There are so many places you can fish and species you can target from a kayak, and my favorite bodies of water to fish are lakes. Talking about a serene environment, and water that’s friendly to beginners, lake kayak fishing is great for so many reasons. Around southern California, there are some great options, and while our lakes are mostly small in comparison to the rest of the country, they hold plenty of fun species to target. My favorite is largemouth bass, so in this article, I’ll go through largemouth bass basics to cover some of the rods, reels, tackle, and techniques you’ll need to have a fun day on the water and a great chance at catching some nice bass.
Spinning or Conventional?
Starting out you have two basic options for a rod and reel combo: spinning or casting (baitcaster). Both setups have their advantages for too many reasons to cover in this article, so I’ll do my best to help you decide on what’s best for you. Spinning reels are more forgiving and allow you to cast lighter lures farther, not having to worry about “birds nesting” your line, plus they have caught plenty of double-digit bass in their days. Baitcasters are a more traditional tool that offers accuracy, torque, and a smoother feel, but they do come with a little bit of a casting learning curve. With that said most manufacturers have added braking systems to their baitcasters and other technology to greatly minimize the chances of a “bird’s nest” compared to 20 years ago. The choice is yours, and perhaps one of each is the best answer to which one you should get. You’ll want to match up a rod that’s designed to take a spinning reel or baitcaster and one that matches the size line and lures you want to use.
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I recommend a 7’ to 7’6” medium or medium heavy rod rated for something like 8-17lb line. This will allow you to cast light lures but still have the backbone to pull a big bass out of the structure. Something like the Daiwa Tatula Elite rods or St Croix Mojo Yak rods are excellent choices and top-quality rods you’ll have for a long time. Spool up your reel with braid to eliminate line twists, increase casting distance, and feel bites better (because braided line has no stretch).
My favorite braid of all time that’s on every one of my spinning setups is Daiwa Samurai braid. 20lb is perfect for this setup and its thin diameter and soft feel will bring tears of joy to your eyes. It’s expensive, but worth every penny. I’ve had the same braid on some of my spinners for over 5 years and I’m still using it. You can fish straight braid or add a leader to minimize the chances of fish seeing your line.
Choosing the correct size leader line will vary considerably depending on the technique of lure you are fishing. As a basic rule of thumb, a 3-4 ft of monofilament or fluorocarbon leader and 12-20lb will serve you well and works great for 90% of your needs. I will increase my leader length and downsize the strength of the leader when drop-shotting in open water (no trees or snaggy structure around). I’ll go as light as 4lb if needed, but usually, 8lb or 10lb does the trick. Personally, I always use fluorocarbon.
Lures for Spinners
Probably the most well-known bass lure on the planet is the Gary Yamamoto Senko. It’s extremely versatile and can be fished in an array of different ways from a Carolina rig, Texas rig, weedless or whacky. You can fish it deep or in inches of water. I carry the 4”, 5”, and 7” sizes depending on what I’m doing. If you were to buy one, get the 5” in green pumpkin, watermelon red flake, or green pumpkin green & purple. If fishing shallow shoreline rig it weedless on a 3/0 Gamakatsu wide gap worm hook or wacky style on a size 1 wide gap hook. Work it slow, let it flutter on the sink, and give it periodic pops to trigger a reaction strike.
Some of my other favorites are a small popper for topwater action, a Roboworm in Aaron’s magic color for drop shotting, a Keitech 3.8” paddle tail rigged on an Owner Twistlock 1/8 ounce hook for casting around submerged bushes, a Texas rigged Missile D-Bomb rigged with a light weight for fishing tulles or grass, or a light jig for fishing rocky structure. Aside from these recommendations, the world of bass lures is endless, and you can fish pretty much any lure out there on a spinning rod.
A 6’6”-8’ rod is ideal and really depends on the technique and size of lure you’re throwing. A 7’ to 7’4” is your go-to length. I usually fish heavier with my casting setup, so a Medium Heavy or Heavy rod rated within 10-25lb is perfect for 80% of your needs. Two of my favorites are the Daiwa Tatula Elite rods and the St Croix Victory series. I pair this rod up with a Daiwa Tatula SV baitcasting reel spooled up with either 30lb Daiwa J-Braid or fluorocarbon. A good all-around size fluoro is 14lb and will allow you to fish a multitude of lures and techniques but still land that trophy bass.
I’ll punch heavy cover or cast into matted areas using braid for fishing things like heavy punch rigs, frogs, large swimbaits, and Texas rigs. I like using a tungsten weight for punching and Texas rigs because they are smaller for their weight, and they don’t absorb shock like lead so you can feel the bottom better. I’ll use the fluoro setup for fishing Z-Man Jack Hammer chatterbaits, a variety of crankbaits, and spinnerbaits because straight fluoro sinks better than braid and has more stretch, so fish eating a moving bait can turn their head after getting the bait in their mouth before I feel them and set the hook, resulting in a better hookup and landing ratio.
If I were to go with one setup it would be the braided setup because of its versatility. The gear ratio of the reel should be somewhere around the 7:1 ratio for this setup. It’s not too slow and not too fast so you can control your cadence on your own depending on what you’re fishing.
Lures for Casting
Like the Senko, a spinnerbait has been around the block plenty of times and caught some of the largest bass out there. White with silver willow blades is always a good color spinnerbait. I love the Warbaits spinnerbaits for covering water fast and locating fish, and the hard thump of a spinnerbait bite is hard to beat.
A jig or Texas rig is also a very common way to fish for largemouth, and a plethora of baits to imitate various forms of forage can be used to best match the primary feed of the fish at a certain time of the year. Crawfish patterns are very popular and there are hundreds to choose from, so pick a few and work them slowly off the bottom around wood or rock. Two of my favorite baits to Texas rig are the Missile Baits D-Bomb for punching or casting around wood or rocks, and the Zoom Brush Hog works extremely well when rigged weedless around thinner vegetation and grass edges.
Hardbaits like crankbaits and jerkbaits are great tools as well. Fish crankbaits by bouncing them off rip-rap-like boulder fields or rocky edges and submerged trees. You want your crankbait in contact with the bottom deflecting off structure to trigger strikes. If you get hung up, release pressure on your line to allow the bait to float up, and then keep cranking and be ready for a bite. If you do snag your lure on a tree or rock, try popping your line from tight to slack to free your lure.
Jerkbaits work fantastically in open water, and with some of today’s new fishfinder technology have resulted in some amazing victories on the Bassmaster Elite tour. Cast the jerkbait out and use a walking-the-dog motion to twitch and pause, twitch and pause, twitch and pause. This action creates commotion and draws bass in, giving them time to investigate and eat the bait on the pause.
With all lure colors, I like to try and match the color of the water or the general stain of the water. If it’s light green I may go with a chartreuse color, dark green… a green pumpkin, dark and stained (tannic)… a blue or black, etc. If it’s clear, go with more natural-colored baits and even ones with some flash to them. Downsize or upsize your line to get bites but pay attention to the cover and structure you are fishing to be sure you can land the fish and don’t get busted off. Low light conditions think contrasting colors, wind on the water will probably have the fish in a more relaxed mood where they’ll wander out from structure or shade that they’ll hide away in on flat calm sunny days.
Be prepared for a fun and safe day on the water and check the weather before you go. Don’t forget your net at home! Bass jump and shake so carry a net to increase your chances of landing them alongside your kayak. Catch, photograph and release and grab a measurement of your fish using a Ketch measuring board. If you’re going to weigh your fish, make sure you handle them with care so they can bite a fellow angler’s lure someday and bring them the same joy you will experience kayak fishing for largemouth bass.