Winter Kayak Fishing

Winter Kayak Fishing | Some Tips & Advice From Mike Cheatham

When it comes to winter kayak fishing, some kayakers in the north are forced to leave their kayaks at home to fish hard water. Some move to hunting during the winter months, or have other pursuits to fill the winter days. But there are still many of us who fish year-round from our kayaks — for bass, crappie, stripers, white bass – for everything and anything that will bite.

My third tournament from a kayak, I left my hog trough in the truck while fishing on Kentucky Lake. It snowed so hard that by the time I retrieved it from the back floor board, the seat on my kayak was covered with snow. I repeated that on Dale Hollow just two years ago. It was miserable, cold, raining, and snowing… but I was fishing dang it! 

I recently followed a series of posts just this week from Jaxton and Jim Orr who had fled south to fish Chickamauga and had some success. So there is that option too. For me, I know the crappie and white bass are biting here in Tennessee and they really taste good soaked in some hot grease.

So I am partaking in winter kayak fishing.

But prepping for a winter kayak fishing trip is not the same as prepping July. You have to be very aware of the weather and really understand the temperature of both the air and the water. Hypothermia is real and with kayaks having a higher chance of flipping than larger boats, you need to be prepared. Learn what to do, how to do it, but more important: learn what to expect should you find yourself in the water.  

Winter Kayak Fishing: A Close Call

Before I owned a kayak, I picked up a friend to fish out of my small jon boat. I knew when he got in the truck he was not dressed for the 20-degree air temps and I should have called it off then, but I had some extra coveralls in my truck that would help him stay warm. 

We fished for a few hours without success, and decided to head in. I asked him to hand me a tackle box, and the next sound I heard was him falling into the barely 50 degree water. He was not wearing a PFD and the coveralls quickly absorbed water. Fortunately for my friend, we were less than 50 yards from the ramp because I could not get him back into the boat. I held his arm as he clung to the side and I used the trolling motor to cover the distance.

In that short time, I had to help him up the ramp and out of his wet clothes. I gave him my coveralls (which would have also pulled me under had I fallen) and cranked up the heat as he shivered uncontrollably.

That day could have been our last.

Be Prepared When Going Winter Kayak Fishing

Since then, I have made myself more aware. But to be completely upfront, I am probably still not as prepared as I should be during the winter months. I do understand that cotton is not good and that I should be well insulated from the elements – not the air, but the water. I also understand that we should all carry extra clothing and a way to start a fire. 

The biggest thing is to ALWAYS WEAR A LIFE JACKET

I am not telling this to keep you off the water in the winter. I will be out the next free day that I can get on the water; 30 or 80 degrees. I will have a dry bag full of essential items, someone will know exactly where I am and when I plan to be home. But most likely, I will not be alone if it is cold. I am careful to prepare for 30-degree weather because I know the reality of what can go wrong.    

Y’all read up on what to consider when fishing in the cold.  Below is a tiny sample of what is available online. Educate yourself on the effects of hypothermia.

This is a fairly comprehensive (although high-level) explanation.

The 1-10-1 Principle explained here is something else to understand.  

I personally feel that this document provides some good information to consider when kayaking in cold weather. 

No matter what you chose to review, just be safe. Winter kayak fishing can lead to some really fun days on the water, just remember there’s plenty of people who want you to come home safe and plan accordingly!

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 is truly good.

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2 replies
  1. Heath Barkley
    Heath Barkley says:

    I’ve been re-watching Chad Hoover’s video he did last year on fall and winter clothing for kayak fishing. I would love to be put on the water year round but I do not have the right gear to be on the water in these temperatures. Chad shared what he uses. I would like to see what others use. Do you use a full dry suit? Semi-dry? I know these are expensive. But they are necessary for safe winter fishing.

    • Mike Cheatham
      Mike Cheatham says:

      I do not use a full dry suit. That is why I say I am not as prepared as I should be, but also why I am very critical of weather when I head out in the winter. Too cold, too windy…I stay in. I head out on calm days and make sure to wear no cotton. I use thin base layer type gear ( under armor 3.0 ) with rain gear….then I make sure to carry extra layers with me in a dry bag.
      I never remove my life jacket, and do not venture far alone…I try to be with others when the temps drop lower in Tennessee.
      If I lived a bit farther north, I would not go out without a full dry suit….but this is just me….I am in a Hobie PA 14, so I feel comfortable on our southern waters without the dry suit as long as the conditions are not extreme.
      Again, this is just me in the locations I choose during the winter. You need to consider your environment and conditions….gear up accordingly.


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