Skip to main content

Yak Attack: Kayak Basics for Trout Fishing

Yak Attack: Kayak Basics for Trout Fishing

Bring a new level of stealth, simplicity and satisfaction to your trout fishing by checking out kayak fishing. (Photo by Cal Kellogg)

If you’re not into kayak trout fishing, you need to get started. When? Anytime you can get on the water, be it a mountain lake, small impoundment, large reservoir or even a river or tailwater fishery. While I hammer trout out of my kayak all year long, winter is my hands-down favorite time to fish.

The cold months offer many advantages for the kayak-equipped trout angler. In winter the trout in reservoirs are typically near the surface and aggressively feeding on baitfish, while river trout tend to stack up in shallow runs where they get maximum warming benefit from the weak winter sun. In both situations, the trout are highly vulnerable to an angler trolling and casting from a nimble, stealthy ’yak.

THE KAYAK ADVANTAGE

If you’re not up to date on what’s been going on in the kayaking scene, you might be imagining a bearded ’70s adventurer with wet, shoulder-length hair flowing from beneath a helmet sitting in a tight-around-the-waist whitewater kayak. Well, the beards are certainly back, but the fishing kayaks we have today aren’t your daddy’s whitewater kayak.

Some guys are able to fish just fine from a paddle kayak, but in my view a “peddle drive” kayak is absolutely essential for serious fishing, especially if you intend to troll. Some brands utilize sophisticated fin-propulsion systems. Others use a propeller, much like the prop you see on an electric trolling motor. Yes, you can attach an electric motor to a kayak, too.


Kayaks with either prop- or fin-propulsion systems have their supporters. Me? I’m a “fin guy” and amazed by the power and efficiency they offer. I can hit top speeds of 5 mph in my Hobie Pro Angler, oftentimes trolling for five or six hours without fatigue.


The stability, capacity and storage incorporated into the modern fishing kayak is amazing.

Truth be told, I have better immediate access to tackle, steering and speed control in my kayak than I do when I’m running a big aluminum sled. In a kayak, the rods I’m fishing are either in my hand or in rod holders within easy reach.

Below those, several more rods are positioned in storage tubes ready to be called into service in seconds. Tackle, net, sonar unit? All of it surrounds my seat, is quickly accessible and is tethered, so nothing gets lost.

A stove and accessories (nothing better than a hot shore lunch on a cold winter day) are often stored in the kayak’s main storage compartment. This year, one of the big events I’m looking forward to is my annual winter kayak camping trip. I’ll pick out a big reservoir and spend four or five days fishing and exploring while never setting up camp in the same cove twice.


WHY KAYAK FOR TROUT?

The biggest advantages for kayak-borne trout anglers come in the form of simplicity, portability and affordability.

After getting my first kayak, it didn’t take me long to realize that kayaking is a lot easier and less stressful than dealing with a traditional boat. Toss your kayak in the bed of the truck with a tote holding your gear, life vest and other safety equipment, and you’re ready to roll. And while you roll, you won’t be worried about that big 20-foot hunk of aluminum following you that costs exponentially more than even the most expensive fishing kayak. I’ve run a bunch of company-sponsored, heavy-aluminum sleds and I loved every one of them because they are incredible fishing machines.

What I didn’t love was the two hours of pre-trip prep time and the two hours of post-trip clean-up time. I also didn’t really like doing daily chores with a massive boat in my driveway that always seemed to be blocking the easiest line of travel.


And I really didn’t love it when my transmission exploded while I was trying to back a huge 21-foot deep-hulled aluminum boat up a steep driveway. For the ultimate in simplicity you can easily carry a fishing kayak in the bed of your truck or on a roof top rack if you run a wagon or SUV.

With my kayaks, most of the stuff that isn’t in the kayak already is stored in a big plastic tote.

I can hit the road pretty much instantly when the opportunity arises. These days I have a modified utility trailer that allows me to carry two kayaks. And there’s never fear of finding the launch ramp in wintertime is standing yards above the waterline.

A lot of Western reservoirs are drawn down in winter in preparation to receive spring run-off. This is of no consequence to the kayaker. Simply drive down to the shoreline and launch. If the shoreline is too rough, snap the wheels on your ’yak and walk it down. It’s that simple, and since that launch ramp is closed, you’ll likely have that part of the lake all to yourself.

THE ’YAK ATTACK

Before we fish or even step into the water to hop onto your kayak, get that life jacket on and keep it on. Dead men don’t catch trout. Enough said.

My kayak is so stealthy, I spend most of my time aboard it on lakes trolling and exploring backwater areas where I’d never take a big boat. But trout aren’t always in “small” water, and other lake-fishing approaches put trout on the stringer, too.

In winter, when the trout are up in the water column, I run one rod spooled with mono for “top-line” trolling, while a second outfit holds lead-core line that take my lures 25 feet deep. (In summer, I run a small crank-styled downrigger for controlled-depth trolling.) When you find a concentration of fish, plugging for them with spoons and spinners is a no brainer, and I’ve had many productive days drifting worms and live minnows beneath slip bobbers.

Western trout fishing also includes rivers and tailwater fisheries. Many hold large trout that feed throughout the winter months, when fishing pressure on most rivers is exceptionally light. If you haven’t done much river fishing for trout from boats using conventional gear, you probably are envisioning the kayak drifting along as the angler “side drifts” bait or flies, much like steelhead anglers present roe while fishing from a drift boat. That method absolutely produces trout, but a much more exciting option is back-trolling lures. It works like this.

Using your peddles or paddle, the kayaker keeps the craft moving downstream at a pace slower than the river is flowing. In front of the kayak the angler hangs a lure — typically, a small plug — in the current, working upstream against the flow. The lure’s action — be it wobbling, diving and/or shimmying — is imparted as the current strikes the lure, which is held against a tight line. I drop my kayak’s peddle system into reverse so all the action is out in front of me.

The peddles working with the rudder allow me to “walk” my plugs into some awesome spots. In shallow water, some plugs dive deep enough that you can basically “top-line” them a set distance behind the kayak, and they will dive into the strike zone. If that isn’t an option, you can run a three-way rig and attach small sinkers that range upward from 1/2-ounce to get the lure down into the near-bottom strike zone.

GETTING OUT WITH YOUR ’YAK

If you want to bring a new level of stealth, simplicity and satisfaction to your trout fishing, check out kayak fishing. Many kayak shops have “get acquainted” days, where you can jump in a variety of different kayaks and take them for a test spin.

When you do get afflicted with the kayak bug, remember: Safety always comes first. Always wear your PFD (mine has a personal rescue beacon attached), and when you’re going to be out in low-light conditions, run an LED strobe light off the back of the ‘yak.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

New for 2021: Elite Archery Bows, Slick Trick Broadheads and CBE Sight

Learn more about two new Elite Archery bows, the Enkore and Remedy, two new broadhead from Slick Trick and a new site from Custom Bow Equipment (CBE).

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

We know what you're thinking: Isn't Benelli a shotgun company? Of course it is, but decades of shotgun manufacturing actually put Benelli in a unique position to redefine what a hunting rifle should be. Episode 1 reviews some company history to explain how this all came about.

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

New for 2021: Mathews V3 27 & 31 Bows

Bowhunter Editor Curt Wells had an exciting visit with Mark Hayes, design engineer for Mathews, as the pair looked at the new V3 27 and V3 31 bows.

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

ATA 2021 NeDuring this video from the Archery Trade Association's New Product Premiere showcase, Bowhunter's TV Mike Carney visited with Evan Williams, pro staff manager for Hoyt Archery, to learn about the new RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum and Ventum 33 bows.w Product - Hoyt

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Enjoy canned venison warmed or use it in stews, chili, and other hot dishes.Canned Venison Recipe Wild Game

Canned Venison Recipe

Raschell Rule - January 15, 2021

Enjoy canned venison warmed or use it in stews, chili, and other hot dishes.

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing.4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass Bass

4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing.

Make this venison chorizo recipe and cook it right away or freeze it (cooked or raw) and use it as needed.Venison Chorizo Recipe Wild Game

Venison Chorizo Recipe

Allie Doran - October 30, 2020

Make this venison chorizo recipe and cook it right away or freeze it (cooked or raw) and use...

The Havoc RS440 XERO, Havoc RS440 and Siege RS410 bring cutting-edge tech to your hunt.New for 2021 from TenPoint Crossbows Crossbows

New for 2021 from TenPoint Crossbows

Game and Fish Staff - December 29, 2020

The Havoc RS440 XERO, Havoc RS440 and Siege RS410 bring cutting-edge tech to your hunt.

See More Trending Articles

More Trout & Salmon

Bobber rigs and spinners are simple ways to put more steelhead in your net this summer.Bob 'N' Spin for Summer Steelheads Trout & Salmon

Bob 'N' Spin for Summer Steelheads

M.D. Johnson - July 31, 2020

Bobber rigs and spinners are simple ways to put more steelhead in your net this summer.

The weather may be frightful, but the ice fishing is so delightful on these lakes in the depths of winter.Northeastern Hot Spots for Hardwater Trout Trout & Salmon

Northeastern Hot Spots for Hardwater Trout

Matt Crawford - January 21, 2021

The weather may be frightful, but the ice fishing is so delightful on these lakes in the...

A 'trap line' around frozen river mouths will draw feisty fighters.Ice Fishing: Set a Steel Trap for Steelheads Trout & Salmon

Ice Fishing: Set a Steel Trap for Steelheads

Matt Straw - January 22, 2021

A 'trap line' around frozen river mouths will draw feisty fighters.

The South Platte offers some of the most technical trout fishing in the country—and a legitimate shot at the best brown trout of your life.Find Your Dream Stream on Colorado's South Platte River Fishing

Find Your Dream Stream on Colorado's South Platte River

Robb Wheaton - October 30, 2020

The South Platte offers some of the most technical trout fishing in the country—and a...

See More Trout & Salmon

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now