Tactics and gear: Kayak striper fishing

Targeting stripers from the kayak was my first love; cruising and sightfishing the flats, drifting softbaits through the rips, trolling the tube and worm, chasing schools of blitzing bass on the outgoing tide. There’s just something about the solitude and silence, the intimacy of the fishing style, the occasional Nantucket sleighride that sends water splashing up into your seat. I don’t think there’s any better way to target our striped friends.

Fishing from the kayak has another positive associated with it. It makes you a better striper fisherman. Fishing from the kayak forces you slow down, take in your surroundings. It simplifies the entire act of catching a fish and allows greater access than surfcasting. I learned more about productive locations and striper behavior while fishing from the kayak than any other type of fishing I’ve done.

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Now, when I first started out, I didn’t exactly have optimal equipment. My gear consisted of a cheap Penn spinning rod and reel, a Plano box at my feet, a very cheap sit-inside 10′ kayak (yellow). Electronics? God no. It certainly wasn’t the most effective setup (and probably wasn’t the safest) but it got me on fish on the cheap. It got me into plenty of blitzing schoolies and striper-filled flats. It also got me into trouble numerous times, like when I drifted into a new moon current rip and couldn’t get out of it, or when I got hung up on the bottom in some less-than pleasant surf. But I’ve learned. And you will too after reading this guide.

This guide will focus on getting you setup to catch bass this spring on your kayak. It will:

  1. Outline what you’ll need to get started. There will be a few different price points, depending on how technical and involved you want your kayak fishing to get. *A note: For the rod, reel and lure section, much of this information will be similar to what you’ll find on the casting for stripers blog found here. 
  2. Explain the tactics I use to find and catch bass. I’ll highlight lures and techniques to use, as well as explain where to find the best locations.

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What you’ll need

Kayak

It makes sense to start with the most important thing: the kayak you’ll be fishing from. We’re lucky that kayak fishing has gotten immensely popular recently, so there are plenty of fishing-centric boats to choose from. Some quick definitions:

Kayaks fall into two categories: Sit inside and sit on top. We’ll only be focusing on sit on top kayaks, or SOTs here. These are the superior fishing platform, as they are self-bailing and offer more storage space.

There are also paddle and pedal kayaks. These, of course refer to how you propel the kayak. A pedal kayak, like a Hobie, will offer hands-free movement. But, they’re also more expensive. We’ll go over a few options here:

Perception Striker/West Marine Cayman, $499 – $599

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These kayaks are the same boat with different names. at 11.5′, it’s a fairly short yak, but it’s extremely stable and ideal for fishing in the chop. Not the most maneuverable of boats but it’s great for us larger anglers. I love the molded foot rests and the space for a crate in back of the seat. Also the cheapest of the options.

Feelfree Moken 12.5, $799

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Some of the best tracking in its class and extremely stable. One of the better fishing kayaks under a thousand bucks. Smart storage layout with the center console flip up, and a uni-track system makes installation of fishfinders and rod holders a breeze. Wheel-in-the-keel is a very cool system as well, allowing you to drag your kayak around without scratching up the bottom.

Hobie Mirage Outback, $2,799

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Not much to say about this one. The original pedal-drive fishing kayak. Everything you could possibly want in a fishing yak.

Safety and Rigging your kayak

Rigging your kayak can be as simple or complicated as you’d like. You’ll of course need a paddle and a seat for your kayak (if yours doesn’t come with one.) For safety, you absolutely must have a PFD (one made specifically for the kayak with a “high-back” is great), whistle, knife, headlamp and stern light. If you’re planning on paddling offshore a few miles, you’ll need a VHF radio as well.

In terms of kayak rigging, I’m going to keep it very simple here and say all you need is:

Rod holders

  • All of the kayaks highlighted here come with rod holders. It’s important to have a couple rod holders for storage, as well as a rod holder angled out for trolling. Scotty makes a good one, and I’d recommend RAM mounting equipment for anything you’re drilling into your boat.

Storage system

  • Most fishing kayaks will come with storage space for a “crate.” Whether you DIY out of a milkcrate or buy a Kayak-specific storage crate, this is absolutely essential to store tackle, snacks, phone, wallet, or whatever else you need for a long day on the water. There are a bunch of really great guides for crafting your own kayak milkcrate, like this one, so I won’t get too far into it.

Electronics

  • Most won’t call this essential, but I think it’s the best 150-250 bucks you can spend if you want to be successful fishing from the kayak. You’ll want a smallish unit 3.5″ to 5″ especially if you’re not in a super spacious boat. The Lowrance Hook2 and Garmin Strikers are very inexpensive and do their job wonderfully. Ideally, you’d want something with GPS capabilities. You’ll be using this to look for structure and find your depth. You’ll need to run a 12v battery for power. To get the transducer to read through the hull, you’ll want to use the duct-seal method found here. Super easy and not a permanent installation in case you ever want to move the unit.

