Kayak Fishing For Beginners

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Kayak Fishing For Beginners

We’re here to help you get started on your kayak fishing journey.

For beginners, kayak fishing doesn’t have to be complicated, it has a simplistic, back to nature quality about it that appeals immensely and is available to all.
Getting started however, can be a bit daunting. The subject is vast and there is a lot to learn and buy so it’s important to get it right.
We have written this article as an introduction to kayak fishing for beginners starting their kayak fishing journey. Aiming to provide a comprehensive framework to build on.

Ready to start your kayak fishing journey?

So Where Do I Start?

Start simple 

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your limitations. Everybody has to start somewhere and there’s no shame in that, so start where you are and grow from there. 
If you’ve never been in a kayak before then make that your first challenge. Learn how to paddle a kayak and once you are comfortable with your competence in it then take along your fishing gear.
Likewise, if you have never fished before, first familiarise yourself with your fishing gear and the type of fishing you will be doing and practice before taking the fishing kayak out.

Here’s an informative video on kayaking basics from Perception Kayaks

Connect with others

A great way to learn is to meet and talk to other kayak fishermen/anglers. It has been my experience that most often kayak anglers are willing to share their knowledge and passion for the sport even if they won’t share their favourite fishing spots!
Online forums are another great resource for information.

Plan Your Fishing Trip

Like most things in life planning is important and this is especially true with fishing. 
The most successful fisherman I see are those who plan. They don’t just have the right gear for the job, they know their target species, where they live, when they are going to be there and the best ways to catch them.

Learn 

Learn what you can about the fish you are targeting. Things to consider are:

  • Habitat
  • Feeding habits
  • Best baits and lures
  • What time of day and if applicable which tide is best

Check out a local fishing forecast. These will often have optimum fishing times based on the solunar calendar, weather, tides and other factors
It’s also worth checking with your local fishing authority for any restrictions. These may be seasonal times, fish size or quantity limits or other regulations to abide by.

Gear/Equipment

Make sure you have the right equipment for your trip. It can be helpful to lay all your gear out before you go just to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Further below is an equipment list to offer some guidance.

Weather Conditions

Plan around the weather, make sure the conditions are favourable before you head out. 
If you’ve planned a trip and when the day arrives the weather turns nasty, stay home.  It may be disappointing but it’s not worth your life to head out. Play it safe and live to fish another day. Remember, operate within your ability.

Safety Considerations

Safety is paramount and something that shouldn’t be ignored. Your life is important so it’s just not worth compromising in this area as it may one day save your life.
Here are some things you can do to minimise your risk and maximise your fun.

Plan

As mentioned above, planning is a worthwhile endeavour. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back.

As much as you can, go fishing with others

Not only is it much more enjoyable to have others to share your fishing experience with it is also much better from a safety perspective. I think this is especially important when you are starting out. You have the benefits mentioned above but you also have the opportunity to learn from those who have gone before you. They are usually a wealth of knowledge that’s often specific to where you are fishing.  Can’t see any down side there!

Check the weather forecast

  • Wind – Keep it simple, it is considered safest to stick to winds below 10 knots (11.51 mph)  You can always push the boundaries as you gain more experience.
  • Rain – In warm weather it can be an annoyance but in cold weather it can be dangerous, without the proper clothing hypothermia could become a very real threat
  • Fog – Fog creates a issues with visibility, 
  • Lightning – Definitely not a good idea to be the high point on a level surface in a lightning storm! If you do get caught make sure you lay your fishing rods down as you don’t want them becoming lightning rods.
  • Waves – Getting in and out through the breakers can be challenging. For beginners the ideal conditions are definitely no waves!
    It’s handy to check out the surf report, they will show swell, wave height and duration. Even better if they have a camera you can access to see it for yourself.
    A good place to start is to hit the beach in summer with a bare kayak and play in the surf, starting small of course!
    If you do head out through the surf, make sure all your gear is well strapped down. This is even more important when coming back to shore.

Be Visible 

Because kayaks are so low in the water they are not as visible as you might think. It’s a good idea to be aware of other vessels and do everything you can to be as visible to them as possible. 
Highly visible clothing and a kayak safety flag on a light pole go a long way to making you more visible to others. If you are out at night or in low light make sure you have an elevated light. It is important to check with the local authorities to see what navigation rules there are that need to be abided by.
Signaling lights are also required by many authorities so make sure you do your research so you don’t get caught out.

