There is no reason a new kayak angler should feel they have to run out and buy anything special to go kayak fishing. Almost any medium-duty spinning rod and reel will get you by.
That said, there are definitely some rigs that will help a kayak angler enjoy a day on the water more, and many different ideas of what that tackle would be. As with any fishing trip, when selecting your equipment, you need to consider what size fish you expect to catch. In general, we think most inshore kayak anglers — especially those new to the sport — use heavier equipment than required.
Let’s look at rods first. Most medium-weight, 6- to 7-foot spinning rods will work. We are believers in two-piece rods that can be taken apart in tight quarters. One-piece rods fit great in boat rod racks or in the back of a pickup truck but are a challenge in an SUV or on a kayak.
Rods held straight up behind a kayak seat with tube holders will be in the way when a hooked fish circles your boat. They’re a nuisance under low bridges and are hard to deal with when you get pulled into the mangroves by a heavy snook or redfish. They work great on an open bay but are scary during electrical storms (if you’re crazy enough to still be out on the water).
We select our two-piece rods based partially on how they break down. Most rods, when broken down, leave the tip extended beyond the butt end of the rod and in harm’s way. We insist that the two pieces be of equal length and that the tip is protected when collapsed, as the image shows. When the rod is broken down, we secure the tip of the rod to the handle with an elastic hair tie.
Another factor to consider is the length of the butt down past the reel seat. If the butt is too long, it requires the angler to elevate their shoulder to cast. This can become uncomfortable after a few hours. For us, shorter butts work better.
The fast action graphite rods available today are much lighter than fiberglass rods from the past. They cast lighter lures and control larger fish. But they do have limitations, and still suffer from sudden unexpected breakage when slammed in a car door or tailgate.
Another easy way to break the tip or even the middle of the rod is by incorrectly landing a big fish. Avoid pointing the rod straight up to bring a fish to your kayak. We call this high-sticking, and it makes the rod bend 180 degrees and causes the break. Trust us — we’ve learned through experience. The better way is to tire the fish, then lift it by the leader when it gets close enough to the kayak. A lip gripper helps a lot.
Some rods have a lifetime warranty, but remember that no warranty covers poor handling on your part. Even if you’re able to get it replaced, breaking a rod will still ruin your day.
For us, reels fall into three categories: Too expensive, too cheap and pretty good. The expensive ones are durable, pretty and waterproof, but the cost is prohibitive. The cheap ones are just unreliable. We like pretty good reels with a lot of bearings, smooth sealed drags, metal frames, metal gears and lots of line capacity. Spooled with 10-pound braid, a 2000 or 3000-size reel will hold enough line to tire any fish you are likely to hook into. Besides, the kayak itself acts as a drag when that hooked redfish heads off the flat pulling you along with it. This is our local version of a Nantucket sleigh ride.
As for lines, we like braid. The zero stretch of a braided line translates into feeling every little thing the lure or bait is doing out there. Even picking up a small piece of grass will be noticed. Braid can also help an angler set the hook when there is a bit of slack in the line. With the diameter of 2- to 4-pound monofilament, 10-pound braid casts a mile and sinks faster with less water drag than fluorocarbon or mono.
Some anglers prefer mono or fluorocarbon lines with some stretch for species with soft mouths like trout and speckled perch. A little stretch can sometimes keep them from shaking the hook loose.
A short 2-foot piece of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader between the line and lure finishes this setup. Sure, there are times that a heavier leader is a must, like around pilings and barnacles or under docks. In such a situation, a 30-pound or even 40-pound leader is a good idea.
The tradeoff is in visibility. Fluorocarbon is harder to see than monofilament because fluorocarbon has nearly the same refractive index as water, which means that it’s nearly invisible. Nearly is the operative word here, and any heavier leader is more visible and will affect the action of the lure. The result can be fewer strikes.
We rarely use a wire leader. We’ll tie on a short 4- to 6-inch piece of wire if we’re consistently losing rigs to toothy fish such as Spanish mackerel, but this limits the number of strikes when fish see it.
We hope these ideas help new kayak angling enthusiasts enjoy the excellent fishing we have here in Southwest Florida. If our ideas help you catch more fish, please limit your kill; don’t kill your limit. After a quick photo for WaterLine and a successful release, your fish can reproduce, grow larger and thrill you or another angler someday.
By the way, please send in pictures of your kayak catches for the magazine’s Reader Photos section. Let’s get some paddle fishermen representing!
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.