A Beginner’s Guide for Kayak Fishing Gear
Look at those beautiful kayaks. There are TONS of options for fishing kayaks and related gear. With so many choices, it can be overwhelming. Fortunately all those options means there is one that’s just right for you.
Our ocean fishing adventures started with a canoe, which I would not recommend. To make it somewhat safe, we used outriggers that made it super stable and we wore wet suits and stayed fairly close to shore. But I still wouldn’t recommend it. We didn’t know any better at the time, which I think is what leads people into danger fishing from small watercraft.
Since our canoe adventures, we’ve been through trial and error with a lot of kayaks and a lot of gear.
Kayak fishing setups can be as simple or as complicated as you want, but either way, if you want to get serious about harvesting a lot of fish there is a decent amount of gear you’ll need to get. This gear will allow you to fish safely (and comfortably) during colder seasons and on the salt.
Here’s what we would recommend if you want to get started kayak fishing -note that this isn’t a complete list for every trip and doesn’t include things like a first aid kit, safety flag, tackle, etc., just some of the essential purchases you’ll need to make to get started:
Chose your (sit-on-top) kayak – Don’t get a cheapo big-box store special. You want something that you can rely on – something that won’t leak or fill with water even when it flips over. That’s the whole idea behind getting a sit-on-top instead of a sit-in kayak. If it flips, it still floats. Unless your a trained sit-in kayaker and you can recover from flipping, don’t consider a sit-in kayak for fishing.
In general it is much better to get a used kayak made by a good brand than a new kayak that is cheap – just make sure to give used kayaks a really good look-over for gashes or bad gaskets or anything that might leak (and then water test after buying to make sure they don’t leak before you take them out)
Here are the most important physical characteristics of kayaks that you want to be aware of when buying a fishing kayak:
Weight capacity is important- you can’t be too heavy for the kayak or it will be unstable. Check the capacity before you buy and make sure to include any gear AND the weight of any fish you might be keeping, and err on the side of being well under the capacity.
The longer the boat, the faster it will be and the better it will glide. A few inches won’t matter much but a foot or more will make a noticeable difference. Shorter boats are usually more maneuverable and are easier to manage while transporting to and from the water.
The wider the boat, the more stable but the more slow. Speed isn’t just speed – it’s how much work you will do. Every time you reset your drift, you are paddling. If you’re trolling, you are paddling. A slower kayak means much more work, unless you are doing some type of fishing that requires very little movement.
Overall, you don’t want something too heavy to lift or manage. Fishing kayaks can weigh anywhere from about 50 pounds to over 150 pounds. Consider where you will put the kayak while you travel and your ability to get your kayak from your vehicle to the launch and back. Also consider that gear like wheels and proper roof systems can help A LOT. We fish with several older folks in their 70’s that can handle 150 pound kayaks no problem with the right gear and setup. But you are more limited with a kayak that you can’t carry easily.
Consider the wind profile. The higher up you are and the higher the kayak sits out of the water overall, the more surface area. There more surface area, the more you are like a sail. Being blown around in the wind makes fishing really tough. Lots of kayaks have seats that can be adjusted up and down which is a nice thing to be able to adjust for comfort, stability, and wind profile.
A rudder will not only help steer – it will make your boat track better. That means if its windy from the side, you will continue to move on a more straight path because its hard for the wind to push a rudder sideways through the water. The overall shape of a kayak will also affect how easily it drifts side to side, and many boats are totally fine without a rudder (imagine a perfectly flat bottomed kayak and how easily it would move side to side).
You want a comfortable seat. It’s very important for long days of fishing.
Cockpit size and overall storage are also important for fishing. This is hugely preference – do you like to bring every type of tackle you might need? Or do you like to bring one tiny box? Come up with a list of things you plan on bringing with you on fishing trips (first aid, extra clothes, dry bags, tackle, safety gear, etc.), and then try to imagine where it would all fit.
For a very basic affordable fishing kayak, we like the brand “Ocean Kayaks”. Before I go any further – there are tons of good brands for kayaks. We’ve just had several used Ocean Kayaks and they’ve been great. You can pick up a brand new Malibu for $700 – this is a bare-bones, seaworthy kayak. At that price, you can imagine how cheap you might be able to find one used. There are plenty of other good kayak brands – just do some research and avoid buying one from a big-box store that doesn’t specialize in outdoor equipment.
Our number one piece of advice for buying a kayak is to go try some out before you buy one. Call the brand you are interested in and find out where you can take one for a test run. They will let you take one out for a test trip for free, or you can also consider renting a kayak for a day of fishing if you really want to try it out.
Definitely consider paying a bit more for a fishing-specific kayak that will have rod holders and other accessories to make your trips more convenient. But also keep in mind that usually rod holders, fish finders, and other accessories can be carefully added later.
