Kayak anglers are challenged in many ways. Weather (think wind) and distance are two factors that come to mind the moment we get on the water. The other thing that demands attention is where to put all your gear.
Folks downsizing from a 20-foot boat to a kayak will usually try to find a place for the proverbial kitchen sink, in case they need to clean a fish or cut bait. On the other hand, shore anglers graduating to a fishing kayak will be delighted with the extra stuff they can bring along without carrying a heavy load to a remote spot.
Some things are basic to kayaking: Comfortable seat, paddle, anchor, PFD, dry bag with emergency gear, cooler, and maybe a collapsible dolly. (The PFD is easy; just wear it!) After stowing all those, a kayak angler needs to find room for his fishing gear.
A rod or two is an easy fit if equipped with rod holders. We like two-piece rods that don’t have issues with low mangroves or bridges. We use a medium-weight rods with 10-pound braid and haul along an 8-weight fly rod in case we get lucky. Heavier tackle is unnecessary, since a drift sock will generate all the drag that’s possible. For a “Nantucket sleigh ride” across the flats, just skip the drift sock.
We use a small, soft tackle bag, placed ahead of the seat where it’s easily accessible and strapped down with a bungee cord. Hard tackle boxes slide around and make lots of noise in a kayak. It’s handy to have both a freshwater bag and a saltwater bag so you can just take the appropriate one.
Inside these tackle bags we use plastic boxes to separate lures into categories. We like the Advanced Anglers II Small Tackle System from Bass Pro Shops. At 12x8x5 inches, it’s compact but fits our tackle needs.
Our freshwater bags include a box for worms and hooks, a box for Horny Toads and other soft plastics with hooks, a box of popping bugs and other flies. That still leaves enough room for leader material, corks, extra lures, pliers, scissors, bug repellent, sunscreen, forceps, a few bandages and a 99-cent poncho.
Our saltwater bag is set up about the same, with one box for shad tails and jigheads and another devoted to DOA Shrimp, Terror-Eyz and the hooks for these lures. A third box holds saltwater flies and leaders. A smaller box holds weights, swivels and hooks if needed for bait fishing. Along with the basic tools mentioned above, we carry a “catfish flipper” or J-style dehooker, a stringer, a small castnet, and a knife for cutting bait. The dehooker makes it easy to release fish without bringing them aboard the kayak.
In the limited space we have to work with in our kayaks, we forego a net and instead rely on a lip gripper to control fish long enough to either unhook and release them or stow them on ice in a forward locker. We bought a small duffel and cut foam insulation to fit the inside to create a fish cooler we pack with ice mats and fish wrapped in plastic grocery bags.
Another consideration for “mature” kayak anglers such as ourselves is that hatches and areas to stow things in a kayak may not be easily accessible while afloat. In our kayaks, items in the front locker are hard to get to without hopping out on an oyster bar or beach. Things stowed behind the seat may also be difficult to access without turning around, which could result in a dunking. Make sure you can reach the things you need while on the water.
You’ll have to learn to pare down. On the kayak, don’t bring your entire “what-if” list of things you might need. Instead, look at what you actually use on each trip and eliminate most of the rest. Most anglers know someone who brings everything they own for every outing but still ends up without something. They usually have it among their stuff somewhere but can’t find it.
Whatever you bring along, secure it to the kayak in case you should tip over. It’s not a common occurrence — but when it happens, it happens fast. You won’t have time to grab your gear and put on a PFD. Luckily, if you get dumped in most productive Southwest Florida fishing areas, you can take our good advice and just stand up. But please, continue to wear your PFD just in case!
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” 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, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.