Setting up for Kayak Fishing

I’m constantly being asked for advice on how to set up for kayak fishing.

Usually these budding paddlers have met us on the beach after a successful session, or have had to put up with animated friends and their “you should’ve been there” skite sessions, bringing on an excited case of “how do I get what they’ve got?”. To answer some of these questions, let’s take a brief look at selecting a kayak for fishing, and the basics required for an enjoyable time on the water.

Begin at the beginning

Setting up for Kayak FishingThe obvious place to start is with the kayak itself. Here we’re looking to find a craft that is comfortable, has the performance and stability to stay safe on the water, and provide features such as purpose-designed tackle and fish storage to make fishing easy and enjoyable. Another factor is durability, as kayak fishing should be classed as an adventure sport, even though it can be one of the safest ways to get on the water.

In this country, we’re very lucky to have an excellent range of products to choose from. Locally produced kayaks (of which the Viking Pro-Fish is one) have been designed specifically for our needs, allowing us the flexibility to fish a wide variety of techniques in both fresh and salt water. They also have features such as additional scuppers and accessible storage to make paddling and fishing much safer in our often-choppy conditions.

By sticking with New Zealand-made, you can also be sure of getting a kayak that will cope with our harsh operating environment and UV conditions. An excellent guide to the quality of materials and workmanship in any kayak is the warranty offered by the manufacturer. Most offer at least 12 months, while some – like Viking – offer the original owners a warranty of 30 years. That’s pretty serious confidence in your product, and allows kayakers the freedom to concentrate on performance and features to suit their requirements.

Selecting the kayak

Start your kayak selection process by having a clear picture in mind of where you will most often paddle, the type(s) of fishing you enjoy, and the sizes and weights of those using the kayak. All these factors significantly influence the suitability of kayak models and designs. Also consider how long paddlers might like to stay out on the water, because this will give an idea of the comfort factor required.

Two other aspects worth having clearly in mind are where the kayak will be stored and how it will be transported. These may well limit the maximum size and weight of the kayak, and help narrow the final selection to a shortlisted few that best suit your requirements.

Be totally honest about your kayaking skill level. This is especially important if looking to fish from SINKs (Sit Inside Kayaks) rather than the more common SOTs (Sit On Tops). SINKs require much higher skill levels and constant practice to remain proficient at self-saving and assisted roll-over rescues. They also require additional safety equipment, such as bilge pumps to empty flooded cockpits after a ‘wet exit’. For the average kayak angler, this makes sit-insides much less desirable, so we’ll only look at SOTs here.

Like all forms of boating, choosing a kayak to suit your needs is about balancing compromises. Talking to other active kayak anglers about their experiences is a good way to sort these out, and it should have the greatest influence over your kayak choice. As a basic guide I’ve listed the most critical below:

Length: Longer kayaks with a modest width (beam) typically paddle a little faster when battling the wind and tide. Shorter kayaks generally have better manoeuvrability, making them easier to use in creeks and rivers, or when fishing close around rocks and structure along the coast. Ideal kayaks for the average saltwater angler are around 4.0-4.4m long.

Beam: Wider kayaks can offer more stability, particularly for the larger paddler, but this comes at the cost of hull speed and the need to use a wider paddle stroke. This can restrict the kinds of conditions in which they are safe to operate. As weird as it sounds, this is one of the paradoxes of kayaks: unnecessary extra stability (width) is definitely not an advantage when the conditions get bad. Selecting a kayak that is way too stable for one’s needs is the most common mistake made by paddlers getting into kayak fishing for the first time. Ideal kayaks for the average angler are 76-80cm wide.

Hull design: This works with length and beam to influence tacking, speed, stability and load capacity. It’s a topic that’s too involved to discuss in detail here, but there are two pointers definitely worth noting. Firstly, a strong keel and extended stern design give a kayak excellent tracking, allowing new paddlers to keep on course without an expensive rudder hanging off the stern. Secondly, harder chines (edges where the hull and sides join) generally give a more practical and stable fishing performance than softer, more radiused designs.

Weight: Polyethylene SOT kayaks are the most common in New Zealand. The extra weight and hull thickness make them incredibly durable in the rough and tumble of kayak fishing along our coastlines, but excessively heavy kayaks can be very difficult to manage off the water. Make sure you can lift the kayak you intend to use, and seek advice from experienced kayakers before purchasing roof racks. Simple solutions such as ensuring crossbars are wide enough apart (I recommend 1500mm for most vehicles) will make side lifts much easier and allow two kayaks to ride side-by-side.

