Rigging a Kayak For Serious Sportfishing

Setting up for kayaking fishing allows you to really enjoy the sport to the fullest. There is a natural joy in hooking into a great fish and getting everything you need right at your disposal, from comfortable rod holders to landing equipment and storage. It takes a bit of preparation to make your kayak such a delight to fish from but it goes a long way to making your encounter a pleasant one!

As with fishing from a shore, kayak fishing requires a wide range of different strategies, equipment, and setups that represent the angler’s style of fishing as well as his personal preferences. Because of the rapid growth that kayak fishing has encountered in recent years, several kayak manufacturers are selling specially-equipped “fishing versions” with built-in rod holders, compartments, and configurations that are particularly suitable for kayak anglers.

For example, those with a forward compartment for dry storage and a rear tank-well, or deck recess, are the most common fishing kayaks, which enable the positioning of tackle equipment such as a crate with rod holders, bait tanks or fish bags. My kayak is Pro TW, an Ocean Kayak Scupper.

Or No-Rudder and Rudder?

The jury is out on the need for a rudder but when attempting to swim through harmful waves or tides I consider a rudder indispensable. I always enjoy working my rudder to “wing” the fish as I battle it… And they’ll have you dragged! Despite the potential to snag my line on the rudder, the advantage of increased efficiency as circumstances escalate far outweighs the rudder’s negative design.

I will suggest bungee lashings starting at the bow, or “bungee plants,” as they are usually called. They act as a paddle holder and allow you to quickly store your paddle, a nice function to have when you get a shot. My kayak is fitted with bungee trees on the bow and the latter in the cockpit and conveniently houses my tackle box right in front of me. When you think positively (and you should be!) you need something to land and place your catch. A landing net will do for smaller fish and a gaff would be more suitable for bigger fish. Many folks keep a catch bag in their hull that demands that the hatch be opened to put their catch in the jar. I choose an enclosed pocket that I put in the rear tank-well. This arrangement is very distinct from our peers on the island, most of whom prefer to use the aft room on their kayaks to store rod holders and/or live bait buckets with crates.

Kayaking in Hawaii means very literally diving on the shore, tossing, flipping (bait-casting), or jigging. I do very little bottom fishing or whipping (casting) from my kayak because I really appreciate the constant movement that is provided by trapping, not to mention the versatility of the setup we use!

There’s really no special set-up when setting up for bottom hunting, tossing, and jigging because all you really need is a floating platform to deploy your line from. It’s a good idea to get a drift chute that can reduce your drift significantly while doing any of those stationary fishing methods. I rig a bridle, created by joining the bowline and a line fastened behind me, that keeps the chute amidships so that it holds my kayak perpendicular to the direction of the current or wind, whatever may move me away from the area I’d like to remain in.

Rod Holders-In Behind or Front?

My rod holders are mounted in front of the cockpit for trolling. This is probably the biggest difference from many of our colleagues in continental kayaking fishing who seem to prefer placing their rod holders in the back of their seats. I’d rather be able to watch the tip of my pole as often as I’m trolling, smaller fish will shred the bait without pulling the ratchet on the line to sound. When a fish enters, the change from paddling to hook setting is a smooth transition as I position the paddle easily in the bow lashing and then catch my reel.

Make sure to check the full forward length by paddling when positioning the rod holders in front of you to guarantee you won’t hit the rod holders or rods while extending in your move.

Wherever you choose to position your rod holders, make sure to include a safety line in your reels to avoid losing them in the event that you are capsizing or disappointing the rod holders. In three occasions (I’d rather not think about how…) I flipped my kayak and would have destroyed my first Penn Reel and rope, if not for the safety lines! On another case my whole rod holder, having insufficiently tightened the lock in my rod holder, gave way when a fish struck and my reel and rod went right into the sea, happily, only as far as the safety line.

Tackle Box & Landing Tackle My goal is to keep things as simple as possible, and that is undoubtedly mirrored in the scale of my tackle box (about 5″x 8). Both my lures and pre-set leaders are packed in this small waterproof box that is fitted right in front of me into the bungee cords. A long squeeze of my nose falls off the edge of my seat so I don’t have to go fumbling for it when I have a twenty pound of fish battling in my lap or thrashing around on the kayak leg.

Based about where we go hunting, I would either have a gaff or landing net because, for ease, I will often put them in the extra rod holder.

Fishfinders & VHS Radios Increasing numbers of fishing kayaks are being fitted with fishfinders that are water resistant and very well adapted to the needs of kayak fishing. One of our buddies has his kayak with a fishfinder and he swears by it! You can choose from a portable fishfinder which requires the necessary transducer to be mounted with a suction cup or conduct a permanent mount requiring the transducer to be epoxied to the hull. I haven’t equipped my kayak with a fishfinder yet but I’m getting tremendously tempted!

Of course, while we are on the subject of electronics, a good investment would also be a two-way VHS radio so you have access to boththe boat-to-boat and the emergency channel for the coast guard. Submersible handheld VHS radios are available from around $170 and up nowadays.

Take some time to set up your kayak and when the day comes when you get your life’s strike, all the little details are going to pay off making your experience the all it should be.

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