We would also recommend considering a pedal-drive (pedal with your feet) kayak like a Hobie. A foot-driven kayak makes fishing much easier and more pleasant for most people (but not all). If you start out with a paddle kayak and find that using a paddle while trying to fish at the same time is difficult and/or annoying, you might have a much more pleasurable experience when your hands are free to fish. The first time I fished with someone with a Hobie, I was in a slow, barge-of-a-kayak (Jackson Big Tuna) and they blew past me smoking a cigar and fishing at the same time. That’s when I knew I would get one eventually.
Foot-driven kayaks also have an added safety factor – if you hurt your arm or break your paddle, you can pedal with your feet, and vice versa. In my mind, it’s kind of like having two engines on a boat instead of one. And for the average person, your legs are much stronger than your arms and can sustain movement for longer periods of time if you are fighting current, etc. (You can and should definitely bring a spare paddle for a paddle kayak in case your paddle breaks).
Believe it or not, if you search you can absolutely find used Hobie kayaks for under $1000. If you want something new, Hobie recently started making a “more affordable” kayak, the Hobie Compass, which starts at about $2000 new. We haven’t tried one out but have heard good things. At 12 feet long, though, I would be hesitant to buy one for a primary kayak unless I was small or didn’t fish the ocean.
Paddle – If you’re buying a paddle kayak, definitely get a good paddle. Werner Paddles makes great kayaking paddles and Carslisle is also a good, sturdy paddle brand. Even if you have a foot-driven kayak, you should bring one in case your foot-drive breaks.
Life Jacket – You don’t want to skimp here. A good PFD can be affordable. I recommend a fishing life jacket that has a lot of pockets to make things more convenient when you’re on the water. The NRS Chinook Life Jacket is the one I use (though they were cheaper when I got mine), but just make sure to get one that is in a high-visibility color with plenty of flotation for your weight.
Cold water immersion gear – without this, you are pretty much limited to fishing in the warmest months and only on inland waters. If you want to be able to fish during all four seasons and/or on the ocean, you need immersion gear. This means a dry suit, semi dry suit, or wet suit. Lots of people ask about whether or not waders are OK to use as immersion gear and to me it’s simple: if you get separated from your kayak and/or are in the water for a while, waders are eventually going to fill with water.
If you want to be comfortable and don’t plan on doing a lot of swimming, go with a dry or semi-dry suit. A wet suit is safe but I don’t find them to be nearly as comfortable or easy to put on and take off. They’re definitely appropriate if you’re going to be swimming, surfing, or diving, or if you are looking for cheaper solution for safe submersion gear.
The leading brand for fishing dry suits is Kokatat. They make really great gear and have incredibly good customer service. This is the one I have: Kokatat Supernova Hydrus Angler Semi-dry Suit. Yes, it’s about $650, but that is a price that you factor in if you’re considering kayak fishing in the ocean or colder months, just like you factor in the price of a motor if you’re buying a boat. It’s essential. I got mine for about $450 on sale, so keep your eyes out.
Bilge Pump – If your kayak isn’t leaking, you won’t need one – but that’s exactly why you need one – if you damage your kayak and don’t notice (for example, you gouged it while dragging it up the beach last time, or one of your gaskets is damaged), you may not notice until you’re out on the water and your kayak is riding low, and you’re becoming unstable. At that point, you may not make it back to shore. So bring one, always. At the very least, you’ll have one to help someone else that may not have one. I recommend keeping your pump strapped to the outside of your kayak so that if you do start riding low, you don’t need to open a hatch and dig around to get it out. They can also be very handy for cleaning the inside of your kayak at the end of a fishy day. I have heard this one is good and it’s cheap: Seattle Sports Bilge Pump, but I use this one and it has worked flawlessly: Beckson Thirsty-Mate Kayak Bilge Pump
Marine VHF Radio – This is essential for ocean fishing safely. You not only need to have one, you need to know how to use it, which is a whole topic in itself. My first radio was made by Uniden. It worked fine but it corroded within a season or two and stopped working. It also only came with a car cigarette lighter charger which was really inconvenient. We’ve had great luck with handheld radios made by Standard Horizon and they have a great reputation for being reliable. Most recently I bought a Standard Horizon HX870 which has an internal GPS and an SOS button so you can call for help with one button and the coast guard will have your exact coordinates. I also have a backup Standard Horizon HX210 which is a solid radio at a more affordable price but does not have an internal GPS or SOS function.
There are more items like a compass, first aid kit, etc., that I would definitely suggest bringing kayak fishing – we will provide a complete kayak fishing checklist in the future. Hopefully this article will help answer some of the basic questions you might have about getting started kayak fishing. If you have any more questions, fell free to comment or send us an email!