14 Essential Kayak Fishing Tips For Beginners
UPDATED 03 NOVEMBER 2023
by Robert Ceran
Kayak fishing has become immensely popular in recent years. This is hardly surprising, since it offers several unique advantages, such as the ability to reach fishing spots that are inaccessible by any other means, as well as combining two highly enjoyable outdoor activities into one.
For beginners, the bewildering number of choices of gear for kayak fishing, and the initial learning curve associated with this style of fishing can appear a little challenging.
But we’re confident you will quickly find this to be one of the simplest and most enjoyable styles of fishing ever.
If that sounds good to you, here are 14 essential tips to help launch your kayak fishing career.
Choosing the right gear for kayak fishing
1. What features to look for in a fishing kayak
Over the past couple of decades, fishing kayaks have made huge progress in their design and features. Because of this, we recommend buying a kayak specifically designed for fishing, instead of using a regular kayak for your fishing needs.
Some of the essential features to look for in fishing kayaks are:
- Ample storage room for fishing tackle, within easy reach of your seat
- Bungee cords to secure fishing tackle on the kayak
- Rod holders
- Tethers that you can use to attach your rods and other gear
- A fish finder mount to hold a fish finder plus transducer
- Adjustable seat that can be raised for easier casting
- Dry hatch deck storage (enclosed storage unit)
Optional: you may want to choose a kayak with a pedal-powered propeller to help you move the kayak forward without a paddle, so your hands are free to handle a rod at the same time.
2. Choosing the right clothes
While fishing from a kayak, you’re 100% exposed to the elements of nature, which is actually part of the appeal of the sport. However, this also means you need to be proactive and dress properly to avoid discomfort.
During the summer, it’s best to wear a thin long-sleeved shirt or hoodie, plus high SPF sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun. Also, look for thin and comfortable pants and water shoes to complete your attire. All of these should be made of material (such as cotton) that dries quickly after getting wet, which is bound to happen.
On hot days, a great way to cool down is by submerging your garments into the water and putting them on again afterwards.
In spring or autumn it’s not the heat that kayak anglers struggle with, but rather the opposite. Even if the air temperature is not that cold, capsizing can expose you to very cold water, which can lead to hypothermia far away from home. A great way to prepare for this is by wearing a wetsuit, which will protect you in case you capsize. In addition, try to wear several layers of clothes to keep you warm, plus a waterproof outer layer in case of rain.
3. Choosing the right life vest
It’s important to stress that kayak fishing is not dangerous. However, it can be quite easy to capsize a kayak, especially if you’re a beginner. This is also true if you’re more of a fishing expert than a kayaking expert, which applies to most kayak angling beginners.
Because of this, fishing from a kayak always puts you at risk of capsizing, which means a personal floatation device, also known as a life vest, is a must-have for every kayak angler. Besides protecting you from drowning, life vests designed for fishing have additional benefits, including many spacious pockets that you can use to store smaller items of your tackle.
When choosing a life jacket, you should make sure that it provides enough freedom of movement in the arm and shoulder area. This way, it won’t interfere with your paddling.
4. Choosing the right paddle
When you choose a paddle, look for a length that lets you dip the paddle into the water with ease, but at the same time not too long, which would make it hard to handle. For most people, a length between 230cm and 270cm (8-9 feet) is perfect.
Safety Tips For Kayak Fishing
While kayaking is a relatively safe sport, every paddler should be prepared for accidents. Even experienced kayak anglers can run into unfortunate circumstances, and should therefore be prepared to deal with them. The most common kayaking accident is capsizing, which is fortunately something you can learn how to handle effectively.
5. Always check your kayak before setting out
Most kayaks are very robust, but you should always check the integrity of your kayak before setting out on the water. This is especially true for inflatable kayaks – a single puncture can cause them to lose air rapidly.
If you discover that your inflatable kayak has a hole while you’re out on the water, make sure to return to land as fast as possible. Luckily, most inflatable kayaks have two or three separate air chambers for safety, so losing one of them should not cause the kayak to sink. The air in the remaining air chambers is sufficient to paddle to the next bank.
6. Always wear a life jacket
Wearing a life vest is a must for every kayak angler, even if it feels uncomfortable, and you think you’re a good swimmer. In addition to keeping you afloat in case of capsizing, a good life jacket also keeps you warm and protects you from splashing water while you’re on the kayak.
7. Choose a route that matches your skill level
As a beginner you shouldn’t jump straight into advanced ocean kayaking, or trying to navigate white water just because that’s what you’ve seen others do on YouTube.
Beginners should start practicing in wind-free conditions on a protected body of water, to get a feel for the kayak and to improve their paddling technique. Try to stay close to the shore at first, so it’s easy to swim back if something should go wrong. And learn how to master your kayak under diverse conditions before starting out on an ambitious fishing excursion.
