21 Kayak Fishing Tips and Techniques for Beginners

Discover the thrills of kayak fishing! Check out our top tips, from mastering one-handed paddling to staying organized on the water.

kayak fishing tips

If casting lines while cruising around on the water sounds like your idea of a good time, then kayak fishing is probably your go-to adventure activity.

But, learning how to paddle and fish simultaneously is a challenge.

Whether you’re trying to figure out how to maneuver around in tricky waters without disturbing the fish or you’re having trouble reeling in your catch, we put together this list of our top kayak fishing tips to get you started.

1. Start With an Empty Kayak

If you’re planning your first kayak fishing trip, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the gear you need to bring. 

However, the most important piece of gear that you have on the water is your kayak. So, it’s essential that you first get comfortable with your boat when it’s empty before you take it out for a full-fledged fishing trip.

This means taking the time to go out on a paddling trip without all your fishing gear in tow. To do so, you simply need to grab your kayak, your paddle, and your PFD and then head out onto the water. 

When you’re out there, practice maneuvering your boat in windy conditions and in tricky currents. Also, don’t forget to practice capsizing and getting back into your kayak on your own. 

Nailing down these skills when your kayak is empty is essential if you want to have a comfortable, relaxing time on the water while sportfishing.

2. Check Local Fishing Reports

Fishing reports are an essential part of any kayak angler’s planning process. A quality fishing report can give you invaluable insight into the current fishing conditions, including where the fish are and what types of fish are biting.

However, fishing reports don’t do you any good if you don’t read them. So, try to make it a habit to regularly check your local fishing reports so you can stay up-to-date on what’s happening over the season.

If you’re planning on traveling outside of your local area for some kayak fishing, it may also be worth reading up on that area’s most recent reports. Taking the time to read through a few recent reports can give you an idea of the conditions you’ll face before your trip.

3. Plan Your Route in Advance

map of a river

When planning a kayak fishing trip, you have a lot on your plate. However, there’s one part of the trip planning process that you can’t overlook: your route.

While it might seem easier to say, “I’m going to paddle from Point A to Point B,” and leave it at that, doing so isn’t going to set you up for success in the long run. At the same time, saying “I’ll figure it out when I get to the put-in” isn’t going to get you very far, either.

With that in mind, the best thing to do is to thoroughly plan your paddling route in advance. 

Of course, things won’t go exactly to plan when you’re out on the water. But, getting familiar with your chosen route and having a few backup options at the ready will help ensure that your adventure goes off without a hitch.

4. Consider Your Clothing Choices

What you wear out on the water can make or break your paddling experience. With the right paddling clothes, you can be cool, comfortable, and focused on the task at hand. Choose the wrong clothes, though, and your day out on the water might not be as enjoyable as you’d like.

So, what should you wear while fishing in your kayak?

At a minimum, you should prioritize skin protection. The sun can be harsh while you’re out on the water, so having clothing with a high UPF rating, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses are a must.

5. Always Wear a PFD

Although wearing a PFD might not be everyone’s idea of high fashion, there’s no doubt that wearing one can truly save your life in an emergency.

As a result, you should always wear your PFD while kayak angling.

Sure, you’ll likely see plenty of folks out on the water without their PFDs on, especially in the summer months. However, accidents can and do happen, even on nice, sunny days, and there’s no substitute for a PFD in an emergency.

So, while it might feel more comfortable to take off your PFD while you paddle, please seriously consider keeping it on at all times when you’re on the water—you never know when it might come in handy.

6. Pay Attention to the Weather

kayak fishing during sunrise

On the water, the weather can change at a moment’s notice. In these situations, your relaxing fishing trip can turn into a bit of an epic one. So, it’s essential that you always stay one step ahead of the weather while you paddle.

At the very least, you should plan to check the local weather report before leaving home. Also, try to keep an eye out for changes in the local weather conditions as you paddle.

Additionally, it might be worth investing in a handheld VHF radio if you’re going to be spending some time out in coastal waters. 

In the US, the National Weather Service provides continuous weather broadcasts that you can access with a VHF radio for updates on local weather patterns. So, a radio is an indispensable tool to have with you as you paddle.

7. Bring Bug Spray

Fact: Bugs aren’t fun—especially when you’re paddling.

However, lakes and rivers tend to be havens for biting insects, making paddling an uncomfortable affair. 

Thankfully, there’s an answer to all your bug-biting woes: bug spray.

