Kayak Flyfishing for Striped Bass

Thanks to Dave Beasley for this excellent Striped Bass Kayak Fishing article, which should be useful to all kayak fisherman, whether flyfishing for stripers or not. It makes me want to run right out and get a kayak and go fly fish for stripers (hmmm, maybe next season with my son . . .)

As a saltwater fly fisherman, there are lots of reasons to use a kayak and lots of things you need to know before venturing out to chase that first striped bass. If you never have been in a kayak before, much less fished from one, it’s vitally important that you understand a few things that could mean the difference between falling in love with the sport and getting in trouble. Below is a list of the things that I have found important to consider:

Safety First

Fly fishing from a kayak increases your fishing possibilities exponentially, but before you run out and buy a kayak, you clearly need to understand what you’re getting into. I use my kayak for two purposes: as a fishing platform and to go to spots to fish from shore.

I am not going to bore you with all the subtle differences between kayaks. Any reputable dealer can give you the pros and cons on all the good ones. I just want you to know about a few basic safety issues first.

Common sense dictates that in the beginning is a good idea not to paddle further out than you can swim back. This is an old adage that has saved many a novice kayaker. However, taking a basic kayak safety course from a local dealer is perhaps the best first step you can make.

Go to reputable kayak dealer. (I went to three before I made a decision of what to buy and where to buy it.) Tell him what you want to do and let him give you some options. He should explain what safety items are required by the Coast Guard (personal flotation device, whistle, mirror, lights for night operation) and what minimum equipment makes the most sense for you. Do your homework and research on the web. There are lots of sites like Kayak Fishing Stuff that can help point you in the right direction. Read the blogs and articles, not just the ads, for current information and suggestions. Talk to the guys who are doing a lot of kayak fishing and not just kayak touring. Your kayak dealer should be able to introduce you to many experienced kayak fly fisherman.

Saltwater Flyfishing: What Type of Kayak to Use:

Regardless of the make of kayak you use to chase striped bass, you need to keep in mind you want a “fishing” kayak, one that can carry you and your gear. In addition, it needs to have a “load capacity” that will handle you, your gear and provide a “capacity margin for error.” The larger the margin for error the better, but 25% is minimum. My kayak will carry 350 lbs. My gear and I tip the scale at about 260 lbs. I like that 90 lb. leeway just to make sure the kayak handles the way it should on the water. In addition, it’s more important that your boat is not “tippy,” rather than being a “speedster.” There are lots of models from which to choose and half the fun is researching them all.

Because I am a fly fisherman, I chose a kayak that that allows for hands free operation, so I could cast and fish at the same time. All the research I did lead me to a Hobie Outback with the “Side Kick” pontoons that stabilize the boat and make beach landing a whole lot easier. The Hobie Outback uses a peddling devise for its main forward propulsion and has a paddle for backing up and the “just in case” issue. Not everyone is in agreement, but I found one can go a lot further, faster, using his leg muscles, thus saving your upper body strength for casting. There are more Hobie models other than just the Outback, and you can see them all at the Hobie Web site. Take a look. It’s worth the visit.

Do Your Homework

Okay, you’ve rented or purchased what you think you need in the way of a kayak and some basic equipment. So what do you do now? Well, let just say the real adventure is about to start. By now, you will have spent a few hours on the water just getting used to things. You’re no expert, but you’re getting a “feel” for what your boat will do and what makes you a “wee bit” nervous. That’s good!

You’re a salt water fly fisherman, so you’ve always observed weather, tides, and time of day to fish, etc. You’ll do those same things now, the only difference is you’ll cover lots more water and find lots more fish. If 90% of the fish live in 10% of the water, than a kayak can’t do anything but increase your odds.

My adventure began when I bought my kayak in the fall of 2002. I used it on a protected bay, caught some fish and didn’t drown. I figured that was a success. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s when I began to enter the “Dark Side.” You see, I was really starting to enjoy kayak fly fishing and each fish I caught made me want to do more….a lot more.

All that next winter I researched most of the north east coast looking for what would become my “home water.” I wanted a place to which I knew I could go to learn, and catch fish. I found it at Napatree Point in Watch Hill, RI. Barn Island in Stonington, CT is right next door and became my launch site. I now had miles of water to fish. Fishing reports of the area were readily available from On The Water, and  Google Earth allowed me to see a satellite view of the area; measure distances and ultimately travel times between fishing spots. So, Napatree Point became the place I fished the most and caught the most fish. I love the place. I bumped into one Hobie kayaker who came all the way down from Cape Cod to fish there! If you go, just make sure you fish it during the week and not on the weekends, when the boat traffic can be treacherous during the summer months.

Saltwater Kayak Flyfishing: What to Carry for Striped Bass

Everyone has his own priorities when it comes to equipment. Aside from the mandatory personal flotation device; mirror, whistle, and knife, I carry the following when flyfishing for striped bass:

o Stripping basket for on-shore fishing.
o 6 lb Anchor.
o Dry Box to organize boat lights, compass, starlight scope, tool set, snack bars, flash lights, personal strobe light, blunt nose knife, whistle, mirror.
o Hand held VHF radio.
o Water proof fishing bag to hold shorty rain jacket and misc. fishing gear.
o Boga fish lip grippers.
o Rod holder
o Binoculars
o Fish finder / GPS
o I always wear a personal flotation device (PDF) with pockets designed to hold fishing gear.
o Of course, the usual things with which you would normally fish like hats, polarized sunglasses, etc. apply as well.

I take three rigged flyrods with me: 9 wt., 10 wt., and 11 wt. They can be stored with one rod in the rod holder and the other two tied down just behind the seat pointing toward the rear of the boat.

Where do I Go Kayak Flyfishing?

Fishing from a kayak has two sides to it. As mention earlier, it can take you to areas that you can fish by foot or to deeper water areas that are best fished from a boat.

The kayak gives you one distinct advantage. It can get in places conventional water craft can’t. You’ll fish in between rocks and sand bars where motorized boats wouldn’t dare go. And remember, tides change everything. It’s easy pulling a kayak off a sand bar. Try doing it with two thousand pound “gas guzzler.” All the places you wanted to fish before, but couldn’t reach are now within your grasp. Always keep an eye on the wave action and tides, but you can now fly fish lots of the reefs, rocky points, edges and sandbars you never had a shot at before.

Also keep in mind that when you’re fishing from the kayak off the shore line, your fly naturally travels from mostly shallow water to deeper water. The rocks and foam are now your allies. You’ll pick up less weeds and with a nice slow retrieve your fly will stay in front of the fish longer.

I have a particular love for Napatree Point near Watch Hill, RI. It provides miles of water lots of stripers and blues. I have yet to fish Napatree Point and not take some fish. It’s just that good and the kayak has made it happen.

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