Kayak Fishing

By Emily Porter and Justin McGuire | May 1, 2022
From Missouri Conservationist: May 2022
Kayak Fishing
Kayak Fishing

The tranquility of piloting a kayak, slicing quietly through a pristine landscape, is something better experienced than described. There is an intimate connection to nature when sitting close to the water, feeling its resistance against your paddle, and having your vessel react to your every movement. It invites a powerful sense of independence and accomplishment, harkening back to generations of those who paddled out of necessity instead of leisure. And if you are like a fast-growing number of kayak enthusiasts, a desire to wet a line and set a hook is inevitable.

A Growing Sport

According to the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, the national percentage of fishing outings from a kayak nearly tripled between 2010 and 2020, from 2.3 percent to 6 percent. Consider that there were an estimated 969 million fishing outings in the United States during 2020, that equates to over 58 million kayak fishing outings. Up from just over 21 million kayak fishing outings in 2010, there was an increase of 37 million annual kayak fishing outings in a single decade.

While it would be impossible to know every driver behind the surge in kayak anglers, there are two clear influences that have had a measurable affect: the practical cost of kayaks and the pandemic.

Reduced Cost

Most kayaks have never been as expensive as more traditional fishing boats, such as fiberglass bass boats and aluminum johnboats. Recently, many more manufacturers have jumped into the kayak industry, creating competition. The result is increased availability and decreased prices. Consumers have options ranging from about $200 to several thousand dollars. When figuring in the robust pre-owned market, there is a fishing kayak for you, regardless of your budget.

The Pandemic

Starting in the spring of 2020, people around the world flocked to nature. The outdoors provided a safe environment to social distance and recreationalists discovered (or rediscovered) nature’s healing powers. The instinctual desire to find nature, and the renewal it offers, swept the world as calendars were quickly cleared. No time was wasted to fill the vacancy with adventure. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 2020 saw an increase of over 7 million more Americans join in outdoor recreation than in 2019. It’s no surprise that lake and stream accesses have seen a few more vehicles in their parking lots.

So, You’re Interested?

Who could blame you? Kayak fishing opens up a world of access to ecosystems from a unique vantage point. Ozark rivers and streams, huge reservoirs, smaller lakes, and even farm ponds take on a whole new personality when experienced from the seat of a kayak. Do you only have an hour to hit the water? No problem. Do you want to turn your trip into a multi-day backcountry adventure? You can do that, too. Whether you want to catch-and-release beautiful, bronze smallmouth bass or keep a mess of bluegill for the frying pan, kayak fishing can be adapted to whatever style of fishing interests you.

Before embarking on your own kayak fishing journey, know that it’s not exactly a beginner activity. You should at least have a little familiarity and experience with both kayaking and fishing before attempting to marry the two. That’s not to say the learning curve is steep — it’s not at all. Simply spend some time leisurely paddling a kayak. You will pick it up quickly. The type and size of your kayak matters less than your ability to maneuver it. Especially in moving water like streams and rivers, being able to fight a fish while controlling your kayak becomes important. Get comfortable with your kayak before you try fishing out of it. If you would like formal training, keep an eye out for MDC’s basic kayak training, posted at mdc.mo.gov/events.

If you are new to fishing, you can use the same website to search for MDC’s Discover Nature — Fishing (DNF) courses. DNF is a four-part instructional series on the basics of fishing. Refrain from rushing out to buy new fishing equipment. If you own equipment, you can use it. If you don’t have any and you’re on a tight budget, check out MDC’s Rod-and-Reel Loaner program. You can borrow equipment from one of nearly 200 locations statewide at no cost.

Safety First

As with any other outdoor activity, safety is the top priority. Be prepared for the worst-case scenario. When you’re kayaking, that starts with a personal floatation device (PFD). Whether you buy one or borrow one, make sure it fits you properly and wear it any time you are on the water. It will not do you any good in your car or using it as a seat cushion.

Before taking off on your first angling voyage, find a friend, pick a warm summer day to visit your nearest pond, lake, or river, and dump your kayak. Yep, you read that correctly. Purposely flip your kayak. Leave your gear at home and put on your PFD. You need to know how to get back in your kayak should you receive some “instant feedback” from an errant paddle stroke or a submerged obstacle.

Pack Accordingly

Use dry bags to hold anything you don’t want to get wet. Dry bags are designed to keep water out and resist tearing. Keep a little air in the bags and they should float, depending on the weight of the contents. These can be purchased from any outdoor retailer. Your run-of-the-mill trash bag won’t cut it. Some things to keep in a dry bag are a change of clothes, a towel, your wallet, keys, phone, snacks, etc. If it’s not in a dry bag, it’s going to get wet.

Think about the sun and pack accordingly. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are a must. Stay hydrated by packing a small cooler with water for your trip. There’s a difference between standing in the shade on the shoreline and being out on the water with no shade. Plan to bring enough supplies to keep you safe for the length of time you intend to be out, and then add some in case of emergency. Closed-toed shoes of some sort are a must. In addition to keeping some of the rocks out of your shoes and protecting your toes from unseen underwater hazards, they’ll protect the tops of your feet from painful sunburn.

