How to Rig Your Kayak for Fishing

As a beginner, it can be daunting to decide what is truly key to your success on the water when kayak fishing. Christian Nelson breaks down all of the essentials here.

A man kayaks low to the water with a cooler, net, bucket, and fishing rod all visible from the boat.

Photo by Harrison Kugler

Kayak fishing, as a sport and hobby, has been growing exponentially in recent years. This has quickly propelled the industry forward, and caused strategies and setups to evolve rapidly. As a beginner, it can be daunting to decide what is actually key to your success on the water. Especially when kayak fishing accessories are so highly priced, it can definitely seem overwhelming to get a kayak rigged up and ready to fish. The good thing about kayak fishing is that while fancy top-notch gear is nice, it’s definitely not a requirement to get on some good fish. With so much new gear coming out all the time, you don’t see many people breaking down the must-haves for your kayak fishing rig, but I’m here to do just that. By focusing on equipment that has a direct impact on your success, you eliminate the cost of unnecessary add-ons, all while giving yourself the best chance to catch some fish!

Gear for Your Ease and Safety

Let’s face the facts, some things are just plain difficult to do in a kayak. Especially as a beginner, kayak fishing can have a big learning curve. This can make doing simple things like cutting lines or handling fish very stressful and frustrating. I find that the best solution for this is to come prepared and equipped with solid gear for these situations.

I always recommend having two sharp knives with you, one to use and one for a backup just in case. Alternatively, a good pair of line shears or clippers will work well, but I highly recommend always having at least one knife in an easily accessible area! A good knife can make a big difference in not only making your fishing easier but also in life-threatening situations. There was actually a trip this past winter where my kayak’s hull was breached, and I, unfortunately, was plunged into freezing water three miles offshore. During the capsizing, a trolling line we had out ended up with a treble hook buried in my leg, dragging me down. At the time I wasn’t keeping a knife on my PFD, and the one I keep on my kayak was dropped in the confusion. Keep in mind, this is only one very serious incident out of hundreds of trips, but the worst can happen to the best of us, and had I not been with a friend, this could be a very different story. The best advice I can give is to prepare for the worst even on the best days, and always fish with a friend when possible, or at least when exploring new areas.

Another absolute must-have is a comfortable PFD. There are tons of them on the market, and my honest recommendation would just be to try a few on! These vary a ton on a person-to-person basis, so find one that’s comfortable for you. Always make sure that any PFD you buy is Coast Guard approved though! Most of these PFDs will come with places to store a knife or emergency whistle, and some even have storage for some of your other gear. Along the same lines of safety, always keep a 25-50ft bundle of rope in your yak! There are a ton of situations where this could come in handy.

A man kayaks low to the water with a cooler, net, bucket, and fishing rod all visible from the boat.

Photo by Harrison Kugler

I also highly recommend getting a decent landing net and a good pair of quality fish grips. Some people might argue that these aren’t necessities, but when you’re actively catching fish, having solid gear to land and handle those fish will make the experience ten times as enjoyable. This really comes into play more with larger fish, but to me, confidence is the biggest factor to being successful at anything, and fishing is no exception. Being confident in yourself and your gear plays a huge role in your ability to catch fish, and that alone makes it worth the investment.

Other quality-of-life items that can save a lot of headaches are rod and paddle leashes. You’d be surprised just how many rods and reels I’ve seen fall off my kayak, never to be seen again. Whether a low-hanging branch knocks it off, or you’re just plain clumsy and drop it, a rod leash definitely costs less than replacing that rod and reel! It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem important until it is, so go out there prepared ahead of time!

Gear for Fishability

Outside of things that are going to save or improve your life as a kayak angler, you obviously want some gear you can add to your kayak to make it an absolute fishing machine. For the beginner, this really boils down to just a few small decisions about your fishing gear. By making a few affordable and achievable additions to your kayak, you’ll be ready to chase some fish in no time!

