Kayak Fishing Basics

Kayak Fishing Basics

Basic Requirements To Go Fishing From A Kayak

The basics of Kayak FishingWith all the upsurge of interest in using kayaks for fishing inshore waters many anglers are keen to know the ins and outs of what is required to take up this exiting sport. There is a lot of information contained on the web, much of it from America, Australia and South Africa where the sport has been long established.  In the UK, kayak fishing has only become popular within the last five years or so and during the last two years this interest has increased exponentially. Where there is a demand there will be unscrupulous sellers trying to part the unwary with their hard-earned cash and kayaking is no exception. E-Bay is full of listings for kayaks that are totally unsuitable for UK saltwater fishing or at best only adequate for pottering just off a sandy beach in good weather.

As with all water based activities safety should be considered paramount. The safety aspects of kayak fishing depend on your circumstances and will include your own abilities and experience, your intended location, the time of year you intend to fish from a kayak, the type of fishing you intend to do and other factors such as whether you venture out alone or with a group.

Kayak Fishing Safety.

The primary things to consider from a safety point of view are:

* Suitability of kayak for intended use.

* Suitability of clothing to intended use.

* Provision of necessary safety equipment.

* Knowledge of weather and tides in your area.

Suitability of kayak for intended use

Starting with the first one; any kayak under 10 feet is unlikely to be suitable for anything other than pottering about close to the shore in good weather.  Twelve feet is about the minimum you should consider and 13 feet and over is better.  Bigger kayaks are more stable, easier to paddle surprisingly and offer more room for your fishing gear. On the minus side, they are heavier and take up more room in your garage.  This leads you to the next question of which kayak to buy? This is entirely personal, except that by following a well-trodden path you are unlikely to be led astray. The Ocean Kayak range is very popular and the Wilderness Systems Tarpon is highly regarded too.  Close your ears to all those who talk about ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ kayaks unless they can provide accurate verified data to back up their opinions. I personally cannot ever remember seeing any proven data comparing the actual speed of differing kayaks. These opinions are usually based on little or no experience of the actual kayaks or are peddled by those trying to sell you ‘fast’ kayaks or those reputed to be fast. As with everything in life, speed isn’t everything and what you gain in one aspect you lose in others. Whatever you choose, expect to pay around £500 – £600.

Get your paddle with the kayak and ask the dealer for recommendations. They will best be able to match a paddle to your kayak and stature and you might even get it for nowt.

Clothing For Kayak Fishing

dry cag kayak fishing clothingSuitable clothing is a must. Anyone who has ventured offshore on charter boats will know about the difference in temperatures compared to being on land. Water doesn’t refract heat and so the temperature over water is likely to be substantially less than over land. There is no shelter from wind on a kayak and there is the small chance that you could end up in the water however briefly. That last factor is crucial in determining what you wear. Your main choices for three seasons fishing revolve around a full Drysuit at around £200 -  £300 or a Dry Top or Dry Cag over waders or dry pants. This sparks endless debate over the safety of waders filling with water, etc, etc. Personally, I cannot see why waders under a Cag worn with a good belt is any less effective at keeping water out than a Drysuit. In the States the vast majority of kayak fishermen who venture out in cold weather use this system. In fact you’ll be hard pressed to see paddling trousers worn over there.

Whatever your choice of top layer you will need several layers of fleece under it. Forget cotton products! Not a hanky, not a pair of cotton undies and certainly not a cotton baseball cap. Not even 65% polyester and 35% cotton. Cotton kills through hypothermia. Stick to fleece, polyester and nylon and believe me in summer you will!

In summer you might be better served with a shortie wetsuit or ‘Farmer Johns’ neoprene suit with a Cag or Dry Top over. Neoprene boots are OK for warmer weather, but they don’t offer much grip when pulling your cart.

Safety Equipment For Kayak Anglers

Safety equipment can be broken down into two initial categories; Stuff to prevent the need for rescue and stuff to assist you get rescued.  The actual safety equipment you need depends on your circumstances as listed above but WILL include a lifejacket or Personal Floatation Device (PFD). The former are gas operated and the latter are foam filled waistcoats. Any PFD with the BSI mark will be adequate for basic safety. However, they often only give 50 – 60 Newtons of support compared to 160 Newtons of a gas operated life jacket.

