The sport of kayak fishing has generated a tremendous following whose numbers rank among the fastest growing of all outdoor sports. As a barometer, just pay attention on the highway to the plastic fishing craft adorning the roofs, beds and utility trailers of a large number of travelers in spring, summer and fall.
This number of kayak-fishing fans drops off dramatically after the Christmas holidays when winter rolls around. If you take a cross section of fishermen across the state, kayak-angling participation is probably reduced no more or no less than the rest of the general angling population. Fishing conditions are simply not as comfortable in winter, and many would-be kayak anglers don’t participate because of the perception that it’s too hard to catch fish from a kayak during the colder months.
The answer is that for any number of species, winter fishing is different than spring, summer and fall fishing. Facing those changes with the peculiarity of fishing from a kayak simply eludes some anglers, who decide to hang it up until more comfortable weather and more familiar fishing patterns arrive.
Probably the No. 1 misconception is that kayak angling is shallow-water angling only. Because fish leave the shallows when water temperatures drop, many kayakers simply don’t know or aren’t comfortable with leaving the backs of creeks or shallow flats for open water.
The easiest solution is not to leave shallow water. While a smaller number of most species will still visit shallow water from time to time, a better solution might be to target species that are more shallow water prone than others.
At the top of the list would be slot-sized redfish in coastal creeks and marshes. While larger reds have left estuaries, the juveniles are still plentiful in the same general locations they’ve been all year.
When targeting winter redfish, keep in mind that because those fish are nearly the only game in town, there’s plenty of pressure on them, making them incrementally spookier than at any other time. In fact, the shallower redfish can get, the safer they feel from predators. This falls right in the kayak angler’s wheelhouse, with the ability to stand and slowly paddle or pole the shallows while looking for large schools of as many as 100 to 200 fish.
Once you locate them, the keys to success are to pick at the school from the outside and work your baits painfully slow and well ahead of the fish.
On the freshwater side, one species tops the list with another a close second. Striped bass and hybrid bass become considerably more active during the colder months, as water conditions are more suitable to their cold, north Atlantic ancestry.
Stripers and their kin will push into creeks, cuts and coves to feed on baitfish. While these areas are not always shallow, they tend to be more narrow and protected from the wind and other winter elements, making them prime target for kayak anglers.
While most scouting of redfish schools is done by word of mouth or on the water, scouting for stripers can be done from a vehicle by checking likely areas from bridges, overlooks and bluffs. During the winter, flocks of sea birds migrate inland, and if you can find gulls diving and working bait in the back of a creek or cut — or along a series of points — is a pretty solid indicator of striped bass, white perch or even largemouth and spotted bass feeding.
Such schooling action can be fast and furious, but what paddlers may lack in terms of quick mobility to zoom back and forth across a lake chasing schools, those fish are not leaving the area but are simply sounding and can be worked with a deeper-running bait or be the first on the scene when the school comes back up after things quiet down.
Speaking of white perch, probably the most dependable of all winter species in the state’s freshwater reservoirs is this invasive but delicious panfish. Like striped bass, white perch, which are actually related to stripers, feed extensively throughout the winter.
Kayak anglers choosing to target white perch will benefit from having a decent sonar unit. Other than the aforementioned water birds earmarking feeding activity, look for white perch to stage on long points on the windward side of the lake.
Large schools of white perch will move frequently but tend to gravitate to points. Anglers simply need to tie on a small to medium jigging spoon in flashy colors to tempt them fish into biting. Anglers can drift or troll live or cut bait on multiple- hook rigs.