Photo by Eric Jackson

Best Tips for Kayak Fishing the Shallows

Maybe a kayak's biggest advantage is being stealthy when fishing shallow waters. These tips will help you make the most of your advantage.

Fishing kayaks only need a few inches of water to float them, which makes them the perfect shallow water craft for finding bass that live and feed in the shallows. While it may be common to look deep for summer bass for many fisherman, I rarely fish over 8-feet deep out of my kayak and 80 percent of my fish are caught between 6 inches and 4 feet deep. The combination of finding shallow bays where I can find the fish and get close enough to catch them without spooking them makes for some great fishing.

Make your kayak stealthy

Two things I think are worth investing in for your kayak to make it as stealthy and shallow water ready as possible.

  • Rubber insulation for your feet, rods, paddle and tackle — Kayaks are made of HDPE plastic and it is fairy quiet already, but not nearly as quiet as it will be if you prevent hard objects from hitting the boat. The biggest culprit for noise in a kayak is putting your paddle down. Having an insulated area to receive the paddle will make the biggest difference.
  • Deck padding is standard in some kayaks, like the Coosa HD by Jackson Kayak, eliminating the need to add any. However, all kayaks can be made more stealthy with deck padding available at many shops that sell fishing kayaks as well as online.
  • Power-Pole Micro or “Stakeout Pole” — Drifting into the target zone is something that will happen more often than not if you don’t anchor down. A non-electronic “stakeout pole” that you push into the bottom through the scuppers works great, but nothing beats a Micro Anchor by Power-Pole if you want to be secure and have the anchor’s remote at your fingertips.


Master the maneuvers

Certain boat maneuvering techniques will get you in the target zone and keep the fish in a feeding mood.

Spend as much time casting parallel or in the middle of the target zone as you can, keeping the lures in the target zone throughout the cast. This means potentially putting your kayak on top of fish, which, even in a kayak, can spook them.  

Fish the edges then work out to the isolated high spots

Technique 1:  Fishing the edges (weeds or shoreline grass)

  1. Fish your first area of shallow water with the boat anchored out away from the target zone.
  2. Once you have fished one area well, move the boat into that area so you can cast parallel to the edge of the weeds, or target zone and cover more target rich territory on each cast. Being able to get your boat on the shore, or into super shallow water and working your lures from there is one of the main benefits of using the kayak in the first place.
  3. Move after a few casts in one direction, staying in the weeds and moving about 1/2 of a full cast distance which gives you new territory, but allows you to cover some of the same area again as well.

Eric Jackson with a nice shallow-water smallmouth bass

Technique 2: Fishing high spots and offshore areas

  1. Start on the edge of the target area again and fish a spot carefully, with three or four casts,  that you will want to put your kayak on after you finish with it.
  2. Move yourself into the already fished spot where you should have a 360 degree casting zone of shallow water with cover and anchor down if there is any wind or current.
  3. Pick off the best looking cover first and work around the kayak, expecting to catch the most fish on long casts.   Fish a full 360 degree rotation around the kayak before switching lures and then change the speed and type of lure for the second rotation.
  4. Start on, or near the surface with a Swinging Sugar Buzzbait, Texas rigged frog (I would not suggest a hollow frog unless you are willing to lose a lot of fish)  It is hard to beat the blow-ups.
  5. Move to the middle with a Strike King Naked Rage Blade or swim jig and try both light and dark colors until you have a pattern.
  6. Slow it down for one final 360 of the area with a Senko, a slow moving Sexy Shad rigged weightless for a final sweep of the fish playing hard to get.

Technique 3:  “Pole Position”

Unlike bass boats with trolling motors, using the wind to position you is very important. Fishing against the wind is very annoying in a kayak as you are always fighting it, while fishing with the wind is very rewarding and fun as you are always getting a free ride in the right direction.

  1. Choose where you begin fishing any area so that you are upwind of where you want to go next.
  2. Plan on casting downwind 90 percent of the time.
  3. Have your Power-Pole Micro or Stakeout Pole ready.
  4. Anchor your kayak nearly a full cast away from the first downwind target. Cast the area.
  5. Lift your anchor, drift, and anchor it again once you you’ve drifted to the next casting area.
  6. Keep working your way downwind until you run out of viable shallow-water fishing targets.
  7. Move sideways to your next good spot, or find your next bay or weed bed.

Fishing downwind is fun, but if you don’t have an anchor and the wind is actually blowing, you’ll find yourself moving too fast to be very effective and you’ll be running over top of the fish before you can catch them. Even a fishing kayak will spook fish in 2 feet of water when you run them over. I have caught quite a few bass in shallow water right under my kayak, but I have also seen big ones dart away when I come in a little hot.

Use both specific targets like heavy areas of cover, laydowns or variety in underwater vegetation to find bass, but also don’t be shy about sweeping casts that cover seemingly vague areas of cover as often there is underwater structure and cover you don’t see.

Have fun finding shallow waters that only you can get into and that host some of the most fun bass you can catch. Bass that will hit topwater and just below the surface all day long are often the rewards for diligent kayak fishermen.

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