Kayak Fishing – Getting Started
People are taking up kayak fishing in record numbers.
The morning sun is breaching the horizon as you arrive at your destination with your kayak. You move it to the water’s edge, place the rods in the holders, pack your gear, and in a jiffy you’re off in search of a trophy fish. A fishing kayak is easy to transport, fast to deploy, and inexpensive to buy and maintain, which are a few of the reasons that people are taking up kayak fishing in record numbers.
This first article in our series on fishing kayaks addresses the main topics involved in kayak fishing. It covers aspects of packing a kayak for fishing, where to launch, purchasing a kayak, and the accessories that make life on the water a fun and safe experience.
Benefits of Fishing from a Kayak
The benefits of kayak fishing are easy to understand. One primary benefit is the ability to access almost any body of water without the need of a boat ramp -- a huge plus on busy weekends. Another benefit is summed up in one word – stealth. Being able to quietly maneuver a kayak on the water allows you to sneak up on tailing redfish, sleeping snook or hidden trout as easily as Daniel Boone snuck up on a bear. Now that’s stealth!
Another cool aspect of kayak fishing is that you can go alone or travel with friends who have their own kayaks. Fishing kayaks are available with two seats, and you can also get a tandem kayak that comes in sections which can be converted for one person or two in just a few minutes.
Types of Fishing Kayaks
Classic “Eskimo” kayaks have a little hole in the middle where you sit. They are called “Sit-In” kayaks and have little room to move around. With the increased popularity of kayak fishing, manufacturers have created kayaks intended to be more user-friendly for intrepid anglers.
One main consideration when fishing is freedom of movement, and another is ergonomics, or how the craft affects your back and supports you. The best way to go kayak fishing is with a ‘Sit-On Top’ kayak, which provides more freedom to cast your line, and also allows you to sit in various positions that help prevent cramping in your back and legs.
A padded seat helps, and changing your position every so often helps avoid body stiffness. With Sit-On-Tops, you can put both legs on one side, turn your torso to different sides, sit with your legs hanging off the side (in the water), and move around, which is very important when fishing.
Traditional fishing kayaks range in length from 10-to-14.5 feet. They also come with various hull designs -- some are designed to be more stable in open ocean water while others are better for inshore and backwater maneuvering. Color and design choices run the gamut from plain blue to pink camouflage.
The Feel Free (feelfree) line of fishing kayaks have a proven track record with professional guides. They also make the Moken line, all of which include a built-in transport wheel, built-in handles, recessed hardware fittings and an integrated console. The 12.5 foot and 14 foot models also include a pilot rudder system and built-in coolers that anglers often modify to hold live bait.
If you aren’t ready to invest big bucks yet, the lower-priced lines such as the Heritage Angler 10-foot, or the Sun Dolphin 10-foot provide an inexpensive alternative below $400.
There are many features available from numerous manufacturers, so be sure to do your homework when purchasing a fishing kayak and accessories. You may want to rent a fishing kayak and go out for a half-day to get the feel for what you may want on yours.
Purchasing a Fishing Kayak
Some distributors of kayaks say that, “Every kayak is a fishing kayak.” That is an axiom because a regular “paddling kayak” can – if you know how to do it – be outfitted with the accessories that make a kayak ideal to fish from. Those include rod holders, built-in coolers that are used as bait wells, stabilizers to prevent tipping while standing up to reel in a fish, etc.
But in reality, kayak manufacturers know what a fishing kayak needs to come with and they make kayaks specifically for fishing that are different from paddling kayaks.
When you are looking to buy a fishing kayak, certain features are more important than others, as discussed above. Average prices range from around $399 for a basic 10-foot craft, to about $2,500 for a deluxe 14.5-foot fishing kayak with all the bells-and-whistles.
Much depends on how often you will use your craft for kayak fishing. If you are a weekend duffer who rolls solo once or twice a month, a 10-foot basic unit will suffice. If you are going to use it often to catch fish that you want to keep, the deluxe features – such as convertible bait wells -- and the extra storage space that comes with a longer kayak are well worth the money.
The image below shows a fully outfitted fishing kayak with almost all the accessories available. Obviously, not all of this gear is required for a half-day of kayak fishing, but it is good to see what is available when it comes time for your kayak to be personalized for your specific needs.
With the Internet as a tool, you can shop around from home, which is a big advantage. But you should certainly visit a kayak dealer or two and go ‘kick the tires’ so to speak. The benefits of certain features will be more obvious when you see it in person. Some dealers allow you to try out a kayak on the water prior to purchase. Check with your local dealers for availability.
Once you decide on a fishing kayak and take it out a few times, you will find that a few items are missing. That does not mean the manufacturer did not include them – it simply means that you will see other fishing kayaks and talk with the owners who will always have a “must-have” device or accessory that will improve your experience when kayak fishing.
Some accessories that kayak anglers find helpful are rotating rod mounts, camera or electronics mounts, LED lighting and kayak stabilizers. The folks at Yak-Gear are a useful resource to research and shop for kayak accessories and kayaks.
Items to Pack for Fishing and for Safety
Obviously, room is tight on a kayak, even a 14-footer, so pack lightly but efficiently.
Five Items to Pack on a Fishing Kayak:
- A good quality sun block and a hat that blocks the sun from your face. Many anglers cover their whole face with a bandana made especially for that reason.
- A quality brand bug-spray and spray disinfectant for cuts etc.
- Your cooler should contain several bottles of water to stay hydrated.
- First-aid kit. Doesn’t have to be big, just include the basics; gauze, tape, aspirin etc.
- Tackle should include two fishing rods, extra hooks and leaders, a few good lures, a pair of pliers, and whatever else you think you need for the type of fishing you’re doing.
Most kayak anglers use a milk crate that is strapped in with several bungee cords behind the seat as a “hold-all” for gear that doesn’t have a specific holding place. Certain gear is required by the U.S. Coast Guard including a life jacket. A signaling light and a radio-beacon sender are also good things to have on board. We address kayak-fishing accessories and additional safety gear in further detail in another article in this series.
Choosing a Launch Site
The greatest thing about a kayak is it can be put in the water almost anywhere. One day you can hit the Intracoastal Waterway, the next day you can cruise inshore off the Gulf or Atlantic, and the next day you can try a lake for some Florida black bass.
If you are unfamiliar with the area you would like to fish, post a question on our Forum at The Online Fisherman.com (TOF) and someone who knows that area will respond and put you on some fish. Always check fishing regulations for a body of water prior to tossing a lure. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website is the place to check. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, either ask the Forum or e-mail your questions to the team at TOF.
Check our maps out, too. A great many of our FishySpots are easily reached by kayak if you're intuitive and a little crazy.