BEST Kayak Fishing Tips for Beginners [Given by an EXPERT]

Kayak Fishing Tips for Beginners

As our world changes, many are seeking outdoor adventure, finding respite in the serene flow of the river and the mellow bliss of the lake. Few activities in nature can be as rewarding as kayak fishing.

Kayak fishing has a low barrier to entry, and it’s a sport that a broad range of people can enjoy. For minimal investment, you can harvest years of enjoyment and enrichment for the mind, body, and spirit.

Fishing from a kayak might seem like a hassle, but with the right amount of preparation and a well-curated list of essential items, you can be on the water catching fish in places inaccessible to larger boats or shore anglers.

Often, beginners overspend on equipment they won’t need, or they’ll bring expensive items without properly protecting them. And sometimes they make decisions that put themselves at unnecessary risk.

Before you get started, it’s important to know some basics. That way, you can enjoy your kayak fishing experience — and maybe catch some fish to bring home.

Here is a list of kayak fishing tips for beginners to help get you started.

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How Do You Fish From a Kayak?

Let’s start with buying the right kayak. There are several options for kayaks depending on what you’ll be doing with the boat. The majority of kayaks can be transformed into a fishing kayak with the simple addition of rod holders and a few top deck accessories.

For kayak fishing, your boat options will generally fall in the category of “sit in” or “sit on top” style.

If you don’t want to make a major financial investment, a small recreational kayak would be ideal. If the kayak has no rod holders for your fishing pole, they can be purchased (or home-made) and mounted separately.

The “sit on top” style is best for individuals in need of extra leg room in the hull. This type of kayak is generally wider than other types and also gives the kayak angler more options for seat adjustment. This is a great option for those with "back issues". The extra width also provides stability that more narrow boats lack.

Another option for a beginner is renting. One major benefit of renting is that your kayak outfitter will have any items needed for your specific excursion.

Choosing a Paddle

You’ll obviously need a paddle to navigate the water. Paddles are generally inexpensive and come in a few sizes and styles. A great starting point to consider is the length and width of your kayak.

Taller and wider kayaks will need a longer paddle. The style that most beginners invest in is a double-bladed paddle with an aluminum shaft and plastic blades. This option is the most affordable and also gives the user a lightweight and durable product.

A more expensive option is a paddle made of carbon fiber. This will be the lightest option but significantly more expensive. Most beginners find an aluminum shaft paddle to be adequate.

If you’ve purchased a more expensive carbon fiber paddle, consider investing in a paddle leash. This adds security by tethering the paddle to the mounting hardware on deck. The leash can potentially restrict movement but will pay off if your paddle goes overboard.

Kayak Fishing Tips for Beginners - Water

Acquire a Well-Fitted Life Jacket

It’s essential to follow practical safety concerns on the water. Purchase and wear a well-fitted life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD). As with any outdoor activity, risk can never be avoided completely. Even in shallow water, a well-fitted life jacket mitigates a significant amount of risk and provides peace of mind on the water.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s recommendation for a good fit is “comfortably snug".

It should be fairly tight when buckled but not so loose that it can easily be slipped off without unbuckling. If you fall into the water, you want your head above the surface.

Remember the “three finger rule". If you can slide three fingers in the shoulder area of your vest, it is not tight enough and won’t elevate your head properly.

When It Comes to Tackle, Keep It Simple

If you own fishing gear, you’re ready to go. If not, beginners looking to acquire tackle should keep it simple.

We’ll look at this in closer detail later in the article, but a simple tackle selection should consist of lures that are specific to the fish in your local lakes and rivers. If you don’t plan on fishing in the ocean, large saltwater lures will be unnecessary.

The best option for beginners is a curated lure kit. These kits are species-specific and include a variety of lures in different colors that are made for catching one type of fish. This eliminates guesswork if you know what fish you’re after.

