The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Bass Fishing

Guadalupe Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Gaud x Smallmouth Hybrid, Pat Kellner, San Marcos River, TFFF

The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Bass Fishing

Have you ever wanted to start bass fishing from a kayak?  Kayaks are a challenging, exciting, and rewarding way to get on the water in pursuit of those lunkers.  There is nothing more thrilling to me that fighting a good bass from a kayak, in a river, with current pushing you one way and the bass pulling you another.  I guarantee that one fish from a kayak and you will be hooked too.  Sound fun?  Just wait until that mama-bass is pulling you into a group of overhanging trees with nobody in sight to help out, or your fighting a fish on a local community lake with a crowd of people watching who had no idea that there were quality fish in that water.  It can be a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, fist-pumping experience, but it can also be the most peaceful, serene, and often time spiritual experience of your life.  Close your eyes and imagine for a few minutes gently floating down a slow flowing river with the sun just peeking up over the horizon for the first time in the last ten hours.  The only noise you hear is the trickle of the water and an occasional bird or squirrel just beginning to stir in the cypress trees that line to bank.  The first hint of sun kindly warms your cheeks, just taking the little nip out of the air.  When you breathe in, it feels like your lungs can expand to twice their normal size.  The morning air is clean.

My point is kayak fishing can be anything you want it to be. It will be, and more.  Every time I am getting off the water, whether I caught fish or not, I am satisfied. There really is no better way to get so close to nature, even if you are fishing in the heart of downtown.  Kayak fishing is versatile; you can go anywhere and fish for anything in whatever styles you desire.  Kayak fishing for bass is a sport of its own.  It will take some learning to get started, and you will keep learning every time you head out on the water.  It would be difficult to go to your local sporting goods store, buy a kayak and some gear, blindly head out and expect to catch fish without some prior knowledge.  In fact, I would dare to say that it would be impossible.  You should always continue to strive to improve in all aspects of your life, and this truly applies to fishing if you want to become a “good” angler.  You will learn every time you go out.  But where do you start?  How do you even begin to find the knowledge that is required to kayak fish for bass?  Start by picking the brains of every fisherman you know.  There are such things as “fish-tales,” but if you genuinely approach anyone who loves fishing trying to learn from them, they will do their best to help you out.   I have had the good fortune to meet many good kayak anglers in my life and have tried to learn as much as I can from them.  Books, magazines, TV shows, and the Internet can all be great tools to learn the basics of fishing as well.  Always pay attention to the details of them.  Don’t just listen to what the host is saying, watch how he works a specific lure, note the speed at which he retrieves his crankbait, and look at the conditions they are fishing.  Always pay attention, especially when you are fishing.  As much as you can learn from others, nothing is better than learning from experience.  Get out on the water and fish!!!  But before you do, here is a guide to help you get your kayak on the water and your rod fighting some fish.

Before You’re on the Water

Kayak:  The best advice I was ever given was, “the least expensive kayak is the kayak that is right for you.”  This is TRUE!!!  What he was telling me to choose the kayak that suited my needs not the kayak that was the least expensive.  If you purchase a kayak because it is in-expensive, it will probably frustrate you to the point of buying another kayak.  Now you have paid for two kayaks.  If you would have tried the boats out, sat in them, imagined what fishing from that kayak would be like, you would have bought the kayak that fit your needs and only bought one.  There are plenty of quality fishing kayaks offered by several manufactures at different price points.  I personally fish from a Coosa for rivers and a Cuda for lakes, both made by Jackson Kayak.  It is a very comfortable, stable, and fishable kayak.  I am able to stand up or sit down while fishing, and there is ample space to store my gear, even for the week long fishing trips down the river I often take.

Paddle: Don’t skimp on your paddle.  Purchase a quality paddle that will last.  The last thing you want in a paddle that is going to break while you are out on the water.  Also, if you plan on doing a lot of paddling, I would suggest investing in a lightweight paddle.  You don’t want your arms to be tired from pushing a heavy paddle around and therefore lose concentration while fishing.  There are also some manufactures that are designing paddles for the kayak angler.  I use a Slice Angler by Bending Branches.  Here is a quick guide to decide the length of paddle that you need. (

PFD: Also know as a life jacket.  This might be the most important part of your gear.  Get a PFD that is comfortable enough for you to wear all day in your Kayak.  This could save your life one day!!!  I wear a PFD made by MTI Adventurewear called the Solaris F-Spec Angler.  It is designed for Kayak Fishing.  It has a high back that does not interfere with your seat, plenty of storage space, and the Fishing Bridge (a handy fold down tray to work on)

Reels: You have several options here. Do you need a fly reel, a spinning, or a baitcasting reel?  All serve different purposes and are better than the other at different techniques.  To decide the reel you need, you need to decide what type of lures and presentations you will be using.  I will expand upon this in a later blog. Quickly, I would say that for weightless lures or finesse presentations, I use a spinning reel.  For everything else, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, most Texas rigs, etc, I use a baitcasting reel.   I use reels made by Shimano and Pflueger for the most part, but there are several quality manufactures.  Are you going to Fly-Fish?  If so, you need a fly reel.  To me the reel is the least important part of the fly fishing set-up.  All of the casting, and most of the fighting, will be done with the rod and line.  Your fly reel is used to hold the line.  I will write another blog about fly fishing later.

Rod: For fly fishing, I would suggest a rod between a 5-8 weight rod to start.  I think the most versatile rod would be a 5 weight rod.  It can handle bass, sunfish, trout, and even other things you might get into.  I always tell everyone to invest in quality rods.  This will improve your fishing more than any other piece of tackle.  A high quality rod will be much more sensitive, allowing you to not only feel a fish hit your lure but also what your lure is bumping into. For crankbaits, I would choose a moderate action rod, for soft plastics I use a faster action rod.  What the action is, is where the rod flexes.  The action can range from Extra-Fast to Slow.  The slower the action, the further toward the grip the rod flexes.  The faster the action the closer to the tip the rod flexes. You also need to pay attention to the “power” of a rod.  For bass fishing, I typically use Medium to Medium Heavy power rods.  Every once in a while, for specific presentations and lures, I will use up to an extra heavy rod or down to a light action rod for bass fishing.  Length is also important when choosing a bass fishing rod.  I typically use rods between 6’6” and 7’6”.  I will describe all of this in much more detail in a later blog.  For a good all around general purpose rod, I would chose a 7 foot Medium or Medium Heavy power rod with a fast action.  Again, any quality rod manufacture has a plethora of options for you.

Line: If you are fly fishing, your line needs to match the weight of your rod.  I like to choose a weight forward, floating fly line.  It works well for almost all bass fishing with a fly rod that I do.  For conventional fishing, there are three basic choices of line: Monofilament, Fluorocarbon, and Braid.  Each has its place in Bass Fishing.  Each feels a little different when you fish with it, and might take some getting used to.  Mono floats and stretches when you’re fighting a fish.  The float makes it ideal for topwater baits, where the other lines will sink, get tangled with your lure, and can hinder the action.  For any slow presentations, I love fluorocarbon, especially in clear water.  Fluorocarbon is ultra clear and nearly invisible to the fish.  It is also very sensitive, allowing for great feel with soft plastics, etc.  It also does not stretch, allowing for solid hook sets, even with a slight amount of slack in the line.  Braid excels in thick cover.  It is super strong, allowing you to yank bass out of the thickest of grass or timber.  The downfall to braid is that it is highly visible in clear water.  You can use this to your advantage when “deadsticking.” If you use a fluoro-leader on your braid, you will be able to really watch your line, allowing you to see bites that you might not feel. 

Flys: Choosing the right fly can change every day, or hour, or minute.  It depends on conditions and everything else.  For bass, I love to throw streamers (that move quickly underwater,) poppers (that make noise on the surface,) and large woolly buggers or other fly that can imitate bugs or crayfish deep in the water.  SEE TEXAS FRESHWATER FLY FISHING FLIES HERE

Lures: This is way too broad a topic to cover here.  As with all these other topics, I will cover aspects of this in other blogs.  He is an extremely quick basic rundown.  Of course this can vary from one body of water to another, so you really need to experiment on your own, and gain confidence in your own presentations.  In current, bass are typically more active.  Throw baits (crankbaits, spinnerbaits, etc.) that are moving.  In heavy cover, throw baits that can penetrate and not get hung up (heavy jigs, Texas Rigs, etc.)  Those are two very basic ways to help chose a lure, but it should get you started.  I will write more about this later.

Pack Your Gear: Organization is crucial when Kayak fishing. Plan ahead everything that you are going to need, and even pack your kayak with what you are taking beforehand.  Sit in your packed kayak and make sure what you need quickly is easily accessible.  Be sure to bring plenty of water, and even snacks.  Water is the number one!!! Snacks are important too.  You don’t want to get hungry and lose concentration.  There are different companies that make storage systems for your kayak.  What works well many times is a milk crate that you can put in the well behind your seat.

