Become a better inshore kayak angler

Inshore kayak angling can be enjoyable, but also challenging for many anglers. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Inshore saltwater kayak fishing is one of the most enjoyable, and sometimes difficult, ways to catch fish.

As with any style of kayak fishing, the best way to get better at a particular skill set is practice and getting some tutelage from experienced anglers. With the month of June upon us, even Carolina anglers who live far from the coast may be planning a few days of vacation, and the following suggestions might be of some use.

From the internet, you can obtain fishing reports, launch sites, tide schedules and other valuable information to make your trip a success.

Obviously, where to put in and where to fish is going to be high on the planning agenda. Ideally, the fishing grounds will be in close proximity to the launch site. One error that many novice inshore anglers make is trying to fish too much area. If a particular structure – bridge crossing, row of boat docks, a large pier, or sizeable oyster bar – plan on fishing that structure thoroughly rather than just hitting it on the surface and then trying to cover too much real estate. 

The launch site, location of structure, time of year, and prevailing tides will often strongly suggest one species over another in the saltwater environment. Try to pick one particular species, two if they are similar in habitat and bait/lure preferences. This will reduce the amount of “stuff” you’ll need to take with you and will unlock keys to understanding that species in order to improve your fishing skill set.

Pick your bait

The planning cone gets smaller and smaller as you decide on an area to fish, a place to launch, and a species to target. The next thing on the list is bait. If you prefer artificial lures, then pack a manageable variety of them with your intended target in mind. 

A word about live bait. Inshore saltwater fish are often gregarious and will eat almost anything that’s alive that they can hunt down. Many times, the species of bait will dictate what species of fish is most likely to eat it. At times, a live bait acquired at the location you are fishing, or at least nearby, will outfish live bait imported by a bait distributor from another state for use on local waters.

For this reason, have a cast net handy. If not in the kayak, then at least in your vehicle. Then, you can throw the net a few times around the launch site before heading out fishing. Another invaluable bait tool can be a long-handled, small mesh dip net to grab that crab, shrimp, or baitfish you see hiding near your fishing spot.

Saltwater tackle varies greatly from freshwater tackle in some respects, but that doesn’t mean if you’re a freshwater angler that you have to go buy all new tackle. It’s true some specimens in the brine can tear your bass fishing rod to pieces, but generally speaking, the tackle used to catch a 4-pound bass will also handle most trout, smaller puppy drum, and nearly every sheepshead and flounder you may encounter inshore.

One of the biggest differences is fishing line. Because the marine environment has sharp shells and barnacles growing from every hard surface, many saltwater anglers opt for braided line with the same diameter of monofilament line test you would use in freshwater. For example, 20-pound braid is roughly the same diameter and will hold the same capacity on a reel designed for 10-pound monofilament line. For the business end of the line, a section of abrasion-resistant fluorocarbon leader completes the order.

Play the tides

Tides along the Carolina coastline vary significantly depending on how far south you go. Along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, tide fluctuations may only vary a few inches from cycle to cycle. But a kayak angler in Hilton Head, SC may have to deal with an inward rushing river on one tide, and an outgoing river on the other from the tide fluctuations of several feet. Download a good tide app to your phone. The better apps offer real time graphic charts of how high or low the tide will get in your area and where you are on the curve.

If flowing tides or strong wind currents factor into your fishing plan, make sure to also plan for how you’re going to stay put and position your kayak when you get to your fishing spot. Anchors, line, anchor trolleys, and stake out poles are the most commonly used gear for boat positioning, but going with the flow or tying directly to a piece of (public) structure will also work. 

As with any fishing trip, the experience is always better when shared. Take a buddy with you when fishing. Due to the often unpredictability of inshore waters, having another kayak in your immediate location is the best safety precaution. If possible, fish with a better angler, or at least one who has some knowledge and experience of the area. Learn what they’re willing to show you, but if someone takes you to “their spot,” and you constantly rely on that one location to fish, you probably won’t be invited back.

Finally, pack the appropriate food, water, and clothing for a full, long day on the water. The duration of the trip is often dictated by the tides. An outgoing tide makes the ride out to the fishing spot much easier, but the caveat is you’ll need to wait until the tide turns around and facilitates the paddle back in.

Hydration is important year-round, but particularly in the summer with the sun beaming down and no shade to speak of. Lightweight clothing and a wide-brimmed hat offer great protection from both sunburn and heat exhaustion.

Fortunately, not all, but many inshore fishing locations in the Carolinas have cellular phone service. A cell phone is the most common link to safety and civilization in the event of an emergency. So make sure you have a way to protect your phone and have a charged battery for your next outing. And, as always, wear your life preserver. 

About Phillip Gentry 821 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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