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Fishing Kayak Outfitting Tips by Tom Holtey
Kayak fishing has become a popular pastime, and many fishermen are trading in their powerboats for a stealthy paddle craft. While some kayaks come pre-outfitted, as angler models, any kayak can be used for fishing.
An "angler" model kayak is, in most cases, a regular kayak that has been enhanced with some fishing accessories at the factory. Very few kayaks have been designed from scratch exclusively for fishing. The Ocean Kayak Trident series is a good example of a dedicated fishing kayak.
Most kayak fishing is done from a sit-on-top kayak. Yes, you can use a sit-in-side kayak too. Often referred to as a fishing platform a sit-in-side fishing kayak is a stable, wider, sometimes slower, kayak. The sit-on-top kayak is much easier to learn, and as such is often preferred.
Bear in mind that the kayak must suit your needs as the paddler first and foremost. It must feel stable, comfortable and fulfill your other requirements as a kayaker. If you can find an angler model, that works well for you, with the fishing accessories pre-mounted, in the manner you desire, go for it. If you find a kayak that is perfect for you, but is not outfitted with fish gear, you can install what ever you need, in locations that are custom to your needs. (photo: Chuck on OK Prowler by Athena Holtey)
Fish gear must be installed thoughtfully and correctly. The holes drilled for mounting mush be waterproof. Carefully check any factory assembled angler model for properly sealed mounts. Placement of rod holders and other accessories must not inhibit the ability of the paddler to paddle the craft, launch and land easily, and most importantly, re-board the kayak from deep water.
Rivets, well-nuts, stainless screws and ny-loc nuts all can be used to mount fishing gear on a kayak. Dont forget the silicone sealant. Through bolting with stainless screws and ny-loc nuts is your best bet for secure fastening, but requires that you can reach inside. Detailed instructions on using various hardware on your kayak can be found in our Kayak Repair & Customization Articles & Video Index.
A kayak with several access hatches is a key feature to look for. Most Scotty mounts are best secured with machine screws and nut. Add a hatch, or more, to kayaks that do not have adequate access and storage.
When you are new to kayak fishing, and outfitting your first kayak, be sure to start simple and add only the bare essentials. Additions can be applied one at a time, as you find the need. Yes, you will see many glamorous photos of kayak fishermens boats bristling with gear and equipment, but these guys are long time pros. It is after all possible to kayak fish with only a hand line and a single lure! The biggest mistake is too much gear and accessories on inappropriate locations.
A rod holder is the essential kayak fishing accessory. Typically they are mounted directly behind the cockpit, or in front, within easy reach from the seat. My preference is in front, as I like to keep an eye on the rod, and I am not as flexible as I used to be.
Front rod holders will have to be positioned out of the paddle stroke area, and able to angle the pole tip well outboard, to position the line out of the paddle sweep zone. Rod holders behind the seat do not face this challenge. Rear rod holders can be excellent storage for spare poles, nets and gaffs. (images: Flush Mount Rod Holder Kit)
Select the proper rod holder type for your pole type. A fly rod is very different from the spinning rod, and many other types of pole and reel combinations will have different seating requirements. See our full selection of Rod Holders at Tom's TopKayaker Shop.
With a rod holder you can paddle and drag a line in the water. Trolling with two poles is possible, one set well outboard to the right, the other left. Tip: use a floating lure for on one pole, a sinking lure on the other. This allows you fish at two levels. When you come to a stop, reel in the sinking lure first, while the floating lure waits on the surface for its turn to be reeled in. Before you start, cast the floating first, and the sinking lure immediately prior to getting underway.
A pole leash is essential for trolling; it will prevent loss if a large fish should strike, if the kayak should turn over, or if some other mishap should occur. A pole leash with a quick release is a must. Pole and paddle leashes come in two basic styles: coil and tubular nylon. Tubular nylon will not tangle as much, but will snag a hook. Coil will not snag a hook, keeps out the way better, but the coils are more prone to tangling.
Sometimes you will need to fine-tune the height your rod holder sits above the deck. Scotty makes two sizes of rod holder extensions. The Gimbal Rod Holder Adaptor will allow you to use a Scotty brand pole holder in a Sea Dog or any other in-deck flush mount rod holder. The Triple Mount will allow you to attach two rod holders, one left the other right, plus a fish finder, or other accessory in the center.
