How to Turn Your Kayak Fishing Trip into an Overnighter

12-minute read

Bending Branches Regional Ambassador Terrell Hester is a huge advocate of turning kayak fishing trips into overnight camping trips.

Terrell Hester in his kayak with a fish at water's edge

We got on a call with him recently to get his best tips on how to make fishing overnighters a success. While he can’t guarantee you’ll catch fish, follow his tips and you’re sure to have a great time on the water and in camp.

First, though…

Why turn a day of kayak fishing into an overnight trip?

“What I like most is you’re spending more time on the water,” said Terrell. “Simply put, the more your line is in the water, the more chances you have to catch fish. For overnight trips, you’re essentially cutting out one side of your commute. Instead of having to get off the water to drive back home, you’re paddling to wherever your campsite will be.”

Terrell's experiences have been going out for a single night with the total mileage for his river trips being anywhere from 5 miles to 50 miles. He found he prefers the shorter trips for the simple reason that the focus is more on fishing than covering water.

Here are his best tips:

Choose a Kayak Fishing Overnight Destination

Terrell lives in Texas. His river of choice for kayak fishing trips in his area is the Guadalupe River. One of the key reasons for that is that there are plenty of public camping sites along the water’s edge and a few different species of fish to target.

He said, “With public campsites you don’t have to worry about seeking landowner permission. You can find a campsite ahead of time and reserve it, much like a hotel stay. At the end of a long paddle day, you’re not struggling to figure out where to camp.”

three men in fishing kayaks on a clear Texas river

Terrell goes online to research the area he’s interested in before each trip. He uses a map app to scout out his options for entrance and exit spots and for a campsite along the way.

He likes to decide on the route first and then find a reservable campsite about midway. “A river doesn’t go in a straight line,” he cautions. “Miles and river miles are different, so you’ve got to account for that.”

If he’ll be on a river without public land, he knows he’ll need to get private landowner permission beforehand to camp.

Most of the designated campsites along the Guadalupe aren’t state parkland but are family-owned private campgrounds. It’s easy to call ahead and reserve a spot in those cases.

Transportation To and From the River

“There are a couple of different options to get from point A to point B,” said Terrell. “The first is for your group to split up the vehicles and park one down at the end. You’ll drive back to your entrance point together, hop on the water and paddle and fish down to your campsite. The next day you paddle and fish the rest of the way to where that second vehicle is.

“Depending on the size of your group and how many kayaks you have, you might need a trailer to accommodate everything. You have to think that through. After loading up gear and people you’ll drive back to get the vehicle(s) parked at your launch spot.”

The other option is to see if there’s an outfitter in the area that can shuttle your group one way or the other so you can leave all your vehicles in the same spot. It’ll cost more, but save a lot of time.

“It’s best to get that ironed out ahead of time and make sure you’re crisp on your arrival times,” he said.

Terrell walks his kayak down a stretch or rapids

Kayak Fishing and More

As a fisherman, Terrell’s main priority is to catch as many fish as possible when he’s on these overnight kayak fishing trips.

“But there’s also a ton of things to see along the way,” he said. “So keep your head up! Are you looking at the kingfishers that are looking for fish to eat? At the ospreys? Depending on the area you’re in, are you keeping your eye out for a bald eagle? Sometimes you may see owls or a giant beehive or really cool rock structures—things you don’t get to see every day.

“Maybe you’ll pass an old mill or something you want to take a closer look at. Or maybe there’s a huge bald cypress tree and you want to hop out and take a picture next to it. So when you’re not fishing you should absolutely spend your time looking around and up. Enjoy the journey because one thing that isn’t guaranteed is that the fish are biting!”

Catch and Release or Catch and Cook?

Terrell is a sport fisherman so his practice is to catch, photo and release. But catch and cook is another option. Freshly-caught fish over an open fire at your campsite is certainly something you can look forward to.

He urges, though, “If you’re going to go the catch-and-cook route, have a backup plan! Don’t be silly and plan to eat only what you catch. You may not catch anything. And you need those calories for the next day’s paddle.

“Also, make sure you’re familiar with the fish and game regulations in your area—limits, slot limits and so on.”

How an Overnight Kayak Fishing Trip Differs from a Day Trip

Preparing for an overnight differs from day trip fishing mostly in the way you pack your kayak and what you’ll bring along.

Terrell said, “Typically when you’re going on a day trip you have everything you need just for fishing—your bait, tackle, your life vest, paddle, etc. Whenever you’re planning to camp overnight there’s a lot more to consider.

man kayaks through a rapid amid two large boulders

“You’ve got to have an extra set of dry clothes, a First Aid kit, at least one extra paddle in your group, your tent or hammock and sleeping bag, your cookware, a headlamp or other type of lighting. Fill in the blanks for anything you typically take camping.

"Bottom line, you’ll need a minimalist version of whatever that looks like. You’re also going to want dry bags or watertight boxes to stow your stuff and keep it dry. You won’t have the luxury of just going back to your vehicle.

“It’s really important to know your waterway, especially if you’re fishing a river that’s the tailwater of a dam. If that’s the case for you, you should know the dam release schedule as that determines what your flows look like. Is the flow going to be so slow that we’re going to have to really get after it when we’re paddling? Or will it be high when we’re going so the flow will move us along a lot faster? Even when setting up camp along the river bank an unexpected dam release can raise the water level into your camp.”

