As a kid, I always became convinced that the fish were somewhere we were not. They were biting elsewhere, probably just out of casting range or schooling on the opposite shore. The middle of the lake? Sure bet. But anchored in a dilapidated rowboat, sitting between Styrofoam worm containers, who was I to spoil their idleness? Besides, my grandfather’s patience was an observable miracle – and it would take as much for my father to suspend the business of fishing. Suggesting we move would be blasphemy.
Like most kids, I longed for the freedom and autonomy that my own fishing pursuits would offer. It wasn’t until well into my adulthood that I would truly find it, and in the most unlikely of places – fishing for bass out of a plastic kayak.
Much like the sport itself, I am still growing. The opportunities are there for you, too. Our exploding kayak fishing community is made up of friendly, diverse individuals with varying backgrounds and ability; you should have no trouble fitting in or finding assistance. So, how do you begin? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here are some quick, practical tips for future kayak anglers looking to launch their own fishing adventures.
1. Safety First
Only you know the level of experience you have. Enthusiasm is great, but before you do anything, buy a comfortable, Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD), and always put safety first regardless of age, experience or swimming ability. Wear your PFD at all times on the water. An even better idea is to attend a kayak safety course offered by certified personnel – often your local kayak dealerships will have these courses available.
2. Practice Makes Better
Kayaks have come a long way. Many are remarkably stable, comfortable and even offer anglers the option to stand and fish. But paddle or pedal, the fundamental physics of propulsion will apply. You’ll be in the ring with Mother Nature, and she doesn’t like to compromise. If you aren’t familiar with paddling a kayak, turning or maintaining a position in wind or current, it’s a great idea to get some practice in before you decide to try kayak fishing or casting while moving on the water. Look for a kayak rental facility with hourly rental rates, find a friend with kayaks and get some paddle practice time in – you won’t become an expert, but you’ll learn the basics fast and grow accustomed to the nuances of the paddle stroke.
3. Buy Local
Local fishing clubs and online fishing groups are at the heart of kayak fishing. This is the best way to meet people, introduce yourself and learn more about the community! Social media outlets like Facebook are a great place to start learning what your state or region offers in terms of kayak fishing groups and organizations. You might be surprised at the willingness of others to help, support or encourage you as you begin.
4. Purchasing: Paddle vs. Pedal
This is the chicken vs. the egg debate of the kayak fishing world. Purchasing the right kayak for you is an important decision. Many kayak tournament anglers like myself favor pedal kayaks that are propelled by pedaling with your feet and legs, as opposed to holding and using a paddle. Pedal drive kayaks tend to have a heftier budget, and there is nothing wrong with the paddle variety. In fact, they tend to be lightweight, easier to transport and practical to fish out of. Most kayak retailers offer “demo days” where they will bring various models for you to demo on the water. Like test-driving a car, getting inside one if the best way to really “feel” your way through a purchase. Take your time, research and make a smart buy!
5. The Essentials
So you own a kayak, a PFD and feel comfortable on the water with some fishing gear. Here are some other items you shouldn’t be without:
A sharp knife
A high-visibility flag and light
First aid kit
6. Know Thy Resources
The amount of free information today on the internet is mind-boggling. What I had to search for as a young fisherman is now readily available online. Resources like YouTube, Google Earth or Navionics are invaluable when it comes to accessing lake info, tips, tactics or advice. You can really make strides in your kayak fishing ability by being open to new ideas and having a willingness to learn. And often the best kayak fishing secrets are the ones you end up learning yourself.
7. Order in the Court
If you’re anything like most kayakers, you’re looking to bring lots of gear with you. For tournament anglers, six to eight rods, fish-finding electronics, battery packs – even electric trolling motors – plus thousands of dollars worth of tackle and gear are common. Competing or not, organization and a method for easily accessing your gear is as important as ever. When starting out, keep things simple – less is more. It will take some time to create a system that works for you.
8. CPR (Catch, Photo and Release)
If you’re thinking of competing out of your kayak, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. There are monthly online competitions that afford you the luxury of fishing where and when you want. There are also live events that occur where anglers compete on the same day and usually on the same body of water. Fish caught are submitted to separate judges by the angler through an online application, which allows the fish to be instantly released back into the water. But taking a clear photo of a slimy, jumping fish on a certified measuring board with the proper identification takes a little practice – the monthlies are a good place to practice your CPR routine while getting your feet wet competitively. Pro tip: get a net.
9. DIY Guy
If you are creative, good with standard tools and like modifying things, then kayak fishing will fit you well. Kayaks are highly customizable. Many “yakkers” take pride in creative solutions to their kayaking needs. Rod holders, custom storage options, deck matting, electronics lighting and wiring are all part of the deal. Take ownership of your kayak and turn some heads out there on the water with your own creativity!
10. Funny Side Up
It’s easy to get frustrated on and off the water. Rude people, weather conditions, crowded launch ramps or lakes, lost fish and last place – even our own hectic schedules or personal hang-ups can spoil an activity that is meant to be enjoyable. Kayak fishing should be where we de-stress and disengage. The future of the sport will be better served by those who embrace the positive aspects the activity provides. Remember to have fun and encourage those around you by example.
The tips and suggestions offered here are meant to be starting points for future exploration. How and why you start kayak fishing is completely up to you, but you’ll find the rewards are limitless. Involvement in the sport can be on your own terms, but the community is as welcoming as you are. Always remember, leave lakes and rivers cleaner than you found them and wear your PFD.
About the Author
Dustin Murguia, a.k.a. Dusty Yakker, is a devoted middle-school teacher by day and a kayak bass angler enthusiast any other time. Traveling and competing throughout the Midwest with his wife and dog, this multi-state champion loves nothing more than to help spread the kayak fishing gospel. The affable Illinois angler has racked up some impressive wins in a short amount of time. Attracting the support of industry standouts like YakGear and Keitech USA – and having earned a coveted spot on the Hobie Fishing Team – he looks to be an influential force in the region for years to come.