Effective Trolling With Your Kayak E-mail
Friday, 29 January 2010 07:06


While trolling is a mainstay of saltwater fishermen and also popular for targeting suspended fish in deepwater lakes of the northern US and Canada, it’s not the way most kayak anglers pursue fish. Most kayaks will be rigged with several flush mount rod holders or a rear crate with pvc holders for spare rods and a single Scotty or Ram mount centered in the console for holding the working a rod while the captain is busy paddling or maneuvering to his or her fishing spot.

Kayak Cockpit

I enjoy sight casting to surface feeding fish or bass when they are up on the beds during spawning as much as anyone. Unfortunately, this situation is more the exception than the rule. During a given twelve month period, good shallow water bass action, in the local lakes I fish, happens for less than a month. Yes, they may move into shallower water as sunlight fades late in the evening and may venture there until sunrise during summer months, but the simple fact of the matter is that most of the time large fish tend to live in deeper water than small fish (that’s why the little guys tend to be found in the shallows). Even when forage species like shad are out in deeper water, predatory species tend to be found beneath them, and launch their raids from beneath the school. Another bonus of going deep is the distinct possibility of picking up other large freshwater species. Blue cats, flatheads, channel cats, and large drum are all targets when you fish deep. I am thoroughly convinced that if you want to want to take large freshwater   fish consistently you need to present  baits to them where they are most often found, generally with considerable water over them.  If you cast and jig to these fish you are working one bait slowly with lots of dead time reeling, casting, and letting the bait fall into the productive zone. And where do almost all the strikes come? That’s right, the very moment when your lure enters the productive zone; either on or within a few inches of the bottom. Once your jig is there for a few seconds you bounce it a time or two and then its up and away and back to the boat. Most of your time is spent getting that lure to the productive zone for only a few seconds. In my opinion a more effective way to maximize the time you spend fishing that highly productive bottom zone is efficient trolling, and your kayak can excel as a trolling vessel.

My X-Factor came equipped with four flush mount rod holders, just fine for holding rods that weren’t being fished or still fishing, but not properly located or angled for trolling. I mounted Scotty’s (Ram mounts would work just as well or better) just forward and inside of  both  front  flush mounts, where I can just reach them, yet they don’t interfere with a moderate paddle stroke. I have the 6” mini extenders under them so they are up and out of the way of my feet.  To make things easier to reach I keep a left handed reel on the port side, and a right hand reel on the starboard, so I can make adjustments without removing the reels from the holders. My preference is bait-casters, but spinners would work as well, your reels are just going to be closer to the water. With this set up I can set the poles almost horizontally from the yak and get maximum depth out of my lures with a shorter line.

The most important piece of fishing equipment in the yak sits way up in the front of the console out of the way.  I turn on the Lowrance X-86 (the next generation X-96s are now at the end of their run) when I launch and don’t touch it again until I turn it off at the end of the trip. There really is no need to be playing with the unit while you are fishing. I keep a fully charged deer feeder battery forward of the center storage compartment in a Tupperware sandwich box, and it will generally give me 6-8 hours of run time. The transducer shoots through the hull and is mounted next to the battery. While almost any unit will show you water depth, having a large screen lets you see greater detail from a distance and I don’t have to squint or lean forward to look at detail of structure or fish while paddling. Many of the newer units have an integrated GPS as well and make storing structure locations a snap. I carry an old hand held Garmin if I want to save myself some guessing on future trips. Nice Bass Trolled Up Kayak Fishing

Once you have made the commitment to fish deep, it is important to realize that most of the bottom is devoid of fish. The key to finding good fish is locating fish holding structure on the bottom. If we were in saltwater we would be looking for a reef, in freshwater we search for rock piles, road  beds, creek channels, weed beds, or anything else that isn’t a plain old flat bottom. It might be huge (a mile long submerged road) or just a single large boulder or tiny submerged island. With practice, you will not only find good structure, but you will find individual large fish. At any rate, these underwater pieces of unique “structure” are where you going to hunt good fish. On a strange lake or bay you will have get the best maps you can and search a bit.

Once you have located good structure you have to put your baits right on it. My favorite way to approach good structure is with floating, deep diving crank baits that are churning right along the bottom. When you stop to do battle with a fish, the second lure simply bobs it way back to the surface out of harms way.  I’m not overly obsessed with any single make of crank bait, as long as they will dive deeper than the water you are fishing. One of the first realizations you will have is just how slow you need to travel to get your plugs deep and swimming their best. If my plugs are churning along in 12 feet of water and I hit an 8ft hump, I just slow a tiny bit and let the plugs crawl over the structure. You will easily be able to tell if your baits are swimming through the water column or crawling along the bottom (mud, rocks, or weeds). If you are not getting hung up regularly you are not in contact with the bottom often enough. You can either be a major donor to your favorite lure manufacturer, or invest in a plug knocker. It will pay for itself the first trip; they don’t cost any more than a Shad Rap. I actually set mine in the cockpit just beyond my feet so I don’t have to dig it out of a hatch when I’m hung. With two 6-7 ft rods your baits are crawling along the bottom 10-12 ft apart so don’t give up on good structure after one or two passes without success. When I decide to make any significant turn, I reel in the outside lure, let the inside plug float, and reset the bait after I have completed the turn. It takes a little practice, but will become second nature with repetition.

Nice Bass

You won’t be able to set your drags real tight because if you hang something solid you don’t want to break a rod or go swimming. Drags are easy to tighten up, if needed, once you have a fish on. You also don’t want excessive stretch in your line, because you won’t be able to rear back and set the hook with your rods in the holders.  I prefer braided line with a short fluorocarbon leader and have had pretty good results letting the rod and the yak’s momentum set the hook. Keeping your hooks razor sharp will also help your hook up rate. A high visibility braid also lets you see where both lines are at all times, a real plus during low light conditions.

Before you start dreaming about a new Hobie, Propel, or Torque, and how easy all this would be if you didn’t have to paddle, here are a couple of other points to ponder. I have watched suspended fish drop in the water column repeatedly when a bass boat cruised by 75-100 feet away under electric power. Do you think your pedal powered craft are really as stealthy as a nice quiet paddle? Keep in mind that in 15 feet of water your kayak is passing within just 15 feet of the fish, before your lures arrive.

Just like that first kayak fishing trip, when you were trying to figure out how in the world to cast and paddle a kayak at the same time with a breeze blowing, getting the hang of trolling with a couple of rods while paddling takes a bit of practice. Once you get it figured out, however, you will start catching fish considerably larger than those that hang out next to a stump in two feet of water all summer. Keeping two lures crawling along the bottom in 10-20 feet of water where the larger fish live most of the time, however, will definitely improve the chance that you will also need another piece of equipment, a good camera!





+9 #1 Guest 2010-02-10 15:09
Instead of reaching for rods when you get a strike, take 1-2 good strong strokes and then reach for the paddle. The quick momentum forward is enough to set the hook and keep you moving while you grab for the rod. It took me a season of kayak trolling (and many missed strikes) to figure this out. With regards to wind, always try to troll in the direction of the wind if possible, often the wind creates enough boat speeed to troll by itself. I have caught many fish under only wind power while trolling.
0 #2 Guest 2010-02-11 14:42
Opps, reach for ROD after 1-2 god strokes.
0 #3 bob good 2010-03-09 21:15
Many of the waters I fish in Colorado and Utah are gin clear. I have three Hobies, all Mirage Drive propelled. I don't peddle constantly, but "push peddle hard forward" then drift. Repeat.
It gives the lure erratic, wounded action. I often drift right over fish I can see, then have them strike. Shadows cause more problems than peddle noise.
+1 #4 Guest 2011-04-19 13:28
Great article heading to the Chesepeke Bay with my son to try some Trolling for stripped Bass. Hopefully will have some pictures and a good story to tell after the week end.
0 #5 kcbrown 2011-05-15 19:31
Hung some nice fish trolling. Latest was a 5-6# channel cat while trolling a small crank bait. Good times. I also slow troll two jigs/line with my 12' crappie poles. Nice way to rack up some crappie fillets.
+1 #6 Guest 2011-05-18 20:00
I don't fish fresh water anymore but in north east florida I troll with my hobbie outback using mostly gulp and power grubs in rootbeer gold and white with a chartruese tail and rapala slash raps in gold and black and silver and black these baits tend to immitate the mullet that most saltwater in-shore species feed on here like flounder, redfish and spotted seatrout the 3 main species I pursue yhe freshwatewr largemouth bass here are not very appetizing and I can catch them at a small lake at my place of employment and in the summer months I like to fish at night especially around the bright dock lights located along the interacoastal waterway where I fish and the great part about all this is all my freshwater tackle is great for in the salt to you don't have to change anything except you need to wash your equipment more thoughraly afterward.
+2 #7 Guest 2011-08-04 10:54
Great article. What length and action of rod is needed for kayak trolling? Thanks
0 #8 Guest 2011-09-07 23:39
I find a longer rod in medium or medium light action with a moderately fast tip works great. The longer rod makes for easier and better hooksets. Rodmaker magazine had a good article on building one. A good custom rod builder will help you design one to fit your needs, likes and budget. As one myself, we like a challenge and can customize the look, feel and performance. Makes a difference! Like the micro or mini guides. I'd even tell you to consider a spiral wrap. Less torque trying to rotate the on you makes it easier to fight and big or strong fish and keeps your hand and wrist from getting tired. Just my 2 cents
0 #9 Guest 2011-09-07 23:39
I find a longer rod in medium or medium light action with a moderately fast tip works great. The longer rod makes for easier and better hooksets. Rodmaker magazine had a good article on building one. A good custom rod builder will help you design one to fit your needs, likes and budget. As one myself, we like a challenge and can customize the look, feel and performance. Makes a difference! Like the micro or mini guides. I'd even tell you to consider a spiral wrap. Less torque trying to rotate the on you makes it easier to fight and big or strong fish and keeps your hand and wrist from getting tired. Just my 2 cents
0 #10 BMB 2011-11-25 23:32
I have been Kayak trolling, mostly for crappie for a number of years. I have Atwoods with extensions, flush mounts and scotty gear head rod holders, as well as a milk crate with vertical PVC. I sometimes have six lines in the water but when the action is hot, four is about all I can keep up with. One thing I came up with is a 1 1/2" PVC eatension for my flush mounts, I cut a piece of pipe about 18" long. The diameter slides right in the flushmounts that are behind the seat of my Hurricane Phoenix 13. I cut notches 1/2" x1/2" that hold the trigger on my baitcasters or the arm of my spinning reels. With this notch, I can rotate the pipe and orient the rods so that the guides are perpindicular to the line. I use 10lb mono in bright yellow for visibility with 6'-8' flouro leader. I mainly fish rapala hj-6's in shallow resevoirs in eastern NC. Back in July, on a family vacation to High Rock Lake, I came up with the Carolina Crank rig, I used a 3/8 oz egg in front of a swivel to get my SK Mini 3's and rapala GSR 04s down to about 12'. I absolutely kiled white bass, crappie, LMB, stripers and even a few catfish. I also use Churches Mini planers- like the article says, even a kayak will spook fish from underneath. These little planers will handle mid sized crankbaits and soft plastics on leadheds with ease. I plane them out about 15-20' to each side. Try Yak trolling, you'll LOVE it.
+1 #11 David Wagner 2012-07-20 14:31
I've trolled a lot kayak fishing in the bay... and caught some good rock, mostly on retrieve... like the follow it, and smash it when it speeds up. Careful too... I've also snagged my share of rays and they will pull you around until you cut them off!

You must be registered to post a comment.



Subscribe here to receive FREE email issues of Kayak Fishing Magazine.

Most Popular

Choosing a Fishing Kayak
Like many kayak fisherman, my first fishig kayak was a mistake and I only used it a few times.  There wasn’t a lot of information available.  Things have...
Electric Kayaks – an in Depth Look
Bassyaks, Torqeedo and Torque I have been living with electric kayaks (EK) since July of 2009. I have done so in order to get a much better understanding of their potential,...
Kayak Fishing on a Budget
As we are all aware of we are in some tough economic times and even though kayak fishing is a pretty inexpensive sport relative to owning a boat or hiring fishing guides, it still...


Ready for Liftoff-Cape Canaveral Snapper
Cape Canaveral Florida is known world wide as the launch pad for the US Space Program. Nicknamed "The Space Coast," everything from the Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle missions have...
Icast Show 2010
The 2010 Las Vegas Icast show again produced many products that are specifically made for the kayak angler or can be well adapted for the kayak fishing environment. In speaking...
Some thoughts On Kayak Fishing Safety in Hawaii
Aloha all KFM readers. I hope you had a great holiday break and that you are safe and well. This is the time of year I go over safety and try my best to make people understand...

Latest Kayak Reviews

Native Watercraft Mariner 12.5 Propel Anglers
Hobie Mirage Outback
Pelican Castaway 100
Stealth Pro Fisha 575
Field and Stream Eagle Talon
Feelfree Moken 12.5
Pelican Castaway 100
Ascend FS10
Sun Dolphin Excursion 10
Santa Cruz Kayaks Raptor SOT
Old Town Predator 13
RTM Kayaks Tempo Angler

Latest Equipment Reviews

Body Glove 3T Barefoot Max
Body Glove 3T Barefoot Warrior
Body Glove 3T Barefoot Warrior
Columbia Drainmaker
Sperry SON-R Sounder Shandal
Garmin VIRB Elite
Polaroid XS100
Backwater Paddles Assault Hand Paddle
Backwater Paddles Assault Hand Paddle
Stohlquist Piseas
Wheeleez Tuff Tire Kayak Cart
Boga Grip