personal flotation device (pfd). There are pfds made specifically for kayak anglers that feature easy access pockets for tools, tackle, phones and help keep you cool. A favorite pfd style for kayak fishing is the inflatable life jacket that instantly inflates when it senses you are under water. They are thin and comfortable to wear.

It’s also a good practice to have a whistle on your kayak. You can use it to alert others around you if you need help. Leash or strap everything to the kayak, especially your paddle, in case you capsize or tip over!

Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful U.V. rays and bright glare on the water. Another benefit of wearing sunglasses is to protect your eyes from flying hooks and lures. In a kayak, you are very close to the water, if a fish short strikes your lure, you get snagged or something else changes the resistance on your line, that hook can come flying towards you fast! A hook in the eye is the last thing you want.   

Trick out your ride, it’s FUN!

The list of kayak fishing accessories is long; rod holders, cameras and mounts, fish finders, speakers, crates…and on and on. Make a list, do your research and go slow when you’re picking out non-safety accessories. Check out what other yak anglers are using, ask them how they like the product. The pace of innovation and number of options has increased at an incredible rate. Plus, there is a strong DIY presence in the kayak fishing world. Someone has probably designed, built and shared their version of many of the accessories you want.

5. Kayak storage off the water

Even though high quality plastic kayaks are extremely durable, you need to take some care and store them correctly when you’re not on the water. If you’re storing your kayak outdoors, invest in a cover to protect your kayak from dust, dirt and sunlight. Do not store the kayak with the hull resting on the ground. Store your kayak hull side up or standing up on an end. Keep your yak out of direct sunlight. Oil canning is a term used for when the plastic hull of your kayak heats up to a point where the plastic becomes pliable and dents. Oil canning can also occur if you strap your kayak down too tight on a trailer or other transportation rack and the strap pressure combined with some heat causes a dent.    

Many people store their kayaks on their trailer. A best practice for storage on transportation is to use “saddles” which match the hull shape, or run pvc pipes lengthwise to match contour of your hull. These techniques remove pressure on the curved shape of the hull so dents don’t develop. Some trailers or storage racks use a “J” shape. The kayak is turned on its side so the weight is not concentrated on the hull. 

6. Your first outings should be small, calm waters away from crowds

After you’ve picked up your new yak, spend some time away from boat launches practicing loading and unloading your yak. Practice putting on accessories and think about where you want them when you’re on the water. Make a check list of the items you need before you head out to fish and make sure you have everything.

Select a lake or stream that is not crazy busy, has strong water currents, big waves or will be packed with power boats for your first outings. On the water, practice getting in and out of your kayak. Practice getting back in your kayak from water that is shoulder deep in case you tip over. You’ll know how to get back in your yak in deep water. Practice standing if your kayak is stable enough. It will take some time to become comfortable loading, navigating your kayak and fishing from it. Do this in a calm environment.

Don’t be bashful!

Ask questions! Our kayak fishing club puts on seminars, events, has a forum and social media groups where conversations range from tips, tactics and education to friendly banter. We welcome anglers across the upper Midwest area, MN, IA, WI, ND and SD. You can ask newbie or highly technical questions about gear or fishing. The kayak fishing community is welcoming, friendly and helpful. Join us! I’ve met some great anglers, awesome friends, learned new tactics to increase my catch rate and had a ton of fun. You will too.

Get started today!

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