Firstly, I highly recommend building your own fishing crate. Building one of these has almost become a right of passage in the kayak fishing community. Tons of tutorials can be found online, and they’re fairly affordable to build. Built from milkcrates, they can be as creative or plain as you want. Personally, I use zip ties to secure PVC pipe to the sides of the milk crate, and these function as extra rod holders. The crate often holds a small lunch box, as well as my lures and tackle for the day.

I often add a few 6-12 inch pieces of pool noodles to my kayak crate. This foam on those is the perfect place to stick unused hooks into. When I’m changing lures, I just stick my previous lure’s hooks into the foam. This saves me from having to get out my tackle box and put the lure away, but it also means no stray hooks rolling around the kayak waiting to stick me! If I’m planning on doing some search fishing and changing baits often, I’ll usually stick some lures I plan to throw in a piece of foam too, just to have them easily on hand. Using this system with the foam really helps maintain a clean deck.

Maintaining a clean space is crucial to being an effective kayak fisherman. Space is limited, so make the best use of it! Some Plano boxes can really help organize your bait selection. Waterproof boxes are also an investment well worth making. Anything less and every hook you have is going to rust, and the box will be useless. Get creative with your organization system and really make it your own!

Beyond a kayak crate, the next accessory that you really get your money out of is a quality fish finder. A fish finder allows you to see the water column vertically which helps you to greatly expand as an angler. To you, this may mean mapping all the best points in a local lake or maybe it’s finding a productive snapper reef to sit on top of. Regardless, it will make you a better and more versatile, well-rounded angler. My personal favorite for kayak fishing is the HumminBird Helix 5 DI. I have rigorously tested it and pushed it through terrible situations, but over and over again it surprises me by being surprisingly resilient. I have flipped my kayak and had the unit completely submerged in saltwater for over an hour, and still, it boots right up with no issue. To me, it’s the best choice of sonar out there, and surprisingly affordable for what it offers. Do remember though that electronics like this will need a battery to be incorporated into your setup.

Gear Extras

A kayak sits on the shore of a lake with a fishing rod sticking up out of it. A PFD and other miscellaneous gear are sitting inside.

Photo by Stephen Edward

Some things aren’t really needed, but they make the experience a lot more enjoyable. I, for one, almost always bring a Bluetooth speaker. That kayak is only going so fast, and I think music makes the paddles between spots a lot more fun and much less of a burden.

Another add-on that can be really nice is an anchor trolley system. An anchor trolley system lets you use an anchor, as well as control what point on your kayak the anchor is attached to. This is a great option to maintain control and fish in heavy wind and current. You can make your own, but you can also find a great kit for this which is generally super user-friendly! To effectively drift fish, I build my own drift anchor by wrapping a hefty piece of chain in duct tape. This makes a heavy snake-like anchor that doesn’t snag on anything or stop you from drifting. This lets you fish a drift much slower than you could before and can really give you an edge.

Some other common extras I throw in a backpack or in my kayak crate are sunglasses, sunscreen, and any other safety gear I think I might need!

Eventually, one at a time, you can accumulate tons of accessories for your kayak. Things like a clip-style paddle holder can be really nice. Other attachments can include anything from a Power Pole Micro, an electronic staking system that acts as a premium shallow water anchor, to a simple cupholder, and at a certain point, it’s really up to you to decide what does and doesn’t go on your kayak. The great thing about kayaks is how customizable they are, so make it your own and add what you want!

Rigging your yak for fishing doesn’t have to be nearly as complicated as people seem to want it to be these days. Sure, over time some of those expensive accessories make for a pretty wicked-looking rig, but 99% of that is purely for show. A simple fishing setup on your kayak can yield just as much as any Hobie, so don’t sweat it if you don’t have the dream rig yet! If you have any questions or you want to start building out your rig, reach out to a Fishing expert here on Curated. The goal is to get out there and catch fish, and as long as you have the essentials, you’ll be ripping lips from the yak in no time!

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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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