Each year, through a couple of kayaking Facebook groups, I end up having the same conversation: someone’s bought (or is buying) a kayak and wants to get out on the sea without having to spend a small fortune. Hopefully this article will give anyone curious about starting up kayak fishing an idea of what things are more important than others.
I’ve been fishing from a kayak for six years now, starting out with a small Galaxy Cruz. In hindsight, this kayak was far too small, under 10ft in length, and wasn’t the best to paddle. Nevertheless, it got me out on the water and got me hooked on kayak fishing. I wouldn’t say It was a poor buy – at under £300 brand new I think they are good for the money – but I certainly don’t miss it.
For the first two years of kayaking, I didn’t have a fish finder and I would only use a light boat rod to jig 50-80g mackerel lures with. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge, but I did have a lot of fun with my mates and caught a lot of fish.
As teenagers, our budget didn’t stretch to purchasing fancy gadgets so we would cheat, following the lead of those who know best – the local crabbing boats. Fish, like their crustacean counterparts, congregate near aquatic features. The potters know this, so position their gear around such holding areas. Fishing near the buoys, we found our catches were vastly improved. With time, things have progressed considerably. However, as with any sport or hobby, I’ve purchased things that I later regretted, although there are other items I still use heavily to this day. Hopefully this article allows you to cut a few corners and save the expense of making ‘poor’ purchases.
With this comes some personal preference and the old saying ‘horses for courses’ very much applies. The shape of the hull greatly affects the speed and stability of a kayak. If you’re planning on doing a lot of paddling (for instance, trolling lures for bass and pollack) you’re going to want a lighter, sleeker kayak. This will reduce the draught of the vessel (the amount that’s submerged). In essence, you’re trying to minimise friction. The more of the hull that’s in contact with the water, the higher the friction force and the slower you’re going. Friction, however, leads to stability. A broader kayak, with a greater surface area in contact with the water, will provide an angler with a stable platform from which to fish. To illustrate this point, compare the shape of a race kayak and a family kayak – the differences are obvious. Thankfully, most angling kayaks offer a compromise, some leaning more towards speed, others more towards stability.
The length of the kayak also influences its manoeuvrability and how true (straight) it paddles. A longer kayak will naturally paddle straighter, its longer hull adding more resistance to sideward motion. A shorter hull has a smaller contact area with the water, resulting in less drag and making it easier to turn. When paddling, the aim is to produce forward motion, although the action of paddling naturally takes a sweeping motion (see diagram). This adds a rotational element to the force, although this rotation is wasted energy as it’s not transferred into forward motion. Aside from having a longer hull, this rotational force can be reduced by improving your paddling technique or investing in a rudder.
Most kayaks are between 11 and 15ft in length. Personally, I think a 13ft kayak strikes the right balance between size and manoeuvrability. There’s no point in buying a 15ft kayak if you can’t lift it onto your vehicle – yes, there are car mounting aids, but this adds to the list of expenses. I’m 5’11’’ with a skinny build: lifting a 13ft kayak onto my car isn’t an issue but a 15ft is asking for trouble. In an ideal world, your Mrs or your fishing buddy could help, but when the sea’s flat, the sun’s out and you’re off work midweek, you will try lugging that kayak onto your roof alone. I did. Turns out a wing mirror for an Audi A4 is more expensive than I thought!
Currently I use an Ocean Trident 13, which I purchased secondhand for £500 with a load of extras. It came with a fair few scratches on the hull and a splattering of mackerel scales, but it’s solid and has no leaks. At the end of the day, it’s a fishing kayak, not a prized yacht.
Purchasing a secondhand kayak saved me almost £1000 over buying the same model brand new, and that sort of money buys a lot of extra fishing tackle to kit your setup out with.
If you choose to purchase a secondhand kayak, start by checking the hull for launch marks. Small scuffs won’t affect the integrity of the hull but deep gouges could have a detrimental effect. Check any mounting points, especially those DIY jobs – a few screws and half a bottle of silicone isn’t an ideal fix. If the kayak is being sold with electronics (like a fish finder) check out the wiring loom and all connections. Damp will concentrate within the hull of a kayak and cause issues if it isn’t aired out after a session. Connections both on the exterior and interior of the hull should be protected by dielectric grease, this will repel moisture and help preserve the fittings.
