Essential Kayak Fishing Tips for Beginners – What You Need to Know


Kayak fishing has become a big hit in recent years, offering the perfect recipe for getting away from it all and enjoying two of the best things you can do outdoors at the same time.

There’s never been a better opportunity to get involved.

But where do you start? How can you get out paddling and landing some monsters as quickly as possible?

Read on for some expert kayak fishing tips dedicated to beginners, or anyone who might need a refresh for this wonderful hobby.

Kayaking and fishing – what’s not to love?

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Kayak Fishing for Beginners

Kayak Fishing Brands

First, you’ll benefit from familiarizing yourself with some of the best kayak fishing brands on the market, which will help significantly when it comes to choosing the right gear and equipment for you.

And it won’t hurt to brush up on the best fishing brands in general – as the two will often go hand-in-hand when it comes to kayak fishing.

Understanding who’s who of the kayak fishing world can go a long way to making you a better kayak fisher in the first place.

Or, at the very least, it’ll make you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

red inflatable fishing kayak on the autumn river

Using the Right Kayak

While it is possible to fish from almost any kayak, if you want to do it safely and stand the best chance of success, it’s highly recommended you do so from the right kayak for the conditions and environment.

If you want to fish rivers, then it’s advisable to look into the best river fishing kayaks.

If you want to fish oceans or open, tidal waters, perhaps head over to check out the best ocean fishing kayaks.

Etcetera, etcetera.

As for the size, you should be looking at the sweet spot of somewhere between 10-14 feet in length. Again, this might vary depending on the who, what, where, when, and how you’re using it.

If you’re not sure of the type of kayak you’re looking for, read this article on sit-in versus sit-on-top kayaks for fishing.

And head over to this review if you’re thinking about trying an inflatable fishing kayak as opposed to a hardshell.

Regardless of where you want to fish or the type of craft you’re in, a good fishing kayak is going to need several features and accessories to make things easier for you out on the water.

Rod holders are important for storing your poles when you’re on the move and using your paddle.

An elevated position in lawn-chair style seating will offer the best possible all-day comfort and field-of-view over the water.

Tank wells for carrying a good fishing cooler are recommended, as you’ll need somewhere to store your lunch/bait/catch/beer that’s close to hand. Other watertight storage hatches are also useful.

A good center console is recommended as this is likely where you’ll do most of your rigging. Underseat and side storage options are great for stashing compatible kayak fishing tackle boxes and keeping essentials to hand.

Rails and mounting systems are recommended if you want to add fish finders, GPS, sports cameras, flashlights, or other accessories – but they’re not essential if you’re just starting out.

A paddle park is essential on a fishing kayak – you need somewhere to safely store your paddle while you’re actually using your rods. The last thing you want is to watch it float away or sink to the bottom of the river.

If a kayak doesn’t come with one installed, you should seriously think about doing a spot of DIY and adding one yourself.

Remember, you don’t need to purchase the most expensive, top-of-the-line craft in order to be successful. In fact, there are some amazing budget-friendly fishing kayaks out there to get everyone started.

I would say that review is a very good place to start shopping for your new vessel, as you can soon find out if you’re going to enjoy the sport without breaking the bank.

man holding fishing rod and fishing from a kayak on the lake

Paddles and Pedals, Paddling and Pedaling

The principles of kayaking haven’t changed much in thousands of years, and for the most part – you still need a paddle in order to practice it.

However, with the advent of the latest and greatest technology, we’ve now been able to add pedal drive systems to our fishing kayaks.

You don’t need a pedal drive kayak in order to be a successful kayak angler (especially as a beginner) – but when it comes to comfort and control – they’re on another level.

Follow this link if you want to know more about the best pedal fishing kayaks on the market.

Either way, you still need to have a good paddle, and it should be the right size for you and your kayak for maximum comfort and performance.

Read this article on how to choose the right paddle for kayaking as a general guide. There are some paddles that have been designed specifically for fishing, with extra features added dedicated to kayak angling.

But perhaps most importantly of all – you’re going to need to know how to paddle in the first place.

If you’re not at all familiar with the principles and basics of kayaking, then I would highly recommend you learn – before you’ve even cast a line.

You can start by watching the video below for some basic techniques, but nothing will teach you like getting out there and experiencing it for yourself.

Take your time, start slowly, and invest in some lessons at a local paddlesport club if you feel you would benefit from them. You can also try this online paddlesports safety course to get a better understanding of kayak and boating safety.

You also need to have a modicum of physical fitness to pilot these craft on your own steam – even in calm conditions.

I also recommend a gentle warm up before you venture out – paying particular attention to your core, arms, and upper body. I’ve often been in agony the day after whenever I’ve overlooked this.

Regardless of paddles or pedals, it’s non-negotiable that you’re a competent kayaker, for your own safety, and the safety of those around you.

