Over the past 40 years, I’ve had the privilege of casting, flipping, trolling and jigging my way across much of Canada as well as portions of the U.S. (The Everglades!) for bass.
I have fished from shore, canoes, expedition kayaks, aluminum Jon boats, rafts, pontoon boats and bass boats. I’ll unpack some of the best reasons for using a fishing kayak for bass angling and why I am convinced it is the absolute best method overall for catching any bass in most environments.
Please note that this article is just a basic introduction to bass fishing in a kayak and I don’t claim to be exhaustive in my scope (that means I’m not telling you ALL there is to know about bass fishing). I hope to offer some guidance for those just getting started in this most thrilling (while also relaxing) pursuit of lake or river fishing for bass!
Table of Contents
Where Do I Find Bass on the Lake?
This may be a bit simplistic, but in general, you’ll find Largemouth bass in relatively shallow water infested with any kind of weeds, while Smallmouth bass hang out around more defined structures like fallen trees, sunken boulders and boat docks.
Of course, the full answer to where to find bass is more nuanced and a bit more complicated when we start looking at differing bodies of water like fast-moving streams vs. shallow, weedy ponds, and deep, clear, rocky lakes in the Winter vs. shallow, muddy lakes in the deep South in mid-August!
As a rule though, stick to weedy bays for Largemouth and shoreline structure (or mid-lake structure if you can find it) for Smallmouth.
What is bass fishing from a kayak like compared to other methods?
Kayak fishing for bass is a unique and exciting experience. Kayaks are much smaller and more maneuverable, less visible, and just as quiet (or quieter) as other types of fishing boats, which allows the angler to get closer to the fish.
My dad, who introduced me to fishing, always told me something that I believe is true (at least for most bass fishing in Canada and the Northern US). He told me that if I could see a specific bass swimming or still in the water, the bass has already seen me and he’ll be gone in a second or at least he won’t be the one biting my lure.
That may not be true in all cases, but it’s a good axiom.
Kayaks provide a great vantage point for spotting bass habitat in the water (along with your polarized sunglasses).
While kayaks are even smaller than most canoes, it’s far easier to stand up to stretch and analyze the surrounding fish habitat. Some have told me that they’ve witnessed bass actually being attracted by the presence of a quiet fishing kayak though I can’t speak to that issue!
While other boats will allow you to stand, I know of no other craft that will allow standing while also allow you to drag it by hand out of the water and then allow you to swing it on top of your car roof for transport. That is certainly a quality unique to kayak fishing.
In the case of Largemouth bass, shallow, weedy water is often less accessible to bass boats or other motorboats. Canoes and kayaks overcome that problem, but even canoes and hand-paddled kayaks are prone to problems with weed-wrapped paddles that often slip into the water while you’re fighting a bass.
If you use a pedal or paddle-drive kayak, you will simply NEVER experience anything like it except if you’re in one! It allows for access to the shallowest waters, is as quiet as anyone could imagine, is incredibly comfortable to sit or stand in, costs nothing to operate once you buy it, allows for hand-free operation, is easy to maneuver and is a joy to use for trolling.
I don’t think any other craft can boast all those advantages – PERIOD!
The downside of kayak fishing is that you are more exposed to the elements and can get wetter and colder than if you were in a boat with a bimini top.
Kayak fishing also requires more upper body strength (if you paddle with a traditional hand paddle) than other types of fishing, as you will be paddling most of the time. That’s why I would never use any fishing kayak that does not use my legs as the primary propulsion energy source!
What Type of Kayak Should You Use for Bass Fishing and Why?
This one is easy. A pedal-drive or paddle-drive kayak uses either a propeller or a set of fins to propel the kayak forward while your legs are the primary power source. This is by far the best type of fishing kayak for calm water bass fishing.
I would never consider using a hand paddle simply because it seems too illogical and counter-productive. When I am fishing, I need BOTH of my hands on my rod and reel for maximum efficiency, efficacy, and enjoyment.
At the same time, however, BOTH of my hands are needed to steer and propel the kayak (did I mention AT THE SAME TIME?). That means that I would ideally need 4 arms to operate the whole system, and even then, my paddle and 2 arms would be in the way of my fishing rod!
To add insult to injury, my dormant legs are just sitting there doing absolutely nothing while my poor hands are needed on my fishing rod, my net, my paddle, my tacklebox … all at the same time. Something about that scenario annoys me.
Am I the only one who sees this?
If you’re still not convinced about the VAST superiority of a paddle or pedal drive system over a double-blade kayak paddle, consider this:
If you’re angling for smallmouth over submerged structure in open water, there’s likely a 100% chance (at least during the hours of 8 am to 8 pm) that you’ll be dealing with at least a bit of wind.
Can you imagine trying to stay over the structure in deep water using a hand paddle while trying to fish with both hands at the same time?
If you use an anchor, you’ll have to deal with potential problems of getting your line tangled in the anchor line along with about a dozen other issues related to anchors (by the way, I absolutely HATE anchors and refuse to use one while kayak fishing).
Even in sheltered, shallow bays near shore, you’ll still have wind that will push you away from where you want to be. Using a pedal drive, you can maintain position easier, especially since you have instant reverse capabilities!
Okay, this has to be in my top 3 reasons I love fishing with my pedal-drive fishing kayak. Trolling is a big part of anyone’s fishing technique portfolio because it is so effective. I won’t even start to tell you about the insane effectiveness of trolling a jitterbug on a glassy surface in early morning or just around sunset on a Northern Lake untouched by power boats!
If you understand this concept, then you’ll acknowledge that it would be best to troll with your rod in hand so you can impart subtle action to the lure (speed up and slow down, jerk it a bit, etc.). If you’re trolling with a kayak paddle, you’ll miss the strike (which sometimes can be subtle), and you may not get a chance to set the hook.
Further, you’ve got about a 40% chance (if you’re good) of having the paddle slip into the water if the fish is a big one and you’re reaching for your net and your pliers and fish bonker at the same time as you’re trying to fire up your GoPro to record the catch.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get rid of the paddle for good and just use your hands to hold the rod while trolling?
How Do You Go About Casting for Bass When Fishing From a Kayak?
Casting is as simple from a kayak as any boat. In most cases, however, side-arm casting is a better option to avoid potentially tangling a lure with the other rods stored behind the angler’s seat.
Side-arm casting gives this angler far better control than a straight overhead cast, and it also minimizes any uncontrolled long casts that end up in the bushes on shore. It’s far easier to judge trajectory and distance with a side-arm cast that stays close to the water.
A 6-foot to 7-foot medium-action rod is best for most kayak casting situations, and experience has taught me that sitting is a better option than standing while casting – at least for bass in Northern lakes. Stealth is the name of the game, and the more you can hide your presence from the bass, the better.
Flipping can also be done effectively using a sideways flip rather than using a standing vertical flipping technique.
Kayak Bass Fishing Mistakes and Best Practices
Every bass fishing boat has its advantages and disadvantages, and kayaks are no different. To that end, here is a short list of kayak bass fishing do’s and don’ts.
- Use a visibility flag for maximum safety. It’s very inexpensive and in addition to keeping you safer on the water, it makes you look like you know what you’re doing!
- Use your legs to power the kayak and save your arms for the things you enjoy doing … like FISHING!
- Stand up and stretch carefully if you need to, but be on your guard.
- Poke yourself into the smallest bays and weed beds in order to maximize your advantage over a $75,000 Ranger bass boat!
- Bring along a storage crate behind your seat (make sure it’s secured with bungee cords to the kayak) and a small (10L) dry bag for important items.
- Have a Personal Locator Beacon or satellite communicator with you if you’re heading out on a longer excursion, are on the ocean or even on a smaller lake if it’s sparsely populated and no one knows where you are.
- Use a paddling-specific (or better yet, fishing-specific/inflatable) PFD to maximize your enjoyment factor.
- Bring appropriate snacks and water for the time you’re gone.
- Give the right of way to just about any other boat on the lake.
- Stay close to shore. It’s safer and in most cases the fishing is better – especially since you don’t normally use downriggers for BASS!
- Rig your car or truck with the correct bars and riggings to minimize danger to your kayak and others while on the road.
- Remember that while you may get more of your legs wet, the deeper the water (up to about 2 feet deep) is, the easier it is to get out of your kayak (assuming you have no dock).
- Think that your Polyethylene kayak is indestructible. Store it as much as you can (especially over Winter) indoors (hoist it to your garage ceiling if you can) and cover it with a kayak-specific UV cover. Otherwise, UV light will eventually deteriorate your kayak’s hull making it virtually unusable over the long term.
- Buy a fishing kayak unless you can try it out first (especially if it’s from a retailer and costs several thousand dollars)
- Treat your kayak like a battle tank. A keel guard may be a good option to protect the front of the hull from rock collisions over time.
- Spook the bass with all the noises a kayak makes (splashing paddle, loud pedaling noises from a pedal drive kayak, electric motor, hard items sliding across the kayak’s surface, etc.
- Land your lure right on top of a bass (if you see it) like you might be tempted to in a spawning bed. It will likely spook the fish instead of making it hungry!
- Get as close as you can to the fish. I’ve found that the closer you can get to a sunning or spawning bass, the less likely you are to catch it.
- Forget to adjust your fishing kayak seat, footrests, etc. in order to fit your fishing conditions. For example, the seat needs to be adjusted for each individual paddler if you’re using a pedal drive kayak.
- Get into and out of your kayak with the bow or stern against the shore (ie. the kayak is perpendicular to shore). Instead, have the kayak parallel to the shore (though you might get your feet wet a bit) and you will increase the odds of a successful boarding with no tippiness.
- Put too much value on a fish finder. Most of your bass (especially largemouth) will be caught in water too shallow to effectively use a fish finder. You’ll catch them in weedy bays close to shore.
- Bring 5-10 fishing rods with you in the kayak! Keep it simple, and unless you’re a tournament angler, I find that 2-3 rods are adequate as both backups and for a quick change of lure presentation.
- Get really excited about the ability you have to stand in your kayak while angling. Realistically, sitting is the safest, most efficient and most comfortable position for most fishing scenarios.
- Buy everything for your kayak from a retailer. DIY modifications are often very quick and easy and can save you 50% – 90% on most items.
Where Do You Keep a Bass in Your Kayak After You Catch it?
If you’re looking to keep a few bass for dinner or a shore lunch, it’s best to use either a fish storage cooler meant for a kayak, or a DIY modification that includes a plastic bag and a milk crate storage box behind your seat. Alternatively, a diver’s mesh bag can be used for storing the fish in the water.
Because I’m cheap, I don’t own a FISH COOLER BAG for my kayak. Instead, I used an old milk crate I had in my garage. On my YouTube channel, you can see a full video on how I made the crate.
While the crate is often used to hold tackle and other gear, I put my tackle boxes under my seat, and my gear (windbreaker jacket, personal locator beacon, snacks, etc.) in a dry bag just behind my seat.
Then, if I know I’ll be keeping some fish, I’ll use a fish bonker (also DIY) in order to minimize suffering of the poor bass and to minimize noises while I continue to fish. I’ll store the bass I’m keeping in a plastic shopping bag which is then placed inside of my crate which is also behind my seat (a little farther behind than my dry bag).
In my situation, I’m almost always only on the water for a couple of hours before coming back to camp and cleaning/eating my fish right away. My storage solutions are based on this scenario rather than keeping the bass for weeks or months.
If you plan on staying on the water for many hours and then transporting the bass home and into your freezer, an insulated cooler bag with ice is probably the best storage solution.
Buffalo Gear makes a top-notch kayak fish cooler bag for longer-term storage – especially if you add ice!
One of the best alternative methods of storing your bass to keep it fresh, is keeping it in the water using a mesh diver’s bag. This is a very inexpensive method that will keep your bass fresher than using a plastic bag in a crate, but it will also surely spook other bass (especially in shallow waters) by creating noises (unless the bass is dead).
A diver’s bag filled with bass will also catch weeds and potentially tangle your line, lure or fish the next time you have a fish on!
Kayak Bass Fishing Key Takeaways
If you haven’t already bought your kayak, consider a pedal drive system because it gives you ultimate control of your kayak (even more than paddle-drive systems and infinitely more control than a hand paddle in all but the densest weeds).
Honestly, if you told me I HAD TO use a double-bladed paddle while fishing from my kayak, I’d probably rather not use my kayak at all for fishing!
Understand that your kayak is giving you a world of advantages over other boats (or no boat), so be sure to make full use of those advantages instead of trying to compete with the advantages offered by a bass boat!
Stay close to shore for most bass in warm weather and stay as quiet as possible (which is very possible in a fishing kayak).
Store your catch in a cooler bag or crate made especially for a fishing kayak.
Tight lines my friends!