Kayak Fishing Tips For Beginners

Picking A Fishing Kayak

If you’re looking to get into your first fishing kayak, the number one bit of advice I can give is, try before you buy.

I know that this might not be possible because of your location or other reasons. But, if you can go to a kayak dealer that allows you to test various kayak models, the trip is worth it.

No matter how good a kayak looks, or how good the reviews are, there may be surprises lurking. You won’t know how the kayak suits you until you try it.

Another great option is to attend a fishing trade show such as ICAST. This solution is most likely only suitable if you have time and can wait for the show to come around before you buy.

What if you can’t try your kayak before you buy it?

This is where research will come in. There are many great sites with in depth kayak reviews. I’ll list some of those further down.

Kayak Attributes

When looking to buy a fishing kayak there are many things that will be obvious. There are also things that only an experienced kayaker will look for.

We’ll try to cover all of them.

When reading kayak specs, some of the first things you’ll notice are length, width and weight.

You can find fishing kayaks ranging from about 10 feet to 15 feet and even longer. Most popular fishing kayaks range between 11 and 13 feet long.


The length of a kayak will impact how fast it can go. Longer kayaks can go slightly faster. This is because of a principle called hull speed.

Additionally, a longer kayak is more likely to keep a straighter track. While this is generally preferable, you’ll want to complement long kayaks with a rudder to help with steering. This is especially true if you will be dealing with very windy conditions on a regular basis.

A longer kayak will usually have more storage room. If you’re planning on doing some kayak camping, you will want storage space. Some longer “sit on top” kayaks can even accommodate a dog or small child.


The width of a kayak will play a big role in determining the stability of the kayak.

The wider the kayak, the more stable it will be.

Most fishing kayaks will range anywhere from 28- 48 inches in width. The way this impacts stability is usually described by 2 factors: Primary and Secondary Stability.

Kayak Stability

Kayak stability can be broken down into two main categories. They refer to how stable a kayak is under different conditions. This implies how resistant the kayak is to tipping over.

Primary / Initial Stability

This refers to the stability of a kayak on flat water. It basically measures how resistant the kayak is to rolling with very little movement.

Secondary Stability

Secondary stability refers to a kayak’s stability in rough water or when you lean over on it.

For example, if you sit in a kayak and lean to one side you will notice that eventually the kayak should stop rolling. This doesn’t mean that you suddenly lean with full force. You start leaning slowly to one side until you reach the secondary stability point.

The stability of the kayak at this point, is its secondary stability. If you reach this point and the kayak feels like it is going to tip over very easily, you could say that the kayak has a poor secondary stability.

By contrast, you take a second kayak and you lean over. The kayak stops and feels solidly stable. This kayak would have a good secondary stability.

Standing On Your Kayak

Being able to stand on a kayak is a requirement for many anglers. Sight fishing and casting can be a very enjoyable activity to pursue from a kayak.

If you cannot test how stable your target kayak is, you’ll need to get advice from a dealer or read plenty of reviews. Just because someone with the agility of a gymnast can stand on a kayak, doesn’t mean it will be right for you.

Also, check out my Fishing Kayaks Review where I go over the top fishing kayaks in various categories.

Picking Your Paddle

Kayak paddles are often discounted as not being very important. But paddles play a key role. Especially if you’re paddling long distances.

Having the wrong paddle could result in an inefficient stroke. This could cause you to lose speed or become fatigued.

There are many guidelines for picking the right paddle size. Many guide take height and kayak width into consideration. Check out this paddle sizing guide for more details.

Kayak Fishing Packing List

  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD).
  • Paddle & Leash.
  • Seat.
  • Tackle.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Extra Clothes.
  • Polarized Sunglasses.
  • Food.
  • Drinks.
  • Waterproof Cases – (Phone).

Rigging Your Fishing Kayak – Rear Tank Well Area

Fishing Kayaks normally have a well area behind the seat. This is a great place to put things that will be accessed frequently. Coolers or crates are often put here.

