18 Essential Kayak Fishing Tips

18 Essential Kayak Fishing Tips

Fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the United States, with around 55 million Americans participating in fishing in the year 2020 alone. Freshwater fishing is, by far, the most popular type of fishing, with almost 43 million participants in the US in 2020.

Many people use kayaks to go fishing. Fishing kayaks are perfect for getting around rivers and lakes while fishing. If you’re new to fishing, it’s normal to feel a little intimidated when planning for your first kayak fishing trip.

Don’t worry, though – as long as you keep in mind the following essential kayak fishing tips, you’ll be able to enjoy your fishing adventure and catch some fantastic fish. Take a look.

Essential Kayak Fishing Tips

1. Choose the Right Kayak

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First things first: Choose the right kayak for your fishing journey. There are a few things you must take into account when searching for a kayak. First, you have to consider the type of fishing you will be doing.

Freshwater fishing is the most popular type of fishing, but a freshwater fishing kayak might not be suitable for ocean fishing and vice versa.

In addition, as a beginner, you must also choose a kayak that’s not too difficult to maneuver. You’ll also have to pick one that fits your budget.

Fortunately, there are many options available. There are fishing kayaks that even have paddles for your feet, so you can keep your hands free, and there are also kayaks that have a motor for traveling long distances.

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From stand-up to sit-in kayaks, check out these 15 different types of fishing kayaks. So, what should you look for in a fishing kayak?

One of the big things to look for is stability. After all, you’re going to be doing lots of moving around on your kayak while fishing, and it’s all too easy to fall over if you don’t have a stable kayak.

As a beginner, getting a stable kayak is also essential. For fishing, it’s okay to sacrifice some speed and agility for stability. Another thing to look for is storage space.

After all, you’re going to be carrying a lot more equipment than the average kayaker who is not fishing. We also have a list of the best fishing kayaks you can buy. A kayak designed specifically for fishing will have features like improved stability, rod holders, and comfortable seats.

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Of course, there are other things to take into account as well, such as your budget. Some people may even opt for an inflatable kayak, which might be a good option if you have limited storage space and no way to transport a kayak otherwise.

The color of your kayak makes a difference as well. A bright-colored kayak, such as a yellow or red kayak, can make it easier for you to stand out, increasing safety.

2. Don’t Forget Your Safety Gear

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It’s critical to wear a life jacket, also known as a personal flotation device, while going fishing on a kayak. A PFD can save your life, and you must wear it even if you are a good swimmer or are going fishing in relatively light and stable waters – you just never know what will happen.

In fact, life jackets are even more critical when fishing compared to regular recreational kayaking. Let’s say you catch a big fish that struggles – it’s easy to get pulled into the water.

It’s worth paying more for a good PFD that lasts for a long time and is comfortable. You’re going to need to be able to move around in your personal flotation device, so don’t get one that’s too tight or bulky.

Check out our list of the best PFDs for fishing. All of those life jackets were approved by the US Coast Guard, so you know they are safe to use. Note that wearing a life jacket may be required by law.

It does depend on which state and waterway you’re in, and penalties for not wearing one can also vary by state – read more about the illegality of kayaking without a PFD here.

However, while a PFD is the bare minimum, there are other safety tools at your disposal. Having a whistle that you hang around your neck is a great idea, as it will allow you to alert others and get help when needed.

A waterproof phone case that you hang around your neck or wrap around your arm can also be helpful.

While you should have a regular compass with you to help you find your bearings, your phone’s GPS can also come in handy, and it will also allow you to call emergency services or a friend if you require help.

A waterproof first-aid kit is another piece of essential safety equipment, and you might also consider investing in a light for your kayak if you will be kayaking at night. See our list of 10 essential pieces of kayaking safety equipment for more information.

Also, check out our guide to staying safe while kayaking as a beginner. There, you’ll learn some vital kayak safety maneuvers that you should practice and other tips that can save your life.

3. Know the Laws

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Depending on where you live, you might not be able to just go to any river, lake, ocean, or body of water and start fishing. You might need to acquire a specific type of fishing permit, and fishing may be restricted in certain areas to protect wildlife.

All states require a fishing license if you’re above a certain age (usually 16 or 18). However, in most states, it’s pretty easy to purchase a fishing license online, over the phone, or at retail stores.

The fishing license requirement mainly exists so that you pay money to the government, which uses it to maintain wildlife and afford the upkeep of parks and waterways.

Don’t worry – 100% of the money you pay for your fishing license goes to the conservation and preservation of nature. Kayaking may also be restricted in some areas, especially kayaking with a motor. States often have unique laws regarding using motorized boats, as they cause wakes.