If you fall in love with kayak angling, you have endless possibilities for expansion and upgrades later. There’s no need to acquire every accessory when you’re starting out.

Getting Your Kayak to the Water

So you’ve purchased, rented, or borrowed a kayak. It’s time to get your kayak to the designated launch site.

Several options abound for this minor challenge of transport. The lack of access to a truck or trailer is no obstacle. You can choose from many foam block carrying systems that can be purchased easily and fit most models of vehicles.

Foam block transport systems include two foam rectangles that are positioned on the roof of your vehicle to distribute the weight of your kayak. Two canvas ratchet straps slide through a fabricated slot in the blocks, allowing you to secure your vessel to a roof rack.

If you don’t have a roof rack, a DIY option is to roll down your windows and secure the strap through the cab of your vehicle.

Kayak Fishing Tips for Beginners - Camo

The Art of Kayaking

You’ll quickly discover there’s a delicate art to paddling. With regular practice of good paddling technique you can cover large amounts of water with minimal physical exertion.

Most double-bladed paddles are adjustable, and for those starting out, the best advice is to adjust your blades so the concave sides are face out. This will allow you to grab the maximum amount of water with your strokes.

Engage your core muscles and keep a relaxed grip as you paddle. Gripping too tightly means you're not moving through the water fluidly. If you feel certain muscles beginning to strain, breathe deeply from your core and straighten your spine as you recruit different muscles to share the load.

If you struggle to feel your core muscles, try flexing your stomach to create stability as your paddle dips to the water.

For your first time, try to hit the water on a day with minimal wind. Plan on staying close to the shore and spend some time figuring out what paddling technique works best for you before pulling your poles out.

Even calm days will have an occasional breeze. Take advantage of the wind and the natural currents and make sure you're not over-exerting yourself as you paddle.

It’s a great feeling to have the wind and water to carry you forward. It’s also not a bad idea to have a single, smaller paddle on deck or in the hull in the event you lose a paddle.

Where to Store Your Kayak

If you're storing your kayak outdoors for the off-season, the hull of your boat could be very alluring to some unwanted critters. Keep the hull and all storage bins covered when not in use. This will eliminate any surprises when you're ready to hit the water again.

What Should You Bring Kayak Fishing?

If you're supplying your own kayak fishing gear, you absolutely must have a paddle, life jacket, fishing pole, and tackle. Also bring a first aid kit and sunscreen.

Remember that kayaking is a beautiful expression of minimalism. Leave your large coolers, surf rods, and gimmicky fishing accessories at home and consider only the bare essentials.

Choose a Fishing Pole and Tackle

There are numerous types of fishing rods available. Find a versatile fishing reel with a casting system that suits your dexterity.

Optimal rod length for kayak fishing is between 6 and 8 feet. Beyond 8 feet, casting from a seated position becomes difficult and can cause unnecessary muscle strain.

Keep your tackle to a minimum ...

Only buy the items you’ll use. The bait shop closest to where you're fishing can be a great source of knowledge on what to put in your tackle box. It’s also a great place to meet fellow anglers and get important information on water levels (tides), weather conditions, and dam schedules.

Most bait shops and big box stores will clearance out tackle at the end of peak season. This is a fantastic time to stock up on lures and diversify your tackle box.

The majority of kayaks come equipped with deck rigging similar in style to Bimini top hardware seen in larger vessels. This deck rigging cord is useful for holding items you’d like to bring along but aren’t of great value.

Be careful when bringing important items such as a phone or wallet. Dry bags are a great option if you can’t leave your keys or phone on the shore.

Tackle containers come in boxes or nylon bag styles. Both options provide durability, but if you bring along several crankbaits with multiple treble hooks, these can easily attach themselves to the nylon and can be difficult to remove.

Inevitably, the top deck of your boat and all items loaded will get wet. A hard plastic tackle box will be best suited in this instance.

Most tackle boxes contain multiple, smaller plastic cases. Generally one slim case of tackle will hold a multitude of lure options.