Beware of potentially dangerous wildlife

kayak fishing for beginners - look out for Alligator in water

Not much to say here except know your own backyard and the dangers therein.

Know how to re-enter/self rescue

Obviously the goal with kayak fishing is to paddle, enjoy the outdoors and catch some fish all without going overboard. 

While this is the goal it is not always the reality. 
Re-enter, self rescue, it’s all about knowing how to get back in your kayak if you fall out. It’s worth practicing it until you are confident that you can do it, and it’s much better to learn how to do it in a safe environment than an emergency one.

This may sound a bit daunting but it’s worth it, and in the right environment it can be fun.
Ideally look for a local club that offers training or perhaps a pool which you can use to practice in. Have someone with you for help and encouragement.

To make it more realistic practice with your PFD (personal flotation device) on and the clothing that you would normally wear in a real life situation. 
When I first tried this I found it harder than expected but with a little practice I was able to develop a technique that worked for me and now am confident that I can do it if I need to.

Another consideration is tethering yourself to the kayak. When I was practicing self rescue off shore I was very surprised at how fast the kayak moved away from me in the wind. 
Tethering is not recommended for river use because of the danger of entanglement but for open water is a recommended option. 
Make sure you do some more research on this topic as there are a lot of factors to consider and many opinions on the subject. Like most things, find out what is right for your specific situation.

What Safety Equipment should I need?

Having the right safety gear is essential for any trip. 

PFD (Personal Flotation Device) Also known as a life vest, life jacket, or buoyancy vest.

Definitely a must have on any boating trip and it’s worth buying quality here. 
Check out our article on the best kayak fishing PFD – life vest here.
Make sure it is fitted to you personally, the correct buoyancy for your weight, designed for paddling and comfortable. 

It’s important to trust your gear and to know what to expect so test it out! Take it to your local pool or safe swimming spot and try it. Get comfortable floating and swimming with it on. 
I found this helped me to be more relaxed on the water knowing that I could depend on it.

A sharp fixed blade knife

There’s a chance that you may need to cut something in an emergency, perhaps your line or anchor rope. This is where the knife comes in, with a fixed blade you don’t have to worry about fumbling around trying to open it in a panic.
Have it on your person if you can so it is readily available.
I keep mine tethered to my PFD that way it’s going to be there if I need it. 

A paddle leash

A paddle leash is something that is often overlooked. You would be amazed at how quickly a paddle can float away and when they are your only means of propulsion that’s a big deal!

The appropriate clothing for your situation

Obviously your choice of clothing is dependent on when and where you will be fishing. With that in mind some basic guidelines to consider.
A good rule of thumb is to dress for the water temperature you will be paddling in just in case you go in. It’s also a good idea to have dry clothes available upon your return.

Hot weather trips

Sun Exposure.
Wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim. Long sleeves and pants (trousers for you Brits)
Quick drying and UV rated clothing is the best option. Thankfully there are many products out designed for this purpose.
Don’t forget to apply sunblock and make sure you take and drink lots of water.

Heat stroke.
Take along lots of fresh water and make sure you drink it. It’s easy to forget when the fish are biting but it can catch up with you later.

Cold weather trips

For those starting out I would recommend you get competent in hot weather first before tackling the cold weather trips.
In cold water Hypothermia is a very real threat so make sure if you do go out then dress to survive a dunking. 
A kayaking specific dry suit or pants and jacket combination with the right layering underneath is your best option here and there are some fantastic options available but be aware they are expensive.
That said, if you’re planning on fishing in cold weather it’s not worth going without them.
Wetsuits are a cheaper option but are limited in their effectiveness in cold water

Food and Water

Having plenty of water and energy giving food is essential for any trip. Remember you are the motor and your body is what is going to get you out there and back safe so look after it.

First aid kit

Knives, hooks, fin spikes and teeth provide ample opportunity to draw some blood!
This is where a simple first aid kit can come in handy. Pack what you might need for this possibility. Tweezers are good for removing those nasty fish spikes. I also like to pack medication for headaches, sea sickness and dehydration.