The penalties for fishing without a license also vary from state to state. In addition, in some locations, you might need a particular type of permit to fish.

Check out the US Fish and Wildlife Service site and select your state to find out how to purchase a fishing license. It’s usually a quick and straightforward process, but you need it to fish legally.

4. Wear the Right Clothes

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It’s important to dress for the occasion when going on a kayaking and fishing trip. If it’s cold outside, wear a wetsuit to keep you warm. Also, wear a windbreaker or jacket, depending on how cold it is outside. Gloves can also help you stay warm.

Hypothermia is a real risk, so staying warm is critical! In the summer, you might want to wear light clothing that wicks away sweat and water.

Long sleeves are actually recommended, as they will help protect your skin from the sun and potential UV exposure and damage. It’s also essential to wear sunscreen on your arms, hands, face, and any exposed skin. A hat can also help protect your skin from sunburn.

UPF-rated fabrics can also help minimize sun exposure. Avoid cotton, as it takes a long time to dry. Wear fast-drying fabrics instead. Our guide to what to wear while kayaking in all weather conditions will give you more ideas of how to stay warm or cool, depending on the season.

We also have a list of the best kayak fishing clothing, including sunglasses, pants, gloves, shirts, jackets, wetsuits, and a lot more. These clothes are comfortable to wear while fishing, so check them out.

5. Learn How to Stabilize Yourself

One of the hardest things about kayak fishing is maintaining stability. While moving around and trying to catch a fish, it’s all too easy to lose your balance.

Staying in the center of the kayak can help you maintain your stability. It might take a while to learn how to find the centerline of the kayak and always keep your head in it. Over time, it will get easier.

6. Expect to Flip

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A helpful kayak fishing tip is to rig your kayak to flip. In other words, expect to get wet! If you don’t have a lot of experience with kayak fishing, you’re bound to fall in the water a few times or at least get wet. It’s part of the game, although it will happen less often as time goes on, and you gain skill.

What does that mean for you? First, it means you must dress appropriately. As I already said above, avoid cotton and other clothes that don’t dry quickly.

However, you must also make sure that you don’t have any loose gear in your kayak. Keep all your gear and personal items strapped down.

Otherwise, when the kayak capsizes or simply tips to one side, you risk losing your equipment. Additionally, if any of your items can get damaged by water, keep them in waterproof bags. If your kayak has a hatch, you can keep them there.

7. Learn How to Cast and Paddle With One Hand

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One of the adjustments you’re going to have to make while kayak fishing is doing a lot of things with one hand. When you’re fishing on a stable bank or kayaking without fishing, you can do most of the work with both hands.

However, when you’re on a kayak, without much space between your spot and the water, casting with two hands isn’t a good idea.

The one-hand cast isn’t always easy to master, but due to the tight space between you and the water, it’s essential to know. Another thing you might have to get used to is paddling with one hand.

You won’t always have two hands free, as one hand might be struggling to catch a stubborn fish or reel in some slack that got caught on an underwater branch.

There are tons of situations in which you might have to paddle with one hand while kayak fishing. Over time, you’ll experience the most common ones enough times to get pretty good at handling them.

8. Get Good at Kayaking First

If you are new to kayaking in general, it might be a good idea to practice kayaking and paddling without fishing first.

That way, you can get a feel for your kayak, learn how to maneuver it, and get better at navigating the waterways. Kayaking while fishing is significantly more complicated than just kayaking.

However, while kayaking is relatively easy to learn, a bit of practice before taking your fishing rods with you will go a long way. Having the right paddle can help. Check out these 16 different types of kayak paddles to make sure you get the right one.

9. Buy Some Paddle Leashes

A paddle leash is a leash for your paddle. It helps secure your paddle so that you don’t lose it while struggling to reel in a fish. One end of the paddle leash will, of course, be attached to the paddle.

The other end will usually be attached to your kayak, although some people like attaching it to their life vests instead.

10. Use Eddies to Your Advantage

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Eddies are small pockets of water that are calm and don’t move with the current. They occur when there is a reverse current flowing in the opposite direction, either due to an obstruction in the waterway, like a fallen tree or a natural bend in the river.

In either case, an eddy is your friend when it comes to kayak fishing. One of the challenges of fishing in a kayak compared to regular fishing is that you’re moving along with the current.

Even if you’re not paddling, the current will carry you along, either slowly or quickly, making it harder to catch a fish.

An eddy, on the other hand, is an excellent spot you can tuck your kayak in while fishing a stretch of river nearby. However, being able to do that depends on several factors, including the size of your kayak and the size of the eddy.

