Earlier this spring we bought a couple of kayaks and started fishing the Chattahoochee and Etowah rivers with them. Yes fishing from a kayak, it’s not as crazy as it may sound. First of all these aren’t the typical whitewater kayaks you sit inside, our boats are referred to as sit-on-top kayaks. Sit-on-top kayaks are much more stable than traditional kayaks (especially for beginners) and are best suited for slower moving, calmer water. But why fish from a kayak at all you ask? Well much like the old sled dog saying: “If you’re not the lead dog the view never changes”. Fishing from the bank can get downright boring, and the scenery most definitely never changes. The kayaks allow you a freedom that’s hard to replicate, even trying to walk up and down the bank to find a good fishing spot is a chore in many areas.
The kayaks are easy to paddle, relatively comfortable, and actually stable enough to stand up in and cast from. That last part may sound a bit hard to believe but as long as you pick a model known for its stability (check forum reviews) and its as wide or wider than your shoulders, standing from a kayak shouldn’t pose much challenge at all. But even if you’re perfectly content with remaining seated for your entire fishing trip, kayaks offer a “fish eye view” that’s hard to recreate with a standard full size boat or john boat for that matter. They’re also highly maneuverable and that can pay off big time on the river, some of the techniques I use for positioning just wouldn’t be nearly as effective with an aluminum john boat.
That maneuverability is key in any river fishing trip as the river itself provides propulsion for at least half your trip (float down, paddle up or use a recovery vehicle and coast the whole way). Using the eddies, lulls, and shoals to your advantage is much easier in highly maneuverable “boat”. We went with “Ocean Kayaks” but brands like Native Watercraft, Malibu, Hobie, and Wilderness Systems offer fine fishing kayaks as well. I recommend reading reviews from other kayak owners as a way to get familiar with the pros and cons of the various boats. A couple of sites I recommend are River Bassin and American River Fishing (be sure to check your state). Try to get second and third opinion on a kayak before purchasing one, and when you do find a boat that sounds right for you shop around, there are plenty of deals to had.
A bit about accessories, if you buy your kayak from a retailer you’ll probably get the hard sell on a high-end paddle. High end paddles are fine, they make paddling more efficient and enjoyable but by no means are they necessary. We went with the low-end paddles and have no real reservations about that decision. Sure later on we may upgrade to the sleek carbon fiber models and sell ours on Craigslist but we’re in no real rush.
Many areas require flotation devices and if your river of choice has areas with swift water I’d definitely recommend wearing one. When purchasing a lifejacket keep mobility in mind, full-size traditional lifejackets weren’t designed for fishing and you certainly don’t want to have to take the life-vest on and off in such tight quarters. Luckily there are flotation devices designed for fishing that are slim enough to leave on and they come in several different price ranges.
When picking the right tackle for river fishing keep a few of these tips in mind. You’ll want to pick shorter rods (I like the cork handled models) than you’d typically use for traditional bass fishing. Often times you’ll be close to overhanging branches and 7′ deep-cranking rods just wont cut it here. In the last 3 or 4 months of river fishing my gear has taken more abuse than in years of lake fishing from a full-sized boat. Given the fact that you’ll be in such tight quarters for such a long time, accidents are bound to happen, leave the iPod and expensive sunglasses at home. Pack light but pack right. Bring plenty of water, snacks, a map if you’re going far and maybe even a set of dry clothes, just in case..
Lastly a little about river navigation and safety. If at all possible, try to avoid remote areas and or fish with a buddy at least until you’ve become acclimated with your boat and fishing area. At the risk of being overly alarming the most important thing on the river is your safety, check out maps and river descriptions beforehand so you’ll know what to expect. Err on the side of caution and again until you’re sure of your own capabilities its better to drag your boat alongside rough patches of water, than to try and navigate them as a beginner.
River kayak fishing is a blast, you’ll see things and discover areas you never knew existed all just a stones throw from your home. You’ll get up close and personal with all types of fish and animals, and you’ll be getting a great workout to boot.