Kayak fishing is fun, challenging, and most importantly… effective! More and more anglers are choosing kayaks as a low-cost alternative to powered boats. These vessels are advanced enough to target even the biggest game fish. Yet they are at their best when fishing for the most popular fish species like bass and panfish. We have compiled a complete guide for anglers getting started kayak fishing or for those needing a few extra kayak fishing tips!

Why You Should Be Kayak Fishing

Kayaks are more than just an alternative to a powered boat. Their biggest advantage is their mobility. Some of the best fishing spots are those that are hard to get to. Kayaks get you into those fishing spots most others can’t reach either from the shore or boat. The ability to access remote river stretches, small ponds, and shallow lake flats where big fish thrive are reasons enough to be fishing from a kayak.

Types of Kayaks for Fishing

Picking up any old kayak and launching it into the closest body of water usually will not get it done. There are kayaks and then there are kayaks built for fishing. Fishing kayaks are designed with features anglers need and expect to be productive on the water. For instance, most fishing kayaks have gear compartments and rod holders that are essential for successful days on the water.

There are no rules on what type of kayak you have to fish out of. Choose a kayak that is comfortable and meets your individual needs no matter the trend. Each type can be outfitted with kayak fishing accessories and be successful at helping you catch fish.

There are two types of kayaks, sit-in and sit-on models. 

Sit-in Kayaks: Just as it sounds, sit-in kayaks are those where your legs are partially or fully below the inside of the kayak. These types of kayaks for fishing move swiftly in the water and have the following advantages and disadvantages. 


  • Greater control during paddling, which is ideal for fishing rivers and streams or rough water on larger lakes.  
  •  More efficient to paddle means less fatigue on longer fishing trips. 
  • Enclosed compartments for kayak fishing gear storage, which is great for all day and overnight trips as well as fishing for multiple species. 


  • Can take on water in rough conditions and need to be drained. 
  •  Can be dangerous if you capsize and you need to know how to safely conduct a wet exit. 

Sit-on Kayaks:

Sit-on kayaks are best suited for fishing lakes and calm following rivers. The name says it all. Your body sits on top of the kayak, leaving you completely exposed as opposed to a sit-in kayak. Sit-on kayaks are the most popular type for fishing but have their own advantages and disadvantages. 


  • Easily to launch and get on for quickly getting in and out of fishing spots 
  • More comfortable and accessible for fishing than sit-in kayaks 
  • Self-draining


  • Little to no storage compartments for fishing tackle and other kayak fishing gear. 
  • Heavier than sit-in kayaks

How to Choose the Best Fishing Kayak?

If you are getting started kayak fishing or looking to upgrade, there are several questions to ask before you purchase a new kayak. 

First, the most important question is, where will you be fishing with your kayak? Most kayaks can be used in various types of water. However, some function better than others in rivers vs. lakes. For moving waters (streams and rivers), a shorter, durable sit-in or sit-on kayak will work best. A longer sit-on kayak functions best on calm waters like lakes and ponds. Here you can trade maneuverability for stability and comfort when fishing from a kayak in these waters.

 Other considerations to keep in mind when selecting the best fishing kayak include: 

Comfort and style: Enclosed sit-in or the openness of a sit-on kayak? Both have advantages and disadvantages depending on your fishing style. In the end, it comes down to what you are most comfortable fishing from. 

Composition: The material used to make the kayak (plastics, composites, etc.), impacts how costly it is and its weight. Choose one that meets your cost, weight and durability requirements based on the type of kayak fishing you plan to do. 

Length: The longer the kayak the more stable it will be. Longer kayaks also typically have more storage space and are more comfortable. For freshwater kayak fishing, a medium length kayak usually fits the bill for most fishing situations. However, length should also be considered from the storage and travel perspective. Will it fit in my garage or in the bed of my truck? 

Kayak Fishing Accessories You Can’t Be Without 

There are certain fishing accessories you must add to whatever kayak you plan to fish out of. These five kayak fishing accessories will add to your comfort and help you catch more fish.

1.Seat: Fishing more than a few hours strains any angler’s butt and back. To stay on the water longer, upgrade your seat. Find a seat with adjustable back support and a high-quality foam or gel seat. Although not cheap, a good seat means more comfort while paddling and fishing.

2. Fishfinder: A must have to find schools of crappies or suspended bass. Choose a model that will mount easily and discreetly in your kayak. Spend the extra money for a fishfinder and GPS combo unit to mark fishing hotspots and to navigate larger rivers.

3. PFD: Personal flotation devices (PFD) can save your life if you capsize. Seek out a fishing PFD that is designed for kayak fishing, which allows for complete range of motion while paddling and fishing. Always check local laws on which types of PFDs are required when fishing from a kayak.

4. Paddle: Cheap paddles are like cheap seats; they can ruin your fishing trip. Paddles are the lifeblood of kayak fishing so a good one goes a long way. Opt for a lightweight, carbon fiber model with comfortable grips.

5. Rod Holders: Fishing kayaks typically come with some type of rod holder or holders. Types of rod holders include flush mounted, vertical and adjustable. Adjustable rod holders are the most diverse. They can be adjusted to carry rods while paddling then changed for fishing. If you add additional rod holders, make sure they are accessible while fishing and out of the way when paddling.

Kayak Fishing in Streams and Rivers

In smaller streams, you may be targeting trout or fishing for smallmouth bass in big rivers. Whatever the fish species you are after, kayaks allow you to cover large stretches of water. Simply launching your kayak and floating down the river is not going to put fish in the boat, however. You need to understand where to find fish in streams and rivers. 

Catching fish from a kayak is exciting, but think about what reeling in a fish will do to your positioning. A large bass can turn you sideways in a heartbeat, which can put you out of position or worse yet flip you over in a large river. A net to land fish adds a little extra reach and helps prevent tipping over when reaching for a played out fish.

Fish in moving water seek out areas that provide one of two environments. They are holding in areas that provide cover from predators or they are in areas that have ample forage. These are areas such as boulder outcrops or other large structures found in streams and rivers. Areas like these offer both protection from the current and forage opportunities. Paddle through long stretches of flat water and fish the structure.  

Moving water also inherently moves at different speeds as the stream or river changes direction or elevation. The differences are amplified in smaller moving water bodies but still, exists in larger rivers. Kayak fishing in these areas can be productive in addition to fishing structure. Fish, especially smallmouth bass, trout and even large river walleyes will take advantage of current changes like eddies to feed on collected baitfish.

Know how to use the current to your advantage. Current in the main channel of streams and rivers can move you from spot to spot with little to no paddling. Also, use eddies to hold your kayak in place while you fish the adjacent areas.

Finally, once you have paddled to fishing hotspots in streams and rivers, you need to figure out what is the best bait to use. Live bait is the best all-around tactic for most fishing situations. Fishing with live bait is versatile and effective with many species found in these types of water. Minnows can be rigged on a simple jig or on a drop shot rig. Both techniques fish equally well around structure and in eddies. Go outside the box and fish a live crayfish in eddies for catching larger smallmouths and walleyes. The challenge with live bait while kayak fishing is how to easily carry and use it. Bait Up’s innovative live bait container, however, solves the problem. It easily allows you to select a minnow, fits conveniently in most kayak cup holders and comes in two sizes to match what size minnows you are fishing with.

Kayak Lake Fishing Tips

How to fish out of a kayak in a lake is different than fishing from one in streams and rivers. You can be less concerned about the current when fishing lakes. However, finding and catching fish is more difficult unless you follow some basic kayak fishing tips and techniques. 

Learn to cast and paddle with one hand. Unlike streams and rivers with current that moves you in usually one direction, winds on a lake can push you in circles. Learn how to fish out of a kayak with one hand. Use one hand to cast and one hand to paddle. Doing so allows you to reposition your kayak and keep on a spot while fishing.

The best fishing spots in lakes vary depending on the size of the lake, its composition and which fish species you are after. For panfish, paddle around in search of schools of fish on your fishfinder. Species like perch and crappies will be schooled up most times of the year and can easily be spotted on even the most basic fishfinders. Alternatively, panfish often can be caught on offshore points using simple jig tipped minnows and worms. Catching crappies from a kayak can also be successful with drop shot rigs and minnows fished in lake channels during the summer. 

Another Kayak lake fishing tip is to fish areas other boats can’t get too. In lakes with thick Lilly pads or dense grass flats, paddle your way deep into these otherwise unfished areas. Look for holes in the grass to flip a swim jig tipped with a live minnow trailer.

Although an anchor was not one of the top five kayak fishing accessories, one can help when kayak fishing lakes. If you find a school of panfish or it is a windy day, a small 2- to 4-lb kayak anchor can keep you on the fish. Always use a quick release system with a kayak anchor to prevent being pulled under. 

In addition, shorelines provide opportunities to catch fish in lakes. Kayak fishing along shores will target mostly bass. Bass will use shoreline vegetation for cover and to feed on baitfish. Often a simple weightless minnow rigged through the back is effective. The minnow swims freely around in the shallow water, a perfect representation of an actual injured baitfish to an unsuspected bass. 

In conclusion, kayak fishing can open up many more fishing opportunities. The experience of fishing from a kayak provides a different perspective and challenge to angling. This guide supplements your kayak knowledge and adds several useful kayak fishing tips all in an effort to improve your next kayak fishing experience.