Tie down anything you don’t want to lose. This includes lanyards for your fishing rods and paddle, bungee cords for your cooler, tackle boxes, dry bags, and any other various items that might need secured. The sunglasses fitting snug on your face are not off limits to the whims of being lost either; a sunglass strap is cheap insurance. Bring a knife (for extra safety, a blunt-tipped knife works well around the water) to quickly cut loose anything that tangles. It is good practice to keep a rope tied to the front of your kayak that is at least the length of the vessel. When water levels are low, you’ll find yourself walking instead of paddling through portions of the river. While on lakes and bodies of flatwater, it becomes convenient to tie up to a tree or shore while taking a break to re-tie a lure or apply sunscreen. Ensure when any rope is not in use that you keep it contained and attached somewhere. Loose rope can quickly become a hazard.

Where To Go

We are fortunate to live in a state with many options for kayak fishing. A great resource for finding a boat ramp near you is MDC’s MO Fishing app. In addition to being a handy way to buy and store your fishing permits, MO Fishing allows access to a database of public water bodies near you, filtered by distance from your location. Just click on the area to see the regulations that apply to that body of water. Take special note of creel limits, length limits, boating limitations, and other area-specific regulations that apply.

Another fabulous resource is the Paddler’s Guide to Missouri. Find nearly all major navigable rivers in this comprehensive book. River accesses, river miles, and other section specific details give paddlers a quality place to start when planning their trip. You can purchase this publication from the Nature Shop website at mdcnatureshop.com or at a nature center near you.

Many smaller lakes across our state restrict boat access to electric motor or non-motorized, paddle-powered only use. Fishing from a kayak gives an angler the most access and accessibility on the water.

Once You’re There

If you’re visiting a pond or a lake (“flat water”), you will most likely be launching and taking out at the same location. But if you are kayaking a stream or a river (“moving water”), chances are you may be launching at one location and taking out at another. Make sure to arrange for transportation to and from your access points. It is also good practice to research other access points between your anticipated launch and take-out spots so that you can quickly get off the water in case of inclement weather or an emergency.

Keep in mind while launching, trucks with boats on trailers have the right-of-way on land. When you are preparing to launch, avoid taking up space on the boat ramp. Move your kayak to the side and allow other traffic to use the ramp. On the water, non-motorized watercraft have the right-of-way, but must always keep a watchful eye to avoid accidents.

How To Fish from a Kayak

The methods and techniques for fishing from a kayak are no different than from a boat. Fishing toward the bank instead of from the bank gives the angler some great advantages to mimic prey. The difference in kayak fishing comes from accessibility and maneuvering the vessel. A kayak responds to every shift in the angler’s weight, every breeze, contact with every obstacle, and even the tug of a fish on the line.

Learning to effectively navigate your kayak is a fundamentally important skill of successful kayak fishing. Whether standing or sitting, using your paddle to adjust and angle your boat will affect each cast, and ultimately your ability to fish a specific spot on the water. Take time to master effective paddling skills. Learn to paddle forward and backwards; how to paddle standing or sitting with a fishing pole in your hand. Challenge yourself to utilize a draw stroke, (moving your kayak left to right while maintaining a forward focus). You don’t have to stand up to fish, but if you are comfortable and are equipped with a good pair of polarized sunglasses, sight fishing while standing can be a rewarding tactic.

Additionally, the flexibility that fishing from a kayak brings is part of the enticement to choose a paddle over a motor. With that comes the ease to get in and out of a boat to fish a riffle, hole, or laydown repeatedly.

Most fishing kayaks have rod holders either in front of or behind the angler that position the fishing rods straight up. Overhead limbs, often called sweepers, can break or dislodge fishing rods and can even cause the rods to act as levers to overturn an unsuspecting angler. Any unsecured equipment can quickly make a peaceful river resemble a floating scene of your neighbor’s yard sale.

Current adds some especially challenging factors. A kayak angler must learn to read the water. Structures often provide ample fish habitat, but it is hard to fish that habitat if you are paddling to maintain control or avoid other obstacles. Even while on flat water, conditions can change daily, sometimes hourly. The last thing you want to do after a long day of fishing is paddle into the wind on the way back to your vehicle. Prior planning and a check of the weather can make your experience even more enjoyable.

Sitting but inches above the water, the angler is both literally and metaphorically closer to nature. In a world cluttered with speed, noise, stress, and distractions, kayak fishing is a perfect escape. For those seeking the social lifestyle, there are plenty of local clubs to contact.

A kayak angler is sharply aware of the wind, water, weather, and the eventual thump at the end of their line. Their reward is so much more than fish. It is immersive and interactive, but that beautiful, bronze smallmouth is awfully nice, too! Discover some fish slime on your hands to find happiness this year with kayak fishing.


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This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler