Whether you are a seasoned kayaker looking for a new dimension to your passion or an angler looking for an extra edge, exploring this natural combination of kayaking and fishing is an exciting and rewarding venture.
There are numerous important tactical advantages of going after fish from aboard a kayak. Stealth is arguably the most important. Just as wildlife above the water’s surface tolerates your presence as you glide by, fish in the water are similarly undisturbed.
“As long as the kayak angler is mindful,” seasoned kayak fisherman Richie Bekolay says, “they can paddle right up to fish without them having any idea.” Bekolay, a Pro Staff Angler with Johnson Outdoors and Werner Paddles, started fishing from a kayak after moving to Hampton Roads, Va., just a few years ago. He saw kayak fishermen paddling under the bridge at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in the middle of the night. “That’s cool,” he said. “I want to do that!” He bought his first kayak soon thereafter and immediately started fishing from it.
The nature of kayaks, which can maneuver in very little water, can put them in places that bigger boats could never access. Navigating shallow tidal tributaries with vegetation growing to just below the surface without a kayak is virtually impossible. Big redfish can be found in flats with water less than a foot deep. And even deeper water is sometimes rendered inaccessible to larger boats. “I have fished for bass in areas that are a couple feet in depth, but littered with submerged wood just inches below the surface,” Bekolay said. “Bass boats can only dream of getting into some of those areas.”
To access good fishing spots by boat, you have to first get that boat in the water. And this is another area where those with kayaks have a huge advantage. Concrete boat ramps are not required when you fish from a kayak. “The options are endless when it comes to launches,” Bekolay said. “You can slide in off a frontage road, drag it through the woods, navigate through little feeder creeks or launch (with permission, of course) from somebody’s backyard.”
Once you are on the water fishing, you might notice other, less tangible advantages. Rob Choi, avid kayak angler and blogger at angling-addict.com, likes how the pace associated with being self-propelled actually improves efficiency. “It forces the angler to slow things down and really focus,” he said. “You can’t jump around from spot to spot quickly. It makes us plan things better.”
Richie Bekolay finds being closer to the water and the fish both therapeutic and exciting. “You’re more in tune with your surroundings and all that Mother Nature offers,” he said. “Then, when you hook into a big fish, it turns from peaceful into hand-to-hand combat. You get the biggest adrenaline rush when that big fish is thrashing at the side of the kayak. Honestly, there is nothing on this planet for me that can beat that.”
And on those days when the bad news is the fish aren’t biting, the good news is you’re out on the water enjoying nature in a kayak. That’s not to say kayak fishermen aren’t serious about fishing, because many of them are among the most passionate anglers out there. But there’s something about being on a kayak that can turn even a bad fishing day into a good outing. Even the most hardcore anglers occasionally have to turn a day of fishing into a “photo day” when the fish aren’t biting. “Being silent and in the water, it’s definitely nice to be able to creep up on photo opportunities when fishing isn’t productive,” Choi said.
Keith Hendrickson, pro staff angler for Native Watercraft, keeps things in perspective. “When the fish aren’t biting, remember to kick back, stick your feet in the water, and drift,” he said. “And remember, it’s called fishing, not catching.”
Nine Favorite Spots to Wet a Line
From the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers at Harpers Ferry, downstream to the Point of Rocks bridge, the Potomac is relatively scenic, wide, and fairly slow during summer flows. Many businesses along this stretch rent kayaks for those wanting to try before they buy. Smallmouth, carp, catfish, and panfish can all be found here in great numbers. —Ed Felker
The Shenandoah River has countless public access points on the North Fork, South Fork and Main Stem. You can’t go wrong with any section of the river. Deep sections below Front Royal contain large smallmouth bass as well as the fish of 10,000 casts…the muskie. —Jeff Singleton
Unload and put in at the bridge in Remington. You will not be able to park but you can pull off the road long enough to unload. It’s a 4.5-mile trip from Remington to Kelly’s Ford. The last mile is nothing but rock garden. Focus your fishing time in the first 3-3 ½ miles and on the deeper pockets. If the water is low (below 3’ on the Remington gauge) be prepared to drag your kayak through the rock garden. —Jeff Singleton
Bull Run/Occoquan Creek
Launching at Rt. 28 at the Prince William/Fairfax county line will send you 8.5 miles to Bull Run Marina and another 5 miles down to Fountainhead Regional Park on Occoquan reservoir. In the first 3.5 miles you will find largemouth, smallmouth, catfish, carp, and panfish while quickly covering the moving water. Not long after you pass under the railroad tracks Bull Run opens up and becomes still. All of this is within 30 miles of DC, incredible scenery and plenty of large fish on this tranquil trip. —Jeff Singleton
Virginia/Maryland Potomac tributaries
Mattawoman Creek is a versatile fishery that even a beginner can enjoy. Watch the tide chart. If you put in at Slavins boat ramp when the tide is incoming, you can almost effortlessly paddle upstream and reach hidden alcoves and feeder creeks for great largemouth bass and northern snakehead fishing. During the summer months, take advantage of casting a top water frog or popper into the lilly pads and hydrilla, and you will be sure to hook into something. Afterwards, catch the outgoing tide for a leisurely float back downstream to return to the boat launch.
West Virginia: Potomac River/Smoke Hole Canyon
This is one of the most beautiful floats you will ever experience. With a chance to catch smallmouth bass as well as trout, catching 60+ smallies is typical. The scenery will not disappoint if the fishing is bad, with unparalleled views. Launch at big bend campground and take out at Royal Glenn Rd for a peaceful two-day float. This is typically only accessible by canoe or kayak. —Kodi Bowers
North Carolina: The North Toe River
This is my favorite for easy access, quality fishing, and paddling. It has some rapids but nothing you can’t carry your boat around (above the gorge, of course). —Keith Hendrickson
North Carolina: The French Broad
The French Broad has good fishing and sections you can float without getting out of your boat. Plus you can pull over and get a beer or BBQ sandwich. —Keith Hendrickson
North Carolina: The Broad River
The Broad near Shelby has good fishing and easy paddling. If you put in above Cliffside Power plant (which is the float I recommend), you have to portage around a low head dam but it’s easy. —Keith Hendrickson