Kite Fishing – What is it and How to Get Started

Kite Fishing

There are some that view kite fishing as too complicated. But the truth is if you want to put fish in the boat it’s one of the most effective methods out there.

This guide will teach you the basics on how to get started kite fishing.

If you want to get started, there is some additional equipment to learn about. None of it is beyond the average fisherman who wants to learn how to kite fish.

This method of fishing became popular in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s but has existed for much longer. Invented in China and used in the South Pacific for generations, it has proven effective at getting good hits.

In modern New Zealand, kite fishing has a long tradition. Often done from shore, the kits allow anglers to fish waters beyond what they could otherwise. It can also allow a boat to fish areas that would be too dangerous to go into like reefs and rock piles.

In the U.S., kite anglers consistently win tournaments over traditional fishing competitors. We’ll explain why that is later. For now, let’s put everyone on the same page about the specifics of kite fishing.

What is a Kite Fishing Setup?

There are a few working parts that need to be set up correctly for the whole rig to work. It gets more complicated as you start adding more lines in the water so for this example we will go simple. One kite, one bait.

Starting with the kite, it’s not an ordinary kite. The materials are stronger and lighter than other kites so they can carry the added load of the hardware. The kite is attached to a reel and a short pole with kite line. On your kite line, you will have a couple of kite clips that you will support your fishing line.

You may see balloons attached to many fishing kites. Usually, these are filled with air and used to keep your kite on the surface should it break free and fall. Sometimes the balloons may be helium filled to help keep the kite in the air when the wind is low.

The kite reel may be a specialty kite reel or any conventional reel. The main traits you want are a large line capacity and quick retrieval. The pole is often purpose-built and around 36 inches long. That covers the kite setup.

The key thing to realize here is that you don’t necessarily need the specialized gear to get started.

On your fishing outfit, you’ll want a fast reel to take up a large amount of slack in the line from kite fishing. Otherwise, any rod that you would normally use should work fine.

The rigging of a kite fishing line is where things get a little complicated. The addition of the ring and a few other bits of hardware will get you the perfect setup. In order from first to last, a kite fishing rig will have:

  • Kite Clips
  • A ring to attach to your kite clips
  • A large, visible float or ribbon that can be easily seen
  • A lead weight when needed
  • A bead to protect your knot
  • A swivel tied on the end to attach to the leader
  • A leader, the standard is 15 feet

Below the leader, the tackle you choose is up to you and the fish you are after. Circle hooks are the most common choice but ‘J’ hooks can work too.

If you’re going after toothy critters such as King Mackerel or Wahoo, you’ll need a wire leader.

The standard method of baiting a kite rig is to stitch the bait on with a rubber band. This keeps the hook exposed and the bait able to swim more naturally. It is highly recommended that you use this method for kite fishing.

That is the full setup. Getting the rigging right may take a couple of tries but is far from the most complicated fishing rigs. Attention to detail matters but the details are not that difficult to master.

Why Kite Fish?

Pacific Islanders have been using this method to keep their families fed for centuries. And now sport anglers have realized its value and have taken up this great technique.

Let’s dig into the reasons that kite fishing is such a popular and effective method.

The majority of kite fishing is done from a boat. And all kite fishing is geared toward species that take bait at the surface. You can fish the surface by trolling but will always have two issues.

One is that your bait will often times swim unnaturally; second, you have a lot of leader and line in the water.

Both of these issues will lead to fewer hits. I have actively seen sailfish dart away from a bait it was chasing. I can only presume something about the bait wasn’t right. Most likely, it was the leader or the alien action of the bait.

When you kite fish, your bait is dangled in just the top few inches of water keeping your leader out of sight. Hooked through the back, the baitfish stays upright and natural. It’s splashing and swimming will be natural and attractive to a predatory fish.

This alone will catch more fish than trolling or any other fishing method. This has been consistently proven in many major tournaments.

In addition to getting more hits, a boat fisherman can get to some very good fishing spots that his boat could never manage without taking damage. Shallow reefs and rock piles are frequently home to populations of baitfish. This makes them very attractive to predatory fish.

Predatory fish makes them very attractive to fishermen but the danger keeps them away. You and fly a fishing kite more than a hundred feet and put them directly over these hard to fish spots. No worry about damage to your boat or snagging your line.

Why Kite Fishing From Shore?

The other use of a fishing kite is to get your line past the breakers when fishing the shore. You can catch bigger fish and more varied species by getting out deeper. This is a less common tactic in the U.S. but one that is very fun if you get the opportunity to do it.

The hang-up with kite fishing from shore is that you have to have the wind in the right direction. The wind will need to be coming from behind or at a real angle.

If you get the right beach and the right wind, you can get a line 150 feet out from shore and absolutely slay the fish lurking out there. This is a great method to use during Snook runs.

Kite Fishing Basic How-To

Most of the time you’ll see kite fishing done in tournaments and on commercial charters. This is mostly a cost and complication issue. Many recreational fishermen have found the benefit of using kites for Sailfish, Wahoo, and Mahi-mahi.