Your list of essentials WILL also include a knife that can be stored safely and used quickly and efficiently.  Why is such a knife important? Because your kayak will have all sorts of ropes and lines attached to it and these are likely to tangle with you if you roll it.

Anchor System For Kayaks

The third essential safety device is an anchor system with emphasis on the word SYSTEM. The anchor is the most useful gadget you will own aboard your kayak and the most likely cause of you falling off.

Let’s start with the anchor itself;- anything weighing 2lb or more will do at a pinch. Mould your own out of lead using a small bean tin or out of concrete using a large tin. Weld some rods together or thread a weightlifting weight onto a rope. You could buy a small grappling anchor, but in practice it will only do the same job.  It is only when they get to 6lb and above that the prongs are long enough to dig into the sand.

Anchors work best when they are set well over depth. In 20 feet of water you will need at least 40 – 50 feet of rope out to get a good hold. Better to have too much than too little. Why is an anchor so useful? Most areas of the UK are tidal. Tide flows at anything up 4 or 5 mph and in some cases far higher. You’ll certainly experience tides of 3mph. You can expect to paddle your kayak at around 4mph. Some will be faster, but that’s a decent average. If you paddle uptide at 4mph in a 3mph tide then you will only move at 1mph over the ground. If you stop for a breather you will drift down with the tide at 3mph. So, in one minute you will have travelled backwards the equivalent of three minutes paddling. If you are in a tidal race as occurs when water is obstructed from its line of least resistance and compressed by a headland or between islands, you might not be able to paddle as fast as the tide. Here an anchor can prevent you from drifting down tide into danger.

A short length of chain will increase its holding power considerably.  Attach the anchor eye to a length of 4mm or 5mm nylon rope using a tie wrap that will break at 10lb – 15lb. This is so that you don’t lose your whole rope every time the anchor becomes fouled (and it will). Always carry a spare anchor and tie wraps.  The anchor shown above is attached so that the first tie wrap will break and allow the anchor to be pulled from the other end to try and free it. If this fails the second tie wrap will allow recovery of the whole rope. Same goes for your fishing line. Don’t expect to be able to pull much more than 15lb whilst on the kayak. If your line is stronger than that then you might have to cut it free if snagged. Also, never pull against a snag or fish at 90 degrees to the kayak. Try and angle your rod as near to the line of the kayak as possible to reduce dangerous leverage.

An anchor fastened to the side of your kayak is Dangerous with a capital D!!! When the kayak is side on to the tide it is very vulnerable and you may find yourself tipped out as it rolls. You need to fit a trolley system in order to transfer the point of connection between anchor rope and kayak to the bows or stern, the bows is considered better.  Anchor trolleys can be fitted to any kayak easily and are comprised of a loop of rope going from the front of the kayak to the back. One of the ropes is guided through pad eyes to keep it tidy and the other has a stainless steel clip attached  that allows you to thread your anchor rope through whilst seated. You then pull the clip to the front and drop your anchor. Recovery is the reverse. An anchor trolley should have a means of trapping your loop to prevent it slipping when pulling hard on your anchor rope. A Zig-Zag Cleat is a cheap and efficient way of doing this.  Another cleat is required to secure your anchor line to. A Cam Cleat is favoured by many for speed and ease of use.  When fitting an anchor trolley system and fishing rod holders for that matter, make sure that the anchor can be secured when paddling between venues and that your paddling stroke is not impaired by the ancillary equipment.

Paddle Leash

Leashes are considered to be important safety items. Any slip could leave you without a paddle so it is a good idea to have a means of securing it to the kayak. Same with yourself. If you fall off the kayak while at anchor you will drift down tide whilst the kayak remains in position. Even the best of swimmers would struggle to swim uptide in anything over 2mph current.  Even when drifting or under way you will probably lose your kayak if not secured to it especially in windy conditions.

Not exactly a safety issue, but sensible to secure your rods too.


Compass. Even if you have a GPS system you should have a reliable compass. A sea fret can strike at any time and the basic necessity know which way to paddle back is an overwhelming reason to add a compass to your kayak’s itinerary. You also need to familiarise yourself with it and practise setting courses using it. A hiker’s compass will cost three quid, a proper marine compass will set you back ten times that, but is arguably worth it.

