Big fish lurk below the water, and kayak anglers can’t resist the challenge of beating a sea beast from a little boat. With a man-sized fish on the line, using the right rods, reels and terminal tackle make all the difference between winning and losing. These five pros specialize in catching big fish with heavy tackle, so they clue us in on their favorite fishing rods to target yellowtail, muskie, cobia and more.

Morgan Promnitz // Yellowtail Setup

Rod:  St. Croix Triumph Salt Series. I use the seven-foot MH (20-40) conventional style rod for live bait fishing. I use the same rod in spinning version for casting surface irons. I use a 6’ 6” heavy rod for deep iron fishing also in conventional. A seven-foot, 12- to 25-rated rod for casting soft plastics on a baitcaster, and the same rod for catching live bait.

Why? I look for something that has some heft backbone, but at the same time a sensitive tip. So, a composite rod (glass mixed with graphite) is usually ideal. The sensitive tip makes it easier to monitor your live bait and it also provides some give when fishing with the braided line that we use. The backbone is important for when the yellowtail or white sea bass run into the kelp or head for structure—you’ve got to put the wood to them!

Reel: My go-to reel is a Daiwa Saltist 35H for big fish.

Why? It’s light, compact, durable and has a good drag system. I also like the star drag, which I can adjust as needed while fighting the fish.

Line/Leader: I use 65-lb regular Power Pro green braid. I tie this to my leader, which will vary whether I’m flylining or fishing deep. I use 40-lb Seaguar or Yo-Zuri fluorocarbon for leader.

kayak angler uses a heavy duty fishing rod, best for catching big fish
A heavy rod with slow action absorbs the shock of a big hit. | Feature photo: Courtesy of Hobie Fishing

Brian Nelli // Bottom Bouncing Setup

Rod: Shimano Trevala 50- to 100-lb

Why: Light and compact with plenty of power.

Reel: Shimano Spheros 10000

Why? Good quality, plenty strong and 400 yards of 30-lb braid line capacity.

Line/Leader: SpiderWire Stealth 30- to 40-lb braid. Yo-Zuri 40-lb fluorocarbon. I just kinda got stuck on SpiderWire due to how well it performed on my inshore tackle. I like Yo-Zuri’s fluorocarbon because it is a lot softer than competitors and I have never had an issue with it.

Brandon Barton // Big Bull Redfish Setup

Rod: I use a Bull Bay Rods 30- to 50-lb, 6’ 6” medium-heavy custom Senzi-grip jigging rod.

Why? This rod is very light, which is perfect for the kayak, and it has a solid backbone to pull these tough reef fish up!

Reel: I use a Release Reels SG (now Truth Reels).

Why? This reel has 30 pounds of drag and it is super light!

Line/Leader: I use 50-lb braid with a 50-lb fluoro leader. Anything lighter you will risk losing fish to the reef.

Jamie Pistilli // Monster Muskie Setup

Rod: I use several rods and reels for fishing for muskie, but my favorite combo is a Fenwick EliteTech Predator series, 8’ 6” in length, XHeavy.

Why? The long length helps for powerful hooksets and helps cast longer as well. With muskie fishing we get many fish following and often times fish are hooked and landed by using a figure eight boatside. The long rod helps make a bigger circle in the water and gives big fish time to turn and chase the bait.

Reel: An Abu Garcia Toro Winch filled up with SpiderWire Stealth in 100-pound test, and on the business end a 130-pound fluoro leader with large quality snaps and swivels.

Why: I go heavy to avoid losing a potential fish of a lifetime, and also muskies are known to stress, so landing them quickly is key. A powerful reel helps me cast large lures—up to a pound in weight—all day long. It can be tough on the angler and on the equipment, so coming prepared is key to being successful and also for the safety of the fish. We have several trophy bodies of water within two hours of Ottawa, so you always have to fish for the biggest in the river.

Matt Lusk // Cobia Setup

Rod: My primary rod for targeting cobia out of my kayak is a 7’ Penn Fierce graphite rod.

Why: The rod has plenty of backbone for fighting and lifting these big, strong fish. The tip is relatively stiff, so I don’t get quite the action I would with a faster action tip, but I can cast a 2-oz bucktail very far and accurately when sight casting cobia, which is my preferred technique.

Reel: I use a Penn Fierce 6000 spinning reel.

Why: I like the Penn Fierce 6000 because for the price you can’t beat it. It’s really tough reel, with a full metal body and side plate. I have to punch through the surf to get out to the fishing grounds, so the reel takes a beating. When I’m speckled trout fishing I use a Stradic CI4+ because it has a much smoother drag, but it costs four times as much.

The Fierce gets the job done and I don’t stress out every time it gets drenched in saltwater, which happens just about every time I fish for cobia in the spring. The reel holds somewhere around 350 yards of line, which is more than enough for catching cobia since they generally make a short run, then the rest of the fight is lifting the fish up to the kayak.

Line/Leader: I use 50-lb PowerPro braid with 80-lb Seaguar blue label fluorocarbon leader for strength and sensitivity.

A heavy rod with slow action absorbs the shock of a big hit. | Feature photo: Courtesy of Hobie Fishing


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“Thank God my dad wasn’t a podiatrist,” jokes Ric about following in the footsteps of a famous outdoor writer. After graduating from Radford University and serving two years in Russia with the Peace Corps, Ric returned to Virginia Beach and started writing for The Fisherman magazine, where his dad was editor. When the kayak fishing scene exploded, Ric was among the first to get onboard. His 2007 book, The Complete Kayak Fisherman is one of the first tomes to introduce anglers to paddle fishing and hundreds of articles and seminars have brought countless anglers into the fold. When he’s not chasing every fish that swims, Ric teaches English at a school for at-risk teens.


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