Commercial and tournament setups may use as many as six kites with three lines on each kite. This requires a lot of planning and preparation to run, not to mention the costs involved. Starting out, one kite with one line is perfect until you get the method down. You can add more as you grow.

Once you have your lines rigged as discussed in the previous section, the first step is to get your kite in the air. Take your time. If you get your kite in the water, it will be very hard to reel in. Feed the kite out slow and controlled, you are just looking to get it into the air and stable.

At this point, attach your kite clips to the kite line around 20 to 30 feet from the kite. The ring on your mainline will clip into this clip. Set your kite reel to freespool so it takes the connection point out as far as you would like. Keep the leader end of your line on the boat while your lines spool out, a normal distance is 75 – 100 feet.

Bait your hook using the method above and drop it into the water then take the slack out of your line. If your bait is setup properly, it should suspend just a few inches under the surface. If the bait is not in the water you will need more weight, if the float sinks down to the water you will need less.

Once everything is tuned just right you should be able to leave your reel in free spool.

Just like any other type of fishing, topwater hits are usually violent and quick. You will have too much slack in your line initially for a baitcliker or other device to do much good. You have to depend on your eyes to see the hit or a movement from the float or ribbon on your line.

Once you have a hit, get on your reel and get the line tight as fast as you can. The moment there is resistance, the line should drop from the kite and will gain more slack. Speed is key to getting a good hook set.

Though this method is the most commonly used, some anglers will tell you it works best on billfish and other toothless fish. They prefer a different setup for species like Kingfish and Wahoo.

Kite Fishing – Drop Line Setup

This method is very similar to the standard setup but leaves less slack in the line. It works well on toothy fish that eat quickly. You will still want a faster reel but it’s less critical in this method than the previous.

Sometimes called Drop Line kite fishing, this method uses a line that is attached firmly to your kite line. Often by a swivel rather than through a kite clip and ring. The quick release comes just below your bobber or flag. Much of the same rigging is used just the order changes.

Attached to your kite and hanging down you will have the following items. These are ordered from closest to you kite to furthest hanging down.

  • A lead weight when needed
  • A large, visible float or ribbon that can be easily seen
  • A bead to protect your knot
  • A hanging release clip

Your mainline will have nothing on it other than the leader, hook, and bait.

The shorter distance to the water gives you a much quicker hook set than the traditional setup. For toothy fish, this is the optimal setup you just have to deal with more tangles in your kite line. The traditional setup drops away cleanly but a drop line setup will leave a long trailing line that will get tangled.

Kite Fishing from Shore

While it may be possible to use a similar setup to kite fish off a beach, a different method is often used. This method is tried and true having sprang up with historic kite fishermen.

Any method will start with the wind direction. If the wind isn’t blowing out to sea, pack it in. This may seem counter-intuitive as the rule is to fish the beaches when the wind is in your face. This is true but only fishing in the breakers.

Because you will be out past the breakers, get that wind at your back and let your kites fly. The best time and season to find these winds is the late fall through early spring in the early morning hours. If it has been unseasonably cold the night before, all the better!

The setup for shore fishing that is often preferred is a complex setup but well worth the effort.

The kite is usually the same but most people opt for a full-length rod over the shorter rods used on boats. Dacron string is preferred over fishing line mostly due to cost. There are no clips on the kite line, you will be fastening a drop line to the kite line with a swivel.

At the bottom of the dropline, most people float a large bottle partially filled with water. This allows them to easily tailor the weight to exactly what they need. You want something that is too heavy for the kite to lift out of the water but not something that creates excess drag.

Usually, the job of the kite is to keep the bait suspended at the top of the water. Not so with kite fishing from shore. The job of the kite, in this case, is to carry the float out as far as you want it.

Above the bottle, most people use a number of large streamers that can be seen from a long distance. At the bottle is your breakaway snap for when that bite occurs. The differences don’t stop here.

Where you have one hook and one bait, on a shore rig many anglers use multiple hooks with multiple baits. They are still free to move in the current or under their own power. Usually, these hooks are attached on their own drop lines to keep them separated and natural.

This is one rig among several. Some are specialty rigs while others are as general purpose as the one above. I chose this rig for its simplicity and lack of complicated and expensive parts.

When first starting out from shore, keep your kite close until you learn how to manage it. Kites in the water are hard to retrieve and losing a kite your first time out can break your heart. Nothing about it is hard, it just takes some time to adjust to a new method.

Kite Fishing Gear

While the above sections have attempted to explain what and how kite fishing works, they have just glossed over the details of the gear. Like all fishing, kite fishing is a gear driven sport. Understanding that gear will improve your chances of getting a proper setup.

You will need your fishing rod and reel with all the terminal tackle and swivels.

Kites

Every year, someone comes out with a new kite design that is, of course, the latest and greatest. Despite these new designs, the most popular two are still the standard square kite and the delta kite. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.

Square kites are the most common by far and are often the cheapest. These kits are easy to get into the air and fly well but can have issues with twisting. You can resolve this by adding a tail but most people go without.

