Kayak fishing in the ocean is insane amounts of fun alone or while kayaking with friends in a group. The freedom of being in your own boat and going wherever you want on the ocean is something that most people will never even experience once. Once you start fishing from a Kayak, it’s impossible to stop! If you have a family, do not read this post. Unless you plan on getting them kayaks too.
Why Fish from a Kayak?
Fishing from an inshore location, the beach, a pier, a bridge, or wade-fishing can be really fun. Fishing from a boat on a deep sea fishing trip can be loads of fun. Fishing from a kayak takes the fun of fishing to a higher level. You’re on the water, which is where you should be. You’re completely self-guided. You can do what you want. You can plan to stay out on the ocean all day and then camp in the mangroves if you want (bugs, gators, skeeters), or find a deserted island and set up your tent. You can easily go for a weekend to explore one of Florida’s hundreds of parks and kayak on fresh or saltwater for the weekend and get back Sunday night. You are the Captain of your own boat when you own a kayak!
Kayak fishing gives you freedom. It can be freedom from your family or your stressful job. It can be freedom from life. Floating on the water and listening to nature and the splash of baitfish or birds crashing into the water around you as they hunt for fish below the surface is a really amazing feeling. I think once you try it, you’ll try it again. I bought my first kayak twenty years ago and I can say 100% my life has changed for the better because of it. Seriously, go rent a kayak and bring your fishing gear or just paddle around in a quiet bay. You’re going to see that life really isn’t all that bad. Can you put a price on that?
Is Fishing from a Kayak Difficult (for balance) on the Ocean?
Yes, and no. Mostly no. Mostly it depends on where you’re going. There are PLENTY of very calm bays and mouths of rivers to kayak in that have almost no waves and that are safe, quiet, and will give you a fantastic experience. You don’t need to paddle into rolling seas over deepwater to fish from your kayak. Scroll down and you’ll find Great Florida Kayak Fishing Spots.
Is paddling the kayak difficult for long distances? It depends. If you are paddling against the wind and tide, and you’re in a hurry because you’re trying to beat the dark because you have no lights on your kayak, then yeah, it can be difficult. I’ve had more than a couple of these adventures. My back hurt a bit by the time I paddled the couple of miles to get back to my home dock, but I made it. If you’re smart and time your kayak fishing to match the tides you can go down a canal during outgoing tide and come back during incoming tide. It makes it all significantly easier!
Is it difficult to balance in the kayak while fishing?
No, not at all. You won’t have trouble balancing. Kayaks today are made for stability. Nobody likes to fall off. I’ve fallen off only a couple times as I was getting out of the kayak and trying to climb up onto a pier. It’s not a big deal. Practice getting back in! Paddling is not difficult, but if you don’t want to paddle you can push up and down on pedals to move your boat forward instead. MANY anglers are using this type of drive system while fishing because it frees up the hands to fish. Try both before you choose a kayak. We’ll talk about pedal systems in a minute.
Choosing a Kayak
Sit-On-Top Kayaks vs. Sit-Inside Kayaks
With sit-on-top kayaks you don’t need to climb into a hole, you just sit in the seat on top. There are single and tandem sit-on-top fishing kayaks available. Almost everyone fishes in sit-on-top kayaks in Florida. Why? Stability primarily, but also comfort. While the seating areas are similar in both types of kayaks, the storage options are far more numerous and varied in sit-on-top kayaks. Not to mention, the sit inside kayaks are typically fiberglass or other heavier material. We’ll rarely tell you when not to buy something, but don’t buy a sit-inside kayak for kayak fishing, just buy the sit-on-top like everyone else. It’s more stable. It’s a lot more comfortable and easy to move around and fish from a sit-on-top kayak.
Hobie says they sell more kayaks than any other company in the world. They were the first company to mass produce an integrated pedal drive which makes kayak fishing a joy because your hands are always free to fish. Wilderness Systems is another good brand, I used their kayaks for a decade and was quite happy with the ones I owned. Perception has good kayaks. Lately there has been an influx of new kayak manufacturers on Amazon and in the kayak stores. I’ll list three kayaks below that are ideal for the needs of most Florida fisherman, and you can choose from them or find another one that better suits you.
Does Kayak Color for Kayak Fishing Matter?
For fishing, the color of your kayak doesn’t matter. Personally, my preference is for a blue camo style pattern with varying colors of blue and light blue for fishing in safe water. Safe meaning without fast boats buzzing by and possibly running right over you.
For Safety, Which Kayak Color is Most Visible to Other Boaters?