When in doubt – practice, practice, practice – but don’t feel pressured to get into a kayak if you’re not confident or comfortable. It isn’t for everyone, and shore or bank fishing is perfectly fine.

Tackle, Tools, Rigging, and Rods

Top Tip – When it comes to kayak fishing gear, cheap is cheerful. Don’t be packing your most prized rods or expensive equipment – not unless you want to see it sink to the bottom at some point in your kayak fishing career.

When it comes to rigging your kayak with all the equipment you need to be successful, I would say keep things simple. Try a rod with a horizontal bait, and a rod with a vertical bait to begin with.

Stick to versatile lure options that can be used in multiple situations and for a variety of species. You want to maximize the amount of casts, rather than the time you’re adjusting your setup.

Topwater lures, spinner and crank baits are all highly recommended. Bring a small but eclectic selection that you know will drive the fish wild. Again, suit it to the fish you intend to catch, and you won’t go far wrong.

Spinning reels are the preferred choice for kayak anglers, and they’re also more accessible and easier-to-use for beginners. And make sure you’re using reels with fast gear ratios should you need to bring your bait back in a heartbeat.

When it comes to rods, there’s a mind-boggling selection out there, but you can start with this review on the best kayak fishing rods on the market. So long as it’s the right size for your craft – you should be good to go.

As a rule of thumb, a seven-foot rod is regarded as the best length for kayak fishing, but anywhere between 6 and 7.5 feet is fine.

You can also try a good telescopic rod – which I always say is a great idea for people who are kayakers first and anglers second, and decent travel fishing rods will also suffice in much the same way.

For your tools, you’ll want to bring along a good set of fishing pliers, and make sure they’re suitable for saltwater if you’re fishing in those conditions.

And never be without a razor-sharp fishing knife – which can assist you in all sorts of situations, as well as cleaning your catch.

Aside from that, pack as light and as efficiently as possible – and only take what you’re definitely going to need.

Remember – kayaks have a maximum weight capacity, and you’re short on space as it is. You should never attempt to max them out.

angler fishing from the kayak in the river

Clothing and Apparel

As with any time you venture into the great outdoors – no matter the activity – you need to consider what Mother Nature is going to throw at you.

Kayak fishing is no exception, and the Boy Scout motto “be prepared” should be taken to heart.

Study the weather forecast on the day – particularly how hot or cold it’s going to be.

I would always advise dressing in layers, as you can easily take off or put on clothing to be as comfortable as possible. And choose garments with moisture-wicking technology, so you stay cool and dry.

Have a look at this in-depth article on the best rain gear for fishing if it’s going to be chucking it down.

And if you’re lucky enough to have glorious sunshine, then a fishing hat is a must. Sunscreen can only do so much, and a hat will help you stay cool and keep those UV rays away.

On your feet, you can use any old sneaker or tennis shoe – but I would recommend checking out this review on the best shoes for kayak fishing for super-comfortable, grippy footwear designed for use on watercraft.

They can make all the difference, especially for peace-of-mind with standing casts, or negotiating slippery surfaces when getting in and out of your kayak.

Your clothes should be loose, comfortable, and nonrestrictive, and stuff that you don’t mind potentially getting a soaking.

man fishing from inflatable kayak on the autumn river

Finding Fish

One of the best things about kayak fishing – is these craft can go where others can’t. This will give you a significant advantage over other water users piloting larger boats.

Hug the banks – especially in poor weather – and get yourself fishing feeder creeks and flowing water courses – particularly when it’s raining. It’ll be a feeding frenzy if you time it right.

Read this article if you’re interested in more detailed advice for fishing in the rain.

In general, practice makes perfect for fishing fish when you’re kayaking, but if you really want an extra leg up, then try one of these excellent kayak fish finders and add some top tech to your kayak setup.

Planning Your Route

While it’s perfectly possible to just put in somewhere and randomly fish for a few hours, I would highly recommend you plan your route beforehand.

This will ensure you don’t end up getting lost, over tired, and into difficulty. It should also help you catch more fish if you know where you’re going.

Bear in mind that however far you paddle – you still have to get back. Don’t over-exert yourself, or you might find yourself in a world of hurt. Know your limitations and stick to them.

I would also advise you use a service like Navionics – which is fantastic for navigation when enjoying a variety of boating and water sport activities.

And always remember to make a note – either digitally or otherwise – of where you put in and where you intend on getting out. It’ll make getting back that much easier.

fisherman preparing for kayak fishing trip

Casting and Retrieval

Casting and retrieval are probably the two techniques that make most new kayak anglers nervous – especially if you have a large, slippery critter on the end of your line.

The best piece of advice here is to trust in your kayak. A good fishing kayak has been designed to be stable, and so long as you’re not overextending too much, you’ll feel rock-solid in the water.

When in doubt, take a look at these stand up fishing kayaks that have been specifically designed to accommodate standing casts.

