One of the easiest and most productive ways to fish an area in a kayak is by drifting with the wind, tides or currents. Since paddling and casting both take two hands and are mutually exclusive, drifting lets a kayak angler focus all their attention on fishing as the paddle rests in their lap or is held in a keeper device.
A pedal kayak solves this conflict, as long as you’re sufficiently coordinated to walk and chew gum. However, the pedals can be an issue in very shallow water and around oyster bars. We have older customized Ocean kayaks, so we don’t have pedals.
Start with some basic planning. Take a look at a Google image of the area you plan to fish, noticing the depths and patterns of sand and grass that indicate current flow. Then check out the marine forecast for the day. Paddling against the wind and tides can ruin your experience, so you should consider the wind direction and speed along with tidal flows when planning your trip.
Wind is a primary factor, since kayaks sit atop the water and blow around easily. Here in Southwest Florida, our primary wind direction is northeast in the winter. However, we also have warm spells that can last days or weeks. On a warm day, a westerly sea breeze will build as warm air rises and cooler air is drawn in off the Gulf. This sea breeze will not develop on a cold day.
The other factor to consider is tidal flow. Moving water is often the key to finding feeding fish, and places that constrict tidal movement will have higher flow velocities than the back end of a stagnant bay. Bridges are built in areas that are narrow and require the shortest (and therefore cheapest) bridge. Flats near these “pinch points” will often have better flow and more feeding fish.
So, having taken all this info into account — weather, wind, tidal flow and launch location — you are now paddling toward the flat you want to fish. Paddle around the flat to get to the upwind side and begin your drift. A drift anchor (a funnel-shaped nylon sack that attaches to the kayak with a carabiner clip) may come in handy. It can be moved to either side of the kayak to direct your drift.
The slower you drift across the flat, the more casts to sand holes, grass edges and sighted fish you can make during each drift. If the wind is slight, you can always slide along without the drift anchor and cast at your leisure. At the end of the drift, be sure to pull in your drift anchor. It’s amazing how hard it is to paddle when you’re trying to tow along an anchor that you forgot to pull in.
Make a circle as you go back upwind for another drift on a different path. In other words, don’t paddle over the fish you are trying to catch on the next drift.
This tactic works best when you cast ahead of the drift to fish that have no idea you’re around. Of course, this also adds distance to your casts and allows you to explore more water. Cast to the left, the right and straight ahead as you drift along. This allows you to cover a swath about 200 feet wide on each drift.
You can steer their drift with your feet by hanging one foot or the other over the side. This has the same subtle effect as steering with the lower unit of a drifting a boat. The drift anchor can also influence your drift direction, depending on which side you hook it on.
If you get lucky and find a concentration of fish, you’ll want a way to stop. Use a small folding anchor or a stake-out pole to park your kayak upwind of the spot. We deploy our folding anchor from the back of the kayak, which points the front at the area we want to fish. Long casts are easier with the wind behind you. On shallow grass flats, stealth matters and long accurate casts help a lot.
Have fun and enjoy kayak fishing “up close and personal” at water level with the fish you hook! It’s as stealthy as wading, but without the mud and stingrays — plus you can cover a lot more water in the same amount of time.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area or at AnglerPocketGuides.com as a download or waterproof hard copy.