Even fairly small and simple kayaks open many great opportunities for catfishing, reaching some spots that cannot be accessed with most other kinds of watercraft.
Kayak Cats for Everyone
by Jeff Samsel
You might be surprised by the number of catfishing opportunities opened by even a simple kayak.
A gargantuan flathead curled kayak-side makes a spectacular photo, and giant kayaks cats undoubtedly provide equally big thrills. That said, only select anglers possess the boat, fishing tackle, understanding, and resolve required to realistically target trophy cats from a kayak, so it is easy to write off all kayak catfishing as too specialized a game. Truth be known, most kayak catfishing is a dramatically simpler game, and highly portable, easily launched boats provide distinct advantages for targeting catfish in many situations.
Kayaks open access to fine catfishing waters that cannot be reached from the shore or from larger boats. Lakes and ponds in state, county and city parks, small municipal reservoirs and smaller lakes managed for fishing by state fisheries agencies commonly get regular stockings of channel catfish because cats provide reliable action. Many of these waters have horsepower restrictions or are only accessible from the shore or by a hand-launched boat. Bank-fishing works, but with obvious limitations, and a kayak can reach extensive areas that are not within casting range of any open spot on the shore.
Looking beyond stocked waters, many (if not most) neighborhood ponds, national forest lakes, coves of larger reservoirs and slow-moving streams contain native populations of channel catfish, white catfish, and/or bullheads. Again, most kayaks can be hand launched where no ramp exists and open access to much larger areas than can be reached from the shore.
Because kayak catfishing has gained only modest popularity, many spots that cannot be reached from the shore or with a larger craft get little to no pressure from catfish anglers, so any given spot is apt to be a gold mine.
Regarding the actual kayak