Bug spray is a must-have on all padding adventures, just in case the bugs decide they want to pay you a visit while you’re on the water. 

If you want to keep the bugs at bay, you might even consider investing in some bug-repellent clothing that’s treated with permethrin. You can often find sun shirts that have both UPF protection and bug resistance that are perfect for those hot and buggy days in your kayak.

8. Avoid Overloading Your Kayak

Since kayak fishing is a gear-intensive pursuit, it’s easy to accidentally overload your kayak

As a general rule, kayaks shouldn’t be loaded beyond about 80% of their total carrying capacity. So, if your boat can support up to 500 lbs, the total combined weight of you and your gear shouldn’t be more than about 400 lbs for maximum performance.

Therefore, be cautious about what you bring with you on your paddles, so you don’t accidentally overload your kayak. 

Also, keep in mind that, unless you’re doing catch-and-release, you’ll likely end up with more weight in your boat at the end of your fishing day than when you started. 

So, try to keep the weight of you and your gear below about 70% of your boat’s total carrying capacity at the start of the day. That way, you’ll have plenty of room for all the fish you potentially reel in.

9. Stay Organized

kayak fishing at a lake in autumn

As we’ve mentioned, kayak angling requires quite a lot of gear. Therefore, finding a way to stay organized on the water is of the utmost importance.

Staying organized while kayak fishing starts with having a system in place before you hit the water. Installing a track mount to your boat can be a great way to keep all your various devices, like your fish finder and GPS close by. At the same time, having a well-organized fishing crate can save you headaches down the line.

Regardless of how you organize your boat, though, the key is to find a system that works for you. Ultimately, an organization system that works for one paddler might not work for another. So take some time to play around with different options until you nail down the perfect system for your paddling style.

10. Leave Your Expensive Fishing Rods at Home

If you just invested in some nice new rods, we know how tempting it is to bring them out on your kayak fishing trips. But, as much as we hate to say it, it’s probably best to leave your expensive rods at home—at least at first.

You’ll have a lot to keep track of during your first few kayak fishing trips, so adding in the stress of potentially damaging your expensive fishing rods isn’t going to do you much good. 

Therefore, until you dial down your systems and get a feel for how kayak fishing works for you, it’s best to leave your expensive rods at home. When you feel more comfortable on the water, you can consider packing your prized fishing rods for a future outing.

11. Secure Your Gear

Whether you’re on a lake, river, or the ocean, the very last thing you want is for your fishing gear to fall off as you’re paddling. Unfortunately, the wind and the waves often conspire against us on the water, making it difficult to keep track of all your gear.

Therefore, securing your gear while kayak fishing should be a top priority at all times. Whenever possible, keep your equipment locked up in a hatch or tied down to the deck of your boat to prevent it from falling off.

For items that you don’t necessarily want to tie down to your boat, like your rods, be sure to place them in a secure location at all times. This means putting your rods in their dedicated rod holders instead of just setting them down on the deck of your boat when you stop for a break. Trust us, you’ll be happy that you did.

12. Practice Paddling With One Hand

Kayak fishing is all about multi-tasking. As part of this multi-tasking challenge, it’s worth practicing how to paddle with one hand.

Now, we don’t necessarily mean that you need to be able to paddle with only one hand for miles and miles on end. But, being able to do small maneuvers and draw strokes with one hand to stop yourself from drifting while you cast lines is very helpful.

The key here is practice. Paddling with one hand isn’t easy, so try to build in a bit of practice time on every outing until you feel like you can do it with relative ease.

13. Learn to Cast One-Handed

Along the same line of being able to paddle with one hand, it’s also helpful knowing how to cast one-handed.

Sure, you don’t always need to cast with only one hand, but doing so will make your paddling trips much more efficient. Being able to cast with one hand means you don’t have to constantly set your paddle down whenever you want to cast your lines. 

That might not seem like a big advantage right now, but after hours on the water, more efficient casting will significantly increase your likelihood of snagging a catch.

14. Use a Paddle Leash

As your main method for propulsion through the water, your paddle is one thing you don’t want to lose during your adventures. Thus, all kayak anglers should strongly consider using a paddle leash while on the water. 

A paddle leash is essentially a strap that connects your paddle to your boat to help reduce the chances that your paddle will accidentally drift away from you during your fishing. These are invaluable pieces of gear for kayak anglers who often have to set their paddles down for brief periods.

So, think about investing in a paddle leash before your next trip. It’s well worth the peace of mind you get knowing that your paddle won’t just float off on its own.