Communication

Having a reliable means of communicating in an emergency is something not to be overlooked. 
It may be as simple as a waterproof phone case/bag to protect your phone, provided you are confident your phone is reliable and know that there is phone coverage in that area. 

If you are heading offshore A VHF radio is a basic requirement, but you could go further and carry a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). 
I have one that I hope to never use but I like having the extra security for myself and my family. It’s handy as I also carry it when hiking or hunting.

What Other Equipment Will I Need?

Like most hobbies, there is an endless amount of gear that’s ‘needed’, at least that’s what I keep telling my wife! I’m sure I am not alone. Don’t tell her, but the truth is, people have been fishing off small water crafts for centuries with little more than a basic hand-line. 
In this modern age it can be easy to get carried away so I’ll try and keep the list brief…. At least by modern standards.

Kayak

Top Tip:   If you can, try it before you buy it! 
The right kayak for me is not necessarily the right kayak for you. Choosing a beginner fishing kayak is dependent on many factors and has to be a personal choice designed to fit your needs, wants and budget.
This is too vast a topic for this article so I have just included a brief  list of things to consider. 

Find more information in our detailed articles on fishing kayaks here. 

What to consider when choosing a fishing kayak

  • Sit-on-top (SOT) vs sit-in-kayak (SIK)
  • Stability vs speed – A longer narrower kayak is generally faster but less stable than a wider and shorter one.
  • Weight  – Do you need to carry and load it yourself? If so then lighter is better.
  • Saltwater or Freshwater? – There are no hard and fast rules here Generally speaking if you are mainly fishing saltwater you will be dealing with waves and rougher water requiring your kayak to have plenty of secure storage. You are also likely to be paddling larger distances therefore having a faster kayak is a good option.
  • Weight capacity (Buoyancy) – Is the weight capacity sufficient for you and all the gear you will be carrying whilst still leaving room for those monster fish you’ll be hauling in?
  • Propulsion- Paddle vs Pedal vs Motor
  • Gear storage – How much room does it have?
  • Rigged or bare – Do I want to buy and go or set it up myself?
  • Comfort – Do not overlook this one! You’ll likely be spending long hours sitting in it so make sure it’s comfortable. 
  • Single or Tandem 

Do your research, talk to others and see what works for them and if at all possible, endeavour to try before you buy!

Check out out article on Choosing a Fishing Kayak here.

Paddle

When purchasing a paddle some things to consider would be weight, length, blade shape and cost.
Generally you get what you pay for so buy the best you can afford because this is your means of propulsion.

PFD (Personal Flotation Device), life vest, life jacket

kayak fishing pfd's

To reiterate, a PFD is a must have item. Make sure it ticks these boxes.

  • Correct fit and buoyancy
  • Designed for paddling
  • Comfortable
  • Try it so you can trust it

Many come with a variety of pockets for storage. This is a great idea as it allows you to have emergency gear and other items you use frequently close at hand.

Paddle leash

Don’t let your paddle float away when it’s your only means of getting home. 
Leashes for your rods are also a great idea, I’d hate to lose them to the depths.

Rod or with most anglers, rods.

Three tips (no pun intended) 

  • If you only fish seated make sure your rod is long enough that it will clear the bow when you have a fish on. If the fish decides to go under your kayak you want to have the ability to move your rod around the bow to the other side. 
  • If you head out off the beach through waves, a two piece or sectional rod that you can stow in your hatch is a good way to protect it from damage if you get rolled in the surf.
  • It’s definitely personal preference but as I do most of my fishing seated I prefer a shorter butt on my rods as I find the long ones can be a bit cumbersome.

Reel 

Regardless of your chosen reel type there are some generic things to consider.

Choose the correct size and line weight for the fish you are targeting. 
The great thing about kayak fishing is the ability to use lighter gear than you would if you were fishing from a static position. Just as rods are designed to bend and absorb energy that would otherwise be put on the line the kayak moving in the water adds another layer to that. 
Check out our Spinning vs Casting article for extra info.

Tackle

Chose tackle suited for your target species

Knife or line emergency cutting tool 

For safety,  keep it accessible at all times and make sure it is suitable for cutting fairly thick rope should you need to.

