Kayak fishing is a lot of fun, but you need to be prepared before hitting the water. To make sure you don’t miss anything, we have put together this guide for outfitting a fishing kayak. We will cover the equipment you need to make the most of your day.
Honestly, you can make it work with a fishing pole and a kayak, but who wants to stop there? There is a vast selection of products to make your kayak fishing adventure better. Many avid anglers equip their vessel with all kinds of bells and whistles. If you are a beginner, this guide is a great place to start.
Outfitting a fishing kayak – Getting started
Some kayaks are set up better than others when it comes to accessories. Some boats come with tracks built-in, so you can easily add mounts for different types of gear. Other boats come pretty bare. Depending on your DIY skills, you can add tracks and mounts for many of the items we cover in this article.
With that said, we could write a novel covering everything you need to set up a fishing kayak. You can also spend a lot of money tricking out your boat. But let’s get started with some of the basics.
Choose a rod holder
Have you ever tried paddling while tucking your fishing rod under your arm or carefully balancing it in your lap? It’s not an easy task.
Rod holders are essential for keeping your pole secure and out of the way while trolling or moving to the next fishing hole. There are different types of kayak rod holders, so let’s check those out now.
Flush mount rod holders are simply a tube inserted vertically through the kayak deck. You put the butt of your rod into the tube. Flush mount rod holders are often pre-installed behind the kayak seat.
As the name indicates, flush mount rod holders are flush with the deck of your kayak. If your kayak isn’t equipped with a flush mount rod holder, you can install an aftermarket model yourself with a few DIY skills.
Flush mount rod holders usually don’t have a locking mechanism to keep your rod and reel from falling out. This can be good and bad; good if you need to get your rod in a hurry, bad if you think your rod will fall out.
Another detail about flush mount rod holders is they keep your rod more straight-up than other models.
Secure mount rod holders are fixed to the kayak with a base. Your kayak may come equipped with this type of rod holder, which is screwed into the deck. You can also add a base to your kayak if you are comfortable with drilling and screwing the mount in place.
Once you have a base installed, different types of rod holders are available to suit your needs. Many times this kind of rod holder is installed on the front of the boat for easy access.
Secure mount rod holders may also have some sort of locking mechanism to keep your rod and reel secure. The lock might be a rubber strap or more complex like a locking collar.
The angle is often adjustable as well, so your rod isn’t sticking straight up in the air like with a flush-mounted tube.
A rod holder is a good start, but you might also want to consider adding a rod leash to your supplies. This will help to keep your rod from falling and sinking if it goes overboard.
Crate mount/kayak bag
There are a couple of options with this type. Some people will use pieces of PVC pipe attached to a milk crate to hold their fishing rods. You can also buy a bag that holds a milk crate.
The bag comes with rod holders built into the side, along with pockets for tackle and other fishing gear. The bag option has a zipper on top, so you have access to the crate, and you can store equipment inside as well.
When you find the fish, you want to stay put! If there is a current or the wind is blowing, a kayak will get pushed around. An anchor is a necessity to keep your kayak in one place.
There are different options when deciding on an anchor. Because space is limited on a kayak, a small anchor is best.
An anchor trolley is a great way to keep your boat pointed where you want it when you are in windy conditions or a strong current. Your anchor line will move to the front or back, and your kayak will swing with the wind or current.
A folding anchor is ideal for small watercraft like a kayak. You don’t need much to help you stay in place. These anchors are easy to use and are portable.
A claw anchor can be tucked away on a kayak and is easy to use when needed. These will set quickly and work well on many bottoms (lakes, rivers, etc.).
You toss a drift chute in the water, and it opens up like a parachute. Drift chutes are compact and easy to stow away in a kayak. You can deploy a drift sock when you need it. It may not completely stop your kayak like an anchor, but it can slow you down significantly.
Setting your paddle down while you reel in a fish can be a risky proposition, especially if the wind is blowing. A paddle leash gives you some peace of mind that you won’t get stuck on the water without your paddle.
A paddle leash is simple to install. One end attaches to a secure anchor point on your boat, and the other attaches to your paddle. Then you don’t have to worry about your paddle when you are landing the “big one.”
The right kayak seat can make a huge difference when you are sitting for long periods on a kayak. A seat with proper padding and back support will benefit your paddling and fishing style. The wrong kayak seat will leave you with a sore butt and back.
