The first time I pushed off the bank in my new kayak from into the Snake River current, I had an overwhelming feeling that my fishing life was about to change. I had a whole new set of advantages to leverage as I pursued my new obsession of catching giant bass.
Now, after spending a few months fishing from this kayak on rivers, ponds, and reservoirs in Idaho, I can tell you that the feeling was real.
Fishing from a kayak opened up a whole new world of advantages over fishing from the bank.
I just needed to try and learn how to leverage these and adapt to the challenges as well.
This section will outline some of the basic lessons I’ve learned along the way.
My Kayak Fishing Tips for Beginners
Fish with a plan.
I could now cover miles when I could previously only cover maybe a 1/4 mile on the bank. This completely changed how I needed to plan and manage me fishing trips. From where you put in and take out to where you spend your time casting. This was a steep learning curve. From my very first float down a river I immediately realized the importance of planning your trips when fishing from a kayak.
Create and stick to a float plan for every trip.
This is especially important when on a river. But, when fishing .a lake with even a slight wind, it’s also very important. Also, look at the areas that you plan to fish in relation to where you put your kayak into the water. I found that I preferred to paddles upstream or upwind during the first half of my time on a body of water. This allowed me to reserve the easier paddle back to the launch location for the 2nd half of my trip and take my time on the return after I had spent time paddling and breaking down spots on the way. As you paddle upstream or upwind keep an eye on any points, vegetation, structure, current breaks, bait locations, or holes you’d like to re-visit on your way back. A couple times I just allowed nature to have its way and push me downstream or downwind as I mindlessly fished. I would find myself miles away from launch and frustrated as I tried to paddle my way back while passing up great spots because of poor time management. Leverage weather apps, USGS data in apps like Anglr, or any other tools to better plan your trips. I like the ANGLR app because it allows me to drop waypoints as I breakdown water on my phone before a trip so I can see these waypoints as I fish the following day.
I had to learn some hard lessons when it came to fishing rivers.
I learned how to read the current and use it to navigate to more efficiently spend energy while accessing water that I want to fish. Take your time. Before moving from a location or pulling up anchor, plan where you are going to and where you will go after that to properly use the current and your energy. Thinking of your next moves will help you to avoid situations where you have to spend extra energy to get yourself out of danger etc.
Use Current and Wind
Once you create your float plans you can use the wind and current to your advantage. After paddling upstream or upwind from spots you’d like to fish, you can casually float past these locations while stopping at locations using an anchor. One of my favorite techniques was to go upwind from a shoreline of vegetation I wanted to fish and allow the wind to push me along the line of shore at a perfect speed to cover the whole stretch while not having to touch my paddle. This took me a while to learn and to perfect, but once I understood how much wind and current plays a role in kayak fishing it was huge. You can use it to your advantage.
If you’re fighting something in a kayak, stop and think how you can use that thing you’re fighting to your advantage.
Once I realized I could flip the situation to my advantage I started having much more enjoyable days on the water.
Utilize Eddies For Kayak Fishing
Current can be a nightmare to fish in a kayak. But you can also use it to your advantage. Kayaks can actually sit entirely in an eddy, preventing the boat from moving downstream. Sit in eddies to give yourself plenty of time to thoroughly fish the current seam right next to you. Get used to floating past the spot you want to fish, then tuck into the eddy behind it, and fish until your heart’s content – without even having to paddle. If you’re going to be fishing rivers often like I am, this one is a very great tactic to learn.
The Shoreline is Your Friend
Fish. Always the best accessory.
The shore is your friend when on a kayak. It makes everything better. When you’re paddling against wind or current, it can completely zap you of energy, and that’s not even including the fishing part. Kayaks don’t have a lot of draft. You can use this to your advantage by hugging shorelines. Instead of paddling right down the middle of the river or lake, get as shallow as you can. The current is much weaker in skinny water. Wind and waves are also mitigated by shoreline vegetation and structure. Save more energy for after you get to your honey hole.
While learning to bass fish I had gone a few times with friends on bass boats. They would constantly move around with trolling motors from spot to spot if they didn’t catch fish on the first few casts.
Similar to bank fishing, you’re going to have to be patient when it comes to how you approach fishing your spots. You can’t just constantly make runs like you can in a bass boat. This forces you to systematically breakdown locations you’re in, get creative, and find fish any way you can.
Similarly, enjoy the learning process. You’re out on the water. Look around. Soak it in. Don’t stress about becoming a bassmaster and captain of the plastic navy your first few months. It definitely took me some time to get comfortable with the basics of paddling, maneuvering, learning new water, and finding fish. Slow down. Enjoy the process.
You know what I love about kayak fishing? It is so simple.
I get off work, see a couple hours before sunset, and I can load up and head out at the drop of a hat.
I encourage you to keep it as simple as possible as you begin kayak fishing. This is one of the most enjoyable and awesome things about fishing from a kayak. It’s flexible. It’s easy. It’s inexpensive to go. Don’t overcomplicate it. Plan when you can. If you can’t keep your rig and your tackle simple and enjoy your time on the water. Catching fish is a bonus.
You’re on the water. You’re enjoying nature. Don’t be overthink it.
