How to outfit a kayak for fishing
May 30, 2021
Outfitting a fishing kayak depends a lot on your personal preferences in terms of fishing style and needs, as well as your price range. You will find that your fishing kayak set-up is constantly evolving as an angler, but there are a few standard features that all good fishing kayaks will have.
Good fishing kayaks
Before outfitting your kayak for fishing, first check that your kayak is good for kayak fishing. Some of the main features you'll need are:
- A high level of stability;
- Adequate surfaces for your fishing gear; and
- Easy maneuverability.
Whether you are choosing a sit on top kayak or sit in kayak, make sure it has these basic qualities to make it suitable for fishing.
Is a sit in or sit on kayak better for fishing?
Both sit in (SIK) and sit on top (SOT) kayaks have their advantages and disadvantages for kayak fishing, but the SOT wins out for fishing. SOT kayaks have exposed seats, while SIKs have an enclosed seat.
The main advantage of a SIK over a SOT is that the hull provides additional protection from the weather during cooler months, including from wind and water. However, you can solve this just by your outfit - wearing extra layers and waterproof pants!
Of course, in some ways it does depend on your needs as a kayak angler, but the SOT does tend to be chosen by anglers for the following reasons:
- Better stability
- Unsinkable (practically!)
- Easier gear access
- Easier to hop in and out of if you want to wade
- Better gear storage.
Outfitting your fishing kayak
Now that you've chosen your kayak, it's time to outfit it for your fishing adventures!
Fishing rod holders
If you purchase a kayak, you will notice that it will likely already have a fishing rod holders system. Most have the fishing rod holder flush-mounted behind the seat, but some have them in front of the seat too.
But these will be placed in a standard position, not necessarily what works for you and your fishing rod. They should be positioned so that your fishing rods are close and easy to reach but not in your way when casting or reaching for your gear.
Having your fishing rod out of the way is an important safety concern, as you don't want to be tripping over them! There's also less chance of you breaking them.
So, what rod holders can you upgrade to for your kayak? There are two basic types.
Flush mounted rod holders
As you might be able to guess from the name, flush-mounted rod holders are built into the kayak, with the mount sitting flush with its top. Once they're installed, they'll be there for a long time.
Because they sit flat against the kayak, some kayak anglers like the flush rod holder for fishing as they stay out of the way - you won't find much getting caught on them!
Track mounted rod holders
However, track mounted rod holders have the big advantage of being adjustable at any time. Most of these rod holders will turn 360 degrees to give you the ultimate options for rod holder placement while fishing, making them the choice of many anglers.
If your kayak doesn't already have track mount bases, they are not difficult to install. Track mounted rod holders are adjustable and can be placed as you need, on the go, for different fishing applications.
Whichever holder option you choose, you've made an important first step in setting up your fishing kayak.
How to pack your fishing kayak
Next up, let's talk gear bags and crate systems to carry your kit on board to optimise the space. Nothing will make other kayak anglers more jealous than a clever outfit to carry your fishing gear.
Gear bags and crate systems come in all different shapes and sizes, and it's important to make best use of your storage space for your kit. So, let's explore what you should consider when making your choice.
Tackle bags and trays
You can choose from lots of tackle bags and hard plastic trays to store your fishing gear and carry your kit. Crankbaits, spoons and spinners can be stored in plastic boxes, which are easy to stack and store.
You can also keep all your essential tackle and bait in front of you within easy reach with a handy compartment tackle box.
Most are built to accept boxes, and compact to fit in the space in your kayak. They will have numerous storage pockets to store your fishing accessories - pockets will help to keep you organised.
Kayak crate systems
Crate systems can be DIY or purchased. You'll want a crate set-up to store your fishing gear, landing net, tackle, line and your rods.
The most popular option for a DIY crate system is using milk crates that you might be able to pick up from your local grocer, allowing you to spend your budget elsewhere. You might see your fellow anglers adapt their milk crates with PVC tubes to hold their rods and plastic dividers to store their tackle boxes.
Milk crates are a great starting point for your gear - they are economical and flexible as you can adapt them to your needs and preferences.
If you're looking to buy a ready-designed crate, there are two main types: hard side and soft side crates.
The hard side versions don't get crushed - they normally can hold multiple rods and tackle inside. But some prefer the soft sides to fit better inside their kayak.
Finally, a good dry bag will keep your valuables and clothing dry, especially if you're lacking a waterproof storage area in your kayak. You'll definitely want one for your electronic items.
A dry bag can come in a variety of sizes, so consider which belongings need protecting when you're paddling.
Other accessories to consider
Here is a selection of other kayak fishing accessories that you may wish to consider for your fishing kayak.
You may want to consider a fish finder to help make your trips more productive in terms of locating fish.
You can buy standalone fish finders, but when you're starting out, a phone app will do the job.
If you want to capture images while you're on your fishing trips, then you can do better than your phone. Why put it in harm's way on the water, when you can buy action cameras for reasonable prices?
Of course the most popular option is a GoPro - you can even submerge them beneath your kayak for those awesome underwater shots.
A quality landing net will enable you to secure your fish at the side of your boat, helping you to prevent injuries to yourself and your catch.
A long-handled landing net means you don't have to lean so far to lift the fish - this could protect you from flipping your kayak when handling them.
There are many different options for kayak paddles, but you can even get ones designed specifically for fishing!
Kayak fishing paddles will have a built-in tape measure on the handle - you can measure your fish and check the water depth.
Learn more about choosing your kayak paddle.
A kayak anchor is a very useful accessory. When you want to fish in a certain spot or over a submerged structure, or winds and currents shift your kayak, an anchor is the perfect solution to keep you in right spot.
This accessory could separate you from the amateur anglers! Check our related safety tips for anchor usage in the final section of this article.
Personal Flotation Device
By now, you should know never to go out on the water without a flotation device.
Always wear your personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket while on the water - this is a non-negotiable safety measure. Some people find life jackets restrictive when paddling, so it’s worth investing in a kayak-specific life jacket to provide as much freedom as you need. These are potentially life-saving pieces of equipment: set aside any concerns about looking ‘cool’ and put one on for your safety.
What color kayak is best for fishing?
It might seem like a strange question, but the colour of your kayak may be an important consideration.
When you're venturing out onto the water, colour is vital to be visible. White kayaks can be mistaken for the surf, and red and blue kayaks can be hard to see. To be the most visible, go for bright colours such as a solid yellow - they reflect more light and can be seen from a distance.
Don't worry if you already own a kayak in a different colour - think about adding a hint of colour, such as a bright flag on your boat, to make yourself more visible.
For the fish
Some kayakers like to have a blue bottom to blend into the water in the hopes it lures the fish in. On sunny days, light coloured kayaks may be less visible than dark ones.
You may see your fellow fisherman out on the water in darker or camo-coloured kayaks to avoid the competition for a big catch! They will just raise flags when a problem arises.
How do I become a better fisherman on a kayak?
Let's leave you with our top tips for improving your kayaking fishing game.
- Learn to cast one-handed: This might be hard to get used to if you're more used to fishing from dry land. But the limited space in your kayak means a two-handed cast can be quite dangerous. You might want to consider lighter line combinations for this technique.
- Learn to paddle one-handed: Related to casting, other one-handed skills on your kayak are a way to level-up, and learning to paddle one-handed is a key skill. You might need to fight a fish when catching on the hook, while also steering your boat. If you lock the shaft of your paddle along one of your forearms, this anchors it and enables it to be used more like a canoe paddle.
- Cast to steer: Because bait offers resistance, you can use them to help you steer. Sometimes, the simple resistance of reeling in bait will pull your boat in the direction you're casting. You can make casts in particular directions to subtly move your boat.
- Use your feet: When your hands are busy with other angling activities, your feet can come in handy! If you have a narrow enough boat, some anglers use their feet as rudders or anchors in shallow waters. They can also be great for redirecting you from obstacles.
- Hug the shoreline: In certain weather conditions, particularly wind, it can take a lot of effort to make headway, let alone fish. Try paddling in the most shallow part of a river or lake - the current will be reduced and shoreline vegetation will ease the wind and waves.
Paddling in the most shallow part of a river or lake will protect you from the elements
6. Use your anchor! Although they can be unwieldy, an anchor has its place. This is particularly true in windy conditions on lakes, or offshore when you want to stay put. Be careful when using your anchor in a current though - it is possible for the current to push the whole boat underwater. Safety first!
Read more about kayak fishing on our website
Now that your boat has the ultimate set up for your kayaking trip, read our related articles for more information: