On one hand, kayak fishing is simple—all you need is a kayak, paddle, PFD and some tackle. On the other hand, it is a complex sport that calls for a diverse set of skills. To fish out of a kayak, an angler needs to know how to paddle, how to fish, how to rig his kayak and how to stay healthy on and off the water. We looked for tips, tricks and tactics that will take all aspects of your paddle fishing skills to the next level.

15 Expert Fishing Skills to Level Up Your Game

1 Leg Up on Big Fish

Since a kayak is only a few inches above the water, landing a big fish is easy. When the fish gets close, grab the leader with one hand (wear a glove) and guide the fish’s body so it is parallel to the kayak with the head facing you. Drop the leg closest the fish into the water and use it to cradle the fish. Then, with one motion, lift the fish’s head with the leader and the rest of the body with your leg and flop the fish into the cockpit. The head will end up in your lap with the body stretching past your feet. Warning: this method is not recommended for toothy fish. You know why.

Rob Choi

2 Read the Water

You don’t need a fancy fish finder to see what’s going on underwater. By observing the water’s surface it’s possible to understand what is below. Pay attention to tidelines, current rips, boils and other surface activity, this can be a sign of a depth change or even submerged structure. A blotch of nervous, rippling water might be a school of baitfish. A line of standing waves often indicates a depth change. Oily slicks on the surface will expose predators feeding below. Use your nose; many times you can smell bait or fish. Look at the water, instead of the depth finder, and you’ll notice more about what is going on below.

Rob Choi

kayak angler holds up a big jack caught from a Sea Eagle boat
Most states have a fisheries department that posts online resources about everything from reef locations to launch sites. | Feature photo: Courtesy Sea Eagle

3 Cyber Scouting

With more and more kayak anglers choking every launch and crowded in the usual fishing spots, it’s time to find new places to fish. You can learn a lot about fishing an area from the comfort of your computer. Most states have a fisheries department that posts online resources about everything from reef locations to launch sites, even how to target specific species and local regulations. Combine this information with detailed online navigation charts, like those available from Navionics, and you can discover fishy places within kayak range.

Over time, shorelines and bottom structures change. Use historical mapping databases to discover treasures from the past. Check different images of the same spots taken over time to find new places to fish. A satellite image captured at low tide might reveal reefs. Another image might display clearly defined current lines. A picture taken when the water is clear could show undiscovered grass beds. Another technique is to check images of other areas where the fishing is good and look for similar scenarios in your home waters.

— Brendan Bayard

4 Ring Your Popper

Many anglers buy a topwater popper, take it out of the package, tie it on the line and go fishing. I have learned that using a small split ring between lure and the line will add action that attracts fish. A larger split ring will make the lure wobble wide, while a smaller split ring will keep the pattern tight. This simple tweak will put more action in your popper and more fish in the boat.

— Drew Haerer

5 Fishing in the Dark

It is no secret that predators like to hunt under the cover of darkness. To find where fish will hang during the night, scout the area during the day. Many times the target species will hold on the same structures at night; they may be deeper or shallower, to one side or the other. And always test out lighted water—whether the surface is illuminated by a dock light or bridge light, bait and big fish are attracted to light.

Often the fish will wait for a bait to pass overhead, silhouetted in the moonlight. This is a good time to use a topwater lure. Other lures that work during the day will also be effective after dark. I start the night with black or white, but will change colors often to find what is producing. The key is to thoroughly cover an area. Without the aid of sunlight, you have to fish by feel.

— Drew Haerer

6 No More Boogers

Here are some ways to avoid line boogers—wind knots caused by slack line—when fishing with braided line. Start by adding a monofilament backing before spooling with braid. Tie the mono to the spool with an arbor knot and fill the reel a quarter of the way. Attach the braid to the mono with a double uni knot and continue to spool up. Put the filler spool in a bucket of water to cool the line and allow you to maintain tension and tightly pack the braided line on the reel. Don’t overfill the spool stop at least a sixteenth of an inch from the lip of the spool.

Another tip is to manually close the bail a split second before the lure hits the water. This tightens the line and keeps it from looping over the edge of the spool or getting twisted. Closing the bail by hand also flattens the trajectory of the lure and adds a couple feet to the cast.

Jerry McBride

7 Single and Loving it

Treble hooks are scary and dangerous, and not just to the fish. Nothing spells a trip to the emergency room quicker than a thrashing fish wildly swinging six to nine tiny sharp hooks. Single hooks make releasing fish quicker and far less damaging. Aftermarket single hooks are often stronger than factory trebles. And single hooks pick up fewer snags, too.

To perform the operation, you’ll need split-ring pliers and single hooks with a large eye or a split ring. Use a hook that matches the size of the lure, not the size of the old treble. Switching out hooks is also a good way to make freshwater lures ready to fish in the salt.

Jerry McBride

8 Happy Ending

When a deep-water fish is quickly cranked to the surface, its air bladder will often fill up like a balloon. If the fish is released, the inflated bladder might prevent it from swimming back down to the bottom. Here’s how to help.

Take a short, stiff rod (like a kite rod) with a reel spooled with 60-pound braided line. Attach a one-pound weight to the line. Tie a few inches of two- to four-pound monofilament to the weight and attach a small, barbless, non-stainless hook to the line. Lightly hook the fish and then carefully drop the sinker and fish back to the bottom. Not only does the descent drive oxygen through the fish’s gills, but the water pressure forces air out of its bladder. Once the weight hits the bottom, jerk the rod tip to either break the light line or pull the hook free of the fish.

Jerry McBride

9 Flipping and Pitching

Flipping and pitching is a deadly fishing technique that involves flipping the tip of the rod to pitch a bait into heavy cover. Since the technique works best with an underhand cast, standing in the kayak is an advantage.

Start off with the right gear: a heavy seven-foot, three-inch rod with a fast-action tip paired to a high-quality casting reel spooled with 20-pound fluorocarbon. Tune the reel by tightening the magnetic brake and loosening the spool tension. The key is to make an accurate underhand cast that produces minimal splash. Rig a soft plastic creature on a matching wide-gap worm hook. Then slide a quarter- to half-ounce tungsten weight over the running line and tie to the hook.

In sparse cover, I let the weight slide on the line. When casting into the thick stuff, I peg the weight to the lure with a toothpick. Flipping and pitching will allow you to effectively fish heavy cover—where the big fish hide.

Drew Haerer

10 Know the Bait

Fish don’t wander too far from the kitchen. To find your favorite target species, first figure out what they like to eat. Study the prevalent bait species to learn when they spawn, where they feed, how they migrate and behave.

One way to learn these cycles is to ask local fishermen—both recreational and commercial. Spend some time at the docks asking questions and listening to answers. Science provides another great resource. Chances are there is a grad student studying the bait and fish that you target. Read research by universities and wildlife agencies to learn secrets that could put more fish in the box.

Brendan Bayard

Visit your local docks for some fishing intel. | Photo: Verne Ho/Unsplash

11 Jika Rig

If you haven’t used the jika rig, you don’t know what you’re missing. The jika rig is a blend of Texas rig and drop shot rig. The rig is easy to build and fun to fish. Start by using split ring pliers to thread a wide-gap hook onto a No. 2 split ring. Then, attach a bell sinker to the split ring. Tie the split ring to the mainline and rig the hook with your favorite soft plastic. The jika is deadly when worked vertically in heavy structure or around dock posts or bridge pilings. Try one and you’ll be hooked.

— Brad Wiegmann

12 Fine Line

There is a fine line between catching and not catching. Many times, that line can be a difference in the diameter of the fishing line. While a few millimeters may not seem like much, spread out over the length of your fishing line there is a big difference between eight and 12-pound test. While heavier pound test is usually thicker than a lighter line, one manufacturer’s 10-pound test might be significantly thicker than another brand.

Thinner line casts farther, sinks faster and is harder for fish to see—this is good for bottom fishing or fooling wary fish in clear water. Thicker line is usually stronger and sinks slower, perfect for suspending lures. Experimenting with different brands, tests, colors and materials can make a big difference in the number of fish you catch.

— Brad Wiegmann

13 The Eyes Have It

Add some weight and flashy eyes to your weedless soft plastic. Remove three or four beads off a bead-chain. Push the short section of chain through the head of a weedless soft plastic until there is one bead on each side of the head. Predators often key in on the eyes of their prey and this modification encourages them to make that mistake.

Jerry McBride

14 Go with the flow

Fish rely on current to bring them food. More often than not, you’ll find predators facing into the oncoming water waiting for a meal. A good rule of thumb is to go with the flow. Retrieving a bait with the current will put it in the strike zone. When fishing up-current, it is best to work out of a stationary boat. Make a long up-current cast that crosses or passes prime feeding locations. Retrieve the bait fast enough to keep slack out of the line. Use a lure or weight that is just heavy enough to keep the bait in the strike zone. The bait should flow at the same speed as the current. Many times the fish will only have a split second to react to the passing meal, expect explosive strikes and drag-burning runs.

Drew Haerer

15 Treble Trouble

To prevent your plugs from tangling in the tackle box, twist-tie together the treble hooks on each lure.

— Jeff Herman

16 Drop ‘Em a Dropper Rig

Many times fish are feeding on different sized baits at the same time. Use a dropper rig to imitate a variety of baits with one cast. This technique also allows the angler to use a larger lure to deliver a smaller bait.

Three-fly dropper rig

  1. Take a three-foot section of 30-pound monofilament. Tie a surgeon’s loop at one end to connect the leader to the fly line.
  2. Add a three-foot section of 20-pound monofilament to the 30-pound leader with a five-turn surgeon’s knot. Be sure to leave an eight- to 10-inch tag end.
  3. Add a three-foot section of 10-pound monofilament as a tippet and leave a long tag end. Use an improved clinch knot to attach a different size or style fly to each tag end.

Conventional Dropper

Trailer: Attach a small fly or jig to a six- to 10-inch piece of 10-pound leader material. Tie the other end of the leader to the bend of the back hook on a plug or a larger jig.

Double rig: Tie a 20-pound swivel to the mainline. Attach a 10-inch piece of 30-pound leader to the swivel with a five-turn surgeon’s knot leaving an eight- to 10-inch tag end. Tie a one-sixteenth-ounce jig to the tag end and a quarter-ounce jig to the end of the leader.

Dropper rigs work in saltwater and fresh for a variety of species. Adjust the size of the baits and leader to match the type of fish you target. Another tip: use the stiffest leader material you can find, such as fluorocarbon—it keeps the lines straight and the lures separate.

— Tom Keer

This article was first published in the Summer/Fall 2013 issue of Kayak Angler. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Most states have a fisheries department that posts online resources about everything from reef locations to launch sites. | Feature photo: Courtesy Sea Eagle




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