Man on a fishing kayak

Fishing Kayak Setup 101: (2021 Complete Guide for Beginners)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.


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If you’re used to fishing from a boat then fishing from a kayak might seem a little daunting at first. I felt this way having grown up on charter boats but there is nothing quite like the peace, solitude, and freedom of kayak fishing, and the key to enjoying it is having the right fishing kayak setup. 

Join me in this article as I run through everything you need to know about fishing kayaks and how to set them up to ensure you have the best kayak fishing experience every time. 

What Is A Fishing Kayak? 

Fishing kayaks are like a normal kayak except they come with features and accessories that make life a lot easier for kayak anglers to be organized and fish well on the water. 

They come with features like external tackle storage areas for your fishing gear that you can secure with a bungee, rod holders, waterproof internal storage hatches, an anchor system, and even a mount or two for a device like a Humminbird PiranhaMax 4 Di fishfinder or trolling motor. 

If you still don’t have a fishing kayak, take a look at my review of the top fishing kayaks under 1000 bucks. There are enough options in there, and I’m sure there’s one for you.

Can you fish from a regular kayak? 

Man With Fishing Rod On A Kayak
Man with A Fishing Rod On A Kayak

Technically yes, you can fish from the regular kayak but it’s most probably not going to be a fun fishing trip. 

Regular kayaks do not have a single rod holder for your rod…

Regular kayaks do not have a single rod holder for your rod, limited places to store or carry lures and baits, and not much room for rigging anything either. 

This all ends up in a disorganized mess, believe me, I’ve tried it. Growing up by the sea without a boat but being about as addicted to fishing as anglers can be, I turned to a regular kayak, and my personal experience of it was not positive. 

There was nowhere to put my fishing gear, store my paddle, my rods kept sliding around trying to escape overboard the whole time and as soon as I tried to fish there was no anchor and I drifted a million miles an hour.

The whole experience was just frustrating, I didn’t catch squat, and safety was an issue too – it took it as a sign and I didn’t fish from a regular kayak ever again. You don’t eve need the best inflatable fishing kayak as even a budget one will work better at the very least. 

Types Of Kayaks 

There are a few different types of kayaks out there and it’s best to know a bit about each of them before picking one for your fishing adventures. 

Sit On Top 

A sit-on-top kayak is exactly what it sounds like, you’re sitting on a seat on the top of the kayak high above the water. 

Your hands and legs are free and open, and there is a load of storage space on deck for your fishing gear, internal storage hatches for your tackle box, and more. 

This type of kayak is used most for kayak fishing setup as the open design makes fishing easier…

This type of kayak is used most for a kayak fishing setup as the open design makes fishing easier, increases storage space for anglers, and makes their fishing gear a lot more accessible on the water. 

Sit Inside 

A sit-inside kayak has an internal seat and your legs sit inside it, covered by the top deck and above the hull.

These are great for paddling around and looking at birds but the closed deck system leaves no space in front or behind the seat to carry your fishing gear, add rod holders, or have much deck space to secure any extras.


A motorized kayak is usually a sit-on-top that comes with a mount for a trolling motor so you can get to your fishing spots quickly without having to paddle. They are the ultimate when it comes to fishing on big lakes or in saltwater as you can cover a much larger amount of water. 


A pedal kayak is another ultimate choice for kayak fishing. Instead of using a paddle and your hands, you use your feet to pedal the kayak where you want it to go. This keeps your hands free for fishing-related tasks like casting your rods while chasing fish with the pedals, getting bait ready, or landing a fish. 

Is a sit-in or sit-on-top kayak better for fishing? 

Kayaks On Lake
Kayaks On a Lake

It touched on this earlier and if you were taking notes you’ll know that a sit-on-top kayak is far better for fishing on. 

The open space gives kayak anglers a lot of room to put all the gear they need onboard thanks to the open deck. They can also mount a device on the side like a fish finder and generally create a personal layout that suits their needs on the water. 

A sit-in kayak offers none of these options and is much harder to set up for fishing due to the closed deck.

How do you build a kayak for fishing? 

Now that we have run through all the types of kayaks, let’s dive into the details so you can create the ultimate fishing kayak setup for you. 

How to setup a kayak for fishing 

When it comes to setting up a kayak for fishing, kayak anglers need to think about three things: gear organization & accessibility, safety, and paddling. 

Gear Organization and Accessibility

When it comes to your gear, you want to ensure it’s all secure and that everything has a dedicated storage area that doesn’t cause tangles, and that you can access from your seat. 

Your best bet is to measure the outdoor storage areas, internal hatches, and layout all the gear you need, and then build from there. 

Almost every fishing kayak comes with an area that fits a milk crate perfectly…

Almost every fishing kayak comes with an area that fits a milk crate perfectly and it’s a great way to store tackle, bait, a battery for a fish finder or trolling motor, and anything else you need. Plus it makes taking your gear on and off the kayak a breeze. 


If a milk crate does fit, load the crate up with your tackle box, bait, plus any extras, and secure it with a bungee so it can go overboard. 

You should have one or two rod holders behind you for trolling and one more holder in front for fishing pole you can cast out quickly if you see some fish while trolling. This keeps your rods out the way, they won’t tangle, but you can pick them up in an instant when you hook up. 


Safety is key when setting up a kayak and you should make sure you balance the weight when loading up for your trip. This will ensure you don’t capsize in rough water and can paddle properly. 


You should also make sure you wear a quality lightweight PFD (personal flotation device) every time you go out, as it can and will save your life in an emergency. 

Padding Setup 

kayak paddles
Orange Kayak Paddles

When creating a system for your gear, one of the best tips I can give you is to think about your paddling and where your paddle goes. 

Sit in the kayak and pretend to paddle with your gear inside it – are there no rods in the way? 

When you hook up, can you store your paddle easily? 

If you answer yes to both of these, then your time on the water will be a lot easier. 

What gear do I need for kayak fishing? 

Whenever you go out fishing on a kayak there are some safety essentials you should always have with you to make sure your adventure is as safe as possible. Here is a list of things to ensure you have. 

PFD – You should always be wearing a lightweight PFD as you’re alone out there and anything can happen. 

First Aid Kit – Fishing involves hooks, knives, pliers, and accidents happen. When they do you’ll need to patch yourself up. 

Bilge Pump – If you take on too much water, you’ll need a manual bilge to get the water out fast. 

Radio – This will allow you to communicate with other vessels in the area and get help quickly if you need it. 

Soft Waterproof Bag – These are perfect for storing any valuables like your phone or radio for getting assistance when you need it plus any extra layers that need to stay dry like a rain jacket or fleece. 

To help you more about kayak fishing gears, watch the video below…

Kayak Beginner’s Gear List

Kayaking Out 

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and found all the tips you need to set up your kayak for fishing. It’s all about organization, accessibility, safety, and paddling. If you hit all those tips on the head, then you could be fishing in a tournament in no time. 

If you found this fishing kayak setup guide useful, please share it around with your angling buddies and if you shop online, have a look at some of my other articles like this review about travel rods – I cover everything you’ll need for your next fishing adventure. 


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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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