15. Keep a Knife Nearby

fisherman catching a pike fish on an inflatable kayak

Knives are an essential all-purpose piece of gear that no outdoor person should ever leave home without. Indeed, while kayak fishing, a knife is one item that you should always have on hand.

In particular, you should try to keep your knife as accessible as possible at all times. Having a knife in your rear hatch isn’t going to do you much good if you’re all tangled up in your fishing lines. Consider getting a knife holster for your PFD, so you’ll never be far from your knife while on the water.

16. Use the Current to Your Advantage

As paddlers, the current can be incredibly frustrating. However, while it might always seem like the current is conspiring against you, there are ways to use it to your advantage.

In particular, knowing how to drift efficiently by managing your position with the occasional paddle stroke can go a long way on the water. 

Alternatively, you could consider using a drogue (a.k.a. sea anchor or drift sock) to help stabilize your kayak in the water. Of course, drogues aren’t going to keep you in one place like a properly set anchor will, but they can help slow your boat down and stabilize it in the current.

17. Don’t Forget About Your Anchor

If you don’t already have an anchor, it’s worth investing in one. While we often think of anchors as things that massive ships carry, they’re an essential piece of gear on vessels of any size.

Small, folding kayak anchors are incredibly useful if you’re looking to stay in one spot for an extended period of time. 

Instead of having to constantly paddle to hold your position, anchors keep you in one place as you cast your lines. This is an invaluable asset if you’re trying to take advantage of a prime fishing location, especially if the local fish are a bit skittish around noise.

That being said, an anchor is only helpful if you know how to use one properly. The good news is that all the general rules about anchoring a boat are relevant to kayaks, just on a smaller scale. 

Just be sure to practice setting your anchor a few times before you try to use it in a more exposed area. Then, be sure to double-check your anchor every hour or so to ensure you’re not drifting.

18. Stay Visible

man kayak fishing on yellowstone lake, wyoming

Visibility is vital when you’re out on the water. Although you should always maintain an adequate lookout for other boats at all times (more on that later), staying visible so others can see you is equally as important.

Indeed, if you’re busy changing lures, reeling in fish, or planning your route, you may not realize that another boat is coming your way. 

So, wearing high-visibility gear is essential while paddling. Adding a few pieces of reflective tape to the bow and stern of your boat can be helpful when paddling in low-light conditions. A kayak light is also a great addition.

But, even something as simple as wearing bright colors can make a big difference. The trick is to stick out from your surroundings so that others can see you, even if you’re focused on your catch.

19. Stay Hydrated

Hydration is vital when you’re physically active outside, and kayak fishing is no exception. Those hot summer days out on the water can significantly increase your risk for severe dehydration, so regularly drinking water is essential if you want to have a good time while paddling.

That being said, trying to manage fishing, kayaking, and hydrating all at the same time can feel overwhelming. So, it’s essential that you have a system for staying hydrated before you hit the water.

Perhaps the simplest way to stay hydrated is with a couple of water bottles. 

But, if you don’t like having to stop what you’re doing to take a drink, it might be worth investing in a hydration bladder instead. You can often stash your hydration pack just behind your kayak seat for easy access as you paddle.

20. Lookout for Other Boats

When you’re out on the water, there are a few universal rules that boaters should always follow.

The most important rule? Maintain an adequate watch at all times.

Now, this rule might seem more pertinent for captains of ships and large vessels, but it’s just as important to you as a kayaker as it is to the skipper of an oil tanker.

Plus, in an encounter between a motorboat and a kayak, the motorboat will win out every time. So, it’s in your best interest to keep a lookout for other boats at all times. That means that if you see another boat coming your way, you’ll need to give it your full, undivided attention. 

Even if you’re not in the direct line of travel of that boat or ship, it could still make some massive waves that can catch you by surprise if you’re not paying attention. Therefore, always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re paddling in busy waterways.

21. Want Great Photos? Use a Camera Mount

Photos are one of the best ways to capture the magic of a kayak fishing trip so you can share your experiences with friends and families. With so many other pieces of gear to keep track of, trying to manage a phone or a camera for snapping photos just isn’t feasible on the water.

The solution? A camera mount.

A quality camera mount can help you capture your favorite moments on the water, all while keeping your device safe as you paddle. 

While most kayak camera mounts are made for action sports cameras like GoPros, there are plenty of options out there that can work with smartphones, too. The key is to find a mount that works for your needs so you can keep your focus on the water and reeling in your next catch.