Rod Selection for Kayak Fishing

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If you are thinking of giving kayak fishing a try, you may have wondered whether you need specialized rods. Does standard bass gear you’ve used in a bass boat work in a kayak? What if you’re a bank fisherman? Can you use the same stuff? The short answer is yes, standard gear will work from a kayak, but there are some unique aspects to kayak fishing that factor into my tackle selection.
First, a few caveats. I’m not going to try to cover every technique or rattle off specific model numbers for a bunch of rods and reels. I’m not going to debate the merits of composite vs graphite rods for crankbaits, for example. There is plenty of content dedicated to answering that and other technique-specific questions. My goal is to give you an idea of what’s different about fishing from a kayak. The two biggest factors for me – the ones that impact rod selection – are limited space and being closer to the water.

Probably the most obvious difference between a kayak and other boats is the size. Having a smaller boat is an advantage for traversing shallow flats, sliding through culverts, and maneuvering through stump fields, but it also means limited storage capacity. You just can’t fit as much gear into a kayak. Some of the high-end fishing kayaks have horizontal rod holders built into the frame, but even these have nowhere near the storage capacity of a bass boat. Simply put, you can’t take as many rods with you in a kayak.

Now that is still a relative statement. I used to routinely bring 9 or 10 rods with me on my kayak, and there are other gear junkies who carry even more. Over the last year or so, I’ve found that I’m much more efficient with 6 or fewer rods in the boat. Additional rods add clutter and weight. With 10 rods, my casting mobility was impaired – I was more likely to clip another rod while casting at an odd angle – and my boat was less maneuverable. I couldn’t navigate through flooded bushes or similar cover without getting at least one rod getting tangled. Taking fewer rods has reduced those frustrations and allowed me to take better advantage of my kayak’s mobility.

Hopefully I’ve clarified that kayak fishermen can still carry plenty of gear, just not as much as our bass boat brethren. We can’t bring 25 rods, each rigged for a different technique, so we have to be strategic about the rods we choose. It’s one of the biggest decisions I make the night before each tournament day. Type of lake, season, water temp, and the techniques I expect to use all factor into this decision. If I’m in Florida and planning to fish thick grass, I’ll bring several heavy action rods for flipping and frogging. If I’m on a northern smallmouth lake, I might bring a flipping stick, but I’ll probably also have three or four spinning outfits for finesse applications.

No matter what conditions I’m faced with, versatility is a major consideration. I want rods that can do multiple things well. For me a 7-foot, medium-heavy baitcast combo is king. I can effectively throw Texas-rigged plastics, swim jigs, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, vibrating jigs and several other baits with the same rod. During a tournament, I always have at least two of them in the kayak. A 7-foot, medium action, spinning outfit is the other mainstay in my kayak. It’s great for a multitude of finesse techniques. It’s my first choice for a shakey head, wacky rig, and drop shot.

I want to emphasize that these two rods are my favorites. They allow me to confidently fish a variety of baits and techniques. But everyone is built differently, and we don’t all have the same fishing styles. So, what works for me is not necessarily the best option for you. As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. You need to figure out what works for you, the rod lengths and actions that fit your fishing style and also allow you to be versatile.
This brings me back to my original point. You can use standard bass fishing gear in a kayak for most techniques. However, because the kayak sits lower to the surface than a larger boat, standard length rods can hamper certain techniques. Jerkbaits and walking baits might be the best example. It’s difficult to execute sharp rod twitches with a 7-foot or longer rod. I end up slapping the surface or the side of the boat far too often. Switching to a 6’9” rod fixes this problem for me. Those few inches can make a big difference.

Pitching is another technique where I opt for a shorter rod. It’s not uncommon for big boat anglers to use 7’11” rods. I’ve tried these from a kayak, but for me they’re too cumbersome. Too often I end up sticking the tip in the water or slapping my bait on the surface during the pendulum motion. A 7’11” rod has also given me problems while fighting fish. The rod is so long that when a fish is alongside the kayak, there’s too much line out to effectively corral and lip a fish. Swinging fish can work, but it’s tricky. In a kayak there is less hull to lift the fish over, but there is also a much smaller landing zone. Moreover, if the hook pops free on the swing, the fish has an easier time flopping back over the side. Dropping to a 7’4” or 7’6” rod for flipping and pitching has helped my casting ability and made it easier for me to grab fish at the boat. Even when I choose to swing a fish, I have more control with a shorter rod. Once again, those few inches make a big difference.
When it comes to brands, there are m

any reputable companies making high quality rods. I’ve used Quantum rods and reels since my bank walking days. They give me a lot of confidence because I’ve landed thousands of fish with them. It doesn’t hurt that they have good warranties and great customer service. But if you prefer a different brand, no problem. Action and length are far more important than the logo on the side of the rod.

If you’re thinking of stepping into the kayak world, the rods you already have will probably work fine. Try them out before dropping money on a bunch of new stuff. There are a few techniques where a shorter rod might help you, but not necessarily. And whether you are considering buying a new rod or just deciding which rods to take with you on your next trip, remember that versatility is key.