Kayak Fishing? Written by Michael Rischer

Kayak Fishing? Written by Michael Rischer

During the past few years anyone fishing the Pacific Northwest couldn’t help but notice a brand new armada of kayak fishers showing up in rivers, lakes and even the ocean. You’ve probably seen them on the water and noticed that kayak anglers are doing very well in those venues.kayak spring chinook

Who are These Newcomers?

If there is a unifying feature tying kayak fishers together, it’s a universal reaction the first time we saw a kayak angler working the water and reeling in fish. “OMG! How cool is that?” It’s a very physical feeling and reaction.

Modern kayaks: A New Breed of Fishing Boats 

Let’s break down the kayak fishing phenomenon and see what shakes out. Modern fishing kayaks are much different than those of day’s past. Today, kayaks are made from roto-molded plastic and are durable, lightweight and inexpensive (relatively speaking). A new Hobie pedal fishing kayak will cost you less than $2000 and will cruise between 3-5 mph. Whether fishing for salmon, steelhead, bass or trout, kayaks will get you over fish and can produce phenomenal results.

Today’s ‘yaks are not only fast and extremely stable; they can be rigged with sonar, GPS systems, chart plotters, video camera’s and rod holders. Fishing kayaks also offer plenty of storage for rods, food, clothes and tackle.

Fishing ‘yaks differ from whitewater, touring, and sea kayaks. Most kayaks used for fishing are referred to as “sit-on-top” or SOT, while most whitewater and sea kayaks are referred to as “sit in kayaks” or SINK. The SINKS have an internal cavity without a double hull, where the occupant sits inside. With fishing kayaks, you usually sit slightly above the water and are separated with a layer of trapped air in the double hull.

The stability of the SOT is much better in the long run, and is much safer than SINKS. Sooner or later you'll most likely capsize, though rarely, in both SOTs and SINKS (passing through the surf zone or crossing a strong current line are typical places for this to happen). Self-rescue in a SOT involves flipping the boat upright and crawling back in over the side. Hatches are usually closed preventing hull filling in a SOT. With a SINK, if your capsize results in disconnecting your waterproof skirt from your kayak, hundreds of pounds of water could rush into your hull, making self-rescue extremely difficult.

kayak sturgeon fishing


Because you must use your legs to pedal, rather than paddling with your arms, they move through the water move efficiently. This not only provides more speed but delays the onset of fatigue, making fishing days longer and more enjoyable. Thus, pedal kayaks build muscle tone.


Additional benefits from using a kayak: You can silently sneak into some pretty tight areas like docks, pilings and timber. Kayaks make no noise that may scare the fish in shallow water. Also, you can launch from pretty much wherever you want along the river, as long as you can safely access it. Whether you’re fishing the Columbia, Willamette, Clackamas or Sandy rivers much of the water can be reached by kayak.


Safety and visibility to other boaters is very important to kayak anglers. Having personally been hit by a power boater while kayak fishing, I know just how important. Always be visible to others. Safety flags and bright clothing are a must.

Another aspect of safety that kayak anglers in the Northwest take seriously is staying warm if we end up in the water. You should dress for immersion. It’s not like we live in Florida. Oregon waters can be seriously cold! Use breathable dry suits or waders with sealed dry-tops and PFD’s. The only exception is in the summer, when the water is much warmer.

Kayak Drag System

One of the things that makes kayak fishing so much fun is that once a big fish is hooked, the kayak and the angler become part of the drag system. This makes it much harder for the fish to break off because it will wear itself out towing the kayak around. Also, when a fish attempts line-breaking acceleration it just pulls the kayak a little faster without a break off. That subsequent fish-powered ride is called a Nantucket sleigh ride, and is definitely the high point in any day of fishing.

spring chinook kayak fishing

Kayaks are Perfect Presentation Platforms

The fishing art of presentation reminds me a little of speculating in real estate. For both, it really is about location, location, location! The stealth, speed and maneuverability of kayaks, combine giving an angler the advantage of getting the boat in exactly the right place and holding position long enough to present the bait, fly, or lure to the fish long enough to induce a strike. In situations where holding in a current is the issue, you can nose the kayak into a current and adopt a pedaling cadence that holds you right on the spot.

Pedal driven kayaks also give you the ability to continue moving forward while playing a fish with an occasional rudder adjustment now and then to keep on track. The last thing I need is to be pulled sideways into someone’s dock or into the path of a nearby boat. Hooking into a big springer on a kayak is a total rush!

Hands-Free fishing

By now you’re probably wondering what you do when you hook a nice fish. Well, you land them just like anyone else would. I personally (and in my guiding business) only use the Hobie brand kayaks because they offer hands-free fishing. With the Mirage pedal's drive system, I have both hands free to fight a fish and when it’s time, I can net it with the other. All my Hobie kayaks have a rudder system that’s easily controlled with a small steering knob located within an arm’s reach from my seat in the cockpit.

bass fishing kayak

After you’ve landed a couple you really start to figure it out. For more information about kayak fishing in the Northwest, check out http://www.kayakfishingoregon.com/ or http://www.northwestkayakanglers.com/




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1 comment

Excellent article. I’m going to buy a kayak soon for Kokanee trolling and fishing for inshore Chinook salmon. In your experience, how far off shore does one have to go in a kayak to find Chinooks?


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