Terrell suggests thinking like a minimalist when packing for an overnight kayak fishing trip. Consolidate your gear as much as possible, organize it well on your kayak and strap it down if you can. An overloaded kayak decreases stability. Paddling an unstable kayak on fast water, through a funnel or over a drop risks a capsize.

“And it’s life vest, life vest, life vest. I know it’s a long time to be on the water but you just have to wear it. Your family and friends want to see you come back in one piece.”

Terrell Hester carefully lowers his kayak down a small falls

At the Campsite

Whether your campsite is part of a public or private campground or you’ve gotten permission to camp on private property, be sure you practice “pack in, pack out.” Whatever trash you produce, pack it out with you. Don’t leave it behind and don’t let it get into the water.

In every group are those who love to do the cooking. Terrell is usually that guy in the groups he fishes with. Things to consider ahead of time are:

  • What is everyone going to want to eat?
  • What’s quick and easy?
  • What can you prepare ahead of time so you don’t have to spend so much time preparing dinner after a long day of paddling and fishing?

“But with that, don’t be afraid to eat good!” he said. “Some people think camping has to mean crackers, cheese and dried fruit. Not when you’re going with me! Don’t be afraid to fill your bellies. You’re expending more calories than you can consume with crackers, cheese and jerky. I tend to bring as much as reasonably can be accommodated.

“And we make sure to bring music—nothing brings a group together like food and music. Maybe no one in the group plays harmonica or banjo or guitar—then bring a small Bluetooth speaker. Maybe some adult beverages if that’s your thing.”

In other words—enjoy the camping part of it!

Terrell Hester cooks dinner for the group at their campsite

Kayak Fishing Overnight Safety

As Terrell already stressed, always wear your life vest when you’re on your kayak fishing or paddling.

“Plan as though you won’t have cell service,” suggests Terrell. “A physical map is always a good thing to have along so you can follow your way down the river and look for waypoints.

“Make sure a loved one or close friend knows your plan—where you’re going to put in, sleep and take out. If it’s been a couple of days and they haven’t heard from you, they know there’s something wrong.”

Finally, don’t go alone. “People do it,” said Terrell, “but that is definitely not for the beginner. I think you should always have at least one partner with you.”

We’ll talk about the size of the group here, too. A few things to consider are:

  • Does your intended campsite have a limit to the number of campers? And if there’s no limit, how many tents will it hold?
  • Do you have enough vehicles/trailer space for hauling the people and kayaks?
  • Rivers can be quite a narrow waterway. The more people who are part of the group the harder it is to stay out of each other’s way when both paddling and fishing.
  • Navigating fast water in a larger group takes longer because you’ve got to send one person at a time to do it safely.
  • More gear and food is needed for more people.

“I’ve done it with one other person and I’ve done it with upwards of 10 people. Both were fun and there’s room for both types of kayak trips. These days if I had to plan one it would always be for 5 or fewer in the group,” said Terrell.

Terrell’s First Kayak Fishing Overnight Trip: What Not to Do

Terrell’s first overnight kayak fishing trip is where he learned almost all of what NOT to do! He described it this way:

“On my first trip, I bit off a lot more than I could chew. I was in the military, and me and a bunch of buddies in my unit decided we wanted to do an overnight kayak fishing trip. I was the only one with a kayak. I was always kayaking and kayak fishing and my buddies wanted to do it with me.

“So we make this big plan. We told our wives what we were going to do. We rented the kayaks, got the maps, plotted our trip. We did all the things right—what we thought we were supposed to do. Now this was my first time going on an overnight, and I was going with a bunch of beginners—which was silly of me, and ambitious, but we did it anyway.

a man kayak fishes in a river among lily pads

“So we had to do a crash course on water safety before we could rent the equipment, which was good. The military is really good about that. But one of the giant mistakes we made was: it was just too much river.

“We wanted to challenge ourselves so we picked a 50-mile route! And we only gave ourselves an overnight to do it—that was the most silly thing ever.

“The flows weren’t very fast so we didn’t even have time to fish. We paddled the entire time, even into the night because we hadn’t reached our halfway point. We didn’t have a campsite reserved so we just found some random place along the river’s edge. I didn’t have the foresight to think, ‘Hey, somebody probably owns this property.’

“It was rural South Carolina, backwoods, completely remote, no phone service, pitch black. We’re scrambling up the side of the bank to try to find a dry place. Overnight the flows increased. It didn’t flood out our stuff but some of our kayaks got pushed downriver a bit because they weren’t properly secured.

“We also had the bright idea that we were going to catch everything we ate. Right. With me being the only experienced fisherman in the group that didn’t go well. Fortunately, one of the wives had the foresight to make some foil bag meals for us so we at least were able to make a fire and cook those. That saved our butts! It was terrible.

“We took entirely too long. We were all completely spent. None of us brought sunblock so we were all burnt. We just did not properly prepare. I learned a lot from that trip!

“Understand that no matter how much you plan and try to have foresight, something else is going to happen. Give yourself some grace. Allow yourself to learn from mistakes and get back out there and do it again. Just make sure not to make the same mistake!”

Terrell obviously took his own advice and has since been on many kayak fishing camping trips. Always learning along the way. Always enjoying his time on the water and time with friends.

Terrell Hester in his fishing kayak, holding a nice bass

We want to thank Terrell (in the above photo) for his time and insight! Follow him on Instagram for more kayak fishing photos and stories.

All photos courtesy of Dustin Doskocil. Used by permission.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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