Regardless if you have a sit-on-top kayak or a sit-in kayak, setting it up for fishing is similar to preparing a boat for the same purpose. But when you are considering how to outfit a kayak for fishing, the greatest obstacle you are likely to face is space constraints.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ideas and accessories you can use that will fit within your kayak and make your fishing trip a successful one.
Outfitting a kayak requires a methodical approach since you can choose from a wide array of products and equipment. Most items can be taken from general fishing gear you can improvise with.
How to Set Up a Kayak for Fishing
Some good tips on how to prepare your kayak are:
- Sit in your kayak on land and see how easy things are to get. (Or how hard things are to access in the kayak.)
- Position the items you use more in an easy to get location.
- Start with minimal fishing gear, until you get more confidence in your skills and set up.
- Check how hard or easy your storage compartments are to open and get to them.
- Always wear a PFD or life jacket.
- Tether your paddle.
- Utilize dry bags.
- Tether items that are valuable and don’t float. Or put a float on them.
If you are a beginner kayak fisherman or lady, just start with a small close fishing trip in good weather. (Don’t venture out far in the Pacific Ocean with four rods if you have never kayaked before.)
What Gear Do You Need For Kayak Fishing?
Let’s take a look at the various gear that you will require for kayak fishing.
We will list the fishing gear needed first in a bullet point list, then go over the items in more detail below.
- Fishing rods
- Rod holders
- Safety gear/ Life Jacket
- Kayak Seat
- Fish Finder
- Anchor and Rope
- Anchor Trolley
- Tub / Containers / Milk Crate
- Fishing bag and tackle. Fishing line, hooks, sinkers, swivels, knife, fishing license, etc.
- Dry bags
- Cooler /chiller
- Kayak Cart
- Night lights
- Safety flag
- Drift chute
- Drink bottle and food
- Appropriate Clothing
- Scupper Plugs
- Live bait cooler
- Action camera
- Fishing Net
Now for the detailed list:
If you are a beginner to kayak fishing, just start with one rod. As it easy to get overwhelmed by learning paddling, balancing the kayak while casting, little known fishing with three rods, etc.
Too many rods and you end up tangled, as you also have items like tackle boxes, dry bags, anchor and anchor ropes that take up room and can get in the way.
What fish species you are targeting will determine what type of rod and length.
The best fishing rod should range between 6.5 and 8 feet and the optimal length of the rod should be decided based on whether you wish to fish on the heavy cover or in the open waters.
In case of heavy cover, like a small river with overhanging shrubs and branches the casting should be as precise as possible.
While in the case of fishing in the open water, the casting distance plays the most important role. In case you are packing the minimum essentials, and wish to take only one fishing rod with you, it’s best that you go for a 7 feet long rod. This length is suitable for offering the required level of casting accuracy whole covering a great distance.
For fly fishing from my kayak, I use a 9 foot fly rod. Or a 10 foot fly rod if I want to do a bit of Loch Style fly fishing.
I will always put a tether on my rods, so they don’t go overboard. (Especially with my expensive shark fishing rod and reel.)
I connect a small stainless steel carabiner to the rod holder and cordage with a loop that goes over the reel seat. For safety reason of getting tangled up with capsizing, don’t make the tether too long, just long enough to cast with it secured.
Another option is not tethering the rod to the kayak, but put a small float on it.
I use a 2 or 3 inch wide piece of swimming noodle foam with a short piece of cordage on it attached to the butt of the rod. Probably not as good as tethering the rod to the kayak, but at least it shouldn’t get tangled up.
For rougher conditions and saltwater fishing, I normally put a float on my rods. I don’t normally tether the rods to the kayak if there is a chance of capsizing in rougher weather and tangling up.
When considering outfitting a kayak for fishing, an important item you will require is the rod holders for keeping the fishing rods secured when you are trolling, fishing, or paddling in the kayak.
