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Landing Fish in a Kayak: 3 Easy Steps

If you’re a beginner fisherman, landing a fish in a kayak might seem like a bit of a challenge. Having extra equipment—grippers, gaffs, and nets—certainly helps, but unfortunately, kayaks don’t really offer much in terms of space. So how do you land a fish in a kayak?

I’ve lost my fair share of trout and bass while I was out kayak fishing, and it could’ve been avoided if I was better prepared. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, knowing how to land a fish in a kayak is critical. 

This article offers a step-by-step guide on how to quickly and effectively lift a fish into your kayak. Let’s dive right in! 

How to Land a Fish in a Kayak: A Step-by-Step Guide

Once you’ve caught and secured the fish, here’s how to land it in your kayak: 

Step 1: Let the Fish Tire Itself Out 

Before landing the fish into your kayak, make sure it’s exhausted. If it’s still kicking at full power, it’ll likely jump off the kayak once you pull it in. 

You’ll know the fish is tired when it rolls onto its side and doesn’t pull on the rod as much. As soon as this happens, secure the paddle and clear the deck. Then, lower your leg in the water and slowly guide the fish to the side of the kayak. This stabilizes both you and the boat.

Author Note: If you don’t intend to keep the fish or if you’re simply fishing for leisure, don’t prolong the fight as it might cause the fish undue stress. 

Step 2: Extend the Line 

When the fish is ready, extend the line until it’s about the same length as your rod. Then, position the rod on the other side of the fish and raise your arm up and away. This prevents the fish from escaping and snapping your line if it decides to fight back.

Step 3: Lip the Fish 

Man holds a large fish that he has caught from a kayak

For smaller fish, like crappie and carp, simply lift them by hand. Then, once it’s on your boat, cradle it to your belly and gently remove the hook.

For medium to large fish, carry them onto your boat by the lip. 

The lipping technique is the easiest and fastest way to land a fish. With that said, don’t ever lip a fish unless you’re absolutely sure it doesn’t have sharp teeth. You don’t want the fish to hurt you!

To lip a fish, insert your thumb or finger into the fish’s mouth and pinch down on its lower jaw. Then, tilt the fish horizontally to immobilize it. Once you’ve firmly secured the fish, grab the body and drag it towards your kayak.

Keep in mind that fish often make last-ditch attempts to escape. Even when you’ve secured the fish and it looks thoroughly drained, it still might thrash around and struggle once you lip it. It may even jump overboard and take you down with it. To avoid this, keep the line tight until you’ve unhooked the fish.

If you’re not too keen on using your hand to lip the fish, get yourself a mechanical fish-gripping device like the Boga Grip

Author Note: Fish-gripping devices essentially replace your fingers with a metallic tool that’ll help you land the fish into your boat. They’re particularly useful for large fish and fish with sharp teeth.

6 Helpful Kayak Fishing Tips

If you’re planning to catch fish using your kayak, keep these safety tips in mind:

1. Your PFD Is Your Best Friend

Even if you’re an expert swimmer, never go out fishing without a PFD (Personal Flotation Device). 

In terms of safety and precaution, a PFD is just as important as a motorcycle helmet. It’s an essential piece of gear for every kayaker, regardless of the activity you’re partaking in.

2. Double-Check the Weather Before Heading Out

Weather is as unpredictable as your day’s fishing haul. From my experience, a bright and sunny day can completely turn into a stormy day in just a blink of an eye. 

Therefore, even if the weather forecast looks perfect the night before, always double-check the day’s status before heading out. Also, make sure to bring your rain gear and anchor with you, just in case. 

3. Always Have a Straight Blade Nearby

Older caucasian man kayak fishing, fish jumping.

If things get rough, it’s sometimes better to call it quits and sacrifice a lure or line before things get too out of hand. 

If your fishing line or anchor line gets caught in something, cut it ASAP. Having a straight blade nearby allows you to release the line swiftly and safely without risking damage or tipping your boat over.  