Most small fishing kayaks will be able to fit in an eddy. While in the eddy, you won’t have to fight the current or paddle. You can just sit there and fish.

11. Carry a Small Knife With You

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A small but sharp pocket knife – or, better yet, a straight blade – is a valuable tool to have in many situations, but especially when kayaking. Let’s say your fishing line gets caught in something under the water, whether a fallen tree or some underwater shrubs.

That can be dangerous, especially if there is a strong current and you can’t get it loose. A straight blade allows you to quickly cut the line and get out of that sticky situation.

12. Use Your Bait to Propel Yourself

A cool trick is learning how to use your bait to propel your kayak forward, even without paddling.

It does depend on the type of fishing gear you’re using and how light your kayak is, but a crankbait or spinnerbait could easily provide some resistance you can use to your advantage.

Cast the bait in the direction you want to go in, and reel it in. You can also use your bait to turn your kayak around. You may even catch a fish at the same time, so you’re killing two birds with one stone.

13. Use Your Feet

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While it’s generally best to avoid putting your feet over the side of your kayak unless necessary, it’s often essential when fishing and can help you out in a tight pinch. Since your hands are going to be busier than usual while kayak fishing, your feet can help out.

You can use them to redirect your kayak or even paddle it forward, although it will take some work.

You can even use your feet as an anchor, anchoring yourself by hooking your foot under a fallen tree branch, so you don’t move. That will make it easier to catch the fish you’re targeting.

14. Get a Cooler

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You’re going to need a place to keep your fish in after you catch them. You want to make sure they’re fresh and safe to eat by the time you get home. A kayak cooler is a great way to keep your fish fresh. There are two options here: a hard cooler or a soft cooler.

A hard cooler is typically best for longer trips because it will keep your fish frozen and fresher longer than a soft cooler, which doesn’t provide the same insulation.

However, the downside of a hard cooler is that it will add extra weight to your kayak. You also need to have enough space on the deck for it.

The best way to keep fish fresh in a cooler is to use frozen water bottles or bags of frozen water. Loose ice can melt, get warm, and ruin the fish you caught.

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The second option is a soft cooler, which typically doesn’t weigh as much or take up as much space. At the same time, it doesn’t provide as much insulation either, so it won’t be great for long trips.

15. Use a Stringer

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An alternative to using a hard or soft cooler is to use a stringer, which is basically a string that you hang fish on. You put the string through the fish’s gills and then hang the string on the side of your boat, so the fish remain submerged in water and stay fresh.

A stringer won’t take up too much space, and you can also carry a lot of fish on it. It also doesn’t add any weight before you catch any fish, unlike a cooler (a hard cooler, at least).


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However, there are several disadvantages to using a stringer as well.

For one, it depends on the type of fish you are catching: toothy fish or small fish might be tough to hang on a stringer. Furthermore, if you’re catching huge fish, they could add significant weight.

To be fair, some large fish may not fit in a cooler, either. Another con of using a stringer is that it’s only suitable for freshwater fishing. If you use a stringer in the ocean, it could attract sharks – that can be pretty scary and dangerous!

A stringer is also not as good in warmer weather, especially when the water is warm, and for longer trips. Remember, although the fish will still be submerged in water, they will not be alive.

16. Fish Near the Shoreline

It can be pretty difficult to fish when there is a strong current pulling you forward, especially if you are new to kayak fishing. Staying in eddies is an option, but you might not always see an eddy that you can use.

However, you can also simply fish near the shoreline. There, the current won’t be as strong, so it will be easier to fish.

17. Check the Weather

Always check the weather before going on a kayak fishing trip. If there is inclement weather predicted, consider pushing off your trip, even if the waters you plan on fishing in are usually pretty calm.

Also, check the wind speed. If it’s going to be a windy day, it might be hard to fish.

If it starts to get windy unexpectedly, remember that you can always head to the shoreline, where the current won’t be as strong, and you will be safer.

18. Get an Anchor

It’s a good idea to get an anchor when kayak fishing, as it can allow you to stay in one place and fish, even when it’s windy. A claw anchor that weighs a couple of pounds will typically be enough. However, don’t anchor in a strong current, as it could push your kayak under the water.

Wrapping It Up

If you’re feeling nervous before your first kayak fishing trip, don’t be. Keep the above 18 essential tips in mind, and you will be much safer and much better at fishing while kayaking.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with a friend! Bookmark it too, so you can refer to it again whenever you go on a kayak fishing trip.

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Essential Kayak Fishing Tips

Picture of Peter Salisbury

Peter Salisbury

Pete is the Owner of KayakHelp.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of KayakHelp.com. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.