Proper paddling technique is important to learn because it will allow you to stay out on the water longer, increase the area you can comfortably fish on a given day and help you to avoid overuse injuries. Simply put, developing good paddling technique will enhance your kayak fishing experience.

Kayak Fishing Power Strokes

1 Forward Stroke

To plant your forward stroke, reach with the blade toward your toes by twisting at the waist. Make sure that as you pull on your stroke, the blade is fully submerged. When the paddle blade reaches your hip, the forward stroke is done and you can slice your paddle up out of the water. As soon as one stroke finishes, drop the opposite blade into the water at the toes. Notice that the arms move very little as the stroke is pulled through. The power for the stroke comes from torso rotation.

man demonstrates kayak power strokes
Developing proper paddling techniques will allow you to stay out on the water longer and go farther. | Feature photo: Jock Bradley/Heliconia

2 Reverse Stroke

The reverse stroke is just like the forward stroke, only done in reverse. Use the backside of the paddle. Plant your blade just behind your hip and push it to your toes. As you plant your blade deeply in the water behind your hip, turn your upper body in the same direction. By rotating towards your paddle like this you can use the power of torso rotation.

TIP: Once you’re comfortable with both sweep strokes, try combining the two. A forward sweep on one side followed by a reverse sweep on the opposite side is the quickest way to turn a stationary kayak.

3 Forward Sweep

The forward sweep stroke is usually used to turn a kayak while stationary or to make small course corrections while traveling forward. The forward sweep starts with your body wound up and your paddle planted deeply at your toes with the shaft held low. Keeping your hands low, sweep an arcing path far out to the side of the kayak. Follow your active blade with your eyes to help incorporate torso rotation into the stroke. Finish your sweep before your paddle hits the stern of your kayak.

4 Reverse Sweep

The reverse sweep is simply a forward sweep done in reverse—and like the reverse stroke, you’ll use the backside of your paddle. The reverse sweep starts at the stern of your kayak with your head and body aggressively rotated towards it. Keeping your hands low, sweep a wide arc with your paddle. The arms stay in a relatively fixed position throughout the stroke, which means torso rotation is providing much of the power. The stroke ends after having swept a full, wide arc.

This article was adapted from Kayak Fishing: The Ultimate Guide by Captain Scott Null and Joel McBride, published by The Heliconia Press—



  1. Glad to see kayak fishermen picking up traditional kayaking paddling skills, especially the importance of torso rotation. Proper posture and proper stroke execution are key to efficient and effect paddling. Oftentimes one complains about an ill-fitting/uncomfortable seat in a kayak, but oftentimes its poor paddling skills that are culprit. Also important is the angle of attack, paddle shaft to water surface.. Proper paddling also affects the proper length to use, too. Remember, for an easy, gliding stroke, keep paddle lower and at more of an acute angle to the water. Power strokes are more vertical and paddles tend to be shorter.


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