Don’t bring every piece of tackle you own. This is also related to good planning. Know the conditions, get an idea of where the fish will be and what they’ll be eating. Bring only what you know you’ll use. Don’t bring too much with you. Keep your kayak light. Stay flexible. That’s the joy of kayak fishing. It is the ability to just grab it and go when you get a couple spare hours.
I have spent the last few months fishing with one rod. It’s not even the 7 foot medium heavy bait caster that you see recommended everywhere you read about kayak fishing tips. It is a light power Pflueger President spinning combo that I got for 80 bucks. Best all around rod? Nope. Have I caught fish? Yep. Dozens of them. Some over four pounds. My point is that you don’t need to have all the rods, all the baits, and all the accessories. Just fish with what you have and enjoy your time on the water. The fish aren’t nearly as pretentious as humans.
After fishing with just this rod for one season and researching this topic a lot. I am planning to use a four rod system that will keep a minimum number of rods on my kayak while being able to fish pretty much any lure effectively. Here’s how it works:
The Four Rod System
Here is my recommended system after watching hours of videos and reading tons of articles on this topic. You really only need four rods…
- Multi-Purpose. This is your standard 7ft. medium heavy fast action baitcaster you see recommended as the one rod you should get for kayak fishing and bass fishing. It’s flexible and you can get by fishing pretty much anything on it. Equip this with 20lb test line and use for texas rigs, jigs, chatterbaits, spinnerbaits, deep cranking, and many other techniques with medium sized lures and mild resistance.
- Treble Hook. This would ideally be a 6ft 8inch medium power moderate action glass or composite baitcaster rod with 12lb test line for any lures that utilize treble hooks or where you need to allow the fish to “take” the bait more before setting the hook with less force. Think topwater, crank baits, lighter spinnerbaits, lipless crank baits, square bills, etc.
- Finesse. This is the only spinning rod I’d utilize. I would go with a 7ft medium power fast action spinning rod with 8lb test. This would be your go-to rod for the finesse tactics like weightless worms or creatures, drop shots, jerk baits, small jigs, and tubes.
- Meat Stick. A 7ft 6 inch heavy fast action weapon of a baitcaster. Throw some braid on this thing for launching frogs and flipping and pitching. Think big hook sets, heavier weighted lures (could often be over 1oz) and horsing fish through heavy cover.
Learn to Adapt
You’re going to run into unexpected weather. Fish won’t be where you thought they would be. You’ll lose that one lure you were planning your whole trip around. Kayak fishing is all about being connected to your surroundings and going with the flow. Constantly be thinking about how you might need to adapt and change what you’re doing to stay a step ahead. Don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
Learn to Properly Paddle
This will save you wasted energy and allow you to better maneuver while on the water. This page provides a good overview of the basics.
Master The One Handed Paddle
If you’re just paddling your kayak like me without a food pedal system, you’ll want to learn how to paddle with one hand. This will allow you to be more efficient while continuing to hold a rod in the other hand. What do you do when you’re fighting a fish with one hand, and you’ve got to steer your boat back upstream to avoid an obstacle or even a dangerous hazard? Lock the shaft of your paddle along your forearm. This will anchor it along your arm and allow you to use it more like a canoe paddle. It takes some practice but it’s one of the most useful skills I use on the water frequently. You can also learn to pinch your paddle in between your and side and use your hip as a hinge point to paddle as well for another method of one-handed paddling.
Use Your Feet
Your feet are actually your most effective anchoring system. I’ve found this to be particularly true while river fishing. The more I spend time on the water, the more I understand how to better use my feet as a tool. You can even use your feet as rudders to steer your drift on rivers. Simply stick a foot out and hold on to a log or rock or whatever structure is near your boat until you’re done fishing the hole. Then, no anchor line, no stake to pull up, just put your foot back in and paddle off. Feet are also great for re-directing the boat from obstacles while you’re busy fighting a fish.
Cast To Steer
Baits that offer resistance like crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and chatterbaits can actually be used to help steer your kayak. The simple resistance of reeling in the bait will actually pull your boat in the direction you’re casting and you can learn to use this to your advantage. Make casts in specific directions to subtly adjust your boat’s position as you float down a river or manage wind. Very handy trick to learn for less paddling and more fishing.
Don’t Be Afraid To Anchor
An anchor was the very first accessory I added to my kayak. I believe they are not nearly talked about enough on kayak fishing how-to blogs and resources. They can be cumbersome, but anchors definitely have a place in the kayak fishing arsenal. If wind or current is present while fishing, learning to use an anchor will save your tons of energy and make your time on the water much more enjoyable. For most kayak models, a 2-4 pound claw anchor is more than sufficient. I currently use a very basic setup with a 15lb mushroom weight, anchor line, and a zig zag cleat. I simple throw the anchor over the side of my boat while feeding line through hands until it contacts the bottom. Then, I can quickly secure in the cleat. I plan to invest in an anchor system that drops the anchor at the bow of my boat vs. the side and more effectively manages my anchor line. Something like the anchor wizard would be great.
Never give up and never stop learning.
So many times I have been about to call it after getting skunked and I switch something up and catch something. Keep trying new things. I have experienced some very tough days on the water during these first few months where I just couldn’t figure out the bite. I have continued to study bass behavior, speak with more experienced anglers, talk to local shops, and slowly figure things out from time on the water. Every body of water is different, bass move, and every day is unique on the water. There’s no silver bullets. Just enjoy the hunt and keep trying to get that rod bent.