Kayak Positioning Tips to Land the Big Fish
How to safely land that fish while keeping yourself in the kayak.
The Growth of Kayak Fishing
Fishing from a kayak is one of the most rapidly growing areas of our sport for several good reasons. Kayaks are relatively inexpensive, it’s easy to get them into and out of the water, and they can get you to places where no motorboat dares to go. But there are challenges facing a kayak angler.
We want to talk about your chances of hooking a big fish, and how to best position your kayak so you’re likely to come out a winner in the battle. If you want to practice catch and release, you have to catch them first; if you want one on a stringer, you have to get them close to the boat. Position your kayak properly and be ready to make a clean exit, and you can land a very sizeable fish. Position your kayak wrong, and a strong fish will take advantage of structure, weight, leverage, and position, breaking you off more often than not.
Fishing Close to Structure in a Kayak
We talked a while ago about fishing in the wind, and specifically about getting out of the wind and close to structure. The lead image for this story is a good example of structure that can provide shelter from the wind. It happens to be close to our house, but it could be Anywhere, Florida or Anywhere coastal USA. Regardless, the effect of properly positioning yourself to fight a sizeable fish remains the same.
Before we go further, let’s stop for a minute and make something clear: we’re talking about inshore fishing. We have experience mother shipping kayaks–taking them farther offshore than they could ever paddle to bring them (largely) over top of the fish we’re trying to catch–but that’s a different story.
- The fish can get much bigger offshore. There are big fish inshore, and this article will help you land and release them when you do hook into one, but the chances of hooking onto 60 pounds of angry muscle trying hard to pull you into the water is higher in a lot of blue water.
- There is a considerably higher chance you can roll off the kayak and into the loving jaws of a Bull or Hammerhead Shark (although it’s still not huge).
- How you position the kayak when the water is 80 or a 120 feet deep is not going to reduce the fear factor (also called the pucker factor for reasons we won’t detail in the presence of children). Fishing deep blue water from a kayak is something we would recommend only for the brave of heart and experienced of paddling.
That said, if you find yourself next to some very fishy structure, you’re out of the wind, you’re fishing with a fly rod or relatively light spinning or casting tackle, and you lay into a 20 pound Snook or a 36 inch Redfish, being well-prepared will improve your results.
Properly Positioning Your Kayak to Land the Fish
The weight of a kayak is a major advantage; you can drag it off your truck, slip it into the water, and move it around with no more than the strength of your upper body. That same weight–or lack thereof–is a disadvantage if you suddenly find yourself being pulled around by a fish. And don’t make the mistake of thinking a big fish can’t pull you around; they only have to move that kayak two inches to get themselves two inches of line slack. And two inches of slack in the line when a Snook is making their first run equals no Snook.
That two inches that made you lose that Snook happened because you had the bow of your kayak pointed towards the structure. There are times you have no choice but to face the fish, but if you can avoid it, realize that doing so puts you in a weak position and lets the fish pull you toward the structure where they were hiding.
The fish know the structure, and if there’s no tension other than the line in your hand, the boat can slip. The tighter your drag and the bigger the fish, the more they can shift the boat. When they shift the boat, they get slack.
The alternative is to fight the fish sideways, giving you an exit strategy. Keeping the rudder pointed toward the open water will help you move the fish and yourself away from the structure, where the fish is more likely to break off.
Putting Yourself in the Right Place
The lesson to be learned here does not apply to the spot where you might catch one fish. Being a paddle angler makes trip planning that much more important. You might not need to cover 30 miles; in fact, you’re not likely to cover that much water. But the water you do cover should be planned, whether it’s an estuary like the one in the image in this article, a river mouth, a mangrove island, or a sea wall. Think about fishing a strip of real estate sideways. Move from one spot to another and keep the line to your side and the rudder pointed in the right direction. Doing so can ensure you’ll be able to pull that fish away from their structure and get them out into open water where you can land them and release them safely.
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