I marvel at the rules anglers impose on themselves. Really, other than regulations on fishing seasons and catch limits, kayak fishing is totally open to interpretation. Do you use a double blade paddle? Of course, you’re a kayak angler. How about a pedal drive? Sure, that’s kayak fishing. Electric motor? If you want. Inflatable boat, paddleboard, even a canoe, it’s all kayak fishing.

Who Writes the Rules for Kayak Fishing?

Between a 30-pound inflatable kayak to a fully-rigged 200-pound plastic bass boat, there are few absolutes when it comes to kayak fishing. Instead, each of us sets our own boundaries for kayak fishing. At some point, we perceive a line is crossed and a watercraft is not a kayak. I say the line is totally arbitrary and totally ours to draw.

Wallace Stegner, the American novelist and environmentalist wrote, “Civilization is built upon a tripod of geography, history and law, and it is made up largely of limitations.” Replace “civilization” with “angling” and the same rule applies.

The real limitations to kayak fishing are the rules and regulations. Consider fishing seasons. Where I live, we’re not allowed to target brook trout during the spawn and bass season is closed from May to June while the fish are nesting.

a person fishing from a red kayak while following the rules
What are the rules of kayak fishing? Different strokes for different folks. | Feature photo: Barry Beck

Anglers in other places are able to target the same species during the spawn. Geography and history have as much to do with these limitations as ecology or conservation. Areas with more fish or fewer anglers have different rules. The rules in one place do not dictate the rules in another place. Even if the rules don’t make sense, regulations are an example of an actual limit to our sport.

Beyond the written rules, I am fascinated by anglers’ self-imposed rules. I fly fish. I don’t own a casting rod and I know zilch about hard tackle. I release 99.9 percent of the fish I catch.

Why do I limit myself? Because it seems right according to my rules. I have my own long-winded reasons based on geography and history. No one can tell me I’m wrong.

Maybe you fish with bait. Maybe you only use lures you make yourself. Have you declared sonar is cheating? Or, does your kayak have more electronics than a World War II battleship? No one can say you are wrong.

5 Commandments of Kayak Fishing

There are plenty of threads to pull on. We choose our own definition of what is in bounds. Every interpretation is shared by a subsection of the sport. In many cases, one subsection is opposed to another subsection. Is a pedal boat a kayak? What about a motorized plastic boat? Should we target fish during the spawn? It’s all subjective.

I propose a few universal rules we can all agree on.

1 Follow the Regulations

The rules are rules for a reason. Whether or not you agree with the rules, they are the baseline limitation for the good of everyone.

2 Be Nice to Others

We learn this in kindergarten. If you don’t agree with someone’s definition of kayak fishing, that’s your opinion. Maybe your definition is up for criticism as well.

3 Limit the Number of Fish You Kill

A fish killed today can’t be caught tomorrow. The tragedy of the commons is clear: if we each took from nature what we are entitled there would be nothing left.

4 Learn from the Past

This is how we become better anglers. I fly fish with a rusty crayfish pattern that is 75 years old, which is totally good. But the rusty crayfish is an invasive species introduced by an angler illegally dumping his live bait. That’s not good.

5 Cultivate Gratitude

As a group, from inflatable kayak to plastic battleship, we all float and fish. That privilege obligates us to honor the sport every time we go out. With gratitude for this gift, we have a good fishing trip every fishing trip, no matter the rules we impose on ourselves.

Cover of Kayak Angler Magazine Issue 48This article was first published in the Summer 2022 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

What are the rules of kayak fishing? Different strokes for different folks. | Feature photo: Barry Beck



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