In this article we will cover the information you need to start outfitting your kayak starting with the must haves.
So you’ve bought your brand new kayak and you’re ready to start outfitting it. Maybe your sales person sold you some gear with your kayak that you have to have and now you’re wondering if you’ll really need it at all. Well, you’re in the right place. There is gear that will work, and there’s gear that will work for *you*.
We are assuming in this article that you’ve gotten the safety equipment that you need to even be on a kayak in public waters. If you don’t already have a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) and a marine style whistle, then you need to get those first. All states have PFD laws and most, if not all have a whistle law (Coast Guard requires one in saltwater). Regardless, many of us have used our whistles to avert danger and have felt the security of a PFD when we did get dumped in a bad situation. A paddle leash is also great when tip. Finally, always take a first aid kit!
Remember: It’s not a matter of IF you’ll dump your kayak, it’s WHEN you’ll dump your kayak. It happens to all of us sooner or later. Be prepared for and even practice turning over – it could save your life and your gear!
What do you really need?
Much of this will depend on where you come from as kayak fishing will be an extension of what you already do. What we mean by that is if you are a powerboat angler you want to try kayak fishing to slow down and perfect your game, then your gear will be definitely be different. If you are a casual shore angler who wants more mobility on the water, then kayak fishing is going to be more simplistic and your needs will be less to start.
One thing worth mentioning about this article is that we are also assuming that you already have fishing gear! This means fishing rod, reels, tackle box, pliers, and all the other tools of the trade that make the fishing experience complete.
Don’t over-complicated it!
The single most important thing we can recommend is that you don’t over-complicate what you do on the water in the beginning. If you are used to having 10 rods on a powerboat, a fish finder, a power pole, and a trolling motor, then you’ll be fine adding the same equipment on your kayak. But if you are new to fishing and are used to taking one or two rods to the lake and usually only use one rod anyway, then we recommend sticking with a one rod setup.
That said, no matter your skill level, it’s not a bad idea to start super simple until you get the hang of casting in a kayak. Some people want to stand up right away, and find themselves in the water the first time they snag one of the 6 rods they have sticking out of their crate behind their seat. Yep, we’ve done that too. And the first couple times you snag your boat or gear, consider yourself blessed if you don’t end up in the drink. So keeping your gear to a minimum until you are used to the ways of a kayak is critical.
What’s your method of fishing?
Another factor of gearing up is your method of fishing. Do you keep fish to eat? If so, you’ll need to seriously consider a cooler that fits in your kayak. The size of the cooler will depend on the size of the hold area behind the seat. If you don’t have a cooler, then you’ll want to get a floating fish basket to tie off to your kayak — this is for freshwater only! Doing this on saltwater will likely get you towed and possibly capsized by a shark. So if you’re saltwater angler, be careful how you handle keeping fish.
If you always do catch and release, then you’re requirements for handling fish will reduce the gear you carry. You won’t need anything more than necessary to land fish, measure and weight them and then gently release them. You might even want to catch fish that you can lift into the boat
(Crappie/Bream) or even fish that are so big like shark, sailfish, or even alligator gar that you have to land on shore or can’t bring into the boat. In both of these cases, a net or fish grips isn’t usually a consideration.
Remember, don’t take it with you if you aren’t going to use or don’t need it. Less weight means your kayak works better for you.
Rod holders are not created equal.
Some kayaks come with rod holders built-in to kayak, usually behind the seat. These can be nice, but often are not designed well and can’t be reached from the seat very well. Additionally, they often leak due to the way they are made. If you have them and they leak, you may want to remove them and re-add with silicone sealant to stop the leaking. They can be most useful for trolling in your kayak but we highly recommend tying your rod off to the kayak or at least setting your drag super light so you don’t lose a rod.
Other types of rod holders are mounted in front of the seat. Usually these are either mounted in the middle on a console type area, or are mounted off to the side on a gear track or even just screwed into the sidewall. You’ll need to be sure they are far enough forward to avoid hitting them with the paddle. The best method is utilizing an adjustable gear track or rail. Some kayaks have rails to hold gear and some have tracks that are embedded into the kayak. Whatever your kayak has, these are often great places to hold a rod launcher. If you have a pedal kayak, you usually have even more options for where to put gear because you don’t have to worry about paddling but you’ll need to be able to remove the gear quickly if you need to get the paddle out (Yes, you may still need a paddle!).
That all said, anglers who only use one or two rods often lay their rods in font of them if the kayak permits it. Some kayaks actually have holders in the front where the rod tips can be stored so they don’t get snagged on something. This is a very common trait for kayak anglers who spend much of their time on rivers. Smaller rivers tend to have over hanging branches which will catch rods if they are sticking up. Keeping the rods laid out in front of you is often the best alternative.
You will lose fishing rods.
