April 21, 2021
Advancements in modern kayak fishing have led to increasing diversity. Powerful electric motors, sophisticated sonar and increased storage systems have made modern kayaks as versatile as many larger, gas-powered craft.
But the greatest advantage a 'yak gives the angler is the ability to fish areas that most other boats simply cannot. Where launch ramps are unimproved or nonexistent, the fishing is frequently a couple notches above the norm. This is where a kayak truly shines.
Throughout the nation there are thousands of waterways perfect for kayak fishing, but finding species-specific hot spots requires research. To get your bow pointed in the right direction, following is a short list of select regional locations that offer a variety of fish as well as diverse water types and environments.
If you are planning a road trip or fishing vacation with your kayak, these destinations should rank high on your list.
If I had a week, preferably two, to burn on a kayak trip then south Florida would be my destination. Everglades City is a good starting point for access to marshes, tidal creeks, flats and brackish flows where snapper, snook, tarpon of varying sizes, redfish and seatrout abound. You’ll find various accommodations and eateries near the city, as well as several guide services and bait shops that will steer you in the right direction for a kayak adventure.
A good base-camp option is Trail Lakes Campground off Route 41. From there, you can make a day run to famed Lake Okeechobee. Almost everyone goes to the "Big O" for a shot at a trophy largemouth, but it’s also one of the premier destinations for huge coppernose bluegill. This distinct subspecies routinely reaches 10 to 12 inches in length, weighs 1 to 2 pounds and yields great-tasting fillets.
- WATERWAYS: Tidal creeks in the Everglades and Big Cypress National Parks; Lake Okeechobee; canal systems
- LOCATION: South Florida
- TOP TIMES: All year
- TARGET SPECIES: Largemouth and peacock bass, coppernose bream, exotics, juvenile tarpon, snook, redfish
South Florida’s extensive canal systems are home to exotic species such as peacock bass, jaguar guapote and other cichlids, oscars, clown knifefish and bullseye snakeheads. The Turner River and its canal system is popular for bulldozing oscars that can weigh up to 2 pounds, and the Golden Gate canal system has powerhouse peacock bass. Native gamesters include spotted and Florida gar, bowfin, chain pickerel and, of course, largemouth bass.
Sandwiched by the Chesapeake Bay to the west and the Delaware Bay to the east, the Delmarva Peninsula is a 180-mile-long, 70-mile-wide land mass that includes three states. Its tannin-stained freshwater rivers and lakes offer largemouth bass, quality panfish and hefty chain pickerel in the 4- to 6-pound range.
In addition, many waters in Maryland’s Dorchester and Wicomico counties serve as the epicenter of the northern snakehead invasion.
Saltwater favorites such as redfish, seatrout, striped bass and flounder inhabit the brackish bays and the surf near Assateague Island.
- WATERWAYS: Delmarva Peninsula freshwater lakes, tidal rivers, saltwater estuaries
- LOCATION: Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Delaware, Virginia
- TOP TIME: April through December
- TARGET SPECIES: Largemouth bass, world-class chain pickerel, panfish, striped bass, seatrout, redfish
A variety of accommodations can be found in the Maryland cities of Denton, Cambridge, Salisbury and Ocean City. In Delaware focus on the Route 13 and Route 113 corridors for both lodging and access near many lakes on the outskirts of Seaford, Laurel, Milton and Millsboro. There are nearly 60 public millponds in both Maryland and Delaware on the peninsula. The town of Chincoteague, Va., is a great takeoff point for saltwater kayak anglers.
Approximately 45 miles northwest of Minneapolis, the town of Clearwater serves as a gateway to the upper Mississippi River’s top-drawer smallmouth bass action during the summer and early fall. Kayakers favor this stretch because larger boats have difficulty accessing it, especially during summertime low-water periods.
Long pools, bluff banks, deep runs and shallow riffles characterize the varied habitat, and any float from St. Cloud to Clearwater should produce 2- to 4-pound smallmouths. Much of the river here is designated as Wild and Scenic with no shoreline development or housing.
- WATERWAYS: Upper Mississippi River and surrounding lakes
- LOCATION: Clearwater, Minn.
- TOP TIMES: June through September
- TARGET SPECIES: Smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, crappies
Tougher access equates to better bassing. With light to medium spinning gear and 6- to 8-pound lines, anglers should throw hair jigs, tube baits, classic topwaters and small buzzbaits to fool smallmouths during the summer bite. Toss in bonus walleyes, northern pike and channel catfish for added spice.
If you are looking for largemouth bass with a side dish of walleyes and crappies, the dozens of local lakes offer just that.
Nearby Clearwater Lake, at 3,158 acres, has seen an upsurge in black crappies with 10- to 13-inch fish moving shallow in mid-May to early June for the spawn. It’s also a noted lake for northern pike, some of which are in the 30- to 34-inch range and make for exciting kayak fishing. Many smaller, natural public lakes are within easy driving distance as well. A variety of restaurants and hotels are located in the Clearwater/St. Cloud area.
Long recognized as one of the top trophy largemouth fisheries of the West, this 43,000-acre natural lake has yielded hundreds of giant bass over the years. (The lake record stands at 17.52 pounds.) Many bass tournaments, including kayak events, are held on Clear Lake.
Lots of prime shoreline structure like weedbeds, tules, fallen trees, docks, bulkheads and riprap is ideal for kayak bassing when strong winds make main lake efforts difficult and dangerous.
- WATERWAY: Clear Lake
- LOCATION: Northern California
- TOP TIMES: May to November
- TARGET SPECIES: Largemouth bass, crappies, redear sunfish, channel catfish
But as good as the bass fishing is, the fisheries for other species remain phenomenal. Clear Lake has a huge population of black crappies from 14 to 16 inches, bluegills and redear sunfish running 10 to 13 inches, and a remarkable population of 15- to 20-plus-pound channel cats.
All are overlooked and underfished. Crappie fishing can be berserk here, with days where the fish average 2 pounds. In February of this year, local angler David Burruss caught a 4.33-pound black crappie from Clear Lake while fishing in a bass tournament—a pending state record. Plenty of food and lodging options are located around the perimeter of the lake, including Clear Lake State Park.