There are various types of rod holders and you can also come across some kayaks already fitted with rods. Some of the common variants of rod holders are:
- Adjustable rod holders:
These rod holders can be used for decreasing or increasing the height as per your preference. You may also rotate some of them in a complete circle and remove them when you don’t require them at all.
- Flush-mounted rod holders:
These rod holders can be managed very easily and their unobtrusive nature allows you to fit them seamlessly into the kayak by molding or inserting them. Depending on the model, you may also remove them from the kayak.
No matter which kind of rod holder you are choosing, you must see to it that the rod remains attached to the leash. This will prevent it falling off overboard when there are any waves, bumps, or if you capsize the kayak.
Tub / Containers / Milk Crate
You can either opt for DIY crate systems or purchase them and it helps in storing your fishing gear, tackle, line, landing net, and fishing rods.
The most favored option of crate system is deploying milk crates which you may get with any local grocer so that you can employ your budget in some other place.
Many anglers also adapt milk crates with PVC tubes for holding the plastic dividers and rods for storing the boxes.
I also attach swimming noodle foam to one or two sides of it. In my smaller fishing kayak, this helps when I lean back on the kayak seat and is more comfortable.
Also the swimming noodle helps the milk crate float if it comes off the tether.
On one milk crate I have for my kids kayak, use the noodle foam vertical on the inside of the milk crate and it helps hold a safety flag when kayak fishing.
But if you don’t want to go for DIY crates, you can either opt for soft and hard side crates. With the hard side crates, you can make sure that they won’t get crushed and also allow space for holding numerous rods as well as the tackle inside. On the contrary, some people prefer soft-sided crate systems for fitting inside the kayak.
The Yak kayak gear crates and tubs are worth checking out.
While some dedicated kayak fishing crates are expensive, some are very well designed and useful with fishing rod holders attached to them.
Comfortable Kayak Seat
The seat of your kayak is important as if it is uncomfortable, you don’t concentrate on fishing. Also it can limit how long you can fish for.
This is very crucial when you plan to spend the whole day in fishing. You should never attempt to save money by compromising on the quality of kayak seats. When the seat is not comfortable, it will restrict you from fishing efficiently and may even injure you.
For my sit on top kayak, I put a small bit if closed cell foam under the seat. This just stops my butt getting wet, without changing the balance point of the kayak too much. It also gives me a bit more comfort.
When it comes to spotting fish in an enormous water body, fish finders can make your trips much productive. You should consider investing in specialized fish finders for your adventures.
If you are a newbie who doesn’t want to invest a lot of money for a fish finder, you can get some good cheap portable fish finders, also use dedicated apps on your smartphone with portable fish finders.
Over time, when you want to shell out some money for the best kayak fishing fish finder, you can go for one with a wider screen display, quality graphics, compact in size, and GPS for showing the exact spot where you are fishing and the way back.
These a top-notch fish finders are also great for moving from one place to another even to the most difficult to access zones without any fear of losing the track of the waypoints.
Anchor and Rope
Having an effective anchor will keep you in the fishing hotspot and that your kayak is safe in one position. Besides that, it also aids you when you are fishing systematically in an expansive area.
Since you will be fishing in a kayak, the anchor ideally shouldn’t be too heavy or take up a lot of space. Anchors typically come in a package and consist of gears like a chain, anchor line, main anchor.
I have tried most anchors, from homemade pieces of scrap metal, dumbbells to plastic anchors and expensive boating anchors.
When it comes to choosing the chain, you must consider the contour of the bottom.
A chain hanging from the anchor is best suited for rough bottoms. But in the case of muddy bottoms, you will require chains sinking into the mud for keeping your kayak steady.
Your anchor choice will depend on the type of bottom the lake, river or ocean has. Is the bottom reef, mud, sand, weed or a rocky bottom?
The main anchor is typically found in the two main variants:
- Folding anchor: This is the most popular kind of anchor owing to their portability and give great support in all situations.
- Claw anchor: Even though these anchors are not as portable as folding anchors, they are good for securing the kayak in a single place. It comes in handy when the bottom of the water body is soft and silted.
Reflective anchor rope can be a bit easier to spot at night time with a headlamp or flashlight or where your rope is.
Make sure the rope is designed for getting wet otherwise with time the rope will rot. Not ideal when pulling up your anchor and the rope breaks.
Remember too have long enough rope out for safety reason. In rougher weather a longer anchor rope will ride the waves better. Of course safety first and if it is too rough, don’t head out fishing.
You can use a swimming pool noodle around 1 to 2 feet long to wrap the anchor rope around.
What Is An Anchor Trolley?
An anchor trolley helps position the kayak when fishing for a good angle when at anchor.
You can adjust the angle that the anchor rope attaches to the kayak.
The anchor trolley set up is ideal for positioning the kayak so you are casting in the direction you want without twisting around. Especially handy with repeated casting like lure fishing, or fly fishing from the kayak.
An anchor trolley refers to the base of the anchor system and functions as an extension of the anchor line which aids in forming an adjustable attachment to the boat or kayak. It also helps in adjusting the kayak when the weather and tide movements are hostile.
You must ensure that the anchor line is placed at the maximum depth of the spot where you plan to fish. The ending part of the anchor rope is meant to go through the trolley ring and must be attached to the kayak.
There should also be a cleat on the kayak for tying the anchor line and adjusting the length as per requirement.
Ideally never anchor side on for fishing rough water, as the kayak can tip over if a strong wave or bow wave hits it.
For safety you should have a quick release on the anchor rope, so you can release it from the kayak quickly. Such as another vessel is heading for you and doesn’t see you, or the current or tide changes and is too strong to lift the anchor.
I attach a float on my anchor rope, so if I do release the anchor rope, I don’t lose my anchor and rope. (You can come back later and retrieve the anchor in better weather later on.)
Fishing Tackle Bag
Fishing tackle bags are crucial equipment for storing the fishing kit and carrying your gear. It allows you to store the spoons, spinners, hooks, lines, sinkers, pliers, fishing nippers, knives, etc. for easy storing and stacking.
You may also store the essential tackles and baits before you within your reach with a compartment tackle box. Most of these tackle boxes are built for keeping these tackle boxes and compact enough for fitting inside the kayak.
There are several options to choose from and most of them come with storage pockets for storing all your fishing gear.
I tether my tackle bag as well, as you don’t want this going overboard with expensive fishing lures and gear in it.
Just be mindful if you do buy cheap tackle bags, the zips rust quickly and can then be hard to open the bag. When you get back from a fishing trip, dry or spray the zippers so they don’t rust. Especially when saltwater kayak fishing.
The better quality fishing tackle bags will have good zips and more waterproof bags.
One fishing tip is too have your fishing line leaders / tippets and hooks all set up, so it is easy to quickly change your tackle if you have too.
For people who know how hard it is too sometimes change fishing tackle in a boat, or on land, imagine a choppy day, where the kayak is getting rocked about and you are trying to change hooks, leaders and sinkers. Not fun, especially if the fish are biting.
When you are wondering how to outfit a kayak for fishing, remember to get a good dry bag.
This is particularly needed when you don’ have any waterproof storage area in the kayak. Even if you don’t realize this now, you will definitely need storage for keeping your electronic items dry. Not only your electrical goods, but it is also great for keeping your clothing dry. For instance, you may toss a change and hoodies inside so that when you become completely wet, you can have dry and warm clothes to protect you.
Dry bags are also available in a variety of sizes and designs. So, you must consider the items that you want to protect while paddling.
I use a very small dry bag for my wallet, keys and cell phone when kayaking. As well as it keeps the phone dry, the bag floats as well.
Cooler / Chiller
Many people think that they can easily store the fish in the hull, but it is never an answer for storing food and drink on hot days. With the sun shining brightly on your kayak, it will turn into nothing less than an oven. It’s crucial that you have a small fishing cooler or get a fish bag for the kayak. It’s wise to opt for opt for kayak fish cooler that can take care of two needs at the same time- storing your lunch and your caught fish cold till you land safely.