Kayak Fishing Coolers

Coolers are pretty self-explanatory, but there are a few modifications you may want to make.

Some coolers intended for kayak fishing have built in rod holders. But if you are handy, you can install them on a cooler that doesn’t come with them..

Another important modification is strapping down the cooler with built in anchor points.

I would recommend a cooler that has anchor points on the side. You can then attach the cooler to the kayak. This is usually done by running a strap from an anchor point on the kayak to the cooler. Doing this will ensure your cooler stays secure.

Kayak Fishing Crates

Kayak fishing crates have evolved from milk crates. Anglers would put a milk crate in the back of their kayak and use it for storage.

Often times anglers would customize their crates by adding rod holders and accessories.

Soon manufacturers started making kayak crates specifically for fishing. Rod holders are included as well as spaces for tackle boxes. Aside from rod holders, they can be great for attaching poles with lights on top as well as camera poles.

Kayak Fishing Nets

You may think that any short handled net would be fine for kayak fishing. This is mostly true.

I just want make you aware that there are alternatives designed for kayak anglers.

Nets specific to kayak fishing don’t have very long handles. They also have braces that rest against the underside of your arm. This way when you land a fish into the net, the weight of the fish is not fully on your wrist.

Most people probably won’t need this, but can be nice to have. It gives you a very solid feel when you land a fish. 

Kayak Visibility

Kayak visibility is critical in low light conditions. If you’re planning on kayaking very early in the morning or near dusk, you should have a light.

Even if kayaking in the dark is not in your plans, having one in case you get caught out late is a good idea.

Kayak lights are usually a white light mounted atop a pole. This can be a simple homemade PVC setup with a battery operated light at the top. There are many do it yourself guides on how to make one.

Another option is to buy a kayak light. There are pole mounted lights that can be broken down for easy storage. There are light extensions made from collapsible tent poles. These are lightweight and usually come with a flag, too.

Night time visibility isn’t the only concern. If you’re travelling in areas with boat traffic, you’ll want to be visible at all times. This is where a high visibility flag comes in.

You may think that in the daytime other boaters should be able to easily see a kayak in the water. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There have been many incidents in which kayakers have been hit by powerboats in broad daylight.

One way to minimize the risk is to use a high visibility flag. Luckily, your kayak light pole can serve double duty as a flag pole as well.


Weather can change drastically in a very short time. If you’re out on a large lake or river, please be aware of the weather conditions.

Getting flipped over by a wave is not all that uncommon. In cold water, this can turn into a life or death situation.

Make sure to travel with a buddy. If this isn’t possible, having a VHF radio could be a lifesaver.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

I think it goes without saying that wearing a PFD is a must. Whether you’re fishing or just out for a peaceful paddle, remember to stay safe.

If you’re a kayak angler, PFDs can take on a whole new purpose. Not only are they life saving devices, they are also great for gear storage.

Many fishing-specific PFDs come with great accessories that anglers find useful. For example, PFDs with pockets for your phone and lanyards for clipping on tools are very popular.

Also, you’re going to be sitting in a kayak for long hours. You’ll want to understand how the back portion of your PFD will rest on your kayak seat.

If the back portion of your PFD is too bulky it may be push you forward in your seat and become uncomfortable. Keep this in mind when selecting a Kayak Fishing PFD.

Transporting Your Kayak

Rooftop Racks

Many kayak anglers transport their kayaks by rooftop rack. These can be anything from foam blocks to elaborate pneumatic assist systems.


If you don’t want to rooftop your kayak, you could use a trailer. There are many lightweight trailers that are affordable. You can even use a utility trailer or a boat trailer to haul your kayak.  
Many tournament kayak anglers use trailers as a way to relocate during a tournament. If they’re fishing a body of water with multiple launch points, they can load the kayak and drive to a new location.