You definitely will lose a fishing rod if you don’t do something to either tie them to your kayak or put floats on them. We mentioned this in the Choosing a Kayak article. You definitely need to get rod floats or if you prefer, use a rod leash. We recommend using rod leashes if you are going to be fishing in big water, or where very large fish could be involved. However, there are issues with big fish and rod leashes – think big fish tied to the side of your kayak pulling straight down – meaning, your kayak may flip if you aren’t ready for it. For bass and other similar fish, we prefer rod floaties as they have saved our rods many times. Here are some on Amazon.
Landing fish from a kayak
If you start catching fish at all one of the first things you’ll notice is a problem is not being able to properly land a fish from a kayak. If you don’t have fish grips or a net you’ll find you have no easy way to handle fish with teeth. Often with Bass this isn’t a problem, but if you are catching Pike or most saltwater fish, you can’t stick your fingers in their mouths, so you’ll need a way to hang on to them while removing hooks and lures. Some people hold fish by their gills but we strongly discourage this as it can kill or severely wound a fish.
Pros and cons for fish grips or a net? A plastic coated net probably would win due to it’s gentle method of holding a fish (string or mono based nets rub the slime off fish and can cut fins). Fish grips tend to damage a fish’s lip slightly, however, you can tie off your fish grips to the kayak and put the fish back into the water while you prepare to do CPR – Catch, Photo, and Release. This allows the fish to settle down while you get ready which helps it’s stress levels. If you aren’t going to be doing CPR, then using a plastic coated net to quickly get a fish back in the water is usually best. And that all said, some anglers use both. We recommend having both available. In fact, we recommend having fish grips that double as scales since you’ll want some decent scales on the water as well.
The best way to measure a fish on the water
You think you just caught your personal best bass, but you’re not sure. What are you going to do? You’re going to get out your hawg trough and measure it! No, we aren’t talking about taking a feed trough for the hogs to the lake. We’re talking about a “bump board” that is affectionately called a Hawg Trough by many anglers. There are many different types but the reality is that you can simply get a plastic one and it will last for a long time under normal use. Plus, it doubles as a paddle if you don’t listen to advice and use a paddle leash! (Don’t ask how we know this….)
How are you gonna haul it?
This probably shouldn’t be last but many people forget that a kayak is pretty heavy. We are presuming that in order to drive away from the kayak dealer with your kayak, you found a way to haul it and you are likely expecting to haul it to your favorite fishing hole that way. If you always drop your kayak at a boat ramp, this probably won’t be a problem. But, for many of us, we like to launch in out-of-the-way places and often those places are impossible to reach with a vehicle. So we end up hauling our kayaks long distances by any means necessary. The best way to do this is with kayak hauling wheels. There are many varieties out there but we recommend something that has a good way to attach the wheels to the kayak. Other than that, pick what works for you and even more important, something that you can attach alone and don’t need help to put them on.
Advanced gear for the advanced angler.
Wow. Have you looked at the gear available for kayak anglers lately? The list of things you can get goes on and on. We’re not going to try to mention all of them here, but will simply give a list of different types of gear available. This should at least give the advanced angler a place to start that will help them get ready for playing the big leagues or simply to impress the powerboat anglers at the launch when your “Porcupine Kayak” goes by with 500 things hanging off of it!
These are not in any particular order:
- Kayak fishing Apparel
- Anchor Trolley and Anchor
- Rudder or Skeg (Link: Wilderness Systems Rudder)
- Power pole, Push Pole / Anchor Stake, or Swivel Stick
- Kayak Fishing Crate
- Kayak Lights (interior/Exterior)
- Flag and light kits
- Paddle Floats
- Camera gear
- Fish Finder
- Kayak floor decking
- Advanced kayak paddle
- Kayak fishing specific fishing gear:
- Sealed tackle box that floats.
- Pliers that float.
- Sealed First Aid Kit.
- Dry bag for kayaking.
There are two major brands for gear in the kayak world but also there are certain things you can only get from one manufacturer. Here is a list of those that seem to make the best gear:
- General Gear: YakGear, YakAttack
- Apparel and PFDs: NRS, Stohlquist
- Paddles: BendingBranches, Aquabound, Werner, Backwater Paddle Co.
- Austin Canoe & Kayak / Summit Sports (Carries a lot of the above companies).
We will be doing gear reviews and other blog articles on many of these items as time goes on. Until then we hope this will be enough to get you started on what you will need to setup your kayak. It is good to note again that many kayak anglers keep their gear at a bare minimum to reduce the possibility of something getting in the way while you’re fishing.
Here are some other articles on the internet that may be of interest to you!
- Packing for a Kayak Fishing Trip
- Austin Canoe and Kayak gear video
- Awesome video on customizing a cheap kayak!
Hope this helps you get your gear together! See you on the water!