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East Coast Kayak Fishing
by Ken Sigvardson

ave you ever been fishing the surf only to watch fish breaking out of range? Have you ever watched boats in close enjoying great fishing while you are striking out on land? There is a way to get the best of both worlds. You can roam the beaches and still be able to pursue fish away from land. You can even access waters that are difficult to reach by boat.

© 1998 - 2013 K. Sigvardson

Kayak fishing is rapidly gaining popularity in the US both for recreational and sportfishing uses. In fact, in many areas, kayak sales have out paced canoe sales. Kayaks can be more stable and more efficient to paddle than canoes. You would not want to be paddling a canoe in 3 foot swells off Montauk Point but, with some experience, you can do this in a kayak. Kayaks are also lighter in weight and can be transported on top of a car or truck. Since they can weigh less than 50 pounds, one person can handle one quite easily on their own.

This article is written to give a brief overview of what it takes to get started and what you can do with a kayak to enhance fishing.

Kayak fishing on the East Coast is a bit different from other locations in the country. In warm water areas, the sit on top kayak design is favored for its large cargo capacity and excellent stability. On the East Coast, lighter, sit inside designs are preferred. Here, cargo space can be limited and kayaks between 12 and 16 feet can be carried on the roof on an appropriately equipped surf fishing vehicle. These kayaks are typically 50-60 pounds and they can be constructed from polyethylene plastic, fiberglass or kevlar. My suggestion is to start with a plastic kayak which is more forgiving with respect to abusive treatment and encounters with rocks. Plastic kayaks can be purchased as low as $500. Fiberglass and kevlar designs will typically run around $1700 and up but they do have some design improvements which will be discussed later.

EDITORS NOTE: The types and availabilty of kayaks for fishing have increased dramatically over the last few years. Please also refer to Choosing a Kayak for information on the two basic fishing kayaks, "Sit in Kayak" (SIK) and "Sit on Top" (SOT).

Perception Pachena kayak
Perception Pachena kayak

My favorite kayaks for East Coast Fishing are the Perception Acadia, a 12 ½ foot, plastic model (see and the Current Designs Pachena, 14 foot, fiberglass, shown above. Both of these kayaks weigh about 50 pounds and they offer good stability for fishing. They can easily be equipped with rod holders and a rudder (if desired) and they are proven fishing machines.

© Coastal Kayak Fishing

Kayaks come with deck rigging across the top - in front of and behind the cockpit. The deck rigging consist of zig zagged elastic shock cord which allows the storage of anything that can be shoved under the elastic cord (see the photo of the Current Designs Pachena above left). Below is a list of the recommended equipment for kayak fishing:

Paddle clips – mounted on the side, used for holding the paddle while fishing and the rods while paddling. I have seen them in a local Jumbo Sports store but you can get also get them through Coastal Kayak Fishing.

Rod Holders - There are tube style and the traditional swivel base kind. If you want to troll, I suggest the swivel base design where the rod butt is wedged under the edge of the cockpit. This design seems to hold big fish very securely. These rod holders are often sold at kayak dealers or can be purchased from Coastal Kayak Fishing.

Paddle float – a kayak re-entry aid in case you have a rare “wet exit”. The paddle float is attached to the paddle, inflated and it allows the paddle to be used as a ramp to re-enter the kayak. It is unlikely that you will be using the eskimo roll if you tip over. If you are careful, it is unlikely that you will be using your paddle float. It is necessary insurance just in case.

Bilge pump – a small hand pump for removing excess water.

Personal flotation device (PFD) – this should be bright colored for visibility and should fit well.

Paddle leash – used to tether the paddle to the kayak. This prevents the paddle from floating off and leaving you with no ability to chase after it (photo upper right).

Plier sheath and pliers – I prefer the kind with the metal clip and the velcro closure (Rip Off brand).

Additional optional equipment consists of:

1. A small hand gaff is recommended for use in releasing chopper bluefish. A custom made gaff with a 10/0 barbless hook is best. This is simply a short version of a jetty gaff. You can hold a large bluefish still up against the side of the kayak while you use pliers to remove the hooks.

2. A spray skirt can be used to cover the cockpit to keep out water from waves. I use this only when exiting the water in rough surf. Here, you can be easily turned parallel to the beach by a strong wave. The next wave can roll you over if you are not careful. This is a hazard only in shallow water (5 ft deep or less). The way to handle this situation is to brace against the wave by leaning sideways in to it and let the water flow over the deck. The spray skirt keeps the water out if it flows over the cockpit.