Delta kites fly well and are more stable than square kites but have never really caught on. This is because they catch less wind for their size. They can also be harder to get into the air in the first place. You are often used from a beach.

If you have to go with one of the newer styles, consider a parachute kite. These are designed to carry heavy line and baits and catch massive amounts of wind. They can be useful on days were wind is low but do cost more than other kite styles.

Parachute kites come in several different sizes. The small, medium and large kites are used depending on the wind. The smallest used for the strongest wind. A medium kite is a good general purpose buy but you will eventually want all three.

Whatever style, size, and brand of kite you get it needs to be high quality. Go with ripstop nylon for the fabric if you want your kite to last. You should also go with graphite spars which are much lighter. They do break easier so pick up a few spares if you can.

In addition to kites, some people will also use a sky hook which is a smaller kite like device attached below the kite. These provide a lot of extra lift and are commonly seen with delta kites used in shore fishing.

Kite Clips

The breakaway clips are what make kite fishing possible and they come in a lot of varieties. The industry standard is the plain clip like those made by Black’s Marine Products. The brand isn’t as important as the quality.

This is your main point of failure on a kite fishing rig. Getting a clip that will hold your line until you get a hit is mandatory. The clip should also release cleanly and be adjustable for the weight it takes to release it. There are a number of companies that make these, find one and give it a shot!

Line Markers

You can use ribbon to mark your lines or by the bobber style markers. The bobber style is the most popular and seems to work well for most people. There are a variety of styles and sizes, just pick what you like.

If you fish more than one line per kite, make sure you get several colors so they can be coded to the reels. Nothing is worse than grabbing the wrong rod when you get a violent strike from a big sailfish!

Kite Fishing Reels

There are a few companies that make specific reels for kite fishing but those are often just a waste of money. Any reel that is strong enough to support the load of the kite and has a high gear ratio will do the job just fine. It really doesn’t have to have a high gear ratio but it helps!

Other than reels mounted to a rod, there are several other varieties of kite line systems. Once again, I would just use a standard reel. Once you have some experience, you can always pick one up if you think it worthwhile.

If you are using multiple kites, you can opt for electric reels for kite fishing. They are commonly used in multi-line setups and work great for quickly reeling in lines that aren’t needed. Just make sure the one you get has the power to bring the kite in.

Kite Fishing Rods

Kite rods are surprisingly rare to find. A few companies make specific rods for the purpose, most of which are reasonably priced. Starting out, you can use the lower section of any takedown rod if nothing else.

Daiwa does make a rod in its Saltiga line that is affordable and great quality. They can be had for under a hundred bucks and work very well.

Kite Line

Some people like to use Dacron line specifically made for kites while others use braided line. You do want something in the 80# range just to be safe. Either line should work well but the Dacron line does have less stretch.

Always carry a few extra pre-rigged lines on spools. In high winds in front of storms, the static electricity can break a kite line. The last thing you want to do is have to re-rig the whole line at sea.

Other

That takes care of all the big items but you will need a few more small items to get you going the right way. While you are shopping around, pick up a few of each.

Kite rings in either ceramic or stainless steel. Most people use cheaper stainless steel rings even though they are heavier. The ceramic rings may be better quality and don’t wear your knots as bad.

Make sure you get a few balloons. They don’t need to be helium balloons, just ordinary balloons. These will serve as a float should you crash your kite and nothing more. Once you are farther along, helium balloons can be used on days that have too little wind.

Get a rigging needle and a few small rubber bands to properly bait your hooks. This method has proven to be the best for overall presentation and will give you more hits.

Kite Fishing Kits

If you are new to kite fishing you can make your life much simpler by picking up a pre-made kit. Some of these will come with a kite and some will not. Otherwise, they offer everything you will need short of rods and lines.

Most kits will come with all the rigging supplies including:

  • Weights
  • Swivels
  • Markers
  • Rings
  • Clips
  • Beads

The best ones will also come with hooks, baiting needle, and rubber bands for all your live bait needs. These are often a good value for what you are getting.

If I had a preference it would be for a kit without the kite. Picking an appropriate kite to the wind you want to fish is very important. I would want to pick my own for my preferences.

Conclusion

Kite fishing is an exciting change to a sport that has been done the same way for years. The excitement and increased fish you bring in will be well worth the cost. And With a little ingenuity, you can mitigate this cost with some of your existing rods and reels.

Whether you choose to do it from a boat or from the beach, it’s worth your time to get out there and give it a solid try. After you get used to it, it may be the only way you want to fish. This is especially true if doing it from a beach.

This a tried and true method stretching back decades in the States but going back hundreds of years. The first discovered kite fishermen were using palm leaf kites and still catching fish. Anything that has worked for that long deserves a shot!

If you can find a mentor but if you can’t, hopefully, this article has answered most of your questions. Any reputable bait shop that carries kite fishing supplies should be able to get you the rest of the way. Virginia to Florida, this sport is doing nothing but growing. You might as well get on it now and be ahead of the game!

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