Stealth Kayak Tactics

Bass Awakening by Matt Williams
June 25, 2017
COMMENTARY by Kendal Hemphill
June 25, 2017

By design, kayaks are stealthy vessels, but hushed operation isn’t a foregone conclusion; it requires knowledge and practice.  Kayaks were invented by Inuits hunters longing to put more meat on the table.  The original kayaks were made of whale bone, driftwood, and animal hides.

Inuit paddles were purposely crafted short so the unused blade wouldn’t ride high, and alert the seals they were hunting, while the other end of the paddle found purchase in Arctic waters.

Fast forward several millennia and coastal sharpshooters have learned to utilize kayaks in the pursuit of redfish and other shallow-water dwelling sport fish.  Thousands of Texas kayakers now skim across flats that used to be considered too shallow to fish.  

Redfish have what can be called a “cone of vision”. Anglers who cast into that cone can usually score on them

Times have definitely changed.

Skinny water is the ultimate end game for coastal sharpshooters.  Not only can fish see you, their presence in water less than an honest ruler in depth puts them on a keen edge.  Make the slightest noise and they are off like a greyhound to the safety of deeper water.

Let’s examine several key areas you can focus on that will increase your stealthyness while afloat-especially in pursuit of the ever wary redfish.

Secure all gear – Every kayaker should lash or tie down every piece of gear they carry.  Murphy is alive and well in the new millennium and unsecured gear will fall off at the absolutely worst time.

Avoid banging noises: Water is roughly 700 times denser than air.  Consequently it conducts sound much better. A noise, seemingly small and innocuous to the human ear, is loud and booming underwater.  Shallow water concentrates the cacophony.  Sounds waves traveling through the water reflect up off the bottom at an angle and then down again off the water’s surface.  The shallower the water, the closer the wave form; hence, more sound waves impact a fish in a small area.

When paddling in shallow water, it is imperative that you avoid any banging noises on your hull – noises caused by dropped paddles, fishing rods, and tackle boxes.  Regardless of the source, errant noises scare fish.  When you think about it, kayak hulls resemble a drum; drop something on the top and it makes a sharp sound which is transmitted into the water.

One of the best techniques to avoid noises is to force yourself to slow down.  Measured, calculated movements are rarely loud and obnoxious.  Take a few seconds to compose yourself and take stock of the situation.  You will be glad you did.

Use Paddle holders: In addition to the security of a paddle lease, cradle an unused paddle in a holder.  Paddle holders are simple appendages which you either rivet or bolt to the side of your craft.  The U-shaped hangers hold your paddle silently in place.

Silent anchoring: As noted earlier, water is much denser than air and transmits obnoxious noises efficiently. Heaving an anchor into place is a cardinal sin in shallow water.  Anchors should be slipped overboard with the hands of a heart surgeon.

Egress and Ingress: Getting in and out of your kayak silently is critical if you are to enjoy success on the flats.  A cloddish step or stumble quickly negates the time and effort you spent quietly navigating into casting range.  The only real way to master this discipline is to practice.  

Ray Chapa, a coastal bend guide who fishes exclusively from kayaks, has the drill down to a science.  Upon spotting a tailing red, Chapa can holster his paddle, silently deploy the anchor, grab his rod, disembark his kayak, and present a fly or lure within twelve seconds.  Mastery of the subject necessitates that you spend time on the water practicing.

Skimming across a shin-deep layer of water blanketing a nasty mud flat is a great feeling, but empty stringers quickly quench the euphoria.  Neophyte paddlers will ultimately discover they can’t rely entirely on their hulls for spotted silver and gold.  To be effective flats fishermen, paddlers need to focus on stealthy operation.

And they need to understand the habits of a redfish.

Redfish have what groundbreaking outdoor writer the late Ed Holder called the “cone of vision”.

This is the zone that an angler should try to work around when sight-casting to reds. If a redfish’s head were a clock, its eyes would be at 2 and 10 o’clock according to Holder. The fish can basically see to 4 o’clock on the right side and 8 o’clock on the left, but 5, 6 and 7 o’clock are blind spots.

An angler should always make a point to throw the bait directly in front of the fish or even with its head according to the theory. Its a pretty solid theory.

Something else to consider is your casts need to be as delicate as your approach with the kayak.

Throwing a topwater to a school of tailing reds you have relentlessly pursued by using the above strategies is only effective if the lure doesn’t land with a big splash.

Practice casting any type of lure with focus and control so that the lure stays as close to the water during the cast as possible as not to make a loud impact. Fly fishermen don’t have to worry about this but most kayakers are fishing with casting or spinning gear and can be a problem.

For those new to shallow water stealth fishing with kayaks all of this might seem a big extreme but for veterans it serves as a reminder that kayaks can be a precision tool that allows the angler to slow down and slip into spots otherwise off limits.

And the idea of stealth fishing is as much a mental attitude as it is practical tips and tactics. 

Oh and it’s lots of fun too. We don’t want to forget that part.

Now, get out there and get into stealth fishing mode.



—story by Greg Berlocher


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