Gearing up for Kayak Fishing

EDITORS NOTE: This is a repost from HOOK 1 Crew Member Tommy Samuel’s Kayak Fish SC blog.  He’s got a boat load of great info and fishing reports for the Charleston area posted over there, check him out!

Kayak fishing is a sport that is gaining popularity by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately many people come into the sport without the basic knowledge and skills needed to insure that a fun day on the water doesn’t end badly.

According to the ACA “Venue, conditions, experience, training, preparation and judgment can all play a part in how likely a paddler is to have an accident.”(1) Let’s explore these separately.

Venue, Conditions and Training: Everyone in the area knows that not all waters are created equally. Kayak fishing lakes and reservoirs are less demanding than fishing the upper sections of tidal rivers. The upper reaches of the rivers are less demanding than the ICW, harbor, and certainly the ocean. Every increase in wind, current, and waves require better, more refined skills from the paddler.

My suggestion is simple. When you come to the sport, spend some money and time with a certified kayak instructor to learn the skills for your type of kayak fishing. When you are ready to progress to the next level, head back to the classroom before you head to the water.

Preparation: The US Coast Guard only requires two pieces of safety equipment for kayaks operating in inshore waters during daylight hours.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD) – This first and most important piece of safety gear, do the smart thing and WEAR YOUR PFD when on the water.

Whistle or sound signaling device – It doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive, but it does need to produce a 4 second blast heard from a half mile distant.

Experience and Judgment: You will gain these through one thing and one thing only; time on the water. The keys to gaining experience without a mishap are to pay more attention to Venue, Conditions, Training, and Preparation. Create checklists that cover these four elements that force you to exercise judgment.

Float plan – Write down where you intend to put in, take out, and when you expect to return. Leave your float plan with someone who WILL call for assistance if you don’t return or make contact on time.

Buddy system – Fishing is more fun with a friend and having a buddy along greatly increases your safety.

Know yourself – You must know your skills and your physical limitations. As you travel away from shelter, make sure that you have the necessary skills and energy to get back.


Gearing up: These are the items to turn a kayak into a serious fishing platform.

Paddle – Buy the lightest, most durable paddle that you can afford. For fishing around oyster bars look for glass reinforced nylon blades instead of the lighter carbon fiber touring blades. You gain weight, but increase durability. My personal favorite is an Adventure Technology FishStix with oversize blades.

Spare PaddleTrust me, you do not want to be up the creek without a paddle. A spare paddle can mean the difference between a minor inconvenience and a very bad day.

DrybagPacked with spare clothes plus your camera, cell phone, wallet, keys, extra flashlight batteries and non perishable snacks.

Map and Compass – Not just for boy scouts, you need to know where you are and how to get out in case of emergency.

Cell phone or VHF radio – A handheld VHF radio should be your first choice because it works in places where cell phones don’t and it provides weather alerts.

PFD – Think lightweight and comfortable. Buy a PFD designed for paddling. Look for large arm openings and a high back for optimum comfort. You are more likely to wear the PFD if it is comfortable and you should wear it all the time on the water.

Knife – A sharp rustproof blade is a must have accessory should you capsize and get tangled in lines or rigging. Buy an inexpensive knife that you wear on your PFD.

Anchor or Stake Out pole – An anchor or stakeout pole will hold you in place once you reach your fishing spot

Anchor Trolley– The trolley allows you to position the anchor rode anywhere from bow to stern to counter the effects of wind and current.

Rod Holders – Flush mounted rod holders behind the seat can be used to simply hold rods or to troll baits. Rod holders at the front of the cockpit offer a place to set rods within easy reach.

Bait bucket – A necessity if you plan to fish with live bait.

Rods and Reels – It isn’t a fishing kayak if you don’t have fishing gear. Pick rods with enough backbone and reels that have enough drag and line capacity for your targeted species.

Fish Ruler – Be sure your catch is legal before it goes into the cooler.

VISIPole or VISICarbon Pro – Combination safety flag and navigation light by Yak Attack. It is a navigation light for kayaks operating on inshore waters after sunset and a great piece of equipment to be seen during daylight hours.

Milk Crate – Just a place to store your gear while paddling. Add rod holders to a basic crate and strap it to the kayak.

Cooler – You need a place to store the fish you’re planning to catch right? A soft sided cooler fits in the tank well of most sit on top kayaks. Carry a cooler to keep your refreshments cold while you fish.

Water – Dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious, sometimes life threatening conditions. Never launch without at least 2 liters of water on board.

Appropriate clothing – Sunglasses, hat, lightweight clothes, and sunscreen – Like your PFD, just wear them. Your sunglasses are more than a fashion statement. Pick polarized lenses that offer 100% UV protection and they should offer some impact protection. A broad brimmed hat shields your eyes which makes spotting fish easier. Guides wear lightweight fast drying clothing for two reasons, protection from the sun and for keeping cool on the water, not looking cool on the dock.


About the author: Tommy Samuels is the owner / operator of Kayak Fish SC, a kayak fishing guide service located in Charleston, SC. He is a member of Wilderness Systems and Pro Staff and accomplished tournament angler.

You can email Tommy at with questions or to book a guided fishing trip.

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