Published Nov 18. 2002

Fishing - Kayak flyfishing

You have the kayak. You have the rods. You have all the gizmos and gadgets. Now you want to use them. Well, preparing for a flyfishing trip in a kayak is much like preparing for any flyfishing venture. Gather your stuff, make sure you brought everything and set out.

How about fishing then?


OK, enough talking about all the serious stuff! On to the fun... flyfishing.
You have the kayak. You have the rods. You have all the gizmos and gadgets. Now you want to use them.
Well, preparing for a flyfishing trip in a kayak is much like preparing for any flyfishing venture. Gather your stuff, make sure you brought everything and set out.
Find an appropriate spot to start and land. The best spots are regular, shallow banks or beaches with sand and no surf or strong currents. A small, low pier is of course very convenient, but the best fly fishing spots rarely have piers.
You need to be able to get into the kayak while it is almost freely floating and the push off. Sit-on-tops can be entered almost anywhere as long as you can get onto the kayak. Regular, closed Greenlandic style kayaks are best mounted on a flat beach or from a low pier.
I usually secure all gear to the kayak while it is on the beach or bank and then drag it into the water wading next to it and then enter. A friend who has a closed type kayak routinely enters the kayak while it is on land right at waters edge, and pushes it off with the paddle.
Make sure you have everything and paddle off!

Flyfishing gear for kayakers
As a kayaking flyfisher you will need little else than you usually tote along. Any rod suited for your usual fishing will be suited for the same type of fishing from a kayak. Rod length, line weight and density should reflect your quarry and not the fact that you are in a kayak - or was transported to your destination in one.
One thing is worth remarking though: kayaking brings you over deep water, and herein lies a new fishing experience for most flyfishers.

Fishing over 5 or 10 meters or up to 30' of water requires a new strategy, which includes sinking lines and heavy flies. A lot of action is hidden in the abyss - relative to the usual depths covered by flyfishers.
Striper fishers who fish from a boat will be well prepared, but if you usually go for trout, pike, bass or other species hunted close to the surface, your will almost certainly have to gear up - or rather down - for some deeper fishing.
In most cases a sinking line will do, but fast sinking shooting heads, heavier rods and maybe even longer rods can become necessary to cast a fly that will reach the bottom.

If you fish the salt the usual precautions apply: use gear which can take the environment. You WILL roll over, and the reel(s) will be drenched in saltwater. Same thing goes for fly boxes, tools and other items you bring with you.

Finding a spot

Finding good fishing spots is no more difficult from a kayak than from any other vessel or from the bank or beach. You have a large variety of choices, and will no longer be limited to the shallow parts close to the water's edge.
You can aim for deeper parts, large pools, rocks, jetties or any interesting structure available. When you arrive leave your paddle on your lap or tuck it under a strap.
Get out the fly rod, strip line, take aim, and cast.

Casting from a kayak

Casting from a kayak is actually easier than casting from a float tube. Imagine yourself sitting in a chair. That is about how it is sitting in a kayak. A rocking chair maybe...
You can easily cast in any direction in front of you. Most convenient is casting across the kayak from your casting arm side.
You can position yourself as you please considering waves and wind. In most cases the kayak will swing around and wind up pointing in the same direction as the wind. This is a convenient position for casting if the wind is not too strong.
If you put out an anchor, you can attach the line on the kayak in such a way, that you guide its direction as you want. Remember that the kayak will swing away from the attachment point and stay roughly in that position. I have several attaching points on my kayak, and can make it end up sideways or with front or back to the wind.
It goes without saying that wild movements are not a good idea. You can cast with force, use double hauls and make power casts, but take care not to get too physical or aggravated in your casting style.


You can strip line as you always do if your fishing requires stripping. You will probably soon discover a problem: where to put the line. Putting it in the kayak is an option if you have a sit-on-top, and so is in the water.
Neither is very good.
Having the line in the kayak is bound to result in tangles. Line will invariably find its way to straps, shoelaces, anchor and whatever there might be in the bottom.
On the water is usually much better, but not ideal. The current will most likely grab the line, and give you more resistance than you might want.
You might consider some kind of stripping basket, realizing the limits that it will impose on your stripping pattern. Another option is an apron as they are known from float tubes. These are usually made from a mesh and has no rims, but just create a flat, unobstructed surface for the line to lie on. In the sit-on-top such an apron can be fitted without problems, but the closed kayak is more restricted in this respect.
You can also simply hold the line in large loops in your line hand while casting, letting go as needed.
Luckily you have great help in the fact that long casts are usually not needed. Aim shorter than you usually do, and if you are fishing deep, locate yourself over the fishing spot and roll cast a few times to feed out line. The sinking lines are a menace if they get in the water and under the boat.
I retrieve as I usually do with two drastically different weapons that I utilize now and again: bottom scraping and two hand retrieve.
Scraping the bottom means fishing the fly slowly on the bottom making as much disturbance as you can. This is done with sinking lines and a sinking fly or leader. The fly must be on the bottom to stir up mud and make noise. If you do not feel the bottom and occasionally snag, your are not deep enough. Many bottom feeding fish find this irresistible. Once you feel a fish, man an erratic strip and let the fly sink again. Do not give up right away. The fish often seem to follow the fly over the bottom for a while and hookup rarely happens in first try.
The two hand strip is quite the opposite. I fish the line floating and the fly in the surface or top water and strip as fast as I can. A baitfish imitation fished this way will entice a freely swimming predator, and my notion is that the pursuit is usually short. And I know the strike is sudden and forceful!


Fish behave differently when caught in deep water. Of the many trout I have caught I cannot remember one that jumped. This is usually the case if the fish has less water to move in, but in deeper water the fish will seek the bottom, and most fish I have caught - except for the fast swimming pelagic garfish - will go deep.
This means that you will be pumping fish. Pumping is the term used for pulling in fish with the rod only and then reeling the gained line on the reel while keeping the fish tight, but not pulling further.

Pumping is very effective when drawing fish up from the depths, but also a very powerful way of exerting force on your gear and the hook and tippet. I have had my rod tip touch the water on several occasions - even though the handle was close to vertical - in the other direction! And I have broken off many fish in the abyss because I just lifted their weight and forgot to consider their ability to swim down.
So remember the virtues of fighting fish: tire them and then reel them in. Deep dwelling fish are not weaker than their surface scooting brethren. You just do not see them scoot.
One important thing though: keep the fish free of the bottom. It is usually littered with suitable objects, just waiting for a fish that wants to rub free.


I prefer landing my fish with my hands, but a net can be nice to have if your quarry is in a size class that lends itself to nets (I have seen pictures of sailfish and tuna caught from kayaks!). A short shafted net is fine. The distance to the surface is limited. Unhook and release - if you are so inclined - or kill the fish and keep it in the water on a stringer or in a keep net. Pull the fish into or onto the kayak when sailing. A plentiful harvest is not the most aquadynamic appendage you can have trailing after you.

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A two piece paddle is really convenient. You can carry it inside your car and not worry about it getting stolen if you stop for gas or food. Buy at least a fiberglass model. The weight compared to aluminum is significantly lighter, more so than compared to carbon fiber. A light weight paddle is simply easier to handle.

If you're fishing moving water, water with current, always wear your life jacket, no exceptions. Anything can happen.

a little tip: to kill a fish in summertime and having it in or on the boatfor a day or so or in the water should not even offered a cat any more. Let the fish stay alive. Use a bicycle airtube and attach a large potatoe sack to it. A pice of cloth or a piece of swimming plastic will close the sack. Attach this net to your kajak with a rope. thats all.

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