I remember distinctly my discovery of the pleasures Adirondack kayak paddling, and eventually using trying my hand at using a beginner fishing kayak. My wife Adrienne and I have always camped at DEC operated campgrounds that dot the Adirondack Park in New York State. In the late 1990s we started seeing more and more Adirondack kayaks on the water while we were paddling in our canoe. They were mostly true sea kayaks; long, sleek vessels that seemed to glide effortlessly across the open water.
While kayaks had piqued my interest one of those summers, Adrienne and I were still skeptical. It wasn’t until I tried to paddle one myself, that I realized just how stable a beginner fishing kayak can be if the paddler is outfitted with the right fishing setup, in the right boat. I immediately understood the “twice the speed for half the man” moniker a friend had told me when comparing paddling a kayak against a canoe. That was more than a dozen years ago and I’ve been kayaking in the Adirondack Park ever since.
In the early days of owning a kayak, it was all about exploring for me. The sense of freedom was immeasurable compared to what I was used to, and every body of water I visited warranted finding out what was around the next bend. Eventually I started to analyze what I could and could not carry in the boat while kayak fishing and that led to bringing along a fishing pole. When I landed my first largemouth bass, the fish wasn’t the only thing that was hooked, and my quest for the best beginner fishing kayak setup began.
Kayak fishing has grown to the point where it has its own niche in the outdoor industry. Companies like Wilderness Systems and Hobie Cat design boats specifically for anglers that are outfitted with a complete fishing kayak setup. Including everything from rod holders to live wells to hold your day’s catch. Ocean dwellers have taken kayak fishing to the max, and kayak anglers are even catching striped bass on the Hudson River.
When a kayaker decides to visit us up here in the Adirondack Park, things are a little different and it starts with the boat. The average kayak angler needs a versatile boat, one that is fast enough to get across the water yet stable enough for casting and hopefully, reeling in some fish. It also has to be easy to transport. Not all kayaks are the same, and if there’s one mistake I see beginner fishing kayak owners make, it is choosing the wrong boat.
Often, that boat is too small for the paddler and their gear. Most people think of their wallets and not whether they can get the kayak setup for fishing effectively. While understandable, this is a big mistake. Aside from obvious safety issues, the size and design of the boat greatly affects anglers ability to cover water in their Adirondack kayak adventures. “Recreational” style kayaks tend to foot this bill. They are wide and stable but can be hard to paddle long distances. This is intensified if the angler chooses too small of a vessel then loads it down with their fishing kayak setup.
“Touring” kayaks tend to be longer and faster but may seem too unstable to support your fishing kayak setup, depending on your size. My advice for anglers hoping to make their Adirondack kayak debut and planning to haul things like angling and camping gear has always been to look for a touring boat or a recreational-touring hybrid boat that is rated higher than the intended load. If possible, try it out before you buy it. Any reputable dealer will allow this option.
One of the many enjoyable challenges of kayak fishing is figuring out how to get your fishing kayak set up. Kayak fishing pole holders are a must, and there are numerous options. I’ve used everything from ice-fishing rod holders under the bungee decking on my boat to the standard and inexpensive clamp-on types. Unfortunately the clamp-ons do not always work on the coaming around the cockpit of a kayak. On my current boats I drilled holes in the coaming, took off the clamps and now attach them with the wing-nut, bolt and washer just before launching.
Minimal space in fishing kayaks, means minimal storage. It’s hard to bring the whole tackle box with you when you are Adirondack kayak fishing, so you have to downsize your fishing setup. This can be a challenge on an outing when you want to fish for more than one species. You have to take just what you need, including terminal tackle, a few tools, spare hooks and other obvious items when you are getting your kayak setup for fishing.
One of the handiest devices I’ve discovered for keeping equipment organized while I enjoy Adirondack kayak fishing is what is called a “work deck” or “half skirt.” Once installed, it covers a good portion of the cockpit and has storage pockets on the surface. Most also have a cup-holder that with a little ingenuity can become a kayak fishing pole holder. If I’m on a camping trip, I load up the work deck with my tackle, and that’s the way it stays throughout the weekend.
Every angler has something they can’t do without on the water, and in many cases that is a fish finder. I have a small portable fish finder that I sometimes bring along while I’m Adirondack kayak fishing if I’m going to troll or jig over deep water. I’ve even brought my Vexilar that I usually use for ice fishing out while paddling in my kayak, but it is bulky. Most of the time I just go without one.
Getting back to rods – with the exception of a fly rod, I’ve found it simpler to keep my fishing rods short. I just seem to be able to cast better and more accurately from the near-water level with a shorter rod such as a five- or six-footer. I’ve even used an ice fishing jig rod for the same purpose over deep water just from a kayak. It certainly travels easier.
Dry storage is another thing to consider. Whether you are using a bag or a plastic case, they are handy for things like cameras, wallets, cell phones and first-aid kit, including matches. I also like to carry a standard stringer just in case I get lucky. And, I always wear synthetic clothing when Adirondack kayak fishing because I always seem to get wet. This is especially important earlier and later in the season when the water is colder.
When it comes to the kayak fishing itself, I’ve found it really effective for bass fishing. You can paddle where others can’t, and do so quietly. I love patrolling a shoreline and fishing the structure for bass.
I’ve had some luck trout fishing too, but maintaining a consistent trolling speed can sometimes be difficult, especially in the wind. I tend to put a lot of line out in deep water and go slow whether my lure is a Lake Clear Wabbler and a worm, a fly, or even a minnow imitation crankbait. Remember also to keep a trout net on board – just incase you catch a big fish.
When I’m trout fishing I usually have a fly-rod and a spinning outfit and bring along a small collection of flies and lures like Lake Clear Wabblers, Panther Martins and Rooster Tails. For bass I tend to lean more towards plastics but always have a few of my favorite top water lures along with a crankbait and spinnerbait or two.
With literally hundreds of lakes and ponds, rivers and streams available, the Adirondacks are a perfect place to enjoy the adventure of kayak fishing. All you need is a boat, paddle, tackle and a destination to enjoy a relaxing and memorable day in the mountains while Adirondack kayak fishing.
Dan Ladd is an outdoor writer and member of the New York State Outdoor Writers’ Association who has contributed columns to the “Plattsburgh Press Republican” and the “Glen Falls Chronicle.” He is the author and owner of the website ADKHunter.com and the author of the books Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks and Well Seasoned In the Adirondacks.