Decide Where To Fish: Decide on what body of water you are going to fish, and study it!  Look for maps on the river or lake and read as much about it as you can.  Try to narrow down the areas you are going to fish to what you feel are the most productive sections.  Also, when deciding where to fish, think about access points.  On a lake, try to find a launch point close to where you plan on fishing.  On a river, be sure you are able to paddle back up-stream (against the current) to get back to your vehicle, or better yet, have another vehicle waiting at the next access point for you to get out at.  Pay attention to the distance you will travel, and how long it will take you from one point to another.

Have A Plan: This goes along with deciding where to fish.  Once you decide what you think will be the most productive section of water, decide what will be the best presentation to use for that section.  This could change throughout the day, or might be the same pattern the whole time.  Be willing to adjust though if your plan is not working.  IMPORTANT NOTE: Having a plan does not just mean for fishing.  Have a plan on what to do if something goes wrong on the water.  Let people know where you are going to be and what time you should be back by, just in case.

On The Water (Catching the Fish)

Locating Bass: How do you decide what will be the most productive section of water?  There is way too much to explain here, and again the best way to learn is to experiment on your own.  There are numerous books, hundreds of pages thick, written just about this.  And again, this will vary from water body to water body, but here is a quick guide.  Pre-Spawn (early spring typically): This is the time when bass are transitioning from their winter waters and slowly starting to move to the spawning grounds.  Typically look for areas with quick depth changes, the fish might be hard to find, but if you do they usually are fairly easy to catch. Spawn (Spring): As the water begins to warm, bass will move to spawning areas.  This time of year can be fun…it’s time for sight fishing.  You oftentimes can see the bass or their “beds.” Make a cast to it, and watch the bass take your bait.  Spawning typically occurs on flats in 2-8 feet of water, however I have caught bass spawning in water 10+ feet deep.  Even up to 20 feet in super clear lakes like Lake Amistad in Texas. Post-Spawn (late spring):  Fish typically move from the beds to shallow cover during this time.  They are often can be actively feeding, trying to re-coop calories they lost during the spawn. Summer: When the water starts warming, bass typically (especially down south) head for deeper, cooler, water, or heavy cover that shades the water and keeps it cool. Fall: Fall is another transition for bass, they begin to following baitfish from there deep summer holes into the backs of creeks.  If you can find baitfish, you can find bass.  Winter: I have the most winter success fishing deep, with deep crankbaits.

Presentation: Presentation is just like everything else and has been the subject of many many many books.  Here is a quick guide to get you started.  In extreme temperatures (hot summers, cold winters), I slow down and fish deep.  Big baits fished very slow, often deadsticking (just letting you bait sit for 1-2 min without moving) can be very effective.  When water is rising, in current, or the temperature is slowly falling, I like to throw active “search” baits (crankbaits, spinnerbaits, etc.) because fish tend to be tend to be aggressive and willing to chase and attack baits.  Using “fast-fishing” lures allows you to cover more water as well.

Fighting/Landing/Photographing the Fish: I usually try to get the fish in as quickly as possible for the health of the fish.  Pay attention when fighting a fish, and try not to let the current, or the fish drag your boat into a tree and get you a position to not be able to land the fish.  This will happen sometimes though, so be ready!!!  Be careful when “lipping” a fish to land it, especially when you are using a lure with treble hooks.  Getting hooked yourself is not fun.  If you hooked the fish deep with a soft plastic hook, don’t just rip the hook out cut your line and leave the hook in.  They are made to quickly rust out.  This is your best shot at keeping that fish alive.  Touch the fish as little as possible, and when you do, make sure your hand is wet.  Your hand, especially a dry hand, can remove the fishes protective slime layer, causing the fish to be susceptible to disease and other things.  Take a picture of your fish for memory, and if it is a good fish, take some measurements as well.  You will want these to be able to brag later.  If you want a “mount” of your catch, a good taxidermist will be able to take your pictures and measurements and make an exact replica for you.  Release the fish as quickly as possible.  If the fish seems lethargic and out of energy, you can gently grab the fish by the tail and push it back and forth in the water.  This forces water through the gills and helps the fish to “breath.”  The fish will “kick” out of your hand when it is ready to swim away.

Be Safe/Have Fun: Don’t be stupid on the water.  Always keep safety as your first priority.  If you go prepared, your day will be smoother, and you will have more fun.  Also, know that you won’t catch fish every time out.  Not even the Bassmaster Elite Series Pros catch a limit every time.  Just keep fishing, the more you fish, the better you will get.  I promise.  That is why you will always hear: “It’s not called catching, It’s called fishing.”