Landing Fish in a Paddle Craft

Proper technique allows kayak and canoe fishermen to land large fish without getting dumped overboard.

This canoe fisherman hooked a sizeable tarpon off the beach. He uses his trolling to keep the fish in front of him at all times.

Kayakers continue to push limits, particularly when it comes to nearshore, offshore and open-bay fishing. The days of catching kingfish, sailfish, amberjack, tarpon, sharks and other large fish exclusively from motorized boats are in the past. But offshore kayak fishing is a relatively new technique, and many anglers are learning on the fly. Safety must always be the first priority.

Don’t be a dog chasing cars—know what to do when you actually hook into that oversize tarpon, shark or amberjack. One of worst things that can happen while offshore—besides being hit by a boat or losing your paddle—is to fall out of your kayak. Always consider how your actions affect your balance within your kayak, whether you’re fishing with a rod, paddling, fighting a fish, or even trolling.

Florida Sportsman members in the No Motor Zone section have sound advice to help prevent you from tipping over. Plus, there are tips to help land that monster fish.

FS member Parrothead had some key observations:

-Don’t go solo if you’re targeting big fish, especially if you don’t know how to land them.

-Never use a rod too stiff or a drag too tight. Either or both will absolutely get you flipped if you’re handling the rod incorrectly when the fish is near the yak.

- Never fight a fish with the rod at 90 degrees to the kayak. Always try to keep the fish in front of you. It’s about the center of balance on a kayak, which is generally where you’re sitting. If you get a big fish that dives under the kayak and your rod is straight out to the side, you stand a real good chance of getting flipped. Another reason for keeping a fish in front of you is so you can see it! A lot of kayak battles with big fish tend to happen in very close range.

-Side saddle is great for flats fishing and horse shows, but sitting that way while fighting a fish in deep water throws off the balance.

-Have a cutting tool, such as a knife, to quickly release fish if circumstances become unsafe.

There are plenty of other considerations to think about. Join the discussion. Add your own advice and experiences from kayak fishing offshore.

  • billy

    Why can't you just use a plane old aluminum(12ft.) boat? Would it not be more safe than a kayak?
    I mean oars only for both boats!!!

    • John Flowers

      This is 2013 dude. Have you not looked at what is available out there, now?
      Sales of aluminum boats is nil.

  • Trevfishin

    I have only been kayak fishing 4 times in as many years. I recently purchased one due to how much fun it is and have been reading about trying to learn more. I caught a 5ft tarpon this past August, took me an hour and 20 minutes to land it…and I learned a lot. To increase drag, you will have to fight it from the side…but you will also almost have to lean out of the boat the opposite way the fish is going, especially if it's big. Know your kayaks abilities and yours as well. Set your drag so that it will not pull you over if it does dart under your kayak (sharks love to do this!) Make sure you are sitting far enough up or have a long enough pole to go around the front of your kayak. Don't have so many lines in the water it causes mass chaos if you hook something big, keep it simple. Know where your knife is in case you do have to cut the line….you can catch another fish, but dumping your yak with all your gear is expensive!

  • John Flowers

    I’ll never have this problem. :(

  • John Mathews

    I saw a comment about dumping your boat and losing your equiptment. I suggest that if you like it or need it, tether it to the boat and if you like your boat, tether yorself to it. It is your ride home. File a float plan, check the weather, and don’t venture beyond your ability to get back to shore if the worst of conditions should arise.