A fish finder, sonar unit, GPS or other electronic device is a nice gadget to have on board, but such equipment complicates things for the paddler. First and foremost the electronics must be well protected from water. Make sure the unit is water proofed very well in some fashion. Outside power for the device can be problematic. (left: RAM Aqua Box)
A sealed battery in the unit is the best possible option. An on-board, under deck battery may be required. Take special steps to protect the battery from water in the hull, use of a battery box might be needed. Power cords passing through the hull need to be well sealed, when in use, and sealed again, for when the battery is not aboard kayak. A battery is heavy; it should be placed inside the kayak, very low and as close to the center of the kayak possible. Secure it well so the weight cannot shift.
Many kayak fishers will want an anchor of some kind. Do not burden yourself with a large heavy anchor and a complicated rigging system. A small 1.5 pound anchor will do just fine and the simplest deployment system you can buy, improvise, and install is best. The key is to be able to deploy the anchor to the stern, in most cases, or to the bow, from the seat of the kayak, with out having to shift your weight. Stow your anchor close at hand in the center hatch, under the deck.
A place to park your paddle when you need your hands free will be essential. A standard paddle park comes stock on many kayaks, but can be added, in kit form, to any kayak. A deck net bungee on the bow makes for a good paddle park too. A paddle leash can be used as well, but may entangle when fighting a fish. There really are a wide variety of paddle park options in the Kayak Fishing Kits section at Tom's TopKayaker Shop. (right: Paddle Park Kit)
Tackle and tools need to be kept at a minimum, in easy reach, and safe from dropping overboard. Plano brand tackle boxes, plastic organizers, waterproof or not, are very useful. Some are small size, and will fit into a life vest pocket. Others will tuck under bungee cords, strategically placed in the cockpit, or fit into the seat pack. Tools, knives, cutters and grips should be in easy reach, possibly on the tether. Be wary of too many lines and ropes, things can tangle fast. Some life vests are set up for fishing with pockets, much like a fly fishermans vest. (left: Waterproof Tackle Box Kit)
Crabbing and lobster fishing are becoming popular activities. Depending on what type of trap you use a lifting devise may be wanted. Keep it simple, less is more. Add one only if you need it. In many cases you can simply sit sidesaddle (on a sit-on-top kayak only), legs in the water, for improved stability while you raise your trap. Gloves are good idea. The heavier the trap, and the stronger the current the more you will want a device to help you lift. Add one, far forward on the bow deck, but only if needed. For more on kayak crabbing see our Fishing Articles Index
Pontoons or outriggers can be helpful to a few kayak fisher people. On some occasions, particularly for fly-fishing, you may want to stand on your kayak. Most folks will remain seated while afloat, and as such no additional stability aid will be needed. The first few times kayaking you may feel tippy, but resist the urge to run out and get pontoons. Have patience and practice your skills. In no time you will have mastered a tippy kayak, and have no need of extra floats. A Stabilizer System would be best mounted aft on the kayak, rather than forward and well out of the way the paddle stroke. In all but a very few instances you will never deploy the outrigger(s) while paddling. One or two Stabilizers can be installed.
Do not forget the safety gear! As a fisherman and a boater some basic supplies are needed. A first aid kit is very important for a fisherman. Injury while fishing is common. A hook in your skin can be expected, but other problems can arise. Injury from marine organisms, from knife, line cuts, and typical kayak related injuries could also occur. Look for a comprehensive 1st aid kit in a watertight container.
A bilge pump aboard any kayak is well warranted. The more you open and close hatches, the heavier the weight on board and those kayaks that have had a lot custom work should have a pump to bail out bilge water. Bring extra fresh drinking water to stay hydrated.
Many fishers are out very early, or rather late. A single white light is required to mark the vessel. This can be a simple waterproof flashlight, or a pole mounted deck lamp. A deck light is best placed on the stern deck. The other required equipment might be a sound signaling device (whistle or horn). Please check with your local boating authority to find out what exactly is required, have the kayak length on hand. Here is a link to our full line of Kayak Lights. See also our article on Kayak Lights & Kayak Lighting Techniques For Dawn, Dusk & Night Paddling.
A rope on board is also a good safety item. A throw rope, or towrope, can come in handy, and in some cases one can substitute for another. There will be times when you will have to tie off to shore, or to another boat, or float, in order prevent your kayak from drifting away. A vessel found adrift will cause a search and rescue operation to start. A throw rope is handy to have around water. The saying: Throw, Row, Go means: throw a rope or float to a person in distress in the water, take a boat to meet them, and finally; go for help if you can not Throw or Row. What they are getting at is not dive in to save a swimmer; you could end up in the same trouble. A trained lifeguard has the skills to rescue swim.
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