Skill Builder: Rigging a Fishing Kayak
Limited space means you need to pick your gear wisely.
By Dan Oko
“Keep it simple.” That’s the adage that Dean Thomas sticks to when he’s teaching newcomers about kayak fishing on the Gulf Coast. And it is advice, Thomas says, that pertains to the all-important question of how to rig a fishing kayak. After all, most kayak fishing involves sit-on-top plastic boats about 14 feet long, so there’s not a lot of room for extras. Thomas runs the Slowride guide service and the Texas Kayak Fishing School out of Aransas Pass, and has taught about 200 anglers the tricks to coastal kayak fishing.
“It can be tricky,” he says. “Fishermen are gear freaks, but I tell them: Only the necessities.”
Thomas breaks down his rigging system according to the anatomy of the kayak, beginning with the front end of the boat, working back through the cockpit to the tail. Up front, under the bow hatch if possible, is where Thomas says to stow most emergency items: Extra food and water, a first-aid kit and a spare paddle (preferably one that can be broken down into a couple of pieces). Keeping the deck clear of extraneous equipment and storing rods behind the seat makes casting and photography much less complicated.
As in an airplane, the kayak cockpit is where most of the action takes place. Simplicity and functionality remain top concerns, but comfort is a concern too. Thomas recommends buying a sturdy aftermarket seat with back support, especially to cope with long, lumbago-straining trips. For life-preservers, Thomas likes personal-flotation devices designed for kayaking with streamlined padding and wider arm-holes for freedom of movement. “Mobility is extremely important when you’re paddling and casting,” he says.
Shifting to behind-the-cockpit rigging, Thomas keeps his tackle in a plastic milk crate secured behind the seat with bungee cords. Ever the minimalist, he prefers to do without a wade belt. In the crate, Thomas keeps a dry bag with cell phone and GPS, as well as a small tackle box and essentials such as a line nipper, pliers and lip gripper; he does not carry a landing net. For anglers who want a fancier system, the Crate Mate is a water-resistant, pocket-lined nylon container with integrated rod holders that fits over the crate.
Alongside the crate, Thomas stows his rods. While some use tube-type rod holders affixed to a crate, most fishing kayaks come with pre-drilled holes that can accommodate pedestal-style or flush-mount rod holders. Fly fishing enthusiasts, especially, will want to notice how rod storage may encroach on casting. Typically, Thomas carries two fly rods and two spinning outfits. As always, he emphasizes keeping things tight and light. He sticks with a small assortment of standard lures, setting up his spinning gear with top waters, spoons or soft plastics. In the far stern, he packs the remaining backup emergency tackle he might need. “It’s not like on a big boat, where you can have a 30 pound tackle box,” Thomas says. “If you’re not going to put your hands on it, it’s just extra weight.”
Thomas points out that kayak fishermen will want to keep an anchor within easy reach. He recommends a 3-pound spiked-tip grapple anchor. Another shallow-water braking option is a stake-out pole, a short shaft that can be driven into the mud or reef bottom. “It comes down to personal preference,” says Thomas of the stake-or-anchor question. Some anglers also employ an anchor trolley, a pulley controlled line that runs from bow to stern, which can be adjusted to orient the boat for casting in a breeze or moving current.
Last but not least, Thomas argues that a rudder is invaluable for coastal paddlers, calling it “critical” for windy days. Of course, there’s no substitute for experience, but like that rudder, Thomas’ tips for keeping it simple should help steer anglers toward catching fish.