Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing | Mike Cheatham’s Kayak Setup Tips

So, you are headed out fishing in your kayak. By now you have all the basics and are looking at all the stuff to carry on the water, stuff you think you will need. There is a simple question you need to ask yourself; where do you plan on fishing this weekend? I ask you to ask yourself this question because it will be critical to setting up a kayak for fishing.  

If you plan to drop the kayak off an embankment and fish some hard to access water, you may not want to load up several tackle bags or all the attachments you own. If you are going to back down to a nice ramp and fish open water, the considerations are different.  

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing(1)

Robert Guigar fishing a small creek.

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing: Take Only What You Need

I am among the worst at carrying things I don’t need, packing entirely too much gear on top of my kayak “just in case”, but I did learn on a recent trip to rethink that practice. I dropped my kayak into a smaller creek, loaded up all of my rods and tackle and headed upstream. I hit a spot with light rapids… snagged my rods on a tree, had it pull my Engel cooler over because I couldn’t get stopped soon enough, and came home missing one of my favorite Mojo Bass rods. 

Now, I stop and ask myself where I am headed and what to expect.

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing: Preparing for a Shallow, Moving Water Outing

Skinny water fishing (shallow or narrow creeks) can provide unique challenges. First, you will not want to have several rods standing up behind you, these will snag every tree or bush you pass. I can tell you, there is nothing more fun than reaching behind you hoping to catch your rods just in time to see them disappear underwater as they shake loose from a tree that pulled them out of your kayak (second warning). If this occurs in rapid water – it is challenging to control the kayak while trying to retrieve them. Second, there is always the potential to get hung on an obstruction. These can cause anything from simply being stuck on the bottom or a log, to getting spun sideways and over into the water.  

One of the first videos I saw when learning about kayaking was of my friend Anthony Shingler’s adventures on a local creek. I watched as everything inside his kayak exited and created a debris field as far as the camera could capture. So this leads to another important consideration on these types of water, especially if you expect a faster water flow; attach stuff to your kayak.  Bungees, leashes, rod holders, tackle storage options with the lids in place can save you a lot of grief. You should think about buying waterproof tackle storage boxes, carry a dry bag with wallets and/or phones (and extra clothes) to keep things dry should you capsize. You should also use any storage space under hatches on these trips.

If you are going to be shallow for long stretches, you will most likely not need to worry about dealing with a depth finder either. When you can feel the bottom with your rod, or even see the bottom, all that cool side imaging will not really provide you much value. I fished out of a small jon boat for over twenty years without any depth finder at all because I stayed in water from six inches deep to ten feet. It was the style of fishing that provided me the most happiness, and it would have only provided me the added knowledge of water temperature.

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing: Preparing for a Deeper, Calm Water Outing

Now, if you are going on a calmer body of water you still need to think about not taking too much, but you have more options. Rods can be stored upright, you can feel better setting tackle boxes and bags in the kayak because you have a smaller risk of being on the receiving end of an overturned boat. It will be easier to stand up and stretch or fish standing up, and digging through all the extra stuff behind your seat will be much easier. I would still encourage you to leash some items down, and use waterproof boxes; the only time I ever flipped my kayak I was sitting on the boat ramp – so it can happen anywhere.

Setting Up a Kayak for Fishing(2)

Tom Monahan ready to launch.

The latest depth finders will be of greater value on larger and more open bodies of water. They help you to locate humps and grass lines, or to simply navigate with charts. You can find fish on ledges and stumps you might pass over without fishing and set waypoints to use on future trips.  Couple this with data you have collected from the ANGLR app over time and you will start looking like a real pro…. okay, maybe you’ll just catch more fish.

Make sure you attach a flag (like the YakAttack VisiCarbon) to make your kayak more visible to boats on larger bodies of water. This can help when you are in swells, or if there are a lot of personal watercraft buzzing around. Also, wear your life jacket on any trip you plan. I know it is more comfortable to fish without it hugging you, but it is the one thing that can help you make it home; so others can hug you.  

I cannot stress enough the importance of a PFD when kayaking.  

Again, when setting up a kayak for fishing, make sure you know where you plan to fish. Consider the plan for each trip, they are not all the same, so be prepared for the body of water you are fishing. Lay out your rods and tackle with location, water conditions and even what species you are targeting in mind. Twelve rods on board, rolling over rapids, with all of your tackle could end with you missing a Mojo Bass rod or with your friends making a video of your stuff floating off into the distance.

This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

Become an ANGLR Expert and apply here.

Mike Cheatham


May 2016, sat in my first kayak. October 2016, skunked in my first tournament. Spring of 2017, placed 11th in the KBF Open and have chased the addiction since. Fishing is the one place my mind gets quiet, the place I have always found peace. To do it competitively with a great bunch of folks is just a bonus. To have an opportunity to combine my love for fishing with writing...I feel like I have finally found a place in this world! I do have the support of a wonderful woman who understands my need to be on the water; she supports my dreams is truly good.

Read more from Mike >>

Follow Mike on:

ANGLR Expert, Mike Cheatham

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *