Kayak Fishing (An Introductory Guide for Beginners)

Kayak fishing is an incredibly popular method of fishing and it’s growing in popularity every year! With this popularity and growth, come hundreds of questions about how to get started properly.

Before you spend any money, it’s best to research the answers to dozens of crucial questions like what type of kayak to choose, what accessories are needed, how to get in and out of your specific kayak, how is it propelled and many more!

I’ve been paddling for over 40 years and fishing for every one of those. I’ll give you my best insights into this effective, fun, healthy, and cost-effective method of fishing.

What Should I Look for in my First Kayak?

There are a few things that a fishing kayak should offer no matter the budget or quality. At a minimum, fishing kayaks should be stable, easy to transport, and comfortable to sit in for hours at a time.

1 – Stability

A fishing kayak needs to be stable enough to handle waves, wind, and movement without tipping over.

You may get the urge to stand up to stretch or cast, and if so, it would be nice to have a kayak that is stable enough to allow standing without the feeling of tippiness that would prevent successful and enjoyable casting or stretching.

An angling kayak that measures at least 34 inches in width will offer a basic level of stability that would allow for standing or an adequate feeling of stability even while sitting. Wider is even better.

While it is true that as you use your kayak more, you’ll get used to it and it will feel more stable, it’s also true that wider kayaks offer more peace of mind for both beginners and experienced anglers alike.

The only real downside to a wide canoe is that they will be a bit slower than another model of the same length but narrower, and they will potentially be heavier.

2 – Comfort

You’ll be spending hours in your fishing kayak, so make sure it has comfortable seating and legroom.

The best seat comfort will come from a sit-on-top kayak with a wide, webbed seat (similar to a lawn chair) with a full, adjustable backrest. Many kayaks offer stepped foot rests which cater to different leg lengths.

In addition to the obvious seat and leg comfort, it’s a good idea to consider the location of rod holders. If they are well behind the seat, it will be awkward and uncomfortable to access them.

3 – Ease of Transportation

Kayaks can be heavy and awkward, so it’s important to be sure you can easily get your kayak from the car to the water and back without taking unnecessary risks with your health and safety.

Unlike canoes, fishing kayaks are extremely heavy for their length. Even relatively short kayaks can weigh anywhere from 60 pounds to over 120 pounds.

I own a Das King Nautilus kayak that is only 10.5 feet long but weighs around 80 lbs. In this weight range, every additional pound is crucial and even a few pounds can be the difference between whether or not you can effectively mount the kayak on top of a vehicle or not.

Many kayak owners have opted for a trailer for ease of transportation.

4 – Storage

The issue of off-season (and even “in-season”) storage should be considered before making a kayak purchase.

Many higher-end fishing kayaks are so large and heavy that they require a trailer for transportation. The trailer can be used as a storage rack, but should be indoors during the off-season and colder weather.

Lightweight kayaks can be easily moved by hand onto storage racks on a wall but even the smallest sit-on-top fishing kayaks will probably need a set of wheels (cart) to move even short distances.

Because of their design, fishing kayaks are not meant to be carried by a single person in the style of a shoulder-mounted canoe. You’ll need a partner, a trolly/cart, a trailer or even all of the above in some cases.

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A sit-on-top kayak offers the most comfortable “lawn chair style” seating and plenty of deck space for storage of gear and accessories.

I’m here to tell you the truth about money and kayak angling.

You can fully outfit your fishing kayak and be on the water for a few hundred dollars.

For what you might spend for a couple of nice fishing rods you can be ready to go with a rig in which you won’t be embarrassed to be seen.

Joel Spring – Author of “The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Fishing”

What Are the Different Types of Fishing Kayaks Available?

There are two main styles of fishing kayaks and at least 3 methods of propulsion. Sit-on-top kayaks and Sit-inside kayaks are the two main design styles available.

Sit-on-top fishing kayaks are the most popular type of fishing kayak. They are stable, easy to get in and out of, and comfortable to fish from. Sit-on-top fishing kayaks are an excellent choice for beginners or anglers who want to fish in calm waters.

Sit-on-top kayaks are also the best option to cast easily since the angler sits a bit higher, and this style offers far more easily accessible storage of items like tackle boxes, fishing rods, camera mount areas and more.

While sit-on-top kayaks are the kayak of choice for most fishing applications, they do not protect directly against any splashing water, so it would be more likely that you’ll get wet while fishing all but the calmest waters with the sit-on-top model.

Sit-inside fishing kayaks offer more protection from the elements but can be more difficult to get in and out of. Sit-inside fishing kayaks are a good choice for anglers who want to fish in rougher waters or colder climates.

They do not normally offer any conveniences like rod holders, open deck for tackle storage, accessory rails, fish cooler bags or alternate propulsion options.

Pedal Drive, Paddle Drive, and Hand powered Kayaks

Pedal fishing kayaks are powered by pedals (like a recumbent bicycle) that activate a propeller.

Pedal fishing kayaks are a good choice for anglers who want to fish in larger bodies of water or cover more ground quickly.

Because they offer hands-free operation of your kayak, Pedal drive systems are becoming more popular than ever before. Pedal drive systems are the only leg-powered systems that allow for instant reverse (by back-pedaling) and they also offer the most torque (AKA “speed”) than paddle drive kayaks.

Paddle drive systems (the most famous being Hobie), are similar to pedal drive kayaks in that your legs are doing the heavy work. The “pedals” do not go in a circle as do pedal drive systems and bicycles.

Instead, the angler’s feet simply move back and forth alternately much like a stair stepper machine. They are not quite as fast as pedal drive kayaks and instead of utilizing a propeller to move through the water, they use flappers that look and act much like a scuba diver’s flippers or fins.

However, Paddle drive kayaks can more quickly and easily get into shallow water because their “flippers” or “flappers” under the water can be tucked up to the kayak hull immediately.

Both pedal and paddle drive kayaks offer a hand-free paddling experience that is crucial to fishing both successfully and conveniently over the long term.

Hand-powered kayaks are simply kayaks that are paddled with a traditional, double-bladed hand-operated paddle.

Many paddlers (especially purists) would have it no other way, but I can tell you from direct experience that using a hand paddle while angling is inconvenient at best.

The paddling action will interfere with lots of potentially important accessory functions like electronic fish finder, camera mounts, rod holders and more.

Additionally, there is little else as frustrating as trying to move against the wind while still trying to fish in a hand-powered kayak. In most cases, it simply is not possible.

If you’d rather stay dry while kayak fishing for 4 hours at a time on a lake, you’d best not choose a hand-powered paddle system. Even the best kayak paddles will drip water into the cockpit or kayak.

Fishing kayak technology has come so far that using a traditional hand paddle kayak is, in my opinion, like using an automobile with a crank start. It’s unnecessary, awkward, less enjoyable, less efficient and simply lessens the overall experience of what should be a fun and enjoyable activity.

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Pedal Drive fishing kayaks open a whole new world of fishing to anyone who tries it. While a backup paddle is recommended, I have rarely used mine, and go for multiple fishing excursions for dozens of hours without ever even touching my paddle.

How Big of a Kayak do I Need for Fishing?

Depending on your fishing environment, you only need a kayak that is about 10 feet long (in quieter waters) to enjoy a comfortable and successful fishing experience, though a longer one of 13 feet or more is best for ocean fishing.

Obviously the larger the kayak, the more it will offer in the way of storage, stability, visibility, and speed. However, larger kayaks also come with a higher price tag and a very undesirable heavier weight which may mean that you’ll need a trailer to move them from home to the lake, and a kayak cart or trolly to move them from your vehicle to the water.

If you’re looking to fish mostly on larger lakes or on the ocean, it would be best to consider any fishing kayak at least 13 feet long or longer.

Does the length of a Kayak Matter?

The length of a kayak does matter, and it largely depends on what type of Kayak fishing you want to do. Longer kayaks often have more of everything else like storage area, width, speed and price!

Fishing Kayaks come in all different lengths for a reason, and that reason is that different lengths are better suited for different purposes.

For example, shorter kayaks are easier to maneuver and turn, making them ideal for backwater areas with small bays, inlets and weedy ponds.

On the other hand, longer kayaks are faster and have more storage capacity, making them better suited for Kayaking on flat water or overnight trips. Longer kayaks can also be made wider and more stable as are ocean fishing kayaks.

Longer kayaks are faster than shorter ones even when all other factors are equal, so length is definitely a factor to consider before buying a kayak.

The next time you’re in the market for a kayak, be sure to consider what type of kayak fishing you want to do and choose a kayak that is the right length for your needs.

Is it Normal to Stand in a Fishing Kayak?

Standing in a fishing kayak is an option that used by most anglers but it is not the default position.

Some smaller fishing kayaks lack the stability to confidently stand without making the angler constantly worried about capsizing or falling into the lake.

If your budget allows, it’s good to have a kayak that allow for standing with confidence, though you will almost always be sitting.

From the sitting position you will have excellent access to the water all around you without any major restricting factors and you’ll be sitting pretty high on the kayak.

That means that standing will most often be used only occasionally to stretch your legs or maybe get a better view of some underwater obstacles in certain conditions.

What Accessories are Necessary for Kayak Fishing?

It’s important to understand the difference between what gear is necessary and what is not. Technically, it’s only necessary to have a PFD, paddle and fishing rod to get onto the water, but a few more items like a dry bag, fish storage container and rod holders would fall into the “must have” category for most anglers.

There are a few essential accessories you’ll need for kayak fishing, including:

  • PFD: A personal flotation device is required by law in most states. Make sure your PFD is comfortable and fits properly.
  • Rod holders: Rod holders keep your hands free while fishing and make it easy to transport your rods.
  • Fish finders/GPS: A fish finder or GPS can help you find fish and navigate back to your starting point.
  • Storage: You’ll need somewhere to store your tackle, extra clothing, and your keeper fish. A milk crate is a great option. See this video on how you can make your own.
  • Emergency Whistle: A whistle is a basic item of safety you should have in any body of water larger than a small pond or narrow, quiet river.
  • Dry Bag: While not something every single angler has, a dry bag is strongly advised for storage of gear that must not ever get wet. Any gear in your milk crate or storage compartment is not protected from water.
  • Paddle Leash: If you operate a kayak with no leg-powered mechanism, you’ll need a paddle AND a leash. Without a leash, your experience on the water will be frustrating at best. Paddles have a tendency to slip into the water once you release them to grab your rod. That is especially true with sit-in kayaks.
  • Safety Flag: Many options are available for one of the more important safety items on your kayak. A safety flag is a brightly colored (usually fluorescent orange) small flag on a sturdy pole about 3 feet tall on the back of your kayak. It is there to offer you the best chance of being seen by operators of larger, faster motorized boats that could pose a danger.
  • Fishing Net: A net is an accessory that will offer you both convenience and safety. A net makes it much easier and quicker to successfully bring your fish aboard. Not only will you end up with more landed fish, but you’ll avoid hooks in your fingers and potentially even a man overboard scenario!
  • Paddle (or emergency paddle): If you have a hand-powered kayak, you’ll obviously need a paddle, but even if you have a pedal drive kayak, a hand paddle is a virtual necessity for backup and also for maneuvering in weedy patches.
  • First Aid Kit: It’s never a bad idea to have at least a small first aid kit with you on a boat for any number of mishaps, not the least of which is a hook in your finger!
  • Fishing Gear (including pliers): Obviously you can’t forget your fishing tackle box and rod(s), but while you’re packing, a pair of long needle nose pliers can help you prevent the use of your first aid kit. Using either a net or a set of pliers (or both) can save your fingers from embedded hooks!
  • Fish Bonker: If you decide to keep your catch, it’s usually best to put the poor critters out of their misery with a knock on the head. In addition to slowly torturing your catch by not killing it immediately, you’ll have to deal with the loud noise of flopping fish in your kayak (which spooks the fish in the water that you’re trying to catch).

Does Color Matter?

The color of your fishing kayak is mostly one of personal preference. The color makes no difference to your fishing experience as far as the fish are concerned. Whatever the color, your kayak looks essentially the same from under the water – a large, dark object on the surface.

Unfortunately, your only concern on many waters is not the fish, but rather, other watercraft that are larger, faster and may not see you given your low profile and lack of wake, etc.

A brightly colored kayak (ie. fluorescent colors like yellow and orange) along with a safety flag (see above) is your best chance of avoiding a collision with a larger boat.

It’s not a guarantee of safety, but with a bit of thought, some luck and a few precautions, you can minimize your chances of a collision.

How Do You Get In and Out of a Fishing Kayak?

The best way to get in and out of a fishing kayak if you have a dock is to simply grab the gunwales (or sides) as you would a canoe and carefully step into or out of the kayak. However, if no dock is available, it is almost always necessary to step into the water on a beach or rugged shoreline.

This is especially true if you have a pedal drive kayak that operates with a propeller that sits 12 inches or more below the bottom of the kayak.

If your fishing kayak is a larger model (14 feet or longer) it will be easier to get in and out without always needing to step into the water near shore, but you may still have to get your feet wet most of the time if you don’t have a dock.

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A fishing kayak’s convenience, low price, comfort, speed, effectiveness, and enjoyability factor are only some of the reasons this is my absolute favorite method of angling.

What Should I Wear While Kayak Fishing?

Of course, clothing is dependant on weather and environmental conditions but in general, warm weather calls for swim trunks, technical T-shirt and water shoes, while cold weather requires a wind-breaker with quick-dry pants and waterproof boots.

Warm Weather

There is a lot of flexibility in what to wear, but it boils down to comfort, style and perhaps what you have on hand. I will often wear casual cargo shorts or swim suit with a T-shirt under my PFD.

If it’s a bit chilly like early morning or evening, I’ll wear a fleece pullover on top of my T-shirt, and on really chilly Summer days, I’ll wear stretchy, water-resistant outdoor pants.

I almost always wear foam water shoes, though any type of water shoes/socks will suffice. I would not suggest regular sneakers or hiking shoes since there’s a high probability of them getting wet in all but the very quietest conditions.

Cold Weather

In the Autumn or Early Spring, I have a set of clothes from head to toe I always use. I wear either a baseball hat with sunglasses or a touque in place of the hat if it’s really cold. I then have a heavy fleece pullover followed by a wind-breaker jacket from Columbia.

My pants are stretchy outdoor pants but with a fleece lining and then my wool socks fit snugly into my deck boots. Of course, my PFD fits on top of whatever I have on my upper half.

I also wear paddling gloves and I use a neck gaiter to cut down on cold breeze annoyance on my neck.

My Recommendation

There are many good quality fishing kayak companies and many offer a variety of propulsion styles. Though pedal and paddle drive kayaks are growing in popularity, many anglers still prefer paddling by hand.

One of the very best fishing kayaks using the traditional method of hand paddling AND the option of a paddle drive system and a rudder motor system is VIBE.

The Vibe Shearwater 125 is near the top of the list for versatile fishing kayaks that will handle any water and offers 3 different propulsion styles in one kayak. See more details HERE.

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VIBE Shearwater 125 – one of the most customizable, versatile and stable kayaks available anywhere!

Vibe Shearwater 125 Walkthrough from Vibe Kayaks on Vimeo.

Kayak Fishing Key Takeaways

When choosing a kayak, be sure to review all the variable components that will determine your final choice of craft, and please try them out on the water if at all possible!

You’re sure to find that next to a $75,000 bass boat, a good quality fishing kayak offers one of the most satisfying angling experiences available.

The comfortable seating and body position, along with the ease and convenience of pedal or paddle drive (not to mention offering the quietness and speed of a powerful trolling motor) will make kayak fishing the most successful style of fishing you’ve ever experienced!

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Pete Stack

After 40 years of experience canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking and climbing in the Ontario wilderness, Pete is eager to combine his love for the outdoors with his passion to write. It is our hope that his knowledge can be passed on through this site and on Rugged Outdoors Guide on YouTube.

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