Kayak Trolley / Cart
Transporting your kayak can be an overwhelming task and you must have a kayak cart or trolley for moving it to the water.
At times, the portage is a long and arduous way and you cannot do without a kayak trolley. It’s also crucial to note that some fishing kayaks are much heavier compared to regular kayaks for recreational activities. When you are planning to outfit a kayak for fishing, don’t miss out on a kayak trolley for moving your vessel to and from the water.
Railblaza C-Tug Kayak Cart is a good one with wide wheels for the sand. I have had mine for over five years and I am happy with it.
It’s important that you carry an electric torch or lantern exhibiting white light for preventing collision in the water. This is particularly true in the case of paddling at night.
In most cases, a handheld flashlight will cater to your requirements but in some states, it is a rule that your kayak should remain visible in the regulated waters. Thus, it’s best to have a 360-degree night light installed on the deck of the kayak and or up high on a flag mount.
I use a headlamp as well for dusk and dawn fishing. I also use a waterproof flashlight in the storage compartment for night fishing as a backup light.
When considering outfitting a kayak for fishing, a kayak safety flag is a good idea. It will help your safety while improving your visibility in the water.
When you have a bright-colored flag, preferably orange or red attached to the kayak, it can also warn the others in the water about your presence.
You need to have a safety flag since kayaks are extremely low-key vessels and smaller compared to motorized vessels. This is very hazardous when the others in the water are not able to see you until they come really close to you. Having a safety flag removes these hazards altogether.
For busy waterways or fishing in places with large swells, the kayak is very hard to see, so a safety flag is a good idea.
I use reflective tape on the flag pole, like a barber’s pole design, for extra visibility. I also use the reflective tape on the blade of the paddle and in some spots on the shaft.
For my children’s kayak flag pole I use and old fiberglass fishing pole with the guides removed. This is lightweight and free. (I think the kids broke the tip off the rod anyway accidentally.)
When you are fishing in lakes or rivers which is extremely deep for anchors, you will have to engage a drift chute for your kayak. This is also very useful when you are drifting and have to slow down while fishing.
When drift chutes are rightly deployed, it is ideal for covering and fishing a body of water to find where the fish are feeding.
Drifting while kayak fishing is a lot of fun. But you do have to be aware of other boats and weather conditions as you can move quicker than you release, especially playing some fish.
I use a small tarp, with a hole cut out of it and cordage, but the quality commercial kayaking and boating ones are ideal.
Depending on the amount of time you wish to spend paddling, make sure that you carry at least a liter of drinking water for each hour on the water. This will ensure that you won’t be dehydrated and retain the energy required for a sometimes vigorous activity like kayak fishing.
Drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are a good way of hydrating and getting some calories and electrolytes as well. As it is easy to forget to drink or eat while carried away fishing.
Life Jacket and Safety Gear
When you planning on how to outfit a kayak for fishing, you should be equipped with at least one top-notch PFD for wearing when kayaking.
You should never even think of going to the water without a PFD (Personal Floatation Device) or life jacket.
Expert kayakers always suggest that you should carry at least two PFDs with you. You can never tell if your companion forgets one and if you let them wear your spare PFD which can save their life.
I have a spare one in the hull of my fishing kayak in case I forget to bring it. (Which I always go over a mental checklist and keep my kayak gear together, so there is less chance I will forget it.)
The choices of PFDs can overwhelm you, particularly when you are a first-time buyer. But you should go for the life jackets that fit you well over the spray jacket, wetsuit or dry suits.
With that being said, it must allow you to move your arms and cast in the water seamlessly.
Many of these good life jackets are specifically designed for anglers and come with pockets for storing your fishing equipment. You may keep your fishing line nippers, tackle boxes, pliers, GPS tools, and portable radio at your disposal.
I have an emergency whistle, fishing line safety knife on my fishing PFD.
Remember to tether you paddle. Have a quick release carabiner on it in case the lead gets tangled.