Bailers. You will get wet. Water will enter the kayak by one means or another. Scupper holes are two way devices! Paddling makes you wet as water runs off the blades down the shaft. (You can fit devices to reduce this, but you’ll still splash water in). Waves may break over the sides in choppy weather or when launching. If you fish side-saddle then you’ll bring bootfulls in every time you sit straight. Take some means of putting the water back where it came from. An old plastic bottle with the top cut off makes a good bailer (and urinal), a car sponge is good for mopping up and a fleece travel towel is ideal to wipe hands after baiting up.

Other considerations

Other safety items can be added as necessary. The consideration should always be to carry what is reasonable to ensure your own safety. A kayak has limited space aboard and attempts should be made to prioritise rather than adopt the ‘everything just in case’ approach. The choice is personal and should reflect your location experience, ability and intended use. Some considerations are as follows:

GPS. Handheld GPS units are excellent means of locating your launching point providing you have bothered to put this information into the device. They are reputed to work 24/7 in any weather. They don’t. But they are still damned reliable and I would suggest that you buy one and ensure that it is programmed and charged before setting off.  Many are waterproof and you can purchase chart programs for them or transfer data from paper charts to them. I wouldn’t recommend a GPS instead of a compass, but in addition to one.

Mobile Phone and the Coastguard number. Register yourself on the CG66 system and let them know when and where you are going. Always book off on your return. The phone needs keeping dry and the signal is not always reliable in remote locations.

VHF Radio. These radios are available from around £50. At that price they are not waterproof and are not very highly powered. Some people will struggle to obtain clear reception except in areas where you wouldn’t really need a radio to summon help. Unlike a mobile phone radio signals can also be picked up by passing shipping. To get a reasonably powerful one of 5 watts and one that is waterproof expect to pay at least £100. Before you use a radio you need a licence and have to pass a training course.

Flares. Red or orange flares are used to summon help and can be used as an aid to your location if you have summoned help . Whether you need a pack of flares really depends on where, when and how you are intending to fish.   I would suggest that if you are a fair weather inshore angler then these might not be considered ‘essential’.

Whistle / Air Horn.  Used to attract attention and as a location aid. Maybe considered more appropriate than flares if intention is to fish within half a mile or so offshore. Air horns will carry further and would be useful in a fret, but are not as easy to carry or store.

Torch. Only really applicable if you intend to fish into the dark or within a couple of hours of darkness.

Spare clothing. A change of clothing wrapped in a waterproof bag could save your life. If you are fishing within a mile or so of your car then there is no point taking it with you on the kayak, but you still should have it accessible to others. They might be able to go on ahead and get it ready for you.  If you are going away from your car then you really ought to have a change of clothing on board. The initial shock of entering cold sea water takes ages to subside. The quickest way to warm up is to change into dry clothes. Also consider a space blanket and high calorie food.

Sun care. Water reflects sunlight. You’ll get double the dose and in places you wouldn’t normally expect it and as such are vulnerable to sunburn. Take a tube of sun cream whenever you might need it. Also, dehydration can set in anytime when exercising. Paddling is considered by many to be exercising.  Taking on fluids is very important.

Plan of attack.  Planning your day can be the most important safety aspect you’ll have. Check out the weather and tides and plan your day accordingly. Always be prepared to change plans or exercise discretion if the weather changes, but never extend yourself without thinking it through properly. Paddling with the tide is far easier and you will achieve greater distances than paddling against it. Remember that often wind against tide creates choppy conditions. A calm sea can change simply by a change in the wind direction or change of tide.  It might look nothing from the beach, but when you are sitting 3” above sea level with minimal freeboard it matters.

First Aid Kit. Forget plasters. You will be wet and they won’t stick. A roll of elastoplast will do the job better. As would electrician’s tape for that matter. For bandages tear up your fleece towel. Forceps, wire snips, etc. should be in your fishing kit anyway.

The list of safety equipment is not exhaustive. You will find all sorts of items recommended by yakkers of varying experience. Some will be useful in many circumstances, others will fall firmly into the one in a million chance of being used. You will have to evaluate what you personally need and particularly take notice of experienced kayak fishermen from your area.

Rigging for Kayak Fishing

Fishing from a kayak is like nothing else except maybe float tubing. It could be likened to eating a three course meal with wine in the middle seat of an aeroplane sat between two fat blokes.

kayak fishfinderEveryone has a fish finder fitted and almost everyone has suffered sleepless nights deciding how to fit it. Fish finders require a battery and a transducer as well as the screen to locate. Picking the actual model is pretty straightforward. Choosing the location of the various elements and the installation can be a nightmare. Before you start research what others have done. Fortunately manufacturers are making the kayaks more user friendly in this respect.  The Trident for example has a special recess for the screen and a place to mount the transducer.

