The Benefits and Drawbacks of Kayak Fishing

There is something special about being out there in silence. Without the sound of a motor, you can hear everything. Moving quietly and slowly, you become more observant of the places you fish. You are in charge of you, and no one else. When you hook a fish, it’s just the two of you – one on one. To me, there is nothing better. To some, it’s too much work. It’s definitely not for everyone, but kayak fishing can have some huge (but often overlooked) benefits over boat fishing. We hope this article does a good job summarizing the benefits AND drawbacks of kayak fishing for someone interested in getting started.

For someone interested in harvesting their own wild food, fishing is probably the most consistent way to put meat in the freezer. Getting out on the water away from the shore greatly increases the variety and quantity of fish you can target, and from a food-harvesting standpoint a kayak makes the most sense environmentally and financially.

Kayak Fishing Limits
One day’s catch from two kayaks. There is no doubt that kayaks can be very effective for harvesting fish, but what makes them better or worse than a boat?

Overall, kayak fishing is inarguably the most affordable way to catch the huge variety of fish that the Northwest has to offer. You can purchase your first kayak setup for far less than a power boat and you won’t need to worry about the ongoing costs of fuel and engine maintenance. Sure, if you want to buy a top-of-the-line kayak with all of the gadgets like a fish finder, wheels, rod holders, storage crates, etc, it is going to add up to cost a bit more. But your initial costs won’t be nearly as much as a boat, and you won’t have to worry about buying fuel every time you fish.

Kayak Fishing for Flounder in Puget Sound
Don’t flounder around at home worrying about boat fuel and maintenance – get a kayak and get fishing.

Kayaks are also more versatile than a lot of power boats – you can safely fish the open ocean, bays, rivers, and lakes, all with a sit-on-top kayak. While safety becomes a concern on bigger water it just takes research, experience, and having the right gear to make it safe.

Also, your access for launching increases drastically – you can launch a kayak anywhere where there is access to the water, and you can still launch at boat ramps if you want to. For example, one of our favorite bottom fishing spots is about a 25-mile run for a power boat, but about a quarter-mile paddle for us.

Launching a kayak

Another benefit is silence. If you’re fishing for deep water for salmon or bottomfish it may not matter, but if you want a stealth approach for shallow water fishing, kayaks are dead silent. And kayaks can get into shallower water than most power boats. We like to fish for bottomfish in places that are too shallow and rocky for power boats to access but impossible to reach from shore.

There are definitely some downsides to kayak fishing. You can’t go as fast and you probably can’t go as far – you likely won’t be going offshore for tuna. But you can certainly still catch rockfish, lingcod, salmon, halibut, and pretty much any other fish that is available in the Northwest. And there’s something to be said about being stuck in one area – it forces you to become a better angler because you tend to learn the areas that you fish in more detail. You focus more on switching your tackle and changing your presentation to catch fish instead of moving elsewhere to look for biting fish. By doing this, you often keep your line in the water and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Kayak Halibut On Line
Halibut on!

Kayak fishing definitely feels inconvenient at first. You don’t have space to rest your rod against something, you have all of your gear in your lap, and the worst is when the tip of your rod gets tangled. You learn to manage, though, and if anything you become better at not getting tangled in the first place.

Cole struggling
Managing things can be tricky at first
Cole with a rockfish

Another downside is that you can’t just drive up to the water and back your boat in and walk on to your boat – you have to be able to get your kayak from your car to the water and back. Luckily, things like car rooftop systems and Wheeleez Beach Carts have made this a lot easier. We fish from kayaks with several anglers in their 70s that have no problem at all getting their kayak onto the water. It just takes some practice and a few extra pieces of gear to make launching a kayak a lot easier.

Lastly, but most importantly, you have to be able to get back into your kayak if you flip over. Kayak safety is a whole additional subject, but this is the bottom line. Buying equipment to prevent flipping doesn’t cut it. If you aren’t physically capable of recovering from a capsize, and you don’t plan on learning and practicing, kayak fishing probably isn’t a good idea.

Kayak Halibut
Almost any type of fishing is doable from a kayak – here’s our friend Nate with a Halibut

Those of us who are interested in harvesting wild foods are often interested in being closely connected with the food we eat, and in our opinion there is no better way to connect with our food than kayak fishing.

If you are interested in getting started here is our basic gear guide:

Here are a couple of our favorite resources where you can find reports, safety and gear info, and buddies to fish with:

For all of the Northwest: Northwest Kayak Anglers

For California: NorCal Kayak Anglers



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