Everything matters when kayak fishing, but your choice of terminal rigs can make or break your day. You might have the best kayak and the best rod, reel and line — but if you don’t pay attention to the part the fish see, you may never catch one. A lot of kayak fishing happens in clear, shallow water. That ensures you’re casting to spooky fish. Light line, light leader and smaller lures make long, accurate, stealthy casts possible.
Gamefish have good eyesight. If you show them something that looks real, they might attack. Show them that same lure with a wire leader, and they’ll probably ignore it. There are exceptions to anything we might recommend, but here’s what has worked for us over the years. We willingly trade more numerous strikes on light line for fewer strikes with heavier tackle that ensures Moby Dick gets in the boat. A properly adjusted drag will win most battles. Besides, the few fish that get away make epic fishing stories.
We use jigs most of the time. These single-hook lures offer unlimited versatility at a low cost, and are significantly safer in a kayak than lures with multiple treble hooks. On shallow grass flats or in cold water, we like sixteenth-ounce jigs because they sink slowly. On deeper flats, we go to eighth-ounce jigs, and even quarter-ounce models on the beach. Using different weight jigheads lets a kayak angler present a lure at various depths in shallow or deep water.
There are several styles of jigheads available. Our favorites are the D.O.A. jigheads with the eye on the front of the jig. This style tends to shed grass better than jigs with the eye on top and the nose that sticks out front.
Jighead color is another issue that anglers have strong opinions on. “It ain’t no use if it ain’t chartreuse” has started more than a few discussions. Whatever color you like, eyes are essential. The best jig heads have glass eyes; others use painted eyes. Both serve to focus a predator’s attention on the lure as they key in on their prey. Les is a traditionalist and insists on red jigheads on the bays and grassflats. Kimball is very fond of chartreuse. We both agree white is the best color on the beach.
Soft plastic jig tails come in a huge assortment of sizes, colors and designs. To further complicate matters many are available in scented versions. Someone once said, to find the best jig on the rack, look for the one they are out of. The ones they are out of are mostly smaller jig tails in natural fishy colors. Try to duplicate the size and color of baitfish currently available in the wild.
These tails come in many different designs, but our favorite is the shad tail (which some call a paddle tail). This little paddle tail flutters as the jig is retrieved. Curly tail designs present too tempting a target for pinfish and other tail-biters, so they won’t last very long.
Scented jig tails like Gulp! are popular with kayak anglers pursuing redfish; their sense of smell helps reds find meals in thick grass beds. The most popular color is New Penny in the 3-inch size. Many of these scented lures don’t have curly tails or paddles to impart action, so it’s up to the angler to make it come alive.
The aspect of scented lures that many anglers don’t understand is how slowly they should be worked. It takes time for the scent to disperse and do its job, so slow the retrieve to a series of short hops.
There are times when floating grass makes it nearly impossible to fish a standard jighead setup. Most soft plastics can be rigged weedless using a 2/0 wide gap hook and a bullet weight — similar to the worm rig bass anglers use. It won’t track straight up and down through floating grass, but an injured baitfish doesn’t swim normally either. This rig is also deadly if you want to slowly sneak a small lure along the bottom on a shallow grass flat. It looks like an injured fish barely kicking along the bottom.
There are lots of lures out there, from the classic gold weedless spoon to feather jigs of every color and size. But plastic jig tails are more realistic and durable — plus, they have a meaty feel when a fish bites down on them, encouraging them to hold on longer.
Whatever jig you choose, use a fluorocarbon leader. Circumstances may call for a heavier leader, but we always start with 20-pound material. Starting with a couple of feet lets you change lures for a few times without tying on a new leader. We tie our leaders to doubled 10-pound braided line with a double uni-knot. Avoid swivels and clips; they turn off some fish and also will get attacked by mackerel or other toothy fish, resulting in a quick cut-off. Learn to tie a loop knot to give the jig more freedom to wiggle.
It is still up to the angler to make any lure come alive. Two retrieves we commonly use with jigs: The lift-and-drop moves the jig rapidly up from the bottom then lets it slowly drop back. The quick movement gets a predator’s attention, and the slow drop signals an easy meal. Or, try a slow steady retrieve at a speed that lets the lure swim slowly just above the grass. To a predator, this looks like a meal that isn’t paying attention. Maybe texting?
So get out there and toss jigs where neither wade fishermen nor boat anglers can go. In a kayak, you can access places where fish are less educated than the other popular spots. A small jig will catch some really big fish.
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.