A paddle float can help you get back on the kayak as well. In warm calm shallow waters, practice kayak safety drills.
What Are Scupper Plugs?
The scupper plugs help cover up the self-bailing drain holes present at the hull. As a result, you get a drier ride by checking the water from coming into the kayak via the scupper holes.
It’s obvious that your sit-on-top kayak will accumulate at least a little amount of water while paddling. But when you have scupper plugs in your kayak, you can paddle the kayak without worrying about the water getting into your vessel. (Sort off, on calm days anyway.)
You would only want to have some water inside your vessel on a warm summer day. This may keep you maintain your body temperature and keep you comfortable while you are kayaking. But you may not always prefer sitting inside a puddle of water and having scupper plugs can her you rid of this problem to a large extent.
If you fish in saltwater where you have to go through some waves or a swell zone, don’t put the scupper plugs in.
For calm fishing days, I will normally put the scupper plugs in, or a couple of them.
Live bait cooler
Live bait coolers are an effective alternative to bait buckets and offer greater temperature and capacity control.
Even though buckets are cheaper compared to the bait coolers, the cheapest is not always the best. They offer better capacity which ranges between 7.5 quarts and 30 quarts. Moreover, the foam insulation of an inch keeps the bait oxygenated and cool for longer. This is definitely one of the significant factors to consider whether you go kayaking on icy cold weather or hot days.
For keeping fresh bait longer, oxygenated live bait coolers are a good choice.
When setting it up on the kayak, think is it easy to get to. Especially if the bait is darting about and you are twisted around in your seat, nearly capsizing the kayak.
When you have gone fishing in your kayak, you will definitely want to capture some spellbinding images as a token of remembrance. In such instances, you should never depend on the smartphone camera particularly when you can opt for great action cameras without digging a hole in your pocket.
It’s true that your smartphone cameras are great for taking a lively picture or even recording a video. But why will you run the risk of tossing it in the water by chance or getting it destroyed with water damage? Action cameras are revered for their shockproof and waterproof abilities. Some cameras also let you submerge it in the water for some action-driven deep underwater shots.
I sometimes watch my footage of when I got two nice rainbow trout at the same time when kayak fly fishing.
For the fishing net you have plenty of options, designs and sizes. You can have a short handled fly fishing net type or an extendable fishing net.
Think of where you are going to position your net, so it is easy to get at when fishing. I attach mine behind the seat on a large carabiner, so it is easy to get too. (Sort of easy, but when you have a nice fish on, I can’t get it out quick enough.)
For one fishing net I have put a rubber tubing over the handle which makes it buoyant and will float if knocked overboard.
On my other short little fishing net, I put a small float and tether on it.
Kayak Fishing FAQs
How do you dress for kayak fishing?
Regardless of the weather, carry an extra warm layer and a rainproof jacket in your dry bag in case the weather changes. The rain jacket should be good quality so it also stops the wind.
Dressing for kayaking calls for the same requirement as it does with outdoor activities like trailing or hiking.
You must have comfort and durability while moving. Moreover, you will need ample protection from wet and cold conditions.
When dressing, you should consider the temperature of the water as well as the weather. This would direct your choice between the dry suit and wetsuit for cold weather.
Moreover, you must dress in layers particularly at the top of the body.
Make sure you avoid cotton, unless it is extremely hot weather. Cotton fabrics retain water and never dries up making them very uncomfortable. It’s better to opt for quick-drying fabrics with high wicking ability such as polyester or nylon. Since wool insulates when it is wet, it can be a good choice for some in cold and wet conditions even though it takes a lot of time to dry up. It can also get heavy.
No matter how cloudy the sky is, go for UPF rated fabrics for clothing. Wear a wide-brimmed hat for protecting your head, face, and shoulders. Finally, apply a sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
You must wear a PFD when you are in the water and never take it off. In case you want to adjust the top clothing, you must find a place to take it off rather than taking off the personal floatation device.
Finally, the clothing you choose should be made of abrasion-resistant fabrics so that it can endure the wear and tear of the water and sand along with the rugged equipment of your kayak.
Can you fish in a regular kayak?
Yes, it is possible to fish from a regular kayak. It will help you determine whether you enjoy this sport. As you understand that you are enjoying it, you can think of investing in a specially crafted fishing kayak and equipment which can improve your fishing experience altogether later on.
There are some key differences between a regular kayak and a fishing kayak. Mostly though it is fishing rod holders, more storage compartments and some fishing kayaks are more stable when stationary.
Some fishing kayaks are designed a bit wider, as stability is more important than a streamlined kayak that paddles quicker.
What kind of kayaks are best for fishing?
A sit-on-top kayak is an affordable and versatile option for kayakers of all ages who are willing to push their limits and look for new challenges fishing.
The sit-on-top kayak is great for light touring, recreating, and fishing. They are reasonable lightweight and offer comfort and space for all the equipment. The best part of sit-on-top kayaks is that they are suitable for smaller water bodies like creeks and streams. The bigger ones are also ideal for saltwater fishing in the right conditions.
The sit-on-top kayak is a better option than the sit-in kayak that comes with a cockpit if you wish to swim around in the water and again get up on the kayak.
Some spear fisherman use this type of kayak. (I used an old surf ski for some spearfishing spots, but it was too unstable with all the gear. Embarrassing, I fell of it a lot.)
These are also very versatile in the way that they take care of all your kayaking activities like packing in the gear and accessing them in the aft or front cargo well. If you are looking for an all-round recreational kayaking experience in flat water, the sit-on-top kayak is your best bet.
Can you turn a normal kayak into a fishing kayak?
To determine this, think about whether your kayak is suitable enough for fishing. It should be built to offer greater stability, maneuverability, and most importantly, space for installing fishing gear.
Stability is very important as it allows you to cast and procure the gear while moving about as required without the fear of capsizing.
When you are able to maneuver the kayak, you will easily make your way to the best spots for fishing. And you must have everything required for fishing in your kayak, so having the requisite space is necessary.
Fishing kayaks are especially constructed keeping these aspects in mind. But you can also turn your regular kayak into a fishing kayak by attaching the necessary gear like rod holders, anchor trolley, line, sinkers, pliers, fishing line nippers, knife and other equipment. With the right investment of time and patience, your normal kayak will be fit for kayaking.
While no one likes drilling holes into the kayak, with some planning and care you can turn one into a fishing kayak.
How to Transport Your Fishing Kayak
Remember to have at least 4 connection points when strapping the kayak or canoe down. I use 2 straps in the middle of the hull and a bow and stern strap or cordage. This bow and stern connection helps keep the kayak from sliding or angling on the roof racks.
If you are first getting into kayak fishing, think how you are going to transport it. You can get some great rood racks, but they can be expensive. One option is soft roof racks that are cheaper, but not really designed for long distance trips.
Lifting the kayak on the roof of the vehicle is an adventure into itself. Ideally have an extra person to help you. Some roof rack brands even have a load assist rack or bar that makes it easier to lift the kayak on the vehicle.
Thule, Rhino-Rack and Yakima have some good J-style carrying options and racks for transporting the kayak.
Take is easy on your first kayak fishing trips, don’t go too far.
Use minimal fishing gear for a start, but plenty of safety gear.
Sometimes it’s not possible to purchase the perfect fishing kayak. At times, you can take some measures for making the fishing kayak of your own. Even when you are equipped with the pre-fitted fishing kayak, you may have to add some more gear.
When you are trying to outfit a kayak, think about the comfort level of the seat, whether there is enough storage and if the rod holders were in the right position.
With this, you can narrow down the requirements and find out what your kayak is missing for outfitting it in the right way. Last but not the least, always keep in mind that the perfect setup takes up time to build and you have to keep trying to find what suits you the best.
Just like normal fishing, kayak fishing takes patience. It also pays to have a sense of humor as well. Happy fishing.
Additional Reading and Resources