3. A small bright flag is recommended for visibility in areas with heavy boat traffic. Mount it in a rod holder (the tube variety is best, see

4. A small alert whistle is great for signaling other kayakers and boaters while on the water.

5. A rudder is useful for controlling the kayak while fishing. You can actually steer a kayak with the foot pedal controlled rudder while you are drifting in a current or while you are being hauled around by a large fish. It is strongly recommended that you learn to paddle without a rudder first. Rudders offer another way besides paddling to control the direction of a kayak, especially in wind. The use of a rudder will interfere with the development of good paddling skills. These skills are required if you want to be able to cover any distance without fatigue.

6. A handheld GPS is great for keeping track of where you caught fish and how you are covering the water as you work them. It can also help you get back in if fog roles in. West Marine sells a nice floating case that you can attach to your Kayak with Velcro. The GPS should be waterproof because the case will not keep the unit totally dry. The Garman 12XL is one of the best and certainly the most popular handheld GPS at this time. It has sufficient sensitivity to track satellites inside your truck so it can be used to mark sloughs for your regular surf fishing.

The best paddles are “take apart” lightweight paddles that can be adjusted for regular and feathered paddling. Feathered paddling uses a small angle (60-90 degrees) of offset between the paddle heads. This allows more efficient stroking, especially in wind. The paddle blades should not be too large to catch too much water during the stroke. This will prevent you from getting into a smooth rhythm while paddling. My preference is the Werner Camano paddle ($210). This paddle is popular with touring kayakers where long trips are common.

© 1998 - 2013 K. Sigvardson

Nothing special is required here. I suggest that you limit the length to 7 feet unless you intend to fly fish. I like 6 ½ foot conventional and 7 foot spinning because they can be used in the surf, on jetties and in boats as well as in a kayak.If you intend fish for false albacore or bonito, I suggest that you avoid very high modulus blanks (i.e. IM6, GL3 etc.) and high frame type guides. The strong pulling from tight angles (as they run at you and then by you) will damage the best of rods from the unusual strain that these fish can create when you are in a kayak. Stick to the basic surf graphites that are thicker but more resistant to “albie angle strain” such as Lamiglas GLB blanks. I have learned this the hard way. The high frame guides just make matters worse.

Of course you can use any rod in a kayak. There is no need to get anything special. Since I build my own rods, the kayak has given me another reason to build more. It can be an addiction, but one that I highly recommend.

© 1998 - 2013 K. Sigvardson

The best racks are the Yakima and Thule rack systems that can be adapted for many purposes. Two cross bars and a set of Kayak Stackers (Yakima) will hold two kayaks just fine. Yakima’s Hulley Rollers allow easy loading with their roller type design. See the Yakima site for more information, Info for Thule racks is at; There are other less expensive solutions available but the above equipment represents the best options available.

See fish, take kayak off roof, put in water, catch fish. Just joking but it is actually that easy. Here are some things that I like doing with a kayak.

Yes you can effectively troll while you are paddling. This works well with swimming lures such as Bombers, Redfins and Mambo Minnows (all my favorites). I have good luck with Finesse Minnows as well. Just cast, secure the rod in the holder and start paddling. This is a great way to find fish. Since your rod is usually behind you to allow for unrestricted paddling, a drag that you can hear is useful. I once had a 12 pound false albacore run off some line while trolling off Montauk. After about 5 seconds of screaming drag, the sound stopped. Assuming that I had lost the fish, I turned around to see what went wrong. As I turned my head I saw a severely bent rod. As I looked at my Garcia 6500 conventional reel to see what the problem was, I could see that I was on the knot! Since that reel was holding about 200 yards of line (not counting the 50 yards that I had out), that fish was really moving. The line stretch and the give of the kayak kept the fish from breaking off.

Eel Fishing
The kayak is a great way to fish for cow striped bass with live eels. Don’t forget to take a rag or a piece of Scotchbrite to hold these slimy creatures. I once left the beach without a rag and I ended up sacrificing my shirt to grab the eels. The kayak will drift nicely while you hold onto your rod waiting for the take. Keep the rod perpendicular to the eel and stay alert. When you feel a pick up, point the rod at the fish, wait for the line to come tight, then set the hook hard. I find this easier than eel fishing from the beach. I tend to have a much higher percentage of hookups from the kayak. I have never gut hooked a kayak caught fish yet either. If you have a rudder, you can steer in the current with an angle of as much as 90 degrees of variation possible. Since the rudder is controlled with foot pedals, this is a great way to work an area with a kayak. Add a GPS to follow your tracks and you can be real effective in carving up the territory as you hunt down big bass.