For safety, the color of your kayak matters a lot. A speeding boat will much more easily see you if your kayak is bright orange, green, or yellow on top. If you are in a light blue or camo-blue kayak, the captain of a fast boat may never see you. So, choose your colors wisely. Bright kayak colors don’t scare away fish.
Which Kayak Color is Best to Avoid Sharks?
Tough question! A shark expert gave his opinion on this page in a forum, it’s interesting reading and based on his years of experience catching all kinds of sharks. Basically he says that a kayak with a white bottom, light blue side, and bright green or orange top so boats could see you would be the safest colors.
Length of the kayak is a major consideration. Longer means heavier. If you are going to have a lot of trouble picking up your 60 lb. or more kayak and strapping it onto the roof of your sports car, you’re probably going to need to go with a smaller option. Keep in mind, you may be carrying your boat for some distance as it may not be possible to park next to the water. You can get a wheel system to wheel your kayak out to the water if you can’t carry it.
Benefits of Longer Kayaks (12+ feet)
- Stability, better ride.
- Storage options increase considerably and storing everything for an overnight trip becomes possible.
- More comfortable moving around.
- Lots of places to drill holes to add features to your yak.
Benefits of Shorter Kayaks
- Lighter weight for lifting onto your vehicle.
- Easier to maneuver through tight mangrove sections.
Go with the longer kayak if you can handle the weight of it. If you have a truck, you can lift any size kayak up into the bed of it. Longer kayaks are more difficult when strapping to a roof because lifting it is awkward and can cause injury.
Kayak Pedal System vs. Paddling with an Oar
I used oars and I’ve never bought a boat with a pedal system. As I get older (54) I’m leaning toward the pedal system because my back can become sore paddling for hours during the day. Some paddling systems have breakaway rudders / wings which give a bit and bend out of the way when they hit something like oyster bed or a rock. They don’t break or bend, which is awesome. However, the pedal system on most kayaks still sticks out lower than your kayak to some degree and you can still bang the mechanism and cause damage. Care is needed in shallow areas or areas where obstacles exist.
Benefits of Pedal Systems
- Saves your back a lot of stress.
- Can easily remove and use an oar.
- Can travel greater distances using legs than with arms.
Benefits of Kayak Paddles
- Quick turning and precise maneuvering.
- Kayak weighs less.
- No need to clean the pedal system and maintain.
- Never worry about pedal system breaking out on the sea.
- You’ll save a LOT of money if not buying a pedal system.
Though the kayaks with pedals like Hobie kayaks are getting ridiculously expensive, if you can afford it, get a kayak with pedals for your feet and a rudder and bring an oar attached to the side of your boat in case the pedal system breaks. The opportunity to free up your hands in sticky situations, and ANY situation, makes the pedal system far better than paddling. Yes you can still scrape the heck out of your drive when going over a shallow oyster bed, but you’ll start to pay a lot more attention to the depth of water after a couple of grinds.
Single or Tandem Kayak for Fishing?
It’s much better to have two separate kayaks for two people fishing. It’s a nice gesture to have a tandem kayak for your significant other to come along, but there are many times when that person isn’t coming and you’re dealing with too much kayak for one person. Get separate kayaks unless you know one of your children or your spouse loves to fish with you and will do it often. Tandem kayaks are heavier and more expensive, but they do give you a lot of room. It is difficult for 2 people fishing to be on the same kayak. Ever had a hook embedded in the back of your head? I have! Not too much fun… trust me.
Inflatable Kayaks for Fishing?
No! Not in Florida anyway. Sure, they’re convenient because you can easily throw it in your trunk and go. However, while kayak fishing in Florida, you’re sure to drag bottom on an oyster bed or two. You are sure to brush up against a submerged log or rock with barnacles on them that will slice open your inflatable kayak instantly, and leave you up a creek with a paddle, but little else.
Here’s another time we insist you don’t buy something… Don’t buy an inflatable kayak for kayak fishing. But a plastic sit-on-top kayak like everyone else and you’ll have a lot more fun not worrying too much about what you’re dragging bottom over or bumping into.
What Gear Do I Need to Start Kayak Fishing?
The basics for kayak fishing are a kayak, oar or pedal drive system (or electric motor if you want to get fancy), flotation vest, rod holders, a comfortable seat, a cooler to keep fish on ice, a gaff for bringing big fish on the kayak, fishing rod and reel and tackle (hooks, line, sinkers, etc.), a wide-brim hat, long sleeve shirt, shorts, and probably dive shoes or running shoes. I used to use sport sandals like these from Amazon and they work best because your feet will be getting wet.
Here’s a Kayak Fishing Life Jacket at Amazon, and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and made for fishing on the yak.
