How to Cope with Tough Kayak Fishing Conditions

6-minute read

Bending Branches Ambassador Casey Ryan offers expert advice about how to cope with some of freshwater kayak fishing’s most common challenges.

Kayak angler holds up a fish he caught


BENDING BRANCHES: What are some common challenges kayak anglers face and how do you deal with them?

CASEY: Wind is one of the most common factors everybody has to deal with. And then pressured waters—too many people fishing specific spots.

With wind, it’s getting used to what you can handle. It takes time and experience. If you’re new to kayak fishing you’re not going to want to go out in 30+ kilometer winds [Casey is Canadian, by the way].

Once you get used to it you can handle more—depending on your kayak and how comfortable you are. I’ve gone out in those kinds of winds, but I don’t do it often because I don’t enjoy it. So it’s getting used to and building up what your kayak and your abilities can handle.

Your kayaking skills and fishing skills are impacted separately. You need to be able to control your kayak and balance well in the heavy wind and rolling waves. You may have to change your fishing method. It doesn’t work to fish with finesse in heavy wind because it won’t work as efficiently. Wind usually limits your options to what you can do.

kayak angler paddles into the sunset


BRANCHES: How do you cope with these conditions?

CASEY: The best way to deal with wind is to plan accordingly. Use a method that’s conducive to drift fishing. Position yourself and plan your route before you get past the area you want to fish so you’re not paddling over the area you want to fish. Is one side easier than the other with the direction the wind is blowing?

Look at your spot, now how far up you want to get ahead of it and turn yourself accordingly. Some people like to face the wind and ride quickly through. Once you get more comfortable you might be able to turn at a three-quarter angle to slow your drift.

In my experience, there are two ways to tackle pressured waters, depending on what you’re fishing for. First, use a bait that others aren’t using. If you’re fishing for bass, a lot of people throw Senko or spinnerbaits. If you’re in a high-pressure area, change to something different, or a variation of what’s being thrown. If most anglers throw a 5-inch Senko I’ll take one that’s broken, cut it in half and throw that. It’s just a little different. It can sometimes trigger that reaction.

And then patience. Many people will give up on areas that have done nothing and move on. Just take your time and fish it patiently and slowly. It’s been my experience that patience pays off.

kayak angler holding a nice fish in the water


BRANCHES: What are unique challenges to different fishing environments?

CASEY: There are three environments I’ll speak to: river and current, larger bodies of water and small back lakes.

For small back lakes, the lakes themselves are small so they’re easy to dissect and go through. But the challenge is sometimes getting to these areas. So plan ahead and have a map—use Google Maps or information you can find online to plan your route. Don’t go alone, especially if it’s your first time in these areas.

A lot of anglers don’t take into account how heavy their kayaks can be. So take the appropriate measures—maybe a back brace to save your back when carrying it. Or get a kayak cart. You can always lock it to a tree on shore if you’re worried about theft.

Usually going in isn’t bad, but then you fish all day and have to come out too. Will you want to deal with a 2-km trek with all your gear? I bring bungee cords to secure all my gear on my kayak so I’m not taking two trips.

Currents are tricky. I won’t get into rapids, falls or dams because you have to be more careful in those situations. But on a standard stretch of river without any of those obstacles, you’re still dealing with current. It can be deceiving.

I always recommend looking for landmarks on shore so you can gauge how far and how fast you’ve drifted. Look up and find that landmark between casts and after you’ve caught a fish.

Also, you have to be aware of boat traffic. They’re not always going to see you, even with a flag and light. Know where boat lanes are and be careful not to drift into them. And then depending on the size of the river, you can find pockets where you can be out the current and still fish up.

kayak angler paddling at dusk


If you’re in a pedal kayak it’s a whole different thing, but if you’re paddling like I do, you need to be aware that as soon as you catch a fish you’ll be dragged back into the current. So always pay attention to where the current is taking you. When you catch a fish, take a photo or measure for a tournament, get yourself into a safe area so you don’t drift farther down than you want to be.

For larger bodies of water like large lakes and even the Great Lakes, the main thing to be prepared for is the weather. Use whatever app you want to use to know the forecast and plan for it. Know the wind direction compared to your launch. Will you have to fight your way back across a large lake at the end of the day against the wind?  

If something comes up quickly you may have to get to shore anywhere you can and forget about the launch, especially if you have to cross big open water. I’ve been chased off when storms have popped up and gone to a home on the lake for help. I’ve never had anybody be anything but nice about it.

BRANCHES: What about slow fishing days?

CASEY: There are a couple of things that help on slow days. First, just slow down and match it. If it’s a slow day, power fishing usually isn’t going to work. Slow down your approach, your speed of retrieval and your sink rate.

Second (and this works for pressured waters too), dissect the area you’re fishing. Cast a 6-inch fan or an 8-inch fan across a small area. Put the bait right in front of the fish’s mouth.

Sometimes you need to change your entire presentation. Everybody’s got their favorite go-to bait. But if it’s not working, change it. That could mean shrinking the size, changing the color—even changing the bait manufacturer because they all have different sink rates. Keep changing it up until you find something that works.

Casey Ryan, Branches Ambassador, with a nice fish; rainbow in the background

Casey Ryan, kayak angler and Bending Branches Ambassador

BRANCHES: Any other advice for new kayak anglers?

CASEY: Don’t go alone at the start unless you’re a confident and strong paddler. If you’re an avid angler but new to paddling, it’s always safer to kayak fish with others.

There are lots of local kayak fishing groups, depending on where you are. All these groups have one or two annual meetups if not local tournaments that are fun-oriented. It’s a great way to get out, meet some people and be safe.

All photos courtesy of Casey Ryan. You can follow Casey on his Instagram page.

What paddling questions can our friendly Customer Service team help you with? Contact us here: 715-755-3405 or [email protected]

More for you...