There are many options when it comes to seats, and many are adjustable with high backs. A higher back should give you more support. Also, look for a seat with breathable materials to keep you from getting sweaty.
If you plan on fishing all day, it’s nice to keep your food and beverage cool while you are on the water. There are a lot of different coolers that can get the job done. Many fishing kayaks have a spot behind the seat for a hard-sided cooler. You can also use a soft-sided cooler.
Besides keeping your food and drinks on ice, a fish cooler will keep your catch fresh and cool. You can pick up a fish bag cooler or catch cooler. Either is a good option.
Life jacket (Personal Flotation Device)
It should go without saying, but you need a life jacket that fits you well. That said, you want to find a life jacket that will allow you to cast and move your arms quickly when you are on the water. Try to find a PFD that will not restrict your movement.
Many life jackets are designed for anglers and come with pockets for fishing gear. You can keep pliers, a small tackle box, or portable radio close by.
There are plenty of electronic devices to help you find fish, take pictures or find your way back to your launch spot. Let’s discuss different devices next.
When you are outfitting a fishing kayak, having a fish finder is a game-changer. They are an essential piece of equipment that you should not overlook.
Not only can you find fish, but fish finders are also very helpful if you are kayaking in murky water. Fishfinders come in a wide variety of price points. Depending on your setup, attaching a fish finder to your fishing kayak is usually pretty straightforward with the right mount.
Remember that electronics need to be well protected from water. The fish finder should be waterproof, and any electrical cords need to be well sealed.
Often a GPS will be built-in to a fish finder, but if it’s not, using a GPS is an excellent way to find your way back to your launch point. A GPS is also great for storing the exact coordinates of your fishing holes.
GPS is convenient in foggy or low-light conditions. Whether you buy a combo unit or a standalone, a GPS can be a lifesaver on the water.
Show your friends proof that the big one didn’t get away. It’s fun to take pictures and videos of your day catching fish.
If you go kayak fishing a lot, you are bound to get wet. Dry bags are great for keeping extra clothes or gear dry. So, do yourself a favor and keep your electronics and clothing dry with a dry bag. You can read more about dry bags here.
It’s not easy to land a big fish on a kayak. A landing net makes it a lot easier rather than hoisting the fish out of the water.
A waterproof tackle box prevents your baits from getting wet and keeps your hooks from getting rusty. When you are on a fishing kayak, your gear is bound to get wet. A watertight tackle box is an excellent investment to keep your gear nice and dry.
It’s not always easy to transport your kayak from your vehicle to the water. Sometimes you have to portage a long way. A kayak cart makes a huge difference. Many fishing kayaks are heavier than the average recreational kayak.
When you are outfitting a fishing kayak, there are a lot of things to think about. Here are some additional items to keep in mind.
First Aid kit
It’s better to safe than sorry. Kayak fishing is pretty safe. There is always the possibility of sticking yourself with a hook or scratching yourself on a tree or rock. Keep a first aid kit in with your fishing gear, or stowed in a watertight hatch just in case.
No matter if it’s hot or cold, you should always dress appropriately for the conditions. This includes a hat, sunglasses, sun protection gear, sunblock, extra clothes (in a dry bag), kayaking gloves, etc. You can read more detail about how to dress for kayaking.
Don’t forget your fishing license! Tattoo it to your forehead if you have to. There is no worse feeling than the authorities asking to see your license. “Oh, I left it in my truck,” usually isn’t going to work for you.
Watch out for strainers, low-head dams, or other obstacles when you are on the water. It’s always best to scout the route ahead of time if you are not familiar with the area. You can check with a local kayak or fishing shop too.
Watch the weather
Weather can change in a heartbeat in some places. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the weather forecast before you head out for a day of kayak fishing. If the weather looks sketchy, maybe it’s best to go another day.
Be wary of too much gear
Remember, your kayak can only hold so much in terms of weight, and you are limited with space. You will need to take a serious look at what you might need and plan accordingly.
Conclusion – Outfitting a fishing kayak
When you are starting to outfit a fishing kayak, there is a lot to consider. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. The basics in this article can help you get started. Over time, you can refine your craft and decide what you need for the best kayak fishing experience.
You can spend as much or as little as you want on kayak fishing gear, but remember space a weight constraints. Hopefully, you have a better idea of how to outfit your fishing kayak so you can have a fun and productive outing.
Let us know if you have any questions.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.