How to Plan a Kayak Fishing Trip

Kayak fishing is arguably the best way to broaden your horizons as an angler. Fishing expert Christian Nelson breaks down all you need to know about planning a float.

Someone kayaks on open water, heading away from the camera. The sun sets before them and they and their fishing gear are silhouetted.

Photo by Kal Visuals

Kayak fishing is arguably the best way to broaden your horizons as an angler. A decent fishing kayak is pretty affordable, and it opens a ton of opportunities. With a kayak, you can explore your area and fish in places that others can’t, and this leads to some awesome days on the water. One of my favorite fishing trips to take is a float trip down Burnt Corn Creek, a medium-sized creek in my hometown. Almost anywhere in the country, you’ll be able to find a creek that is relatively similar somewhere in your area, and they provide an awesome kayak fishing experience. Finding a place like this and coming up with a float plan is sometimes easier said than done though, so let’s break down exactly how I go about planning a trip.

Getting Started

For starters, you’re going to need a kayak! An entry-level fishing kayak that will last can often be found around the $500-$600 mark (believe it or not, a Curated expert can actually help you find one!). Kayaks at prices above this offer luxuries like increased stability, more storage, and other bonuses, but an affordable one will get you started.

If you’re not ready to make that investment, kayak rentals are fairly prevalent in most areas. Try checking around your area or the area you plan on visiting for a kayak rental company. This not only allows you to fish for a lower upfront cost but these companies also often run a shuttle from the pick-up spot to your original launch, meaning you don’t have to organize a pick-up! You will find that these are mostly local operations, and are often very crowded. You can beat the crowd by arriving as soon as they open and fishing earlier in the morning before swimmers arrive. Overall though, this is not the best kayak fishing experience. This is mainly for complete beginners or new kayak anglers, so use this primarily as a way to see if you would enjoy kayak fishing, and then make the investment in a quality fishing kayak.

Assuming you’ve got a kayak, there are only a few more things you’ll need to start planning a trip! Firstly, you’re going to need the applicable licenses for the fishing you plan on doing. If this is a float trip down a local creek, a freshwater fishing license for your state will more than likely be sufficient, but always check your local regulations to make sure you have all you need! After you’ve got that, it’s time to come up with a float plan!

Finding a Float

The author sits in a kayak and holds up a speckled trout.

Speckled trout caught from a kayak. Photo by Christian Nelson

The first thing you’re going to need is a creek or river to float on, and these can be found pretty easily. I primarily suggest looking at local resources for information on your area. Most places have forums or Facebook groups devoted to kayak fishing, and some areas even have groups that get together and float creeks and rivers together! Joining a local community like this can be a great way to gain knowledge and make your first float trip a lot more painless. Having someone experienced recommend a good launch and pick-up spot can take a lot of the headache away from planning a trip.

If your area lacks a group like this, or you just prefer DIY trips, there are still a lot of great ways to make sure your trip goes smoothly. The first things you need to identify are the body of water you plan on floating, and where you plan to launch and pick up. These are the essential parts of a float plan. Kayaks are very versatile and can be launched pretty much anywhere you have access to the water, so a launch and pick-up spot can be nearly anywhere along the creek.

My go-to spots are usually bridges, for a few reasons. A bridge means you can drive fairly close to the water, so you’re not having to drag the kayak very far. This makes loading and unloading very easy. Beyond this, bridges act as very clear landmarks. There’s a low chance of getting distracted and floating past your pick-up spot if you choose a very obvious and identifiable location.

You’ll also need to figure out how you’ll be getting picked up if you plan on going alone. If you have a friend go on the trip with you, this is easy. Just leave one person’s vehicle at your pick-up point and launch the kayaks together at the launch point, leaving your vehicle there. At the pick-up, you can either load the kayaks onto that vehicle, or if it’s a car, tuck your kayaks out of plain view and drive back to your launch and grab the vehicle you’re using to transport the kayaks. If you are going alone, ask a friend or family member if they would mind picking you up from your pick-up spot and giving you a ride back to your vehicle. In some areas, I’ve even used Uber as my pick-up after a float trip!

Always make sure someone close to you, or even a few people, knows where you’re going to be that day. Tell someone your float plan, including how long you expect to be gone and where you will be. Also, be sure to check the weather prior to your trip to avoid unexpected bad situations, and check the water level of your creek or river to make sure it is able to be floated safely!

Fishing While You Float

A man floats on a body of water in a yellow kayak. He has his head down and a fishing rod up in the air.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten

So now you’re drifting down the creek and it’s time to start fishing, so let’s talk about what you need to have in that kayak to get some fish! Most creeks and rivers hold an abundant amount of largemouth and smallmouth bass, panfish, catfish, or trout depending on where you are in the country. Most commonly though, creeks that are floatable will likely boast opportunities to either catch largemouth, smallmouth, or rock bass as well as a variety of other panfish.

Live bait is one of the best ways to productively float and fish and is a great way to find success early on in your kayak fishing journey. I always fish live bait my first time floating a new stretch of water, specifically live crickets.

A good current means you rarely have to paddle, so your hands are often free to fish, giving you the chance to make well-targeted casts. This lets you easily cover the water you pass, all while maximizing your bites. By doing this, you can test out the water and gain an understanding of what you can expect to catch there, as well as the kind of spot where you’re typically catching them. This may be a certain stump, fallen tree, or any other cover, but you will recognize it and expect to catch fish there. This information allows you to make an educated decision on what artificial lures and tackle to use, as well as letting you fish them in areas you have had success on before. This alone will make you much more confident fishing. Fishing this way lets you understand the water fast, and allows you to improve with every trip you make. Being observant will go a long way to make you a better angler.

Things to Bring Along

There are a few things outside of my standard fishing gear that I pack on my kayak to make sure that I make the most of my day when I’m heading out for a float trip. One of those is a solid cooler. Having some drinks, sandwiches, and snacks iced down makes for a great lunch on a sandbar, and it also functions as a great way to store some fish you catch for dinner later that night! Sunscreen and bug spray is another thing I always make sure to keep handy. They just make the trip a lot more enjoyable, and if you need them, you’ll be glad you brought them along! They easily fit in kayak storage and can be a lifesaver. A waterproof BlueTooth speaker can also make for a great addition and make the trip pretty relaxing and fun. A nice hat and a good pair of sunglasses are must-haves as well. A paddle leash is also a great item to have for peace of mind! Feel free to add any fishing accessories you like to your kayak to really make it your own!

Other Kayak Trips

The author holds a red snapper on his lap while sitting close to the ocean water in a kayak.

Red snapper caught from a kayak. Photo by Christian Nelson

While floating a creek is probably the most common kayak fishing experience, it is by no means your only option. Kayaks are very versatile and can be launched nearly anywhere into any body of water. I often fish offshore reefs from my kayak and do more than my share of inshore fishing for redfish, speckled trout, and flounder. I also kayak fish a lot of lakes for largemouth bass, most often when the creeks are too high to float.

With a kayak, you have the ability to fish in new places and try new things, so capitalize on that when you get the chance! Whether this means finding a great spot to try and catch some redfish or making a weekend trip to a lake in a nearby state park, a kayak enables you to branch out and make the most of the fishing opportunities in your area. Try your best to experiment and really figure out what kind of fishing you enjoy most—branching out and exploring is the best way to make the most of your kayak fishing experience.

Just like with any trip, check local resources like forums and groups, as well as your state parks website to see what kind of opportunities are around you.

From there it should be easy to find a decent launch site and you’re all set! With no downstream destination, just explore the area to fish and return to your launch spot when you’re done, no friends or family needed! I often launch and paddle to my fishing spot, then drift with the wind and fish to minimize the amount of paddling I have to do, and paddle back up when I’m finished. Do consider wind, weather, and waves when you’re planning a solo trip like this, and still let someone know where you’re going and when you should be back!

Whether you’re looking to see if kayak fishing is for you, or looking to expand your horizons as a kayak angler, hopefully, I gave you some great ideas to help you move forward and plan a new trip! We often overlook a ton of local fishing opportunities, and a kayak really opens the door to these for you. If you take your time to find the resources you need and use them effectively, you’re almost guaranteed a day on the water that you won’t be forgetting anytime soon. If you have any questions or want to perfect your kayak fishing rig, reach out to a Fishing expert here on Curated!

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Written By
Christian Nelson
Christian Nelson
Conventional Fishing Expert
I have been fishing for pleasure for over 10 years, fishing tournaments and doing some guiding as a side gig along the way. ​ I have caught 50+ species of fish, from rainbow trout to giant sharks, and from bass to monster bull redfish. ​ I have a wide array of knowledge to put you on fish, no matter...
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