A couple of drawbacks when trailering is that you need to register your trailer and parking won’t be as easy.

Kayak Anchoring

Anchoring your kayak may not seem like a big deal at first. But it’s crucial when trying to fish a location with precision. There several types of anchors you can use for kayak fishing.

Grapnel Anchors

These look like your typical grappling hook style anchor. You can get versions of these with folding claws. This helps reduce the amount of needed storage space. They’re good for shallow rocky areas.

One drawback of the grapnel is that they can become hung up on rocky bottoms or on debris.

One way to release a hung up grapnel is to get one that can be rigged breakaway style.

Mushroom Anchors

Mushroom anchors look like an upside down mushroom. They work well in soft muddy or sandy bottom. In areas with large rocks, boulders or building debris they can potentially get hung up.

Caution When Anchoring In Strong Current

One word of caution when anchoring in strong currents. Avoid dropping an anchor that is attached to the side of your kayak when you’re in a strong current.

The kayak could become swamped with water, or worse. If the anchor is attached to a fixed attachment point on the side of the kayak, the kayak could be turned around and flipped by the current.

An anchor trolley or anchor pole would help prevent this.

Anchor Trolleys

An anchor trolley can be a huge benefit when trying to anchor your kayak.

An anchor trolley will let you position your kayak facing into the wind or away from the wind. To change your positioning, you just drop anchor and then pull the trolley cord.

This will allow you to pull the anchor attachment point to either the bow or the stern of your kayak. So, when your anchor is attached to the bow, your kayak will face into the wind. When the attachment point is changed to the stern, your kayak will face away from the wind.

The great thing about this set up in that it works the same way in current.

Anchoring in Rivers with Anchor Poles

Anchoring your kayak in a moving river can be a challenge. But success could be handsomely rewarded.

Being able to position your kayak so that you can effectively fish an area is a key to success.

But regular anchors can be a problem. In moving water it’s easy to get an anchor wedged in the rocks.

A much more efficient solution is an anchor pole. Anchor poles are basically a pole that you lower to the bottom. They are attached to your kayak and once they hit bottom they should hold you there.

Anchor poles can be anything from a homemade setup made with PVC and garden poles, to hi-tech battery powered and remote controlled versions.

The beauty of an anchor pole is that you can lower it quickly and fish an area. Then when you’re done, you just raise it. On DIY setups this is usually accomplished via a cord that you release and then pull in to raise the pole.

This method can make it really quick and efficient to anchor and then move to a new location.

Kayak Fishing Tactics

Repositioning Your Kayak

When fishing from a kayak, the wind or current can continually cause you to have to re-position. Anchoring is one solution.

If you want to make a couple of quick casts on a spot and keep moving, then your paddle can be of use.

Keeping your paddle across your lap while you fish can help you quickly re-position. For example, if you want to move slightly to your right, grab the left end of your paddle with with your left hand.

Then, tilt the paddle down into the water with your arm extended.

Next, give the paddle a pull through the water. This should move the bow of your kayak to the right. Do this a few times to get yourself positioned where you want to be.

To move to the left, just switch hands. You may have to move your rod to the other hand first. But, it beats having to put your rod down in a holder while you paddle into position.

Another option is hand paddles. This is a short handled paddle that you can use with one hand.

The idea is that if you need to make small corrections when you’re fishing, you can use one of these instead of your full sized paddle.

These come in real handy when you want your kayak to stay in a certain spot, but a light breeze is moving your kayak. They are also useful if you just want to move a short distance.

Fishing Large Bodies Of Water

Fishing a large body of water from a kayak can seem daunting. Heck, I’ve felt this way on full size boats as well.

The key is to try and break the area down into smaller parts. If you can visualize a smaller lake within a lake, you can plan to focus on just that part.

After you select one area as a focus, you can start planning. You can then section off a large body of water and repeat your tactics on new areas.

This divide and conquer technique can really help you get used to large bodies of water.

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