The Basics of Fishing from a Kayak

fishing from a kayak
Rigging a kayak for fishing requires careful planning

Ancient Origins of Fishing from a Kayak

Fishing from a kayak has been around for a long time. In fact, Russian Orthodox priests left behind drawings and sketches of kayakers fishing for halibut while recording native Alaska history in the mid to late 18th century.  Of course, this was not for recreation but for food.

Recreational fishing from a kayak likely started in the early 1990s on the West coast of the US when surfers started to strap fishing tackle to their boards.

Advantages of Fishing from a Kayak

Kayak fishing has many advantages over other types of fishing. Motor boats are expensive to purchase, expensive to operate, and usually need to be trailered to the water.  Motor boats can’t access many of the places that kayaks can and also can break down leaving you stranded.  Fishing from shore has the obvious drawback of limited access to the water.

  1. First advantage. Kayak fishing is relatively inexpensive to get started.
  2. Second advantage. Kayaks (Hobbie fishing kayak, etc.) can be loaded on a car and will give you access to small and large bodies of water.
  3. Beyond that, it’s fun! There isn’t a greater thrill than battling a big fish from the level of a kayak.

Fishing From a Kayak: Choosing the Right One

Fishing kayaks come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and materials. Most fishing kayaks are in the 10 -14 foot range and are made of plastic.  However, there are also kayaks made from composite materials to make them lighter.

Generally speaking, longer boats go faster and shorter boats are more maneuverable.  So if your goal is to catch fish in small ponds and rivers, a shorter boat might be for you.  If you want to get out on Fourth Lake, Stillwater Reservoir, or Lake Ontario, a longer, more seaworthy boat might be a better option.  One thing to consider is that a bigger kayak is useable on smaller water, while a small boat isn’t going to be safe or effective for bigger water.

Kayak Fishing Accessories

Many of the kayaks will either come as plain boats or they’ll come set up with kayak fishing accessories, for example, a few fishing rod holders.

Kayak Setup for Fishing

However, mounting a fishing finder on a kayak, bait wells, an aid kit, fishing rod extensions, anchor systems, or whatever else you wish to use will be up to you or the shop where you buy your boat.  Kayak setup for fishing to suit your needs is half of the fun, so don’t rush into it.

You should always take a fishing trip or a few of them with the boat prior to rigging so that you have an idea of where you want to place stuff.  There isn’t anything more frustrating than not being able to reach something like your net when you’re in the water. Although there are many kayaks on the market that are designed for fishing, you can use any kayak to fish from.

My First Experience Fishing from a Kayak

My first kayak fishing experience was from a whitewater kayak in the early ‘90s.  At the time that’s what I had and it worked great for running rivers and fishing during the spring walleye and white bass runs.  Fishing kayaks break down into three basic categories, sit on top, sit inside, and hybrid.

Sit On Top (SOT) Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are far and away the most popular fishing kayaks.  SOTs are just that, rather than sitting down inside the boat, you sit on top.  The higher seating position and the fact that many are made to stand and fish, make casting, seeing, and line management easier.  Sit-on tops also offer many more rigging options; the open deck allows you to mount holders for fishing rods, kayak fish finders, bait wells, cameras, and GPS units in a variety of places and ways.

Lots of gear, usually too much, is easy to carry in a milk crate or specially-made tackle box.  However, many folks in colder climates have the feeling that they’ll get wet and be uncomfortable in a SOT.  Personally, I don’t get any wetter in a sit-on-top fishing kayak than I do when fishing out of a canoe.

Another potential drawback is the weight of the sit-on-tops.  They tend to be heavier because there isn’t a cockpit (the hole that you normally sit in) cut out of the top.  There are some companies manufacturing lighter composite SOTs, but the trade-off in weight will cost you a few extra dollars.

Sit Inside Kayaks (SIK)

Sit-inside kayaks are traditional-looking kayaks where you sit inside the boat at the level of the water.  SIKs can be rigged in many ways as well.  However, because most of the market isn’t geared toward them, you’ll need to be a little more creative.  There are rod holders that attach to the cockpit and rods can be mounted on the deck also.

Wiring for fish finders and access to any amount of tackle can be a challenge but definitely doesn’t rule them out. I’ve caught many fish from a touring kayak in open water with only a few modifications.  Landing big fish can be a challenge, but if the shore is nearby you can always land the boat and finish fighting the fish.

Hybrid Kayaks

Locorini 1 – Nucanoe
Hybrids like the Nucanoe are the most stable of fishing kayaks.

Hybrids are a blend between a canoe and kayak and normally have a large open deck space, an incredible amount of stability, and the ability to add a trolling motor.  An example of a hybrid is the NuCanoe (pictured here).  Hybrid boats are designed to be the most stable fishing, or hunting, craft available on the market.  The trade-off with a very stable boat is that you tend to lose the streamlined characteristic of a kayak.  But with a boat of this design, you do have additional comfort options such as a swivel seat.

Useful Kayak Fishing Tips

When considering getting started in fishing from a kayak, you have to ask yourself if you like to kayak.  If you don’t like to kayak or don’t like the idea of kayaking, you’re not going to like kayak fishing.  If you like kayaking or are open to the idea, you will want to test paddling as many boats as possible.

Where Can You Get More Kayak Fishing Tips?

Go to a demo day or a local kayak shop and see what’s out there.  You’ll also want to talk to the sales staff about what they use and why. Expert kayak anglers have a unique setup and will usually have a long story about why they set up their boat a certain way.

Most Importantly

In addition to remembering the types of kayaks and a few tips, most importantly, have fun!  It is supposed to be fun, so if you don’t want all the doo-dads and gizmos for your boat, don’t get them. But, if you decide to trick it out like a bass boat, the best advice is to have fun with it!

Original Article By Scott Locorini

About The Author

Scott Locorini has been a guide and paddle sports instructor for 20 years. He owns and operates Adirondack Exposure and Black River Valley Outdoors based in Old Forge, NY and Lyons Falls, NY. Stop by the Adirondack Exposure store in Old Forge for your kayak fishing needs and installations, and check out their website at

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