Once you’re ready to expand your tackle box, the tackle aisle can be a source of choice anxiety. The options can seem endless, but do yourself a favor and keep your gear tidy and sparse.

Kayak Fishing Tips for Beginners - Gear

Tackle Essentials

Three great options for beginners and seasoned anglers are jigs, spinnerbaits, and topwater lures.

Jigs for jigging come in many varieties and are incredibly versatile in offering a good bait presentation. A jig can be swam, floated, or popped off of rocks and ledges, and many come in a weedless version that's ideal for dense cover.

Spinnerbaits lure fish by mimicking small prey and baitfish. The spinning action of these lures comes from one or more reflective metal blades spinning in a propeller motion as the lure is retrieved.

Purchase multiple spinnerbaits and test-drive different sizes and colors. The satisfaction you get from casting a spinnerbait and feeling it whir through the wind and vibrate the water is rivaled only by catching a fish.

Spinnerbaits are remarkable in their ability to lure many different species of fish.

Topwater lures require a bit more mindfulness and finesse than a standard cast and retrieve, and it’s important to have a few in your tackle box.

Topwater lures are jerked across the surface of the water. Their concave faces splash water as they’re popped across the top. This commotion can attract a variety of fish.

These are best reserved for lakes on windless days. Rivers with strong currents will hinder you from presenting a realistic bait presentation.

Be patient in finding realistic ways to present your topwater lure. If you find that a lure is underperforming, change up your speed, rhythm, and the area where you are casting it.

Patience pays off. Getting a bite off the top is an unforgettable experience.

Remember that much of the joy in fishing comes from trial and error and discovering what works while separating out the gimmicks and fluff.

Non-Essential Items to Consider

Although not necessary for a complete experience, there are many items you can bring along that can add considerable value to your kayak fishing trip. They give you security, comfort, and protection from the elements.

A must-have addition in your tackle is a pivot swivel. These cost very little and eliminate the need to tie knots between lure changes.

The swivel has two metal rings connected by a pivot joint. It’s essentially a small carabiner that you tie your line to. The benefit for the angler is that your line is tied to the swivel, so instead of cutting and wasting line every time you change lures, simply unhook the lure from the swivel and attach a new one.

Consider purchasing a phone mount and waterproof case. If you want to document your expedition with photo and video, a simple phone mount can adjust to securely hold your phone.

You can purchase waterproof recording equipment that is built with the outdoor enthusiast in mind, but if you want a convenient and inexpensive alternative, you can simply mount your phone on the top of your deck.

Take caution if you choose to mount your phone on your kayak. Even with a proper mount it's a good idea to tie a leash to the mount shaft. If the mount should malfunction this will prevent a total submersion in the water.

If you decide that bringing your phone is too risky, a great safety consideration is a whistle. A safety whistle allows you to create a high-pitched distress sound should you be in a spot where you can’t yell or call for help.

The added benefit of using your phone is the ability to use voice commands. If you get a bite while kayaking, you want to set your hook and begin working to retrieve the fish you’ve caught. If you’ve hooked a fish, fumbling with your phone to take a photo could end up costing you the catch.

If you choose to bring along your phone without a proper phone mount or waterproof case, you risk losing it. Fish shake wildly as you reel them in. This is part of the thrill. Balancing a phone while removing a hook from a fish's mouth is not easy and it’s best to not even try. The photographic proof is worthless if your phone is on the bottom of the lake.

A better practice is to calmly use voice commands to start recording video. This will also spare your phone screen the grime of your fingers.

Aside from documenting your trophy catch for social media, one added benefit of taking photos and video on your expedition is the creation of an easily accessible index of where you’ve been and where you want to return another day.

This practice also catalogs which lure caught which specific fish. Many anglers keep a journal with this information, but you can’t beat the convenience of having this information on your camera roll.

How to Have a Safe, Successful Fishing Adventure?