When choosing a kayak, basic considerations include storage space and mounting points. If a kayak has ample mounting points spaced throughout, you won’t have to drill out the hull yourself. Easily accessible storage space is a must, you don’t want tackle strewn all over the kayak. Not only are you limiting your working space and asking to lose things overboard, it’s dangerous. Loose lures and traces mean bare hooks laying around.
Safety is paramount, this isn’t the place to cut corners. The bare minimum you’ll need is a buoyancy aid and a means of contacting the emergency services if needed. A buoyancy aid must serve its purpose but also not be cumbersome and affect your ability to paddle. For this reason, most people choose to use a PFD. There are loads of well-reviewed PFDs on the market. You don’t have to purchase the most expensive but I wouldn’t put my life in the hands of a £5 Wish special. To use a VHF radio in the UK, you are supposed to possess a licence which you have to attend a short course and exam to get. You will, however, not be fined if you use a radio without a licence in an emergency. Despite this, I strongly recommend attending one of these courses to understand how to correctly operate such equipment.
The choice of protective clothing is important, a full drysuit is useless for a summer’s day, whilst a pair of shorts in winter will soon have you feeling the effects of hypothermia. The majority of my kayaking is done throughout the summer months (with the occasional spring and autumn session) so I have no need for a full drysuit. Instead, I have a pair of Palm Atom Bib trousers. These offer waterproofing for your feet, legs and lower body – the parts of the body that are most often splashed and in contact with water. Dry trousers and bibs, such as the ones I own, are watertight and if you were to take a tumble they would prevent extensive water ingress.
Coupling trousers with a dry cag produces an almost two piece drysuit. This set up is never going to be as watertight as a one piece drysuit but it’s ideal for summer use. On hot days, you would really struggle wearing a drysuit as their insulating properties trap the heat generated from paddling. For my upper body, I’m most comfortable in a lightweight shirt and a hat. Being in such close proximity to the water, you feel cool but on hot days you burn fast. Rather than applying cream which can rub and wash off, I prefer to cover up and not worry.
The surface glare is bright and a few hours on the water will strain your eyes, resulting in headaches. Even a relatively cheap pair of sunglasses will prevent this. Polarized glasses have the added bonus of removing the surface glare completely, producing a clear view into the water column.
Whatever you choose to wear whilst out on a kayak, remember you’re going to be sat in a fairly static position for a long time so you want to be dry and comfortable.
My first kayak angling purchase was a kayak rod – what a waste of money. These short rods offer very little leverage and poor shock absorption whilst playing a fish. I also feel it’s crucial to be able to guide the rod tip around the front of the kayak whilst playing a good fish, therefore a minimum rod length of 7ft is required.
For targeting the majority of Britain’s inshore species, you won’t go far wrong with a 12-20lb boat rod coupled with a small multiplier, and a medium action 20-50g lure rod and a 4000 sized fixed spool reel. This selection of gear covers all bases and is a great place to start. It would be great to have a whole suite of rods but we’re discussing starting out here, so I’ll stick to the essentials.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I love the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 range. They offer excellent value for money and are great all-round rods, especially the 12-20lb. I almost solely fish braided lines, therefore I like a rod with a subtle and forgiving tip, as braid has little stretch. A stiff rod is more likely to result in hook pulls and lost fish. See The Fish Locker’s review of the Ugly Stik – all of the range is covered in the following video. A Daiwa SL20SH couples up with the Ugly Stik rod perfectly. Again, there are far superior reels to the Slosh range on the market, but the Slosh is cheap and could be serviced by a chimp. Reels used for kayak fishing are in frequent contact with salt water and need regular deep cleans and services if they are to last. The trusted old Slosh is a 10 piece jigsaw that just needs a bit of grease.
I also recommend having a medium weight spinning rod, something to target predatory species such as bass, cod and pollack with using light braided lines and lures. Ideally, this rod would be 7-8ft in length and with enough strength in the blank to prize the likes of pollack away from kelpy snags. Having a rod with a slightly stiffer action also enables you to troll deep diving lures. The large vanes which enable the lures to dive deep also add a lot of drag and this results in a lot of pressure on the rod. If you only have a light action rod, say, a typical shore bass rod, the rod will be buckled under pressure and have little compression left for when a fish takes the lure. Takes are often savage so you need your rod to compress and absorb the strain, preventing immediate hook pulls and avoiding stressing the mounting points on the kayak. Likewise, if you’re vertical jigging with metal lures you are likely to be using weights of up to 50g, or possibly more. There’s no point in having a rod that’s already doubled over from merely working the lure.
On the kayak, I like a 4000 sized fixed spool reel. If jigging in deeper water that extra line capacity can be beneficial and I also just feel more confident with a slightly bulkier reel. I target pollack a lot from the kayak, trolling lures just above kelp beds and in this game you need your drag set tight. Once hooked, you can’t give that fish any line and in those initial dives, a lot of pressure is exerted on the tackle. I don’t know how long a lightweight 2000 or 3000 size reel would last. As far as specific brands and models, look at the Penn range (Spinfisher, Clash, Slammer, ect) or the Fin Nor Lethal. These are all very strong reels with a decent amount of drag. Give your reels a clean in cold, fresh water when you return after a session and a deep service once a season and they should last several years.
It’s important to remember that it’s difficult to snap line whilst out on the kayak if you get snagged, therefore choose your breaking strains accordingly and always have a thick pair of gloves aboard. Braid and soft, wet skin don’t go too well together so if you encounter a snag, use the glove to protect your hand when pulling for a break. For the majority of my kayak fishing, I use 30lb braid and I find that breaking strain to be a fair compromise.
Please don’t go out on your kayak without a rod leash. They are cheap enough to buy and will save you a lot of money if you accidentally flip the vessel.
There are several classic rod holder designs out there that aim to ergonomically position a rod on your kayak. I prefer to use the rocket launcher style as I feel it’s easier to quickly grab the rod, but this is just personal preference. During the COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve created a rod holder out of PVC pipe – it’s been incredibly easy and you can tailor the design to best fit your needs. There are stacks of YouTube videos out there showing how to do it cheaply and efficiently.
As for GPS and fish finders, the first unit I purchased was a Garmin Striker 4. They appeared to be popular with kayakers on Facebook and I found that they were a nice compact unit.
This base model fish finder allows the angler to carry out basic essential functions such as recording bread crumb trails, marking key areas, assessing the seabed and scanning the water column. These small units are excellent value for money and if you’re starting out and unsure what fish finder to invest in, I highly recommend one of these. They’re available for a little over £100 with the full set up and will completely change your fishing.
Anchoring a kayak is best done via a trolley system as it situates the anchor rope further away from where your lines and allows the kayak to sit better in the tide. Fitting an anchor trolley to a kayak is fairly simple and the likelihood is that if you’re purchasing a secondhand kayak, it probably already has one fitted. If you’re planning on using an anchor on your kayak, watch some videos on YouTube first – there are plenty of videos showing you how to do so in a safe manner. A basic kayak anchoring system will consist of the following: anchor trolley, large stainless steel carabiner clip, SNB dive reel, 1-2m of chain and an anchor.
Mounting a kayak on your car is much the same process regardless of what kind of vehicle you own. You have the choice of fitting solid or soft roof bars. Solid roof bars offer greater support and, in the long run, are the best route. However, if you’re not travelling great distances, soft bars can be an option, although they aren’t as solid as true roof bars and don’t leave me with much confidence. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re going to have to transport your kayak from your vehicle to the water’s edge. Simply dragging your kayak to the waters edge will result in excessive launch marks and, depending on the surface, deep scars in the hull. The only real answer to the situation is a trolley, or if there’s two (or more) of you, you can carry the kayaks.
I hope this article summarised the essentials that you are going to need in order to safely take up kayak fishing. Kayaks may be smaller and slower than boats, but they excel in other areas and are a lot easier and cheaper to maintain. There’s some immense sport to be had from a kayak throughout the British Isles, along with a large community of anglers who are willing to help. As with all sports associated with the sea, the ocean itself must be respected. I’ve taken a few anglers out who’ve been amazed by the power of the tide. Always assess the conditions prior to a trip, just because it’s a hot day and the sky’s blue, that doesn’t mean that the sea is automatically as flat a mill pond and it’s always rougher when you’re out there. As anglers continue to push boundaries, I really don’t believe there’s any species that can’t be targeted in British waters from a kayak.