It’s important to stay loose, relaxed, and don’t tense up. A rule of thumb is also to keep your head as central as possible – as that will help with your center of gravity and balance.

Practice one-handed, lazy casts. A simple lob is all you need when you’re out on the water already. It’s not required that you send your hook and lure into space, so take it easy, tiger.

For landing a fish, it’s a reely (see what I did there) good idea to have a kayak fishing net on hand – which is especially useful if you’re a beginner.

And depending on the weight of your setup, you can use casting to change the course of your craft. If you’re in a lightweight kayak, you’ll be able to pull yourself towards your cast point – which can be a useful navigational trick and limit the need to switch to your paddle given the right circumstances.

Anchoring

Unless you’re fishing on a calm lake without a breath of wind, your kayak isn’t going to remain in the same spot for long.

This is why it’s important to anchor your craft correctly, so you don’t go floating off and away from a potentially lucrative fish zone.

For shallower waters, I’d recommend using an anchoring pole – an effective anchoring method that’s easy and efficient to use in such conditions.

Be careful not to weigh yourself down too much, a two to four pound claw anchor should be suitable for most craft.

And never anchor a kayak in whitewater, or anywhere there’s a particularly fast moving current.

Check out the informative video below for detailed, expert advice on how to anchor your fishing kayak.

Safety

Regardless of your skill level – beginner or otherwise – it’s vitally important that you have a certified personal flotation device on your person.

As the popularity of kayak fishing increases – so does the amount of accidents and fatalities – and the vast majority can easily be prevented.

Check out these excellent fishing PFDs, which not only could save your life, but offer additional storage and work surfaces for your tackle and gear.

I would also highly recommend getting yourself a pair of good-quality fishing gloves.

Not only will they protect your hands from hooks and other hazards, and help grip slippery, sharp fish; they’ll also double as kayak gloves to keep blisters at bay when you’re paddling.

And don’t forget to keep a safety whistle on your person to alert nearby boats should you get into difficulty.

Never attempt to fish waterways that are going to be beyond your skill level. Strong currents and tides can play havoc with inexperienced kayakers, so start on calmer lakes and slow rivers to begin with.

Entering Competitions

Once you have a good grasp on the basics, and you feel you’re achieving some success – why not enter a local kayak fishing competition?

They can be an excellent resource for putting you in touch with other like-minded anglers, and win or lose, you can learn a great deal just by participating.

Competitions will also encourage you to improve your own skills, catch more fish, and have a more enjoyable experience overall.

two fisherwomen on inflatable kayaks fishing at lake

What NOT to Take Kayak Fishing

We’ve covered most of the basics of what you should be bringing along for your kayak fishing trip – but let’s put a few things to bed that might have crossed your mind as being a good idea.

Expensive gear – it’s worth mentioning again for those at the back who are hard of hearing – don’t bring your most expensive stuff. It can and will end up at the bottom of a lake, eventually.

Too many rods/too much tackle – you see some folks in their kayaks kitted out like they’re a floating rod and reel store, or setting off on a month-long expedition.

As a beginner, you really don’t need all that fluff. A couple of good rods is perfectly fine, and many kayak anglers just make do with one. You’ll soon work your way up to tournament-level loadouts with practice and experience.

A poor attitude – if you go out there with the storm clouds already lingering over your head, your day is going to suck. When you’re kayak fishing, PMA goes a long way.

Bananas. Trust me – don’t even go there.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

We all have to start somewhere, and not being immediately successful is a great learning curve for new and inexperienced kayak anglers.

It’s all part of the process, so don’t get downhearted, upset, or throw your paddle in a fit of rage. Embrace your mistakes and learn from them for the next time.

And don’t be afraid to ask the community for help – we kayak fishers are a welcoming bunch, full of sound advice, and more than a few tall tales to boot.

Seek out online groups through social media, or ask around at local kayak dealerships or paddlesports centers. You’ll nearly always find someone more than willing to lend a guiding hand – and maybe you’ll make a new kayak fishing buddy in the process.

fisherman wearing camouflage with kayak going toward the river

Enjoy Yourself

Outside of always wearing a PFD, this is probably the number-one tip for kayak fishing. Yet as simple as it is, it’s often forgotten.

Remember, even if you don’t catch a thing, you’re still exploring the great outdoors, which sure beats the hell out of sitting behind a desk.

Relax, take it easy, breathe, and laugh as much as possible – and I’m pretty sure you’ll have an enjoyable experience and want to go out again and again.

Summary

I hope this article has armed you with the best kayak fishing tips for beginners, and you’re ready to get involved and see what all the fuss is about.

And this kayak fishing gear list will help you stay organized when you’re just about ready to set off.

Drop me a line in the comments below if I’ve missed anything out, or if you have any top tips and advice of your own to share with the community.

I wish you the very best of luck, stay safe, and happy kayak fishing!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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