Winter Kayak Fishing – What You NEED to Know (Tips, Tricks and Advice)

Spring, summer, and fall are the best seasons to enjoy a spot of kayak fishing.

But let’s not leave winter out in the cold.

Winter kayak fishing is perfectly possible – providing you have done plenty of preemptive preparation.

And the water isn’t a block of ice, of course.

In this article, we take a look at some tips, tricks, and advice for anyone who would like to dare venture out in colder climes, catch fish, and stay warm and dry at the same time.

Safety is key, so let’s find out what you need to know.

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Kayak Fishing in the Winter – Is it Safe?

The short answer is – yes, fishing in winter is safe, but it does pose significantly more challenges and requires a lot more thought than any other season.

As the risks increase, so too should the level of preparation.

The main concern is the water temperature. During the winter – it’s going to be icy, icy cold – if it’s not frozen already. You might even live in a location where the water never even warms up at all.

It’s also worth noting that spring and fall are not without their problems for kayakers, as while the weather might be deceptively perfect, the water is still Baltic freezing.

Learn the rule of 120. If the outside air temperature AND the water temperature exceeds 120 degrees Fahrenheit, then you’re most likely not at risk from hypothermia should you fall in.

In cold water, unless you’re properly prepared, it only takes a few moments for you to lose fine motor skills, and the ability to do anything physical – like getting back on your boat.

Read on for some advice on how to prepare, but if you’re in any doubt, please stay at home and live to kayak fish another day.

You can also watch this highly educational video on cold water and winter paddling for more safety information and advice.

The Best Kayaks for Winter Fishing

When it comes to seasonal kayak fishing, there isn’t really one model of craft that performs better in summer than it would in winter.

Having said that, for colder, more challenging weather, it’s highly recommended that you use a sit-inside fishing kayak – and you can follow that link for some good examples.

By their nature, you can stay more protected against the elements with the covered deck – especially if you add a spray-skirt to your cockpit, which is highly recommended if it’s particularly cold and damp.

This is simply not possible in a sit-on-top kayak, you’re more exposed, and far more likely to get wet and cold as a result.

It goes without saying that this should be avoided at all costs when winter kayaking, unless you’re wearing a suitable wetsuit for the temperature.

Winter Kayak Fishing Clothing – What to Wear

Getting yourself appropriately suited and booted is half the battle when it comes to staying warm during colder kayak adventures.

Staying dry is the other half – but more of that anon.

Let’s start with the base layers and work our way up. The key word here is “layers” as that’s exactly how you’ll want to approach your winter kayak loadout.

Another key phrase is “moisture-wicking.” When kayak fishing in colder temperatures, you’re still subject to sweating, which can dry and then freeze on your skin if you’re not careful.

With that in mind, all your clothes should be breathable, with adequate ventilation, and the ability to wick moisture away from your skin.

And they should never be made of cotton. Use synthetic materials only, as when cotton gets wet it stays soaked into the fabric, and you’re going to be in a world of hurt if you can’t get it off quickly.

Start with a set of decent thermal underwear. Remember to wick that moisture.

Warm and comfortable socks should be next. When in doubt, feel free to don an extra pair – I won’t judge. Wool is best.

Next, layer up with warm and comfortable clothing. I heartily recommend a T-shirt, hoodie, and fleece-lined cargo pants.

They should be as non-restrictive as possible.

Your outer layers should be as water and windproof as possible. Try these protective fishing jackets for starters, and you might even want to try some of these ice fishing jackets if you’re really prone to feeling the chill.

A good neck gaiter is highly recommended. In frigid temperatures, I never leave the house without one – even for simply walking the dog.

A fishing hat is also advised, but you should make sure to choose one of the warmer models for winter.

Keeping your feet warm and dry is a key component for all-day comfort, so you should wear a pair of quality fishing boots that are suitable for kayak use.

When it comes to your hands, a pair of fishing gloves are essential, as not only will they protect your hands from damage, they’re also useful at preventing paddling blisters.

Finally, last but by no means least, a personal flotation device is essential. No arguments, no excuses. Try one of these fishing PFDs which will also offer extra storage options and work space for tackle.

And if the temperature happens to be particularly low, then a wetsuit is pretty much essential as the risk of hypothermia becomes extreme.

While you’re not actually going swimming, there’s always a chance you’re going to flip your kayak, and wearing a wetsuit under your clothes could well save your life.

Make sure it’s temperature rated for the waters you’re kayaking in.

fisherman kayaking on a lake near snow capped mountains in winter

Staying Dry is Key

Most of the advice above is for nothing if you can’t stay dry.

There are all kinds of ways to get wet when you’re kayaking – and the chances of doing so will increase significantly when you’re fishing.

It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when.’

While that’s not a problem in the summer (and is usually a pleasant and welcome experience) in winter it’s literally the polar opposite.

Getting wet in winter equals being freezing cold – which is when things can get as dangerous as they are uncomfortable.

