Basic kayak techniques and pointers
  |  First Published: June 2012

If there is any branch of angling growing faster than any other, it is fishing from a kayak.

Like any ‘new’ aspect of fishing, there is a lot of assumed knowledge in most information available. This article is about the very basic aspects of ‘yak fishing.

I have been extremely fortunate in this life. Apart from being a trout guide for 10 or so years, I was also and outdoor education teacher for fiver years. This involved many things; one of the most enjoyable was as a kayaking instructor.

I am not a white water kayaker, but I’ve spent plenty of time on flat water teaching kids and having a great time.


To be pedantic, (and I am a well-known pedant), a kayak is a boat that you sit inside, and a canoe is one that has an open top. The line between the two these days is very much blurred, and we have now that most wonderful of fishing craft, the ‘sit on top’ kayak.

These boats are the most versatile fishing boats, they are light, relatively cheap, easy to store, have next to no maintenance and best of all, can propel the angler into the best light-line fishing imaginable.


Essentially there are two types of sit on top kayaks for anglers these days; kayaks you have to paddle, and kayaks you have to peddle. The peddle-style kayaks are fantastically popular with anglers – the ability to propel yourself while leaving both hands free to fish is awesome. There are, generally speaking, two types; the Hobie Mirage drive, which has an ingenious ‘flipper’ style drive, and the Native Watercraft Propel Pedal Drive, which, in simple terms, is a similar pedal arrangement to a pushbike that drives a propeller. Both have their advantages, but I’ll leave it to another article to discuss that, or have a quick scan of the reviews on www.fishingmonthly.com.au.

There are even kayaks such as the Stealth Beavertail which is set up to be driven with a small electric outboard as well as paddles – there are so many options.

Paddle kayaks are the cheapest way to enter the world of ‘yak fishing, and while you can’t paddle and cast at the same time, (unless you are particularly talented), they do have a legion of dedicated fans.


Ok, you have laid out the cash on the kayak, along with a good quality PFD that fits. Now what?

Well, kayaking is one of those sports where you don’t stay dry for long. If you are averse to getting wet, then maybe kayak fishing isn’t for you. You will get wet feet getting into the ‘yak, maybe a wet bum while you are paddling, spray from all sorts of angles will splash you from time to time, and then you might fall out too, but more about that later.

Wear good quality footwear that will keep your feet warm, if not dry. Do not, under any circumstances, wear gumboots or waders of any description. While they may keep you dry-ish, if you fall in they will almost certainly place you in serious drowning danger. Even gumboots will drag you under.

Seek out good quality neoprene-based footwear as this will keep your feet warm and comfortable and will keep them protected from most sharp objects along the shoreline when getting in and out of the boat.

As I mentioned before, you will get wet, and one of the worst things that make you uncomfortable when wet is the wind. Keep the wind out and you will be far more comfortable. Serious white water kayakers wear a wind/spray proof jacket called a cag – they are light, pretty cheap and well worth the investment. They will keep you dryer and certainly warmer.

Under the windproof layer, polypropylene or merino wool thermal clothing is the best bet. It will keep you warm even when wet, is light and pretty cheap. Pants are well worth the effort too – they will make you more comfortable, and that is a good thing. If it is sunny wear a broad brim hat, if it is cold wear a beanie. If it is cold and sunny wear both!


This is where most new comers come unstuck in a most undignified manner. Balance is the key, and while we pretty much have mastered standing upright and walking without too many troubles, the act of sitting down into a kayak is another realm altogether.

Many experienced paddle kayakers lay the end of the paddle across the back of the cockpit and use this a stabiliser when getting in. Sit on top kayaks are a whole lot easier to get in; simply straddle the boat with a leg each side until the seat is below your bottom and then simply sit down.

As soon as you are in and your legs are on the boat, you will get the wobbles so some extent. Use your paddle to brace yourself on the bottom or edge till you get your balance. The best way to stop the wobbles is to sit up straight and start to strengthen your stomach muscles. Slouch, and you will invariably wobble.

Even with a foot propelled kayak you should have the paddle in your hands when you get in the boat, it will be invaluable for you as you learn.


Once you are afloat and with no wobbles, spend some time in shallow water close to shore getting to know your boat and your ability. Practice paddling in a straight line, sharp turns and also practice stopping quickly. This is very important, as you will need these skills to navigate safely and also to get into the best fishing spots.

It is a very good idea to always have someone with you when on the water – apart from being safer in pairs; it also helps with getting the skills sorted out.

Skills such as turning the boat in a tight radius, going backwards and being able to pull the boat sideways with your paddle are skills well worth learning, and future articles will focus on the theses skills in a fishing situation.

Stick to calm water to start with, but look for some waves once you are confident to experience what these do to the boat and to your balance. For me the paddle is the best anti-falling out tool you will have, as you can use the blade to help you stay upright when the threat of capsize becomes real.

Most sit on top kayaks are quite broad and can easily cope with waves and boat wash, but it does take some experience to cope with reasonably sloppy conditions.

Often the simplest things are the most helpful. For example, the Hobie Mirage system is terrific at going forward, but going backwards presents a few problems. One simple trick is take a table tennis bat with you – this is just big enough to help turn the boat or make fine adjustments and takes up no room in the cock pit. This work well for paddle kayakers as well.


If you haven’t capsized in a kayak yet, then you probably haven’t been kayaking long enough. A capsize is a serious event, because not only are you not in the boat, fishing gear and so on will most likely be lost unless you have it well stowed and secured.

If you do go over, don’t panic. Swim to the side of the boat and get you breath back and collect your thoughts. If you are in deeper water than you can stand in, or are a long way from shore, there are two things to do.

The first one is to get the paddle and then get the boat back upright. Lean up and over the boat and flip it over – you might need a couple of goes to do this. Once it is upright, move around to the end or stern of the boat. The easiest/only way to get back in on your own is to pull yourself headfirst up the boat, keeping your centre of gravity low. It ain’t easy, but you have to do it.

Once your bottom is level to the seat, push your body up so your legs straddle the boat. Get your bum back in the seat, carefully lift your legs back in and get back to base as soon as possible. In all but the warmest climates you will get cold pretty quickly, so you need to warm up and get dry.

Spend some time just paddling or peddling without the fishing rod, build confidence in your skills and get some water miles under your belt – it will pay off in the long term.


Once you have developed a set of skills that give you confidence, then start to think about fishing.

Kayaking is an inherently dangerous sport, and each year in Australia people drown in kayaks or while using them. Take the time to build competence and confidence, you will be far safer and will no doubt end up catching more fish as a result.

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