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The popularity of fishing kayaks has grown in recent years, especially for fly fishermen. Why wouldn’t it? Kayaks are easy to transport and store. They can be maneuvered with ease and stealth for getting into that perfect fishing spot. And the cost and maintenance of a kayak are very low compared to other boats.
Fly fishing from a kayak does, however, come with a set of challenges but don’t let these stop you. With a little knowledge and preparation, you’ll master or outright avoid the problems many conventional fly fishermen encounter when transitioning to kayak fly fishing. The following tips will get you started.
Buy a Fishing Kayak
There are many different kayak designs. Not all are designed for fishing. Sure, if you already have one, you can buy fishing accessories for your kayak but fishing kayaks are specially designed for the task of fishing.
Sit-on-top kayaks, sit-inside kayaks, and inflatable kayaks can all be used for angling. The main design feature to look for in a fishing kayak is width. Most fishing kayaks will be 30 or more inches wide. Wider kayaks are more stable kayaks.
With the added stability, you can stand up and fish. Something most kayak fly anglers can’t effectively do in a narrower kayak. I can’t keep my balance for any amount of time in a narrow kayak and I sure can’t cast a fly.
The added stability of fishing kayaks accommodates another feature found in sit-on-top and inflatable fishing kayaks, an elevated seat that places you higher above the water line. Having an elevated seat helps with fly rod casting but many fly anglers still strike the water on the back cast.
Generally speaking, most kayak anglers choose to stand up when fishing. The higher vantage point makes it easier to cast and read the water.
Note: Look for an angling kayak with an adjustable, removable seat for sitting higher or lower in the kayak or the ability to remove the seat altogether. The removable seat also provides seating when you are taking a break on shore or on a longer fishing trip that includes camping.
Related Content: Fishing Kayaks: Sit-On-Top Kayaks vs Sit-Ins
Casting from a Fishing Kayak
Kayak fly fishing in a seated position can be challenging. When you’re in this position, limit your false casts, use a continuous-motion cast with no stop between the back cast and forward cast, and use a high back cast or rather up cast so you don’t slap the water with your fly and scare the fish.
When you are seated close to the water’s surface, increasing your line speed when making casts helps too.
Use a Stand-Assist Strap
Stand-assist straps are simple straps about 3 feet long. One end attaches to the deck of the kayak in front of the seat. The other end has a hand loop.
Stand-assist straps are used to quietly pull yourself into a standing position and to slowly lower yourself back into the low seat position of your fishing kayak with ease. I want to emphasize quietly. Awkwardly knocking around while getting up and down in your kayak will spook the fish.
If your kayak didn’t come with one, Jackson Kayak has a stand-assist strap that can be added with ease.
Learn to Paddle Standing Up
You’ll want to learn how to paddle your kayak from a standing position. Sitting back down to reposition your kayak or move a short distance is inefficient.
Paddling your fishing kayak from a standing position is much like paddling a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) or if you’re fishing very shallow water you can use your paddle as a push pole.
Keep a Clean Deck
If you’re fly fishing in a clean river and strip off some line, no problem. It gently floats out on the water in front of you. But tangles will occur if you’re stripping line off on a cluttered kayak deck… What a pain!
Keep the deck of your kayak clean. No miscellaneous gear. Your gear should be stored in deck hatches, behind the seat, and just like you would if you were fly fishing in a river, any items like forceps, nippers, flies, and more should be secured to or in the pockets of your fishing PFD.
Want to further protect your fly line from snags? Consider a stripping basket or a stripping apron if you’re in an inflatable fishing kayak.
Fly Rod Holders
Unfortunately, the rod holders that come with most fishing kayaks don’t securely accommodate fly rods. Don’t lose your fly rod. It’s best to invest in a rod holder specifically designed for fly rods like the Scotty Fly Rod Holder.
Watch where you mount your rod holders. Just like clutter on your deck, your line can catch on them too.
Position Changes With Your Rod Tip
Currents and winds will move you around. If you need to get the bow of your kayak turned to make the right cast, take the tip of your rod and sweep it through the water. This will turn your kayak without having to bend down and pick up your paddle.
Anchor Your Kayak While Fly Fishing
Kayaks are lightweight boats easily driven off course by winds, currents, or tides. Anchoring your kayak will prevent you from drifting and having to put down your fly rod to course correct with your paddle.
Anchoring also allows you to hop out and do some wade fishing too.
Look for a kayak anchor system that can be easily deployed from the bow or stern like the Seattle Sports Kayak Anchor Kit.
Avoid kayak fishing in high winds or strong currents. It can be dangerous and too much work.
Learn Kayaking and Fly Fishing Separately
One step at a time. Learn how to kayak and fly fish separately before combining the two sports. You’re less likely to stick with fly fishing from a kayak if you try to learn both at the same time.
Learn to Fly Fish with Kayaking in Mind
If you’re new to fly fishing, learn how to fly fish at a local pond or stream before heading out in your fishing kayak.
When learning to fly fish, think about how fly casting and line management will differ when you’re fishing from your kayak. For instance, having less line stripped out and working more from the reel when fighting a fish lessens the chance of your line getting tangled on your kayak or gear.
Want to learn how to fly fish from your kayak in a seated position? Carry a short folding chair with you and fish from it at the edge of the water.
Learn to use a Fishing Kayak with Fly Fishing in Mind
If you’re new to kayaking or standing in a kayak, learn how before heading out to fly fish for the day. The calm water of a small pond is often the best place to learn.
Go on a nice day and wear the appropriate clothing while practicing. You’re going to end up in the water more than once so don’t take your fly fishing gear. You don’t want to lose anything.
This is the time to learn how to stand up with the use of the stand-assist strap and balance. Your stance should not be ridged. Loosen up and get comfortable with your movements. Push the limits of your kayak to the tipping point. You want to get a good feel for your boat.
Start Out Slow
When you’re ready to combine fly fishing and kayaking, start out slow and pick easy fishing spots with lots of fish like bream. This will provide a lot of experience in a short amount of time.
After a few leisurely trips, you’ll get used to fly fishing from your kayak and have your gear set up in a way that’s comfortable.
Once you have the hang of things, you can plan more adventurous fishing trips.