Whether you’re new to kayak fishing or an old salty dawg, here are a few gear items that are helpful, and in my opinion, must haves when setting out for a day on the water. When prepping for a trip, think about what you might need, but also about what could be useful to help someone else in distress on the water.
Always wear one! Even if you fish in a warm climate or you just don’t think you need to wear one, please do. Accidents happen fast and being prepared for them is important. There are plenty of options out there for PFD’s today from inflatables to designer foam filled vests. I wear a manual (pull tab) inflatable when fishing in hot and humid weather because they are lightweight and unrestricting, but in colder conditions, I’ll go with a PFD that offers warmth, storage and a more secure (immediate) fit. Mustang Survival makes a great inflatable and companies like Stohlquist and NRS have plenty of good options for foam filled PFD’s.
First Aid Kit
I carry a few basic first aid items inside a dry bag: My kit includes: Band-Aids, gauze, bandages, disinfectant, ibuprofen, tourniquet, Benadryl, aspirin, QuikClot®, a Sam Splint, and other items.
Read Next: How to Land a Yellowtail from your Kayak
Manual Bilge Pump
Leaks happen! Plastic can crack in unwanted areas and a small hole can leak water into your hull faster than you think. Flipping is another way to waterlog your yak and you don’t need a manual bilge pump, until you need one! I have experienced this myself and bailed fellow kayak anglers out of trouble many times.
Pro Tip: add a piece of tubing (2ft) to the outflow so when pumping water out through a deck hatch, the water flows over the gunnel and out of the deck of the kayak. Do not store your bilge pump inside your hull – it’s difficult to get to when your kayak is full of water.
Whistle or Air Horn
Loud sound attracts attention! Keep a whistle or air horn within easy reach, especially when kayak fishing in areas with high boat traffic. Kayaks are not always easy to see on the water, and a loud sound can get a boater’s attention and prevent a collision.
VHF Radio and Cell Phone
First of all, attach a lanyard to both your handheld VHF and cell phone. At least 3 of my cell phones have been eaten by the ocean. I use a VHF to chat with friends on the water as we cover ground as a team looking for fish, and they also provide a fast way to reach the US Coast Guard or other boaters in an emergency. A waterproof cell phone provides a secondary means of communication, a back-up GPS if you get lost in the marsh or caught in a fog bank offshore, and a camera. Rogue Fishing Co. makes a nifty cell phone lanyard that every kayak angler needs.
Visibility Flag (and light)
Even if you own a hi-vis colored kayak, you can never be too visible on the water. The Visibility Kit II by RailBlaza includes a 3-piece collapsible mast, flag and nav light for those anglers targeting fish at night.
RailBlaza Visibility Kit II
2 is 1 and 1 is none. If you paddle, bring a spare one, and if you pedal, make sure you bring a paddle. A backup form of propulsion is a smart idea because paddles and pedal drives can and do break on rare occasions. You don’t want to be miles from the launch with no way to get back.
Pro Tip: Choose a good quality 4-piece paddle you can store inside the hull “just in case”.
Dry Bag and Dry Boxes
Sitting low to the water, items on a kayak are at higher risk of getting soaked. Solution: Keep things like keys, wallet, toilet paper, clothing, electronics, etc. in a dry bag or dry box. Roll up dry bags come in various sizes and are soft and easy for stuffing gear inside. Dry boxes add some rigidness and protection to more fragile items.
Pro Tip: hatches don’t always seal 100%, so use a dry bag or dry box to waterproof.
SealLine 10L & 30L Dry Bags, Plano & Flambeau waterproof storage boxes
These are a must for early morning or nighttime missions. I like to always take mine with me because afternoon trips have been known to run into the night time when the fish are biting.
This is a big one for me because I’ve been that guy shivering on the water and praying for the sun to come out and warm me up. I’ve also been fried by the sun and eaten alive by bugs! I can’t stress enough how crucial good kayak fishing clothing is. Check out Aftco for all your kayak fishing clothing needs. They make clothing for anglers in warm and cold climates out of the best materials. If you’re looking for breathable, sun protective, warm or water resistant, they have it. Aftco even makes underwear for anglers which has eliminated chaffing for me, and their sun protective gloves protect from UV rays. They’re also an amazing company that fights for angler’s rights and gives 10% of their proceeds back to conservation. Aside from all my Aftco gear, I do own a set of NRS Sidewinder bibs and booties for dry launches through the surf, and I have used a Kokatat drysuit when kayak fishing in Washington and Alaska. I wear Astral water shoes for sun protection and to keep fish spines or hooks out of my feet.
Pro Tip: Keep a towel and change of clothes in your car for after your fishing session.
The right clothing is important for many reasons, from warm to cold, staying comfy & protected is key!
Sunglasses, Hat, and Sunscreen
These are a gimmie for beach goers, but I do advise sunscreen with zinc for use on your face and ears. For sunglasses, polarized lenses are a must for spotting fish and for protecting your eyes, not only from the sun, but from hooks. My favorite shades are the El Matadors from Hobie Eyewear because they wrap around and block out ambient light. The copper lens with green mirror has amazing contrast. Hobie Eyewear has fishing sunglasses that will perform and fit you right.
Leashes and Retractors
I use retractors on my fishing tools such as pliers and cutters. I use rod leashes, paracord or bungee for securing rods, game clips and other larger items to the kayak. Take it from a guy who has lost thousands of dollars’ worth of gear over the side… Leash it or lose it!
Pro Tip: Try to find a leash material that won’t tangle around fishing line or allow hooks to embed within the material.
Tether your gear if you don’t want to lose it!
Pliers and Cutters
You need a good set of pliers for removing hooks from fish. I also carry a set of split ring pliers for certain applications. Cutters are there for snipping line when tying on leaders or lures.
Pro Tip: Use a retractable leash to attach your fishing tools to the kayak.
Net/Gaff/Kage/Fish Grip/Game Clip/Soft Cooler/Descending Device
Kayaks are light and the closer a fish gets to the side of your yak the greater the chances of the hook falling out because of loss of leverage. I have experienced it myself and seen it on many occasions where the hook falls out as an angler nets a fish, especially when largemouth bass fishing. Whether you are catching or releasing, bring the right tool to get the fish secured. Nets with a rubber mesh reduce the chances of hooks becoming entangled. If you’re gaffing larger fish to eat, I advise a 3” hook and a 3-6 foot gaff length. Secure your fish with a game clip immediately and once it’s been dispatched and cared for give it the respect of an ice bath in a nice soft cooler fish bag. Reliable Fishing Products makes a great kayak fish bag.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget a sponge or scrubbing brush to clean up the mess while on the water because dry fish slime stinks.
For my friends who fish deep and catch fish that experience barometric trauma, please be respectful and responsible when releasing and take the time to descend your catch. The SeaQualizer is a must have for anyone who targets rockfish. I’ve used this tool for years and it’s an important one for properly releasing your fish.
Waterproof Tackle Boxes
I love the Plano Stowaway waterproof boxes with the built in gasket and latch system. Tackle is expensive, so for your saltwater kayak fishing trips don’t skimp because you’ll be sorry.
Your eyes under water for structure, bait fish, and target fish. Use the GPS feature to stay on top of fish, mark spots, understand your drift as it relates to wind and current and navigate. The Lowrance Elite series has been one of my long-time favorites.
Tackle Management System (crate)
Depending on how much gear you plan on bringing it’s nice to have an area in the rear cargo to organize and stash certain items. Crates are also great for adding rod storage and mounting accessories. Two of my favorites are the Hobie H-Crate and YakAttack BlackPak Pro Fishing Crate.