Load capacity: This is a difficult one to compare directly across brands, as there’s no standardised testing procedure for load capacity. It is useful within a brand to compare suitability of different models. Typically, opting for a kayak with significantly higher capacity than you need means it will sit higher in the water and be pushed around more by the wind. Some with a deeper keel can also feel ‘corky’ or unstable. For these reasons, some of the wider double kayaks with a mid-seat aren’t good solo angler options, unless family restrictions make it impractical to purchase a single.

Storage wells: Fishing kayaks need places where you can safely stow tackle, accessories and fish. The new-generation craft now have lidded tackle wells in the middle of the cockpit (not hatches). These have become the defining feature of a ‘proper’ fishing kayak. Gear is in full view and easily accessible, while the lid acts as a mounting surface for electronics and makes a practical work station – all without risking an opening into the hull. Some of the better fishing kayaks also include separate storage for baits and soft-baits, making messy leaks a non-issue.

Storage hatches: Most kayaks also have storage hatches into the kayak’s interior. These provide areas for any gear not required on the water to be stowed. Hatches can be a mixed blessing: they increase storage, but also considerably increase the risk of getting water inside the kayak, especially if opened at sea or not correctly fitted. The recommendation is NOT to store anything you might require on the water inside the kayak. Keep these items outside in storage wells or deck bags. The Viking Profish 440 solves storage issues by providing a front well with hard- and soft-cover options, instead of hatched access into the bow area.

setting up for kayak fishing


1) One of the most importatnt considerations for kayak anglers is to have easily accessible tackle and equipment storage; for this reason centre well storage has now become a must have for any serious fishing kayak

2) Keeing yourself and your gear safe is paramount; part of doing this effectively is to use a good quality kayak angling PFD and a set of leashes to keep paddle and rod combos attached

3 and 4) A trailer is another option for those needing a larger kayak for performance on the water but dont want to use roof racks. This lightweight aluminium folding trailer from Allenco in Matamata takes up little garage space

The other essentials

setting up for kayak fishingOnce you’ve done the hard bit of selecting a kayak to suit your needs, a few extra essentials are needed before getting on the water. This short list will get you started, but remember there’s heaps of potential to customise your rig and add further accessories to suit your own kayak-fishing style.

Paddle: Choose a general-purpose, asymmetric glass-shaft paddle to start with. These are robust, have blades a little shorter and fatter than touring paddles, and are easy to use. They give excellent control and make punching out over a beach break easy. A two-piece design (paddle splits in half) makes storage and transportation easy.

PFD (Personal Flotation Device): Don’t compromise here, as this is your life insurance. Basic vests are OK, but make sure they have a Recognised Standards label and are comfortable while sitting in your kayak. If not comfortable, you won’t wear it! I recommend selecting a purpose-designed kayaking PFD – that way you’re getting a garment suited to the job.

Seat: Get something supportive with a semi-rigid core. As the core curves around the seat, it gives vertical support to lean back into, but won’t restrict movement when paddling. For most paddlers, avoid seats that are too high, as these can become uncomfortable when wearing many of the PFDs available. Always try the combination of kayak, seat and PFD to make sure it works for you.

Leashes: One for your paddle (you can’t afford to have the ‘outboard’ drift away) and one each for your rod and reel combos. It’s pretty obvious, but you will find it expensive replacing lost gear if you have a tumble in the surf!

Anchoring: Kayaks have very little hull in the water, one of the reasons they’re incredibly successful as fishing platforms. As a consequence, they tend to drift across the water with even the slightest breeze. To reduce this potential problem, most kayakers opt for a drift chute (sea anchor) on a running rig along the side of the kayak. This allows the drift chute to be deployed off the bow while stray-lining and drift fishing, or off the stern if using soft-baits and casting ahead of the drift. Small grapnel anchors allow you to stay in one spot.

Fish handling: Having caught your fish, you need to secure it to the kayak and get it into the rear well. One of the most convenient ways to do this is with a fish stringer, consisting of a cord with one end clipped inside the rear well, and a stainless threader attached to the other end. Simply run the stainless threader up through the fish’s gills and out its mouth, slide the fish along the cord, and use the cord to flip it into the rear well. A wet towel or insulated cover can be used to keep your catch cool until you return to the beach for icing down, or filleting straight onto the BBQ.


This article is reproduced with express permission of
Stephen Tapp
by Stephen Tapp - 2011
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News



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