You will want to either buy or make rod holders and other gear holders for your kayak. There are some excellent guides to doing this with PVC pipe that nearly anyone can do. Here’s a guide for HOW TO MAKE KAYAK ROD HOLDERS from a Kayak fisherman in Hawaii.
Kayak Fishing Precautions
- Don’t bleed your fish in deep water where sharks may get excited around you. Don’t drop a stringer of fish over the side of your kayak.
- Get off the water quickly when you see lightning or hear thunder.
- Practice righting your kayak and climbing on after flipping it. You don’t want the first time to be in 30 feet of water.
- ALWAYS bring a Personal Flotation Device. Wear it if possible. Keep it attached to you with a caribiner clip.
- Tell someone where you are going and when you’ll return, and of course have a fully-charged mobile phone.
- Bring a compass and mobile phone. Know which way land is at all times.
- Bring duct tape to fix leaks. You’d be surprised the size of a leak you can fix using this amazing tape.
- Wear sunscreen, a hat, and a scarf across your face to block the harsh Florida sun. Skin cancer is no joke!
- Don’t go through boat lanes.
- Bring a paddle in addition to a pedal system. Keep your paddle attached to you via clips/carabiner and rope.
- Ensure you have every license necessary to fish in Florida. Fines are high!
Great Florida Kayak Fishing Spots
Gulf Side (West Coast)
On the east side of Bradenton Beach and Coquina Beach is a huge protected area where you don’t have to worry about wind and waves. The tides can be strong, but it’s all very manageable. Like Fort De Soto, this is a great place for all the same kinds of fish. Redfish, Spanish Mackerel sometimes, speckled trout, snapper, snook, jacks, and so many others. The pinfish are thick here too – and it’s a great place to bring a net.
Just like Bradenton (the city to the north of Sarasota, Sarasota has a protected area of great kayak fishing on the east side of Longboat Key (island). It is protected from the wind and waves out in the Gulf of Mexico. To be honest, I’ve not made it this far south here because I always stopped at either Fort De Soto or Bradenton. All of these spots are excellent for kayak fishing, so you should explore them all and see which is your favorite kayak fishing spot.
St. Petersburg Fort De Soto Park
One of my favorite places for inshore fishing is Fort De Soto Park in south St. Petersburg beside the Sunshine Skyway bridge and fishing pier. This entire area is filled with speckled sea trout, snook, sheepshead, snapper, cobia, flounder, redfish, and a host of others. The cool thing is, you can wade-fish or take your kayak down and drop it in somewhere. The tides can be strong, so some caution is advised. When the tide is ripping out of there, the current is very strong and you wouldn’t be able to do much on a kayak with pedals or a paddle. Stay in the protected areas and the shallows and if you feel the tide starting to take you, make for a beach!
This entire area is a goldmine for good kayak fishing, so make this one of your first stops after you buy your new kayak and know how to handle it. I typically would freeline live shrimp here and catch delicious speckled trout. The snook here during the fall months get big too! An all-around fantastic fishing location. Don’t miss this.
St. Petersburg’s Weedon Island
Just below the Duke Energy Bartow Electricity Plant is Weedon Island Preserve in St. Pete on the west side of Tampa Bay just south of the Gandy Bridge. In fact, you can use the Gandy Bridge Kayak Launch to drop your kayak in – it’s super-convenient.
Dropping your kayak into any saltwater canal that leads into Tampa Bay will give you an opportunity to catch a variety of fish like redfish, black drum, sheepshead, snapper, snook, flounder, and more. This was my usual weekend routine because I lived at an apartment complex with a dock and I’d just drop my kayak over the side and go fishing all day Saturday and Sunday. If the tide was right, I’d just lazily drift down the canal until I hit Tampa Bay’s deeper water. I typically used live bait because a bait shop was nearby and because I could throw a net to catch small baitfish in the canal before heading out. DOA Shrimp lures from Amazon work great for redfish and black drum, as do these little softshell crab DOA Crab lures. I always keep these in my tacklebox.
Atlantic Side (East Coast)
NOTE – Still working on this article. Will be finished soon!
Image credits: Images are either personal, purchased at a stock photo agency with a royalty-free license, or downloaded or cropped from images at free sites like unsplash.
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Amberjack | Black Drum | Bluefish | Cobia | Dorado (Dolphin, Mahi-mahi) | Florida Pompano | Grouper | Gulf Flounder | Jack Crevalle (Jacks) | Lobster! | Permit | Red-bellied Pacu (like piranha) | Redfish (Reds, Red Drum) and Redfish Index | Salmon Index | Shark Fishing | Sheepshead | Snapper | Snook | Speckled Trout | Tarpon and Tarpon Index | Tripletail