Tugging Reds in a Kayak

The Lure/Rod Equation
February 24, 2023
TEXAS BOATING by Lenny Rudow
February 24, 2023


THE TUG IS THE DRUG, and when you’re on a kayak, a red drum makes for a very potent tug.

Inch for inch, few gamefish can produce a pull like a redfish. A 20-incher feels like many 26- or 27-inch specimens of other species, and a 40-incher feels like it has as much torque as a 115-horsepower outboard. If you’re on a kayak, that makes battling those bulls particularly dicey — and particularly fun. But to enjoy the adrenaline-inducing sleigh ride resulting from a redfish, first you have to fool them into biting. Then, you’ll have to make every move count if you’re going to bring that fish up to the boat and eventually land it.

These tips for kayak fishing for redfish will help.

The Hookup

• You have two advantages over boat anglers: stealth and draft. You also have an advantage over wade fishermen in the form of more mobility. Play to your advantages and maximize each of these traits.

• Stay away from those noise-making, fish-spooking boats and head for the flats and backwater cuts where they dare not tread. When you see more than one boat fishing an area the best move is often to head in the opposite direction — even if you know they’re in a good spot. There’s a fair chance that if any smart fish were around they’ve already bugged out. And stay on the move until you locate some active fish.

• Use the tide and wind to your advantage, rather than fighting against them. Any time you find yourself working hard to cast along a shoreline or get close enough to cast to a target, ask yourself if you could paddle upwind or upcurrent, then do a controlled drift back down. In some cases this may mean paddling or pedaling an extra quarter-mile or more to get upwind or upcurrent of a target zone. But it’s time and energy well spent, because once you’ve reached a good starting point, you’ll spend more time fishing and less time battling the elements.

• If you like sight fishing, get a SUP paddle and practice using it. These work much better than a standard paddle for maneuvering the boat while standing, and if you’re trying to spot fish in the shallows, you’ll see 10 times as many if you can stand up as you work your way along. Some sharpies like to leash the paddle, so when they spot a fish and transition from paddle to rod they can simply let the paddle slide silently into the water.

The Battle

• Be sure to position your kayak properly prior to the cast. Carelessly fling your lure at a 90-degree angle to the boat, and if you hook up you’ll be at an immediate disadvantage as you try to fight the fish. Swinging the bow around in line with the fish so you can fight it properly takes time and effort, increases the potential for slack to get into the line, and reduces your ability to maintain maximum pressure right from the start. So before you even take that cast, get the bow pointed in the proper direction every time.

• Don’t rush the fight. Bringing a green fish up to the boat is risky, and once you have a fish firmly hooked chances are it’ll stay that way until you get it close (90-percent of the fish you hook are either lost immediately after the fight begins, or during the landing process). That said, also be careful not to fight fish that will be released to the point of exhaustion. You’ll have to make a judgement call as to when the fish is tired (after it stops making those long, bulldog runs) and when it’s nearing the point of no return (when it begins rolling on its side or belly at the surface).

• When you get the fish closer than a kayak’s length loosen your drag by about a third if the water is deep enough for the fish to pull straight down. When the fish is far away from the boat your effective drag is looser than it seems, since the fish can pull the boat as well as pulling drag. But if the fish goes vertical it can’t tow the boat any longer, and the full force of your drag gets applied. With very large fish this can be dangerous, particularly if your line suddenly snaps — which has the potential to throw you off balance in a big way. Loosen the drag and not only do you reduce the chance of rolling, you also reduce the chance of losing the fish.

The Landing

• Be aware of counter-balancing the fish with your body. Landing very large fish is one of the top ways kayak anglers flip, so you need to be aware of how the fish will shift your center of balance at all times. Lean away from the fish as you pull it in, and don’t distract yourself by trying to take a selfie during this critical maneuver (yes, we’ve watched it happen, and yes, we’ve seen both the angler and the phone end up in the drink as a result). 

• Invest in good landing gear. A pair of quality fishing gloves will make it much easier to grab and control the fish while also protecting you from injury. A lip-gripper can go a long way in helping to control the fish, as well. Nets should float if dropped, have rubberized mesh (never knotted nylon, which can scrape off the fish’s protective coat of slime), and be sized appropriate to the target.

• With very large bull redfish, there’s a good chance your landing net won’t be up to the job. In this case you can use your leg to help “sweep” the fish into the boat. Start by dropping the leg into the water from the knee down (assuming conditions permit, of course). Then bring the fish in close and get a grip with a pair of lip-grippers, grab it around the tail, or grab the lure (if the fish is hooked securely and there’s a safe way to do so without getting your hand close to trebles). Lean away from the fish as you lift it and simultaneously kick your foot up, sweeping the fish into the kayak. Once the fish is in the boat, dropping both legs over the sides will help you remain stable as you deal with it.

Catching redfish is fun no matter how you do it, but battling these beasts from a kayak is particularly rewarding and particularly challenging. Put these tips to work, and with a little luck, it’s a challenge you’ll soon be facing with success.





—story by LENNY RUDOW

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