8. Don’t take too much equipment
While most kayaks can hold a lot of weight, this doesn’t mean you should overload it with tons of equipment that you don’t really need. An overloaded kayak handles much worse in terms of speed and maneuverability. In addition, it is less stable in the water, which leads to capsizing more quickly.
9. Avoid kayaking alone
Try to find a buddy so you can go out on kayak tours together. Going on a trip with a friend is by far the safest option. If one of you runs into trouble, the second paddler can help quickly and effectively.
10. What to do if your kayak capsizes
Fortunately, getting off a capsized kayak only takes a few seconds, and usually happens almost automatically. But you should practice it regularly in order to get used to it, and learn how to make sure not to lose the paddle during the maneuver. That way, you’ll be able to remain calm if it happens during your fishing trip, and will know exactly what to do.
You should also practice how to turn a capsized kayak around, and how to get back on top of it. There are several techniques to do this effectively, even in deep water and without help. Also, take the time to learn how a second paddler can assist in this maneuver without running the risk of capsizing as well.
Keep your important kayak fishing accessories on tethers, to avoid losing them, and keep your smart phone in a waterproof bag to avoid getting waterlogged. Finally, make sure you have a second set of dry clothes on shore, so you can change quickly after your return.
11. Practice your paddling
Paddling a kayak is surprisingly challenging for many beginners. Strong paddle movements are necessary to propel you efficiently to the best fishing spots, which can be hard if you are moving against a strong current.
Optimal paddling technique will also help you to conserve energy for fishing when you reach the fishing grounds.
Here are some tips on how to master master your paddling technique:
- Point the bow of your kayak in the direction you want to go.
- Put the paddle blade in the water as far forward as you feel comfortable without contorting your body.
- Let the whole blade dip into the water before pulling back.
- Use the big muscles in your shoulders and back, instead of the smaller muscles in your arms, which is the most energy efficient way to paddle a kayak. You can achieve this by rotating your torso to propel the blade, while only flexing your arms a little. Look at experienced kayakers paddling, and then try it yourself.
- You can also use your paddle as a rudder, to steer your kayak rapidly in a new direction.
12. Practice casting from a kayak
The first time you try casting from your kayak is likely to be very challenging. Your kayak will probably wobble around and feel very unstable, even to the point of feeling like it’s ready to capsize. This is completely normal, and happens to every beginner.
This means that you need to learn how to keep your center of gravity aligned on top of the kayak at all times, even when you perform other activities, like casting a lure, or battling a fish.
Initially, this will require a lot of conscious effort on your part, and you’ll feel extremely clumsy at first. But with a little practice, you’ll learn to do this automatically and without thinking about it. And while your first reaction will probably be to tense up when your kayak wobbles, achieving balance and stability on a kayak is actually easier if you manage to relax yourself.
Apart from learning to balance your center of gravity on top of the kayak, you should also try to determine how far the kayak can lean to either side without capsizing.
Once you feel comfortable casting with a fishing rod while seated, you may be ready to perform some standing casts, which is a good method to extend your range and increase your ability to spot fish near the surface.
13. What to do when you hook a fish
Getting a trophy fish to take your lure is the moment every angler hopes for. And while you can definitely target big fish the size of a tarpon from a kayak, battling and landing a strong fish on a kayak comes with its own set of challenges.
Large fish can upset the balance of your kayak when you try to land them, so make sure there’s no more fight left in them when you bring them in close to the kayak.
It’s best to reel the fish in until you have one rod’s length of line from the tip of your rod to the fish. Keep your rod in one hand and use the other one to net or grab the fish. For teethy species, you might want to invest in a fish grip to grab them.
Tip: make sure that all the gear you need for landing a fish (fish grip, pliers, net, etc.) is within easy reach of your seat.
14. Navigating on a kayak
While this belongs more in the category of advanced kayak fishing techniques, we’re mentioning it here as it is especially important for ocean kayaking. If you do ocean kayaking, it’s a good idea to bring along a map that shows rocks in the sea, and landmarks near the shore that you can use to navigate.
Also, learn to avoid shipping routes, either by using a map, or from observing them when you’re out on the water. It’s hard for large boats to avoid a small kayak, so it’s better to make sure you get out of the way in good time.
You may also want to consider investing in a fish finder with GPS, as this will help you both with navigation, and with identifying fish.
Final Words Of Advice
The number one piece of advice we can give you as a beginner is to just get out there and get started. You’ll learn more on those first few trips of kayak fishing than you ever will online or watching YouTube Videos.
You’ll quickly figure out where you like your rod holders to be, what you like to put in your milk crate, the things that you need to bring, and where’re you want to store everything. Plus you’ll have tons of fun exploring the world of kayak fishing while you figure all this out.