Don’t forget a first aid kit and sunscreen.

Also, kayaking is physical, so hydrate accordingly. Water bottles can add excess weight and monopolize the deck rigging, but it’s important to have a few bottles of water on deck.

Many underestimate the physical exertion needed to transport, launch, and navigate a kayak and equipment.

Check your state regulations to see if you need to tag and register your kayak. There are many places to kayak that require no registration.

Be realistic with yourself about your physical conditioning and your ability to swim. Seasoned kayakers know how to conserve their energy and maximize movement utilizing the wind and the currents. But for the rest of us, capsizing can lead to serious trouble.

Even with a well-fitted life jacket, a few lessons with a certified swim instructor can make the difference between life and death in the rare event you have to abandon your kayak.

Consider the season and the weather when you intend to be on the water. The season and the water temperature can not only affect the enjoyment of your excursion but also provide great variance in fish activity throughout the ecosystem.

As the air and water temperature drop, you should be mindful of the clothing and gear you brought along. Even the most seasoned anglers get splashed from time to time.

A small rain jacket or poncho is ideal for deflecting water. Even if it’s not raining, a waterproof jacket can keep you dry and comfortable on days when the water is choppy and running down the shaft of your paddle.

If you plan to fish in the cooler seasons of fall and winter, be advised that although 50 to 60 degrees F (10-15 °C) might be ideal hiking weather, those same temperatures can feel considerably colder on the water.

Most kayak paddles come equipped with rubber splash rings to ensure the drip from your paddle doesn’t travel back down the shaft. If these splash rings slide closer to your hands as you paddle, you might find yourself soaking wet and miserable.

If the splash rings become too worn they can be replaced without the strain of buying a new paddle.

Kayak Fishing Tips for Beginners - Rod

If You Aren’t Catching Anything

If you find that you’re getting frustrated from not catching fish, a great piece of advice is to STOP. If you’ve test-driven all the lures in your tackle and you feel nothing's working, this is an ideal time to put the poles in the holders and simply enjoy the serenity of paddling.

As stated earlier, paddling is an art that requires just as much mind as it does muscle. As you paddle, reflect on how you were fishing and what was not working.

An underperforming lure is often being used in the wrong location and at the wrong time of day.

It can be difficult at first to notice patterns. If you return to specific spots at different times of the year, you will notice the patterns of what color lure to use at what point of the day. With consistency and serendipity, you can catch multiple species of fish on lures designed for one specific type.

Perhaps you got a bite on a spinnerbait but failed to set the hook and you ended up missing the fish. Make a notation of that lure and where you were on the water. Your phone in a waterproof case is your trusted ally in this scenario.

Accountability Matters

Coming home after catching nothing but a sunburn is all part of the game. However, having an accident on the water without a backup plan for rescue is unforgivable. Tell someone where you are going to be.

Let a loved one or good friend know when and where you plan to fish. If you visit a bait shop before you depart, this is another good opportunity to let people know where you intend to fish.

Conclusion

After years of logging lake time, you will make new friends who share your passion for the beautiful minimalism of kayaking. Don’t be in a rush to upgrade equipment. Remember that the sport of kayak fishing is not only easy on beginners but also easy on the wallet.

As you buy better equipment, this is a great opportunity to share your old gear and your practical knowledge. As you look for a new boat, try many different types to see which fits your posture and provides the most ergonomic experience for your back.

If you want a good return on your investment, you can sell your equipment or even rent it out. This will create a new revenue stream for you and allow someone to test-drive the sport with a minimal investment. You might even make a new fishing buddy.

Stored properly and well maintained, a kayak and some simple fishing gear can provide years of enjoyment and connection to nature. Your journey begins with mastery of the basics.

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I'm Sina, the guy behind Slo-fishing.si and eBook writer. This site is base camp for fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. I love fishing and want to share all my stories, knowledge and my experience with any and all potential anglers. Read more ...

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