Learn The Fly Fishing Basics and How to Fly Fish!

7 Tips for Fly Fishing from a Kayak

Guest Post By Patrick Morrow

Conventional anglers have utilized kayaks as stealthy fishing vessels for decades. Fly anglers, however, have been slower to climb on the kayak fishing bandwagon. But given all the advantages of fly fishing from a kayak — on the water mobility, ease of transport and storage, low maintenance and costs — it’s time for more fly-rodders to embrace the paddle!

If you’ve been curious about kayak fly fishing but aren’t sure what’s involved, use the tips in this article to help you get started and overcome any challenges that arise.

Fly Fishing From A Kayak

1. Choose a Kayak That’s Fly Fishing Friendly

When you start shopping for a kayak, you’ll encounter a huge diversity of kayak designs — everything from long, skinny ocean kayaks to short, rounded whitewater bombers. Luckily, you’ll also find a wide range of kayaks that are made specifically for fishing. However, while most fishing kayaks work fine for conventional anglers, not all are built to meet the unique needs of fly anglers.

Stability is perhaps the most important factor to consider when choosing a kayak for fly fishing. Since casting a fly rod is more active and dynamic than lobbing a bait, most kayak fly anglers choose to stand up while fishing. Many fishing kayaks on the market can be used for stand-up fishing, but it all depends on the dimensions and shape of the hull. Ideally, you want a kayak that’s around 12 to 14 feet long, and wide enough to offer adequate side-to-side stability — generally at least 30 inches wide. Additionally, most fishing kayaks suitable for stand-up fishing have either flat or pontoon-shaped hulls for maximum stability.

Fly Fishing Kayak

To make standing up in your kayak as easy as possible, it’s highly recommended that you add a stand-assist strap to your kayak. This simple strap is around 3 feet long and is attached to the kayak deck several feet in front of the seat. When you want to move from sitting to standing, you can use the strap to help pull yourself up.

2. Clear Your Deck of All Line-Catching Snags

If you’ve spent any time at all with a fly rod in your hand, you know that if your line can get caught on something, it will get caught on something. Never is this more true than when casting from a kayak.

When kayak shopping, look for models with the fewest protrusions and doodads in the deck area, especially in front of the seat. For this reason, a popular fishing kayak among fly anglers is the Jackson Kilroy, a sit-inside design with an expansive deck area perfect for stripping line. The Kilroy also happens to be one of the most stable kayaks available as it has a wide hull and the sit-inside design positions your weight below the water line to create a lower center of gravity.

When arranging and organizing gear in your kayak, try to place as many items as you can behind the seat in a crate or stashed away in a below-deck hatch. Any tools you need on hand — nippers, hemostats, etc. — should be secured to your PDF or a chest pack so they won’t accidentally get swept overboard by your fly line.

3. Invest in Fly-Rod Specific Rod Holders

On the topic of storing gear, having a secure place to store your fly rod is critical. The problem is that while most fishing kayaks come with rod holders, they typically only fit spinning or baitcasting rods. Fortunately, you can buy aftermarket rod holders designed specifically for fly rods.

The two best fly rod holders currently on the market are the Scotty Fly Rod Holder and the YakAttack Ram 2007 Fly Rod Holder. Both are very similar in function — go with whichever works better for your setup.

4. Anchor Up in Wind and Current

The relatively small size of a kayak allows you to move freely around the water, going places most boats would never fit. At the same time, because of a kayak’s small size, it’s extremely easy to get blown off course. Adding a skeg to the stern of your kayak helps you stay on track and maintain your position to a certain degree, but you’ll still often find yourself drifting and twisting at the mercy of the wind and current movement.

To combat these inevitable outside sources, adding an anchor system to your kayak is a must. There are many off-the-shelf anchor products available for kayaks and even more DIY solutions found online. Whatever route you decide to take, choose an anchor, install it, commit to it, and learn how to deploy it quickly.

When fishing in strong currents or heavy winds, a good strategy is to paddle into a likely fish-holding area and anchor your kayak in a position that allows you to cast to all the fishy looking spots. Once anchored, you can spend as long as you’d like casting and — hopefully — catching fish without setting your rod down every few seconds to reposition.

5. Keep Your Back Casts High

Slapping the water on the backcast is one of the main challenges new kayak fly anglers have to overcome. Particularly when casting from a seated position, being so close to the water makes it difficult to keep your backcast high enough off the water to not spook the fish behind you.

With some focused effort, this issue can be resolved by making a few tweaks to your casting form. The key is to direct your backcast up and back instead of straight back like normal. This can be accomplished by performing an abrupt stop with a straight wrist at the top of your backcast, not moving beyond the 12 o’clock position. Though it might feel awkward at first, with practice, this maneuver will eventually feel natural.

6. Shoot Line to Achieve Distance and Limit False Casts

Even when trying to keep your back casts high, you still might struggle with hitting the water behind you. You may also find yourself in positions that don’t allow for long back casts — like when exploring small creek channels and backwaters. One of the best ways to eliminate this issue altogether is to improve your line shooting skills to cast further with fewer false casts. This allows you to keep your back casts short and tight instead of having to carry the entire belly of line through a drawn out series of false casts.

Significant distance can be added through line shooting by bringing your rod tip to a defined stop at the end of your forward cast. Then, as soon as you see the loop form just beyond your rod tip, you let the line slip through your non-rod hand to allow it to shoot forward. The weight of the line and energy generated during the casting stroke will carry the loose line forward to your target. It takes practice to develop the proper coordination to execute this move, but once you get it down, you’ll be making long, accurate casts with ease.

To add even more distance to your line shooting efforts, work on increasing your line speed by adding a double to your casting stroke. Once you can shoot line with a double haul, you might find that you only need one or two false casts to achieve all the distance you need while keeping plenty of line off the water whether you’re standing or sitting in your kayak.

The Fly Crate Membership

7. Fight the Fish on the Reel when Fly Fishing from a Kayak

All the tips we’ve covered so far ideally lead to you hooking into the fish you’re after. And when you do, you have to approach the fight differently than you normally would when wade fishing.

Line tangles are the number one thing to watch out for when fighting a fish on a fly rod in a kayak. To reduce the chance of a break-off, you should make every effort to get the fish on the reel as fast as possible. So instead of simply stripping in line to land a fish, try to quickly reel up any slack while pinching the line with your rod hand. Once all the slack is taken up, you can fight the fish from the reel, tangle-free.

With large species that make hard, fast runs, the fish will generally take up the slack for you and proceed to pull drag until it tires out. In that case, just hold on and enjoy the fight!

Start Slow When Learning the Ropes of Fly Fishing from a Kayak

Fly Fishing From A Kayak

When you get your fishing kayak all rigged up and ready for the water, you’ll feel a tremendous sense of freedom. You’re no longer limited to the bank. You can paddle just about anywhere you want to and explore new waters inaccessible on foot. But when you’re just starting out, do yourself a favor and start slow.

Launch your kayak into some nice calm lakes and ponds full of hungry bass and bluegill then spend a few leisurely mornings paddling around and getting used to your setup. It might take some time to work out all the kinks and get your kayak dialed in the way you like it. Once you’re comfortable with your rig, then it’s time to seek more adventurous fishing pursuits.

Just remember:

Even if you don’t catch anything, the simple act of paddling a kayak is rewarding unto itself and makes every trip an enjoyable experience.

About Clint Losee

Clint Losee is an avid fly angler of 30+ years, web developer, and Utah Landscape & Nature Photographer. You can connect with him on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Curious about some of the gear he uses? Check out the new Amazon store.