Net 

A short handle kayak fishing net makes landing fish so much easier. Nothing worse than having a fish right there and losing it at the last minute.

Fish handling equipment 

This could be something as simple as a small wet towel. This is my go to option. It helps to hold the fish, offers some protection from fins and teeth and is kinder on the fish if I catch and release. Lip grips/fish grips are another option to consider particularly if you target toothy critters.
Pack a pair of pliers for safely removing hooks.

kayak fishing for beginners- holding a perch

Leaving the fish alive and healthy is not only important for conservation reasons but also benefits you and other anglers. Let it live so you can catch it another day.
If you do practice catch and release please learn good handling practices
https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fishing/how-to-safely-catch-and-release.htm

Line cutting tool 

If you use braid, a pair of specialty braid scissors are a good choice.

Anchoring

A lot of kayak fishing is done by drifting but there are times when it’s nice to stay in one spot.
Anchoring systems come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles and it’s important to choose what best suits your fishing situation. 

The three main types are:

  • Anchor – There are lots of styles to choose from though commonly a 1.5 – 3.5 lb folding/collapsible claw style is used. Whatever you choose it’s a good idea to attach it to an anchor trolley system, sometimes known as a running rig. This is a simple but clever design consisting of a small pulley at either end of the kayak with a looped rope running around them down the side of your kayak. This allows you to drop anchor next to you and tie it off to the anchor trolley ring, then by pulling on the rope you can position it to either bow or stern. The ends of a kayak are the safests places to anchor from.
  • Stake out pole – A great idea if you are fishing in shallow, calm water. A stake out pole is basically a long pole that you stick into the ground and tether yourself to it via your anchor trolley (These can also be put through your scupper holes)
  • Drift chute – A kayak drift chute is basically a mini underwater parachute. They are designed to slow down your drift speed.

Headlamp/head torch

Worthwhile having especially if there is any chance of you being out in low light. As mentioned previously, being visible to those around you is very important.

Fish Storage

If you are bringing fish home for dinner then having a cooler or insulated fish bag will keep them cool and fresh which is what you want. Not worth the risk leaving your catch sitting in the sun all afternoon, after all who wants to eat iffy fish!

Dry bag/case

Some form of waterproof storage for those essential items (wallet, keys etc). Dry bags are an inexpensive and effective option.

Waterproof camera and mount

Who’s going to believe you if you don’t have proof!

Transporting your kayak

You will need to get your kayak to and from the water. Usually it will involve either car topping with roof racks or using a trailer. Once you are parked you’ll still need to get it from your vehicle to the water’s edge and this is where a kayak cart can come in handy.

Another thing to consider is your fishing kayak storage. If possible store your fishing kayak in a well ventilated area, out of direct sunlight and under cover, where extremes in temperature can be avoided. A garage is a good option.

Check out our transporting your kayak articles here

Anything Else I Should Know?

Here’s a couple of beginners kayak fishing tips that you might find helpful.

Practice casting from your kayak.
Casting from a sitting position is different to casting while standing up. It may seem a bit awkward at first but with a little practice you’ll soon develop a technique that works for you.
I would recommend heading to a safe, shallow area to try it the first time as it may take a bit of practice to get used to the motion. For beginners, fishing from a kayak may take a bit of time to get comfortable with but it’s not hard and with time you will soon get the hang of it.
Tying a sinker/weight on the end of your line is a simple option to practice with.
If you’re not yet confident to try a seated cast whilst on the water there’s no harm trying in your backyard first. Simply find a comfy spot and give it a go. When you feel confident then head on out.

So I’ve hooked one….help! Now what do I do..?
The first time I hooked up on a kayak I had one of those ‘hilarious now’ but not so funny at the time moments. I had my drag set too tight and I nearly went over! 
So if you’re just starting out I would err on the side of caution and set your drag light. That way it will be less of a shock when the fish strikes. 

Kayak fishing for beginners – Summary

Kayak fishing is an amazing experience. There’s nothing quite like combining two hobbies that you love, especially ones that allow you to be outdoors enjoying the best that is on offer.
Remember, be safe, start where you are and build on the skills you have and don’t forget to enjoy being out on the water even if you don’t catch anything.

If you’re interested in taking it further please feel free to check out the other articles we have written.

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