Lip Gaf: © 1998 - 2013 K. Sigvardson

Landing Fish
As I stated previously, a small hand gaff is recommended for large blues. False albacore are easy when you finally get them in. Big stripers require a special caution. Make sure they are ready when you try to grab them. I once had fought a 30-35 pound striper until it was swimming slowly ahead of the kayak, towing me around. Deciding to end this standoff, I pulled hard on the rod so that the kayak pulled up along side of the fish. The fish was so startled that it shot off, delivering a massive tail slap to the side of the kayak. I don’t think I was even close to flipping over but it sure did scare the hell out of me. Be especially careful when you attempt to grab their mouth to unhook them. The leverage of a large striper attached to your arm, which is attached to the kayak…well you know how that goes. A hand gaff can help here. Fish behave better when you lip gaff them and hold the gaff handle over your lap with the fish pinned against the side of the kayak cockpit. It is very easy to remove hooks with your other hand in this manner.

Sight Fishing
Not only can you leave the beach to paddle out to working birds and breaking fish, but you can sometimes even find the fish by looking underneath the kayak! I have worked just inside or outside of offshore bars in about 15 feet of water or less and watched packs of blues and bass under the kayak. I have used this method to hunt big bass among packs of roaming bluefish. After getting my eels bit off by choppers, I would only throw the eel over after I passed over bass. I have seen some bass over 40 pounds pass under me. Several at a time. It definitely gets the adrenaline flowing! Likewise, it can be a bit unnerving to be surrounded by a school of 15 pound bluefish, just inches away from where you are sitting. The kayak sure offers many new ways to experience fishing.

The ideal kayak for East Coast fishing is a stable design having a width about 26-30 inches. Performance kayaks, usually 22-24 inches wide, are built for speed. The fishing kayak needs to compromise speed for stability. It is best to start with a wider, slower kayak until you get used to handling the kayak in a variety of conditions. The experienced kayaker will want a slightly narrower and longer design. This design will move faster, carry more gear and have better handling characteristics. Also, the manufacturing process used for fiberglass and Kevlar® kayaks produces better hull shapes for improved performance over the rotomolded plastic designs. The trade-offs for fiberglass over plastic are greater cost and less ruggedness.

What does better handling mean? When you enter the surf danger zone, the last 20 yards of water before coming ashore, a better handling kayak will be able to brace against the waves to avoid flipping over. This kayak has better stability when you are leaning over at an angle to counter the wave. This is usually referred to as secondary stability. The initial stability is how stabile the kayak is when you are sitting upright. Some people refer to this as how “tippy” the kayak is. The higher performance kayak will have a little less initial stability and more secondary stability. After a little experience, giving up a little initial stability for additional secondary stability is a trade off well worth making.

The ideal fishing kayak will never have the speed and secondary stability of a performance sea kayak. The required width will always be a limiting factor, but once you fish in a kayak, you will appreciate how important cockpit roominess is.

This is why I recommend the Acadia for beginners and the Pachena for the next level of experience. The Pachena also has slightly more height, which allows you to keep a small cooler, such as a Playmate, under the front deck. This is a nice way to carry eels. I suggest a soft cooler pack for carrying eels in the Acadia, where there is a little less height up front. End

Derek Sigvardson © 1998 - 2013 K. Sigvardson


The Complete Kayak Fisherman The Complete Kayak Fisherman
by Ric Burnley
Burford Books;
The Essential Sea Kayaker : A Complete Course for the Open-Water Paddler
by David Seidman, Andy Singer (Illustrator).
Intl Marine Pub; ISBN: 0071580093
Guide to Expedition Kayaking on Sea and Open Water
by Derek C. Hutchinson
Globe Pequot Press; ISBN: 1564407217
Nigel Foster's Sea Kayaking
by Nigel Foster
Globe Pequot Press; ISBN: 0762701323

Choosing a Kayak
East Coast Kayak Fishing
Coastal Kayak Fishing
Fishing's Fast Lane - Targeting big fish in the Pacific, dynamite pictures!
Live Eels and Kayaks at Night - How to Nail the Big Girls!

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