Do It Yourself Fishing Kayak Rigging

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We all know fishing specific kayaks are expensive. Some models start at anywhere from $600 all the way up into the $3,000 to $5,000 dollars in price.

They have pedals, rod holders, some even have trolling motors, but I would be willing to bet that for the majority of us, myself included, these hi-tech space age boats are well out of the price range.

That’s why I chose to be resourceful and retrofit the kayak I already had to become a highly personalized fishing machine. Is it the most ergonomic, state of the art, boat of the future? No. But it does get me off the shore and into deeper waters where I can seek out those lunker bass and fat bluegill that I love fishing for all year round. In this article I will explain how to take any kayak you can find at your local Walmart or sporting goods store, and turn it into the ultimate fish finding tool. 

Check out the author’s video on converting kayaks to fishing vessels.

Firstly you will need a kayak. Whatever you can get your hands on will do just fine, assuming that it floats. Whether it’s a sit on top or a sit inside, it can still move through the water, which is our main goal here. I would highly recommend sitting in it and making sure there is enough space for you before committing to the purchase. Once the kayak is pulled down from the rafters in the garage or hauled back home from the store, you’ll only need to order a few simple items, some necessary, some extraordinary, and you’ll be on the water hauling ’em in in no time. 

Assuming your kayak did not come with a rod holder of some sort, you’ll need to get yourself something that you can attach to the boat to hold your precious rods. There are a multitude of third party rod holders available online so choose which one you think will serve your needs best. Some require cutting a hole in your kayak and sliding in a tube shaped rod holder that mounts almost flush with the body of your kayak, some simply screw right onto your boat and others have a rail system that allows you to easily interchange attachments as you see fit. I have found great luck with the Scotty brand rail system as it allows me to move my rod holders around the boat as needed, remove them for transport and add new gadgets as needed. 

Learn about bluegill fishing in a kayak.

Another tool that is invaluable to anyone in a boat is an anchor. Kayaks are highly susceptible to even the slightest wind conditions so being able to stay put on the water is a must. Any old anchor will do but depending on whether you’re fishing lakes or rivers, sandy bottoms or hard rock bottoms they make a multitude of styles that you can get practically anywhere to suit your preference. The problem with a kayak is there is not much room to store anything, and having an anchor is great but what do you do with all that rope? There are a few great solutions that I’ve found over the years that can remedy this age old problem. 

Scotty makes a deck mount anchor lock system that you can mount to your kayak that allows you to drop the anchor and retrieve it with ease for when you’re moving around frequently seeking out fish, or simply for when it is time to pack up and head back home. I’ve also, through some deep research and development, discovered the “automatic retractable locking kayak anchor retrieval system” otherwise known as the retractable dog leash.

These are relatively inexpensive and easy to attach to your boat with a simple carabiner. Make sure the one you get has a locking function or else the wind will just push your boat until all the nylon cable is released from the leash! If all else fails you can simply get some rope and tie it off to the deck line on your kayak and use a rope winder to keep it tidy, and worst case scenario, simply attach some bungee cord to your kayak and store the rope under that.

A final piece of equipment that is highly recommended, but absolutely unnecessary, is a good old fashioned fish finder. The name suggests it helps you find fish, and sometimes it can, but more often than not, it’s a wonderful tool for keeping track of where you are going, seeing the water depth and changes in depth where you are paddling, checking water temperatures and marking structure and holes that you can return to in the future to catch those lunker bass!

There are a multitude of fish finders on the market, and some are downright junk and others will cause you to take out a second mortgage on your home. I’ve had great success with the Garmin Striker Plus 4. It is affordable and it comes with a dual beam transducer, built in GPS that allows you to add markers and waypoints, contour mapping and an incredibly bright screen to help you see it on those bright bluebird days out on the water. 

Again, Scotty makes a mount for this, and all fish finders, that simply slides onto a railing that you can place anywhere on your kayak that works best for you.

They also sell a transducer mounting arm that you simply screw any transducer onto which then slides directly onto the railing. It also allows you to raise and lower the transducer mounting arm if you get into heavy weeds or water that is too shallow with a simple twisting knob. I mounted mine just in front of the cockpit at arms reach so I can access it easily at any time. An added bonus of this specific mount is that it has a mounting space on it to add a rod holder as well to make it that much easier for you to get out on the water. 

A side note on the fish finder. You will need a small 12v battery, preferably sealed, to power it. I store mine in the back hatch of my kayak and run the cable up under the lip of the cockpit to keep it out of the way. I have seen people use plastic ammo boxes to seal the battery and drill small holes in the top and add rubber grommets to prevent as much water getting in as possible. 

A few closing notes. There is not much storage in a kayak so plan your fishing trips accordingly. I often have to shove a small tackle box between my legs or I bring a few small plastic boxes with the lures, hooks, sinkers, etc. of what I’ll be using so as to not cramp myself out of the boat and make my trip uncomfortable. Also remember, rods don’t float! I have watched my fishing buddy lose multiple hundred plus dollar rods and reels by them slipping off his kayak into the bottoms of rivers and lakes, never to be seen again. Rod floats cost about $6 for a four pack. Lastly before you mount anything to your kayak, make sure your paddle is not going to smack into any of the mounts while you are underway! I may or may not have made this mistake already. 

As always, make sure to keep safety in mind. Many people, including those I fish with, refuse to wear lifejackets. I get it, they can be uncomfortable and downright annoying, but adding all these extra attachments and tackle to your kayak makes it significantly more unwieldy and unbalanced, so keep that in mind. I personally invested in a fishing specific lifejacket that has a low profile and has a ton of pockets to store my pliers, licenses, snacks and anything I need in a hurry while reeling in the big ones. All it takes is one quick flip in the wrong spot and you can hit your head on a rock, and then a fun day of fishing turns into an emergency situation. 

With all that being said, get out on the water and start reeling them in. Any way to get off the shore and into the deep will enhance your fishing experience and put you on more fish. Having a kayak also allows you to move silently through the water, to get up into those places you simply cannot access with a traditional fishing boat and frankly it’s great exercise. Now is your opportunity to be the envy of everyone fishing from the bank at your favorite pond, lake or river. Don’t let the high prices of big name brand fishing kayaks scare you away. With a little ingenuity, some elbow grease and a few extra parts, you can be a kayak fishing master in no time, and with very minimal cash invested. The best part is you can make it to whatever specifications you want. It’s your kayak, have fun with it!

Paul Fuzinski (Aptitude Outdoors)

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