Sneaking into shallow, tight and isolated fishing holes is a kayak specialty. For anglers plying the marshy creeks along the coast or skinny corners of a lake, a backwater kayak should be nimble enough to navigate tight corners and bold enough to cross miles of open water. The right backwater rigging can help you meet these varied requirements.
Mississippi native Jeff Jones has been chasing redfish, seatrout and flounder deep in the swamps and saltmarshes since he was born. Host of the Brackish Coast YouTube channel, Jones has spent years dialing in his kayak for skinny water performance. Here are his top picks for backwater kayak rigging.
Ultimate Backwater Rigging Guide
Kayaks for Backwater Fishing
“I’m tough on my gear,” Jones starts. He stresses functionality is more important than flashy bells and whistles. Jones, a Vibe Kayaks pro, chooses the company’s Yellowfin 120 to fish the marshes around Moss Point, Mississippi. “It’s a no-frills, only-essentials, tough, tail-kicking kayak,” he asserts.
Jones explains a 12-foot kayak is short enough to maneuver in the creeks and long enough to track well and tackle waves and wind on open water crossings. At 33 inches, the Yellowfin is wide for stability while still slipping through the water with less resistance. Jones likes a frame seat elevated off the deck for a more comfortable position. He especially values a clean deck for collecting fly line and landing fish.
To customize the boat and add rod holders or electronics, Jones likes the gear tracks on the Yellowfin’s gunnels and deck. “I can add and move accessories, but mostly I keep it simple.” Hatches in the bow and cockpit allow Jones to store gear below deck where it is out of the way and out of the sun.
Paddles for Backwater Fishing
“Being a minimalist, I only take what’s necessary into the backcountry,” Jones says. Pedal systems add another level of complexity to a fishing trip. Not only is a pedal drive heavy and bulky, but it must be raised to cross shallow water. “I only want features that will allow me to be more productive on the water,” Jones says.
To propel his kayak, Jones chooses a light, stiff and strong Angler Pro Carbon Plus paddle from Bending Branches. He laughs, “My paddle doubles as a push pole, leaning post, stability aid and even defends against gators.” In addition to the carbon fiber, Jones values the paddle’s adjustable ferrule. He can shorten the shaft while sit-down paddling, then add a few centimeters when he’s standup fishing.
Staying light and nimble is key to fishing backwaters, “I don’t think a redfish cares what you throw at it,” Jones points out. With an accurate cast and the right presentation, Jones can fool a red with any lure.
This allows him to carry less tackle and focus on the most reliable lures. Jones stores two Gruv Fishing Boxes under his seat. The unique tray uses soft silicone inserts to hold the lures. “Most important, it keeps the lures silent,” Jones says. He points out it is difficult to sneak up on a tailing redfish with rattles and beads noisily shaking around in the tackle box.
To film episodes of Brackish Coast, Jones uses a variety of GoPro action cameras and a Nikon DSLR. “A GoPro Hero 8 is mounted on the starboard stern side of my kayak, with a YakAttack BoomStick Pro,” Jones says. His secondary angle, looking from the bow towards his face, is a GoPro Hero 6.
“Since the audio isn’t great on this camera, I run a shotgun mic through a mic adapter to capture better audio tracks,” he adds. For handheld shots and a third angle, Jones uses a GoPro Session. “Sometimes I connect it to my net with a clamp mount, other times I’ll set it on a tripod to get further away shots.”
Jones carries up to five rods on his kayak. He packs a topwater, jig and twitchbait rod in the three vertical rod holders on his crate. On the right side of the crate lid, he installed a gear track and added two YakAttack Omega rod holders to carry his fly rods. “I angle the rod holders at 30 degrees to keep the rods out of the way.” To provide more room for his back cast, Jones doesn’t mount rod holders on the left side of his crate.
To store fish, Jones replaces his YakAttack BlackPak with a 20-quart cooler.
Nets, Gaffs and Grippers
Toothy saltwater fish require Jones to carry a net. He keeps his net lying on his bow with the handle facing him. “I really like a net that floats,” he says. Jones also uses a fish gripper to hold his catch while he removes the hook.
Between his seat back and crate well, Jones stores a 10-liter drybag with his camera gear. “I roll the bag up and trap air to keep my equipment afloat if the bag goes overboard,” he says.
Jones calls his YakAttack BlackPak “a black hole that collects lures I want to try.” After a chuckle, he explains his crate is a catch-all for used lures, new lures, popping corks, extra line, rain gear, first aid kit, stale crackers and melted candy bars.
“My PFD is important,” Jones says. His life vest keeps him safe on the water and stores important gear. “I carry my wallet, keys, cellphone, a knife and safety whistle in the pockets,” he says. He looks for a PFD with open areas to improve ventilation during hot days in the Mississippi sun. “The NRS Chinook is capable and comfortable,” Jones says.
Jones says his most valuable accessory is Savur rod floats. “I’ve rescued several rods with the device,” Jones admits. The float fits on the end of the rod butt. If the rod falls overboard, the float detaches from the butt trailing 60 feet of 20-pound monofilament. To retrieve the rod, the angler grabs the float and pulls in the line.
Jones also uses a YakAttack RotoGrip paddle holder mounted to a track on his gunnel. “Controlling the paddle can be difficult when I’m fighting a fish,” he explains.
Other Backwater Rigging Tips
Jones warns anglers not to pack too much gear. “Taking everything and the kitchen sink usually leaves me frustrated and leads to a busted fishing day,” he says. Instead, Jones encourages anglers to start with the essentials and build up their gear and rigging as needed. “Add accessories gradually so you know what you need and what you can leave at home,” he says.
Backwater fishing can take you where no angler has gone before. | Feature photo: Jeff Jones