Trail News

Kayak Fishing 101

kayak fishing
April 5, 2021

So, you’ve decided you want to fish the waters of the Middle Peninsula…in a kayak.

Let’s get you started so you can discover what so many local anglers already know.

Whether you’re padding in the York River, Severn River, Mobjack Bay, Chesapeake Bay or one of its tributaries, nothing compares to connecting with the water in one of its simplest forms.

Just you, your kayak and a few necessary supplies make for a glorious fishing experience.

Find a Buddy

First things first. You need a kayak and a buddy.

We’ll start with what you already most likely have — a friend to kayak and fish with. Even if you’d like this to be a solo expedition, that’s not the way to go until you have some experience under your belt.

“Never go alone,” advises Ron Cagle, president of the Tidewater Kayak Anglers Association. “While many will, for a beginner it’s an essential rule. Lots of things can happen that you will not be able to deal with by yourself. Having someone help you out in the learning process is a great idea.”

Find someone who kayaks regularly. Practice stuff such as getting in and out of the kayak. Then repeat on the water. Flip your kayak over and learn how to get back in once you’re in the water. Start in shallow water and work your way up to shoulder depth. You don’t want to be miles away from shore, have your kayak flip and be left guessing what to do.

Float Plan

Before you head out for the first time, file a float plan. What sounds like a fancy document is nothing more than recording all the details of where you plan to kayak, where you will park your car, what you’re wearing, the times you are leaving and planning to return, who you are with and instructions on what to do if you do not return within the allotted time.

Provide this information to someone who will contact the authorities if something should happen or if you do not return on time. What might sound like overkill is a safety issue that is critical if a search party needs to be called.

“Minutes save lives,” Cagle stresses.

Get Your Kayak

Obviously, you’ll need a kayak. Renting a kayak for the afternoon is a possibility.

If you’re intent on buying one, you might consider looking for a used one before investing in something brand new. You’ll have to decide whether you want to sit inside the kayak or on top of it. Ideally, if you’re just using it for fishing in the waters of the Middle Peninsula, you’ll likely prefer one that allows you to sit on top for safety reasons.

Demo before you buy anything. Several kayak shops hold “Demo Days.”

These events allow you to try before you buy.

Oaktree Outfitters in Gloucester hold these events at least once a year.

Pedal or Paddle?

Pedal or paddle?

Pedal kayaks are significantly costlier and easier to operate, though they’ll give your legs a workout. Since these are the largest muscles in your body, it is easier to pedal than paddle in most cases and makes fishing a lot easier as it frees your hands.

But you can’t beat the fluidity of paddling on a kayak. They glide through the water, and for some, that motion creates the authentic fishing experience they’re hoping for.

About the Paddle

Shop around for paddles just as you would boats. They can range in price from $50 to $200. Ask yourself if you really want to skimp on paddles; the idea is to enjoy the experience, so consider going with lightweight paddles. You don’t want your shoulders aching before your day gets going. It’s nice to have a paddle leash; these prevent your paddles from escaping if you happen to tip over.

Personal Floatation Device

Don’t skimp on a Personal Flotation Device or life jacket.

Remember, this is not an extra accessory; it can be the difference between life and death.

Cagle urges anglers buy the life jacket that is comfortable enough to wear all day long. Nothing is more useless than a life jacket sitting on a boat that drifts away.

“Always wear it and wear it properly,” he says.

Personal Flotation Devices are like everything else these days. The options are endless. Many of them have pockets and features that the purist would consider overkill. Consider a brightly colored one, as it’s more visible in open water. Taking the pooch with you? He needs his own life jacket.

Sound Producing Device

The law requires you have a sound producing device like a whistle or air horn in case you need to signal you’re in distress or warn a boat getting too close to you. It’s a good idea to have a flag, too. If you plan to fish at night, make sure you have a 360-degree white light and a signaling device. It’s a good idea to have a flag, too. This increases your height above the water and makes your kayak more visible. Kayaks look awfully small in the water. You want to make sure if you need to attract attention, you have the means to do so.

First Aid Kit

It goes without saying that you should carry a first aid kit that includes a knife and tweezers, gauze, bandages, sheers, Tylenol or aspirin, Benadryl and waterproof tape. But these items do you no good unless they’re in a waterproof bag and accessible when you need them.

Fishing Gear

You can’t go fishing without a reel and rod along with fishing gear.  Pack enough gear for the day. You can start with something simple like a milk crate to organize your supplies and customize it to your liking.

Make sure you have a rod holder, too. You’ll tire too easily if you have to hold the rod the entire time. Rod holders can be mounted on various spots on your kayak.

Drink Up!

You’re surrounded by water, but bring plenty of your own. It’s better to overdo it, so you don’t get dehydrated.

What to Wear

We’re coming into warmer weather, so you’ll want to wear loose-fitting clothing that dries quickly. Cover up as much exposed skin as possible. In colder weather, you’ll need to wear appropriate safety equipment rather than just throwing together layer after layer. Remember, Cagle say, “Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.” He recommends using the rule of 120 — it’s 60 degrees outside and the water is 60 degrees. Combined, that’s 120. Any number 120 or below and it’s a good idea to wear specialty clothing like a drysuit, wet suit or combination dry top with a set of dry bottoms. The drysuit is the preferred clothing for cold water kayaking.

Protect Your Cell

Bring your cell phone in a waterproof container, but don’t plan on relying on it in an emergency. Cell phones cannot be your primary mode of communication. If they get wet, they won’t work. Have a handheld VHF radio that is waterproof and can float. Make sure you know how to work all the channels before you embark on your venture.

Protect Your Eyes

Not a sunglasses kind of person? This isn’t a style suggestion. The glare on the water can be wicked. You can squint for hours or pack a good pair of sunglasses. Sunglasses help prevent headaches and protect your eyes from the damage the sun can cause. They can also prevent seasickness or at least, lessen it.

Lather Up

Make sure you have a hat and a buff. We’re not your mother, but don’t leave the dock without sunscreen. To put it simply, you’ll fry and regret it later in that hot shower you can’t wait to take. Pack enough so you can apply more as your day on the water extends. Chances are, you’ll be enjoying yourself so much you won’t be a hurry to return to the grind you left behind.

Happy kayak fishing!