Kayak bass fishing 101. What you need to know to get started

Just as in the world of power boats, there are kayak anglers whose fishing minds center only on bass. (Picture by Phillip Gentry)

Nothing beats catching bass from small craft

New kayak anglers express a lot of different reasons for why they got started in the sport. Some say it’s because a kayak is more economical than a powerboat. Others say there’s just “too much” involved in powerboat fishing and want to get back to the basics. Still another group yearns for competition against other anglers with only human power to get you where you want to go. In a nutshell, this describes kayak bass fishing.

That’s not to say all kayak bass anglers want to compete. But the solace of one rod, one paddle and a black bass on the line is more than enough for many.

For the new kayak bass angler, there is an entire world of knowledge, comrades, competitors and likewise rabid paddle fans. By way of introduction, there are few things to know.

The basics:

Rods and reels. Depending on your skill level entering kayak bass fishing, your choices are baitcasting and spinning gear. Spinning gear is easier to use. But more baits and situations are best addressed with baitcasting tackle. Make it a point to learn to use both.

Bass Fishing 101. Largemouth bass love vegetation and woody cover. Smallmouth bass love rocks. Other than that, volumes and volumes have been written about how to catch bass in a myriad of scenarios. A wacky rigged trick worm is hard for a beginner to fish incorrectly, and it’s mostly weedless. That’s as good as any place to start your learning process.

Take a net. Later on in your career, you will probably leave the net behind. But nothing is more frustrating than having a fish at the boat and trying to figure out what to do next. Where are my pliers? Where’s my camera? I can’t reach the end of the rod to unwrap the line that’s wrapped up, and I’m about to lose this fish. A net is the closest thing to a pause button as you get when fishing. Get the fish in the net, then sort things out.

What kayak for bass fishing? Kayak fishing is not like powerboat fishing, where you have a specific boat design for bass fishing. You still only have two main types of kayaks: cockpit style and sit-on-tops. Sit-on-tops are better for fishing, period. After that, you can choose your layout, propulsion, storage, size, etc., based on your budget and preferences.

Use every advantage you have for bass fishing from a kayak

Go where others can’t. Don’t buy a kayak for bass fishing and then go to big, public lakes and compete for fish with anglers in powerboats. Certain tournaments may dictate where you can fish in competition. But for learning and just fishing, find those hidden gems, which are typically going to be smaller bodies of water. Watershed lakes, farm ponds, swamps, oxbows and rivers abound. And the easiest way to find them is on Google Earth or another satellite app. Scout on-line, go find access and get permission.

Catch, photo and release. Whether you fish on-line tournaments, in-person tournaments or monthly points tournaments, the standard is to measure fish by length, not weight. Tournaments may designate what type of ruler is permissible. One of the most-widely accepted is called a Hawg Trough. All fish are released afterwards.

Join a club. Most clubs welcome new members, and about half those you meet will be bass fishing addicts. Try to give back as much as you take from your club, even if that just means buying breakfast for the folks who are taking you fishing until you get your feet under you.

On-line bass tournaments aren’t conducted in the same fashion as traditional tournaments, right down to how the fish are scored or measured. (Picture by Karl Hudson)

Online bass tourneys

For the tournament bass angler who’s been bitten by the plastic-boat bug, kayak bass-fishing tournaments are growing by leaps and bounds — right behind the popularity of the sport itself.

Most tournaments are conducted in person, by kayak angling clubs. But in areas where clubs are few and far between or non-existent, several websites are holding on-line bass-fishing tournaments over the internet (www.ianglertournament.com, www.kayakbassfishing.com, www.tourneyx.com).

Online kayak fishing tournaments let you participate in conservation-oriented, catch-photo-release competitions when and where you want, against anglers in your own neighborhood and from around the world. Anglers fish on their own schedule, at their favorite honey holes, in conditions they choose, and the online check-in is always open. CPR formats reward anglers for catching the best fish and make bag limits, slot limits and species closures obsolete.

A major difference is that it is all but impossible to catch, retain and transport a fish far enough to get one, much less several, to a weigh-in site for scoring. The “weigh-in” is actually more of a photo contest. To keep everyone honest, tournaments use an identifier, which could be a playing card, a logo, or even a wooden poker chip.

If the tournament is a one-day event, the identifiers, which are specific to each tournament, are handed out beforehand and must be included in the photograph the angler takes of his catch. Typically, the rules state that the photo entry must include the entire length of the fish laying on a rigid ruler, mouth closed, with the identifier in the photo. The photo must also clearly show the length of the fish and be high-enough resolution so judges can zoom in to get measurements on a ¼-inch scale. If the event is conducted over a period of a month, the identifier is typically some logo designed for the event and is posted on the host website before the tournament.

Best Bets


WHAT — Smallmouth bass

WHERE — Fontana Lake

HOW — Smallmouth bass move shallow during the early spring at Fontana, where they become susceptible to typical shallow, clear-water bass tactics.

LAUNCH — A listing of ramps, accommodations, and marinas can be found at www.greatsmokies.com/boating/

INSIDER TIP — It’s hard to beat a suspending jerkbait to cover a lot of clear water for smallmouth bass. The more action, the better, as smallmouth become aggressive as the water warms.


WHAT — Largemouth bass

WHERE —Lake Moultrie

HOW — Lake Moultrie fish may be in spawn or late prespawn in March. To find the biggest fish, look for grass mats around the perimeter of the oval-shaped lake. It’s hard to beat fishing frogs on top of the grass but a lot of anglers will pitch and punch into the grass mats with Texas-rigged soft plastics.

LAUNCH —  There are multiple public boat launch sites on Lake Moultrie and countless dump in sites for a kayak. https://www2.dnr.sc.gov/ManagedLands/BoatRamp/BoatRampSelected/1230046

INSIDER TIP —March is one of the busiest months for bass fishing on Lake Moultrie. To find, and catch unpressured fish, make use of the remote areas: cut-offs, canals, and landlocked ponds (without trespassing), that power boats can’t get to easily, if at all.

About Phillip Gentry 819 Articles
Phillip Gentry of Waterloo, S.C., is an avid outdoorsman and said if it swims, flies, hops or crawls, he's usually not too far behind.

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