Fishing Gear

Your gear will be determined, of course, by the intended tactic. Here, I’ll give a few options for spinning setups and a few for trolling setups. But, don’t overlook the fly rod from the kayak. Some large bass can be taken on the fly from the yak while sight fishing or drifting through channels.

Spinning Setup

We’re going light on the kayak; a 4k-sized reel and a lighter action 7.5′ – 8′ rod. The extra length is important for added casting distance and maneuvering a hooked fish around the bow. I really love the split grip of the St. Croix Mojo Inshore rods for the kayak. This rod will throw up to around 1.5oz, so it’s great for soft plastics and small plugs and swimbaits.

st croix mojo

For a trolling setup you’ll want something smaller and more manageable than the big setups you use on the boat. I also love a lever drag feature for the kayak. For us paddling folks, it makes letting out additional line a snap. When fishing tube and worm, you’ll want to be ticking the bottom every so often. With a lever drag, there’ no fumbling with freespool switches while trying to paddle—and if you’re good, no messy bird nests.

Avet MX Leverdrag, $259
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Penn Squall 30LD, $159

For a rod, you’ll want something relatively light. When trolling the tube and worm, you’ll need to ensure that the tube is “acting correctly.” A rod with a soft tip will do this for you. Lots of people opt for a custom rod which is a great option, but there two rods that work well for our purposes off the shelf.

Shakespeare Tiger Lite Jigging Rod: $69

Shimano Trevala Jigging Rod: $149

Spots and Strategies

Let’s talk spot scouting and strategy. I’m going to tell you something that you’ve heard a million times. Google Earth is your friend. Use it to your advantage. There are a few different types of areas I’ll target when fishing from the kayak. These areas include:

Flats, guzzles and channels

Productive flats will have close access to deeper water and channels. These are excellent spots to target Spring bass, but will hold fish year-round most seasons.

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Some of the most fun you can have striper fishing is sight fishing on the flats. Stripers will usually remain on the flats even when there is only a foot or so of water left, rooting around for shrimp, crabs and chasing baitfish. They can get a bit reckless as the tide drops (like this one did).brewster striper

I seem to have the most success during first half of the incoming when the flat is just being covered up, or the last half of the outgoing. Remember that moving water will always give you a better opportunity at finding the fish.

Sight fishing is not always a possibility. Too much wind will ripple the skinny water rendering sight impossible. Certain light conditions can turn the water into an opaque inky mess. If the sight fishing plan isn’t working, try trolling a softbait or swim bait along the edges of the flat. Or, simply swing it in the current. This works especially well with big deceivers on the fly.

I like to figure-eight my trolls on and off the ledges into the channels. As the tide falls, baitfish and other prey are swept off the flats into the channel. Big bass will often wait on the edge of channels to pick off drifting prey.

This is an excellent time to employ the tube and worm, as well. I’ve always had the most success with a Hogy SI tube or a T-Man scarlet and black tube, both in 18″ – 24″ sizes. And always, I mean always, tip the hook with a big sea worm. Nothing else compares. Some of your biggest fish will come in the shallow water between the flat and the channel. *Note: I’ll be publishing a blog focused on trolling strategies next week. We’ll go into detail about trolling the tube and worm then.

Eel grass beds

Eel grass beds are loaded with all of the bait bass love to eat. A great technique when the bass are holding tight to the eel grass is to drag a weighted softbait across the bottom. A Bill Hurley sand eel works great here. When the bass are suspended or when the water is shallow, a big topwater plug, like a spook or chug bug will get the bass to strike. The topwater explosions in the shallows can be incredible.

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Deep Structure

While trolling around deep structure (in this context, 20′-30′), you’ll be looking for contour lines. Here’s a great trick if your kayak doesn’t have a chartplotter: keep your trolling presentation close to strings of lobster pots. Those lobstermen are excellent guides and know exactly where big stripers like to lie in wait. Lobster pots mark structure. Big bass love structure. Thus, trolling by strings of pots will up your chances of finding big bass. Just don’t get your rig caught on a pot line.

Dropping eels will also entice some big fish. I always keep a few eels in a mesh sack in case I mark finicky bass around deep structure. Drop one in and get ready for your very own Nantucket sleighride.

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Fishing from a kayak can be the simplest way to get on some very big stripers. And it doesn’t have to be super expensive either. Questions or comments? Let me know. See you out there.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

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