Even if you’re wearing all the right gear as mentioned above, it won’t matter if you get wet, and you should take extra precautions for staying dry when winter kayak fishing.

Take care when entering and exiting your kayak, as this is the moment when you are statistically most likely to fall in, or get a sock soaked with water as you sink a foot to the bottom.

And if that happens – it’s game over. Give up and go home.

Practice getting in and out of your kayak beforehand – you should be competent at doing so without the need to enter the water at all.

Then it’s all about going “low and slow” when you’re out there – especially if you don’t have the best paddle technique in the first place. Take your time, and don’t raise your paddle too high – otherwise you’ll get plenty of drips back down over the guard or drip ring.

Follow the advice in the video below if you need to improve your stay-dry paddle cycle – which is essential when you’re kayaking in winter – fishing or otherwise.

Try using a good quality kayak fishing net for assistance in landing your catch, as there’s a good chance it will keep you from getting too wet.

But even with the best will in the world, when landing a fish getting dowsing is extremely likely. To combat this, you can consider wearing fully waterproof gear, such as these chest fishing waders.

But even with the best will in the world, things can go wrong, and if you do happen to get wet, or begin to feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, it’s best to call it a day.

Plan Your Trip

It’s not worth the risk to go out blind, as winter weather and conditions are subject to change, and you can get yourself into difficulty if you don’t know where you’re going.

With that in mind, it’s well worth mapping out your route before setting off, and always check the weather forecast for an indication of what you’re going to be up against.

To be honest, you should be doing this every time you kayak anyway – no matter the season. Conditions can change in a heartbeat.

Check out this review on kayak fish finders, and pay particular attention to those devices that have GPS capabilities, with pre-programmed maps of watercourses, lakes, and rivers.

They can make it super easy to navigate your way around – and obviously help you catch more fish at the same time.

In addition, it’s recommended that you don’t go alone, as having a fishing kayak partner around can make all the difference if one of you ever gets into difficulty.

Food and Drink

Food not only gives us energy – which is much needed when enjoying a long day of kayak fishing – but it also keeps us warm.

Don’t skip breakfast – make sure you have a hearty feast before you set out, as this will give you warmth and energy throughout the day.

Pack some food and snacks you can nibble on to keep this topped up – and a flask of hot coffee or tea (or perhaps a nip of something a little stronger) is also highly recommended.*

And you should also include a supply of drinking water – as keeping yourself hydrated is every bit as important through the winter as it is the summer. You’ll be amazed how many times this is overlooked just because it’s cold.

You can keep all this stuff in a good quality fishing cooler that will ensure it stays cold and fresh.

Just don’t bring any bananas – not unless you want the worst luck in the world and all your fellow anglers to never speak to you again…

*Disclaimer – everything in moderation – alcohol and watersports should be enjoyed responsibly.

man fishing from inflatable kayak on the autumn river

Additional Considerations

It’s highly recommended (nay, essential) that you take an extra dry bag with you that’s filled with clean, warm, and dry clothing. Take a good towel, too.

If an accident does happen, or you do get too wet and/or cold, you’re going to want to change out of your clothes as quickly as possible.

Don’t play fast and loose with this – this isn’t a joke. If you get wet in freezing conditions – you’re going to be in serious trouble if you can’t dry off and change ASAP.

It’s also a good idea to carry a first aid kit – and the ability to make a fire in an emergency. A reliable lighter AND some waterproof matches as back up.

You never know when a bit of basic survival training will come in handy – and since we discovered how to make fire around 400,000 years ago – you’ve no excuse.

Add portable heat pads or hand warmers while you’re at it – as they’re just wonderful to have around at the best of times.

And while you might not need flares unless you’re really exploring the deepest, darkest wilderness, make sure you have a super-loud safety whistle – if your PFD doesn’t already come with one attached.

Winter Fishing Alternatives

If all else fails, the lake has frozen over, or you’re just not comfortable venturing out in a kayak, why not try using one of these ice fishing shelters instead?

Ice fishing is a great way to still enjoy the sport, keep your freezer stocked, and enjoy the great outdoors at the same time.

It’s even great fun to go ice fishing at night – which is something you can’t really do when you’re kayaking. Check out that link for some great advice on how to enjoy some fishing fun when the sun goes down.

Just make sure to wrap up just as warm, and a pair of good-quality ice cleats are a sound investment.

Trust me, I found that out the (very) hard way.


Just because the cold weather and conditions pose more of a challenge, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a spot of winter kayak fishing.

It’s just vitally important you put in the extra preparation before venturing out.

Let me know if you have any seasonal fishing tips and tricks – or if I’ve missed anything off that should have been included.

In the meantime, stay safe out there, stay warm, and happy kayak fishing!

Stuart Jameson

Stuart is passionate about travel, kayaking, camping and the great outdoors in general. He's not quite as enthusiastic about angling as his father was, but out of the two of them, he's yet to hook his ear lobe while fly-fishing, which he sees as an absolute win.

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