Kayak Fishing in the Wind

Kayak Fishing in the Wind | Adjusting to Different Wind Directions

Featured Image Credit: Eric Siddiqi

The hard truth about kayak fishing is that wind can be an issue. Ok, that is an understatement; wind will be an issue and can ruin your day on the water if you end up on the wrong end of 30 mph gusts. Jump in a paddle kayak and head into a cove where the wind is blowing directly into, it will be easy to get in, but impossible to get out. I had this experience during a KBF event on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky.  

I hadn’t paid attention to the forecast and headed about a half-mile from the ramp and turned into a long arm of the lake. The wind picked up, and the guy who had launched with me said he was heading back to the ramp. I watched him move ten feet forward, then get blown into the bank repeatedly.  I was pedaling in a Hobie, so I eventually made it to him and tossed a rope to help pull him out; the wind was still beating us both. Between gusts, I would make ground, eventually getting close enough to see the ramp. That is where the wind caught the back of my boat and turned me sideways into 2-foot whitecaps and I immediately thought “this is how you end up on the news” as the kayak almost tipped several times. But I was fortunate enough that I had a paddle in my hand and pedal/paddled out of the situation and made it to the ramp.

Kayak Fishing in the Wind: Wind and Current

This was an extreme example of wind, but one I re-tell when I meet new kayakers as I caution them to look at the weather before each trip; paying much attention to wind and current direction. A 10-mile an hour wind from the south on Kentucky Lake will still allow you to cross the widest points safely, but if that wind comes out of the north and is directed against the current, it can become impossible to manage. You can adjust all you want trying to hold position, but you will most likely lose the battle.  

Learning to understand the interactions of the wind and current will take time on the water, but there are a few basic facts you should keep in mind.

For all boats, but more for kayaks, the wind is just like the current. If you go with the “current” and it is strong, you are going to have a difficult time holding your position. There will be a constant battle to keep the back of the kayak from passing you, or from making you look like a drunken duck as the kayak spins you in circles while you try to correct the movement; paddle, straight, spin left, paddle, spin right, dosey doe and around you go… paddle… repeat.  

When I first started, I wasn’t sure why the back of the kayak was affected more by the wind, then I stepped back and looked at it from a physics standpoint. Most of us have some type of tackle storage that sits behind us, and the seats are not in the center of the kayak; they are shifted toward the stern a bit. When you are sitting on or in a light plastic hull, that basically makes all of that (you and the crate) a sail. In lighter winds, you can overcome some of the resulting actions, but it will still affect your path.  

Keep this in mind with boat position; use it to your advantage. I often sit with my kayak at an odd angle instead of fishing perpendicular to the shore; while slowly pedaling toward that shore. This allows me to maintain better positioning in relation to the location I am trying to fish while still letting me bring the bait with the prevailing current.

Kayak Fishing in the Wind(1)

This drawing makes the assumption that the current isn’t flowing in the opposite direction. 

 If it is, whichever is stronger will direct your boat positioning.  The best position for holding on open water while fishing submerged cover is to be downwind from the object; paddling or pedaling in the cover’s direction.  This will keep you perpendicular to the target, and reduce the number of times the kayak will spin you around.

Kayak Fishing in the Wind: Rudders and Skegs 

I am fortunate to have a Hobie Pro Angler 14. This kayak comes equipped with a rudder and a skeg that allows for better boat positioning in winds. The skeg can make it harder to turn but keeps the boat more stable in windier situations, and the rudder helps me face the “current”. Without these, or in pure paddle kayaks, even lighter winds can impact your day. Keep that in mind when choosing a kayak; understand how and where you plan to use the kayak. Know that you have to get back to a ramp unless you made arrangements to be picked up downstream.

I was recently in La Crosse with 20 plus mph winds forecasted, sitting in current flowing in the opposite direction. There was no way I could fight both for an 8-hour day on the water, so I chose a spot slightly protected from the wind, positioned my kayak facing the current and did all I could to keep out of the trees. At the end of the day, I had a 2-mile pedal dead into the fast current of the Mississippi River with a 20 mph gusting tailwind.  

In this situation, I moved in a zig-zag pattern to keep the kayak moving at all just to make it back to the ramp. Once I made it back, I had to hit the ramp at full speed to keep the wind and current from crushing me under the dock.   What would normally be a 30-minute trip in calm conditions took almost two hours, and I could see the ramp from where I hit the main river!

Kayak Fishing in the Wind: Plan Ahead

It may take you a trip or two to really understand how to handle your kayak in the wind (or current), all kayaks do not handle the same. Please plan your trips carefully until you learn how the boat you are in reacts in different situations. 

Use weather apps, the ANGLR app, and watch the local news to understand the conditions for the day and the body of water you are trying to fish. Understand wind speed, direction and the flow you will encounter on the body of water you are planning to fish. Consider the launch you will use; make sure that it is not going to add risk to your day. Sign up with your local outfitter to spend a day on the water, or search out a local kayak fishing club… there is always someone who will be willing to help you learn how to handle the wind and make your adventures safe and fun.

This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

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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 fully....life is truly good.

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ANGLR Expert, Mike Cheatham

4 replies
  1. Mike Cheatham
    Mike Cheatham says:

    I have a hard rule I follow. Since I am in a Hobie, I review my strategy at around 10 mph.
    Now, I say review because it depends on several factors:
    Wind direction, open water vs creek or cove….the wind at these speeds can push bait into areas so I will fight it.
    Once I get above 15, I look for ramps that are easily accessible or out of the wind. But if I am on smaller waters, it is less of an issue…tree lined banks, bluff walls…many things can help it remain fishable.
    At 20, loading kayaks can really suck if the wind is crashing against the ramp, so direction becomes very critical.
    Above that, I move.

  2. Heath Barkley
    Heath Barkley says:

    I’m new to kayak fishing. Last time out it was very windy. I used to my advantage going down as it kept me perpendicular to the bank I was fishing. But paddling back to the ramp was a workout. For a paddler, what would you say are the wind speed numbers we should be looking for before we have to change plans or tactics. Assuming current isn’t a factor.


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