Tips for kayak trolling

by Tim Allard | August 1, 2013

kayak trolling - man fishing in a kayak

Kayaks are compact, nimble, and versatile platforms that lend themselves to a variety of angling methods; but the uniqueness of their paddling propulsion combined with superb stealth make these watercraft well suited for trolling tactics. Here are some tips for pulling baits behind a ‘yak.

The set-up
The rod should rest in a holder, one with a locking model is recommended to secure the combo. The most common set-up is a rod holder mounted behind the cockpit, in front of the tankwell. In this set-up the rod tip is either pointed up or back so to not interfere with paddling. If logistics allow, ensure a portion of the rod is visible in your peripheral vision when you turn your head. This makes it easy to watch for a strike and regularly monitor the lure’s action, ensuring its running true and not fouled with weeds.

Be precise

Outfitting a kayak with a GPS/sonar combo loaded with contour data is useful for executing precision trolling runs. Marker buoys are also handy when positioned along productive stretches. For plying skinny water wear a pair of polarized sunglasses to identify weed edges, drop-offs, and other promising areas.

When space and kayak design allow, another option is to mount the holder in the front of the cockpit or on a console. The rod will still be clear of paddle strokes but will visible and within reach.

As with other trolling tactics, use a reel clicker and keep a semi-loose drag to provide an audible signal when a fish attacks.

Power moves 
Varying the speed, power, and pauses between paddle strokes alters a lure’s speed and adds irregularity to its movements. This mix-up can pique interest from fish and stimulate attacks more than a bait with a steady, unchanging action. The following are some productive presentations to try when in a kayak:

  • small bladed jigs and micro hard-baits for panfish;
  • flasher-fly combos and spoons for trout; and
  • minnowbaits and crankbaits for a range of predator fish, such as walleye, bass, and pike.

The virtues of kayak trolling translate extremely well to fly fishing. Paddle propulsion infuses incredible action to streamer flies trolled on either a floating or a sinking line.

Quiet advantage 
A kayak’s stealth is a major advantage when trolling. Fish tend to be less skittish around kayaks, which means a shorter amount of line can be used when trolling compared to power-boat tactics. When fishing from a kayak, you can quickly get pushed off a spot by wind and waves because you must let go of the paddle to grab the rod and play a fish so the ability to troll with shorter string means less line recovery is needed to land a fish.

This is less of an issue for kayaks featuring alternative propulsion systems like a foot-powered drive or an electric motor.

Watch this video for more tips on boat control.

In some respects this is just part of the kayak-fishing game; however, in certain scenarios, like trolling along a wind-blown shore, being able to land a fish quickly and stay on course is critical from a safety perspective.

Peg the hit
When you get a hit, avoid the temptation to immediately grab the rod. Instead, keep padding for a few strokes to drive the hooks home and ensure the fish is pegged. Quickly grab the rod while the kayak is still gliding forward to keep tension on the fish.

Once you get a fish, strive to net it and remove hooks with pliers, haemostats, or other tools quickly. Whether you release or keep your catch, the less time you spend handing fish the shorter the distance that you’ll drift away from the productive spot.

Kayak fishing offers a truly unique fishing experience. Last year I was chaperoned by a loon while trolling a shoreline for panfish, a friendly reminder that fishing is as much about hook-sets and wet nets as it is about appreciating the great outdoors.

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