Figuring out the best method for catching fish from a kayak is easy—it’s just a matter of adapting your current fishing style to the craft. The most popular ways to catch fish from a kayak vary greatly throughout the country depending on the locale, conditions and the species being sought. No matter what you’re after, you can handle just about anything in a kayak with six simple strategies.

6 Ways to Catch Fish From a Kayak

1 Trolling

Trolling from a powerboat is a very effective way of catching fish. The same is true from a kayak. Some people choose to drift with the current or wind while dragging a lure or bait. Others choose to propel themselves at a steady pace with their paddle. Both styles have one thing in common: the most successful anglers don’t simply drift along or paddle without purpose—they concentrate their efforts by passing over or near some sort of structure. The type of structure targeted depends on the type of fish you are seeking.

man trolling from a kayak
Trolling from a kayak is a very effective way of catching fish. | Photo: Courtesy of Old Town Canoes & Kayaks

Perhaps one of the most exciting methods of kayak trolling is to target actively feeding schools of fish on the surface. Predators blitzing baitfish often draw gulls or other birds to the fray. Watch for a tight group of birds hovering and diving into the water. Once you figure out which way the school is headed, you can set yourself up to intercept them. Try to pass in front of the school and time it so that your trailing lure passes through the leading edge of the school. The most aggressively feeding fish will usually be at the front of the pack.

2 Drift Fishing

The term “drift fishing” sounds as though you are aimlessly floating with wind or current, but when done correctly it is a high percentage method of searching for fish. This is where a rudder comes into play. Predator fish are fond of using structures to search out or ambush their prey. A structure can mean many things. It can mean, of course, hard material objects like rocks, logs, or reefs; but it can also refer to less obvious things, like a spot where water clarity changes.

Set yourself up in a position that allows you to drift in the general direction of the structure you intend to target. Now put away your paddle and use the rudder to steer yourself into position while you cast. Small drift anchors may also be employed in a situation where the wind is pushing you too fast.

kayak angler side-saddle fishing
Side-saddle fishing really shines in shallow water where you can touch the bottom. | Photo: Courtesy of Wilderness Systems

3 Side-Saddle Fishing

Side-saddle is a very popular method for fishing from a sit-on-top kayak. While it can be used to drift fish through deeper areas, this method really shines in shallow water where you can touch the bottom.

Depending on the model of kayak you own, there is usually one spot in the cockpit that is most comfortable for sitting side-saddle. Something to note is that rounded edges are easy on the legs, so when checking out kayaks you may want to test them to see how comfortable they are when sitting side-saddle.

The best way to position yourself is with your casting arm towards the bow. With all of your gear stored towards the rear of the kayak, this will give you an unobstructed cast.

Another advantage to sitting this way in shallow water is that you can control your kayak without using your paddle. Simply walk your feet across the bottom and stop where you like. This method allows you to thoroughly work an area and to fish in places where the bottom is too muddy for wading.

kayak angler standup fishes and poles his kayak
Standing up in a kayak takes a combination of a very stable craft, calm waters and an excellent sense of balance. | Photo: Courtesy of Wilderness Systems

4 Poling and Standing

Standing up allows you to see down into the water for sightcasting to cruising or bedded fish. As such, it is really only useful in areas with clear shallow water, light winds, and little current. But when the conditions are right it can be extremely effective. Having the ability to spot a fish and make a good presentation definitely increases the odds in your favor.

Standing up in a kayak takes a combination of a very stable craft, calm waters and an excellent sense of balance. Some anglers prefer to use a push pole designed specifically for poling in addition to their paddle. We have found that it is easier and nearly as effective to just use the paddle for poling.

Do not try this in dangerous conditions like high wind or strong currents and avoid trying to stand in your boat over a bottom that could cause injury should you fall out.

5 Fly Fishing

Many people who fly fish are being drawn to the kayak as a mode of transportation to get them to their favorite fishing destinations. Whether you are fishing fresh or salt, the difference between success and getting skunked can be as simple as moving a few hundred yards from where the crowd has been pounding the water.

kayak angler fly fishes, one of the ways to catch fish from a kayak
The kayak can be very useful as a fly fishing platform. | Feature photo: Jock Bradley/Heliconia Press

While the kayak is a fine mode of transportation for reaching your wading grounds, it can also be a very useful fly fishing platform. A sit-inside kayak provides the angler with a perfect place to store the stripped fly line. The front deck can be left clear of obstructions or a mini spray skirt can be installed to facilitate shooting the fly line with minimal chance of snagging. Avoid mounting any accessories that could interfere with the storage of your excess line. A flat open area is essential to keeping everything moving smoothly.

The sit-on-top kayak presents its own special set of problems for fly fishing but also has some distinct advantages. On the downside, there isn’t a flat open space for your line. Fly line stripped into your lap and across your legs is just begging to hang up on something. To avoid the frustration, sit side-saddle towards the center of the cockpit and strip excess line into the seat area, which has smooth contours and works really well as a stripping basket.

6 Wade Fishing

There are some situations where it just makes more sense to wade. Always use your paddle to check the depth of water and the firmness of the bottom.

man wade fisyhing beside his kayak
There are some situations where it just makes more sense to wade. | Photo: Courtesy of Old Town Canoes & Kayaks

You have the option of simply anchoring your kayak and walking away or you can try our preferred method: tie yourself to the kayak via a bow line. This way you are bringing your trusty steed along with you and it’s at the ready if the need arises to quickly relocate. A downside to tying yourself to the boat is that you have little control over where the kayak floats as you wade. A simple fix for this problem is to drop some sort of weight off the stern of your kayak and allow the weight to drag on a short rope along the bottom.

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

The kayak can be very useful as a fly fishing platform. | Feature photo: Jock Bradley/Heliconia Press




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