Apart from the straight blade, other essential safety gear includes:

  • Sunscreen
  • First aid kit
  • Sunglasses (polarized, if possible)
  • Dry bags
  • Paddle leash

4. Properly Equip Your Kayak

Kayaks have limited space, so choosing the right equipment is essential to a successful fishing trip.

First and foremost, keep pliers, landing nets, tackles, and bottled water within easy reach. Secure them with lanyards to avoid losing them overboard.

Secondly, carry spare combos and mount rod holders for trolling on your kayak.

While not essential, consider getting yourself a sonar unit or a fish finder. These devices help you track and locate fish through SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) technology. They also provide various other important information while you’re fishing, like water depth, GPS, marine radar, and others.

Author Note: Boat control accessories are likewise important as they help you catch and control fish. Examples include an anchor trolley (combined with an anchor or drift sock), a shallow-water stake, a rudder, and a mini downrigger for trolling suspended fish.

5. Familiarize Yourself With Fishing Strategies

Good equipment can only do so much. Without the right knowledge and fishing strategies, you might find it increasingly difficult to catch fish and land. 

Before heading out on a trip, familiarize yourself with the basics—paddling, boat positioning, rigging, and how to fish in general. Once you have a handle on the basics, you’ll be able to effortlessly cast and reel common fish.

Here are some fishing strategies to consider: 

  • Use versatile, easy-to-use fishing lures like crankbaits, curl tail grubs, spinnerbaits, and the like. This reduces re-rigging and retying, allowing you to cast more often with less effort.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your feet. Feet can be great anchors when fishing in shallow areas, like rip-raps and laydowns. You can also use your feet to redirect the boat.
  • Once you’ve hooked a fish, don’t freak out. Let it tug and play in the water until it exhausts itself. Don’t pull or tug on the line; instead. let your reel, rod, and line do the job for you.  

6. Practice Your Paddling

kayak fishing competition

If you’re not used to fishing on a kayak, make sure to practice your paddling. After all, paddling is half the challenge of kayak fishing!

Navigate your kayak on a familiar waterway close to your home. Doing so gives you experience and confidence when paddling your boat. 

Also, familiarize yourself with proper paddling strokes to help you effectively move towards your intended destination in the shortest possible time and effort.

In kayak navigation, the forward stroke is the main paddling technique. Here, you simply need to plant the paddle blade at your toes and pull it back to about your hip. The blade should then move through the water cleanly.

Here are some tips when paddling:

  • Make sure you’re not over-extending yourself. Place the paddle blade in the water near your toes for optimal comfort.
  • Before pulling the paddle blade back, make sure it’s properly submerged in the water.
  • Use your large muscle groups (abdominals, legs, torso, arms, shoulders) when pulling the blade through the water.

Once you’ve learned the basics, practice the one-handed paddle

The one-handed paddle is especially useful when you’re reeling in a fish with one hand and steering your kayak with the other. 

This paddling technique shared the same steering techniques as a canoe. Basically, you’ll simply have to lock the shaft of the paddle along your forearm. This anchors the paddle on your arm, allowing you to steer your kayak using only one hand.


Can a fish flip a kayak?

Yes, a fish can flip a kayak, especially if it’s big and rowdy. However, the fish needs to be a special kind of rowdy to actually flip a kayak, as it’s quite difficult to do. After all, kayaks are designed to stay upright in the toughest conditions. They’re built with substantial secondary stability and reinforced buoyancy.

With that said, always be vigilant and embrace the uncertainty of boat flipping. No matter how stable your kayak may be, there’s always the possibility of it flipping unexpectedly—especially if you’re battling a big fish. 

Is kayak fishing even worth it?

Kayak fishing can be challenging, tiring, and sometimes dangerous. However, from my personal experience, it’s 100% worth your time, money, and effort. 

Kayaks are versatile, portable, and allow easy access to deep waters. Moreover, kayak fishing greatly improves your angling skills! 

Wrapping Up 

Landing a fish in a kayak isn’t as difficult as you may have initially believed. You might not perfect it on your first or even your fifth try, but with the steps above, paired with the right technique and dedication, you’ll be landing fish effortlessly in no time.

We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to land a fish in a kayak.

Happy Hunting!


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