You will find yourself severely compromised for space and also influenced by wind and weather to a greater extent than when fishing from the shore or a small boat.  The secret is to spend time planning the layout of your kayak and checking out what others have done particularly those with similar kayaks to your model.

There is little specific equipment designed to be used from kayaks at present, but nosing around unlikely places like DIY stores and household goods suppliers like Wilkinsons can pay dividends.

Velcro and magnets can be employed to keep your bits and bobs secure. A plastic chopping board costing 99 pence will serve many purposes including making a Velcro pad that will hold gloves, spools of line or packets of hooks that have had the opposite Velcro stuck on. An industrial magnet screwed to the bulkhead will keep your knife and forceps on board if you roll over. You can find small tool boxes with recessed mounts in their base. These could be used as a tackle box and secured to the kayak while fishing with elasticated straps. Look around with an open mind and you will find something useful in the most unlikely of places.

Rod holders can be retro-fitted to suit your needs. The location of these will depend on your preferred method of fishing. Trolling will require a rod that is easy to reach without impeding your paddling. This is not so important if you intend to uptide or jig on the drift.

The other thing to consider is rod storage when paddling especially when launching and returning through surf. Rods placed upright in rod holders are vulnerable in this respect.

Rod rest tops designed for carp and barbel anglers might be suitable for keeping your rod tip safe and you can lash the butt and reel to a cleat or handle. Elastic ties designed for stowing reefed sails are useful to secure rods and paddles to boat fixtures.

Travelling Roof Racks For Kayaks

roof racks for kayaksMost of us put the kayak on a roof rack. Getting it there can be problematic. It is not the weight that is the issue. You can throw 60lb weights about all day and still will struggle loading a kayak in certain conditions. A 13 foot kayak has a lot of windage and a lot of what I call pendulum effect. That along with a distinct lack of hand holds can cause problems for the solo paddler.

Another consideration is that a kayak will slide off the roofrack if the vehicle is not level.

It is ten times easier for two persons to load a kayak than one. It is also many times safer going out with another yakker than going out alone. Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so.

No matter what your intentions are in the end you will have to buy a proper Kayak trolley to convey your kayak from car to sea. There is no way of avoiding it.  The question is do you shell out £70 at the start or waste £30 in wheels and other bits making your own trolley out of old pushchairs and golf carts that you will eventually ditch in favour of a proper one.

Kayak Fishing Marks

Fortunately in Yorkshire we are blessed with some excellent locations for kayak beginners. There are a few kayak fishing venues listed here. My own favourite is Runswick. It offers easy parking, toilets, a café, easy launching and normally a very safe haven to practice launching and recovering or even re-entry. Re-entry for most men involves closing our eyes and thinking of Angelina Jolie. For a kayaker it proves to be even more of a challenge.

Joining up with someone else especially someone with experience will however prove invaluable and there are plenty of willing helpers around. However, areas like Runswick can safely be paddled by a lone beginner in good weather with care. Bridlington bay is another place where there will be a couple of hundred onlookers  to keep an eye on you. Both have relatively small tidal drifts and more challenging locations close at hand for when you feel up to it.

Locations such as Filey Brigg and Flamborough Head are best left for another time. Both have fierce tides and can prove challenging even for experienced paddlers at certain times. Practice at Runswick catching dabs and plaice so you get a feel for the fishing, then expand your horizons to a short trip round to Mulgrave in the right conditions and with care.

The beauty about a kayak is that you can access marks inaccessible to shore anglers. These locations by their nature off good fishing and by nature can be dangerous to all shipping including kayaks. The elementary rules of seamanship are to avoid being blown onto a lee shore. Kayaks are susceptible to wind drift and this should be born in mind when you are close to rocks and upwind of them.  Some kayaks are more influenced by wind, others by tide.

Wind and tide will influence your direction of travel whether you are paddling or drifting.  While you are out there drifting around with the jigger take note of which way you are going.  This will help you plan future trips and keep safe.

Fishing Tackle For Kayaks

No need to labour this. We all have our favourite tackle and much of what we use ashore or on a charter boat will work on the kayak. The main thing to remember is that room is tight. There is no place for a 14 foot beachcaster on board – literally.  Also, in my opinion (ducking behind the parapet) there is no place for a 30lb class boat rod. Before you all start shouting just do me a favour. Go outside and fill a gallon bucket with water. That will weigh just over 10lb. Now try to lift it onto a chair using your rod. If you struggle to lift 10lb then why do you need a 30lb class rod? For my taste the optimum rod is around 8 – 9 feet. The butt is also a consideration. Try sitting down on the floor and use your favoured rod. If the butt gets in the way then it will be a nuisance on the kayak.

The nature of being on a light boat means that you can’t apply that much pressure on your rod anyway. Neither do you want to be hand balling away at a fouled line with all your worth. When it gives you will get wet. Very wet. Anything above 15lb line is likely to give you problems. You may end up cutting away yards of line when fishing rocky bottoms.

For my money the best way to look at fishing from a kayak is to utilise its benefits rather than try and work around its disadvantages. A kayak will give you access to areas that shore anglers cannot reach and boat anglers dare not go.  Plug fishing shallow areas off rocky headlands, uptiding off sandbanks, drifting and jigging are the sort of things you can easily do from the kayak. A kayak is also a brilliant way to fly-fish. In a word the kayak offers independence. Independent from charter skippers with their own agendas, independent from nuisance tides that restrict your access to good rock marks and independence from the 200 yard (I wish) beachcasting zone.


Buying a fishing kayak is the start of a journey. Don’t rush the purchase or the fitting out of it. A good fishing kayak evolves as you gain experience and perfect angling methods. The main concerns are to get the safety issues right first time though. Be patient and methodical with the fishing side of things, but get the safety aspect right first time.

Take things easy, learn from others and enjoy yourself.

By the way; budget a grand to start with and have another five hundred aside for the second year.

About the Author:

Site Administrator Glenn Kilpatrick has a passion for all types of sea angling. Past winner of the Whitby Sea Anglers fishing club on 2 occasions, Glenn now mainly focuses on summer fishing with bass and pollack being his favoured target fish. Glenn now also prefers Kayak Fishing over any other type of Sea Fishing.


  1. kev June 29, 2009 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    very intresting and logical.
    i have only just started this game and i found your site very helpfull.i think the best tip was about the anchor and using cable ties to fit. it to the rope.
    you can get some good rod and reels off ebay for £30 they are about a meter long.
    as for prices to get going i only spent £300 on kayak, £20 for life jacket and £30 on fishing rod,but i agree with you on the kayak the shorter they are the more work you have to put in to get anyware (trying to paddle in a straight line.
    i only got into kayaking because of my mate getting one.we are both dissabled,i only have one leg and when he got his i found out i could do this no problem.we use the sit on top type,i used to go cannoing befor i lost my leg(had to stop due to safety reasons,i would have proberly dround because of being sat inside)i reconmend the sit on top to anyone with a lower body dissabilty,you just need the guts to get on it.
    i did it on the cheep just to see if it was possible with my leg.it was so i shell be saving up for a longer one so i can paddle in a straight line.
    as i say nothing is impossible (sometimes you have to wait for it to be invented) you just need blood,guts&tears.yes and that stuff they call money helps.


  2. lee June 4, 2011 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    a very good article, a must read for anyone thinking of investing in a kayak.
    i have been a keen lure angler for about 15 years now and target most species this way,i have spent time fishing overseas on kayaks and know only to well the gains to be had from what is very little cost when you compare to the likes of owning and maintaining a boat.
    i have settled on the prowler trident 13 for both inshore and off shore and cant wait to get going this season.

  3. simon stack September 25, 2011 at 9:16 pm - Reply


  4. greywolf lancashire October 24, 2011 at 5:09 am - Reply

    well here in whitby well runswick actually yak on roof of motorhome thinking how the bluddy hell am i gonna get down that hill to the bay not a chance wish the person had warned about it before i came to this area as i new to yakin thought i would get some advice up here looks great if you have a car looks like i have had a wasted journey 330 miles round trip but saying that a great site plenty of information regards alan (ps sorry for the negative

  5. Jens November 14, 2015 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    Great site. Quick question.

    Are normal sea kayaks not suited? We have one and very used to it. I’ve also seen that most sea angling kayaks are open, while sea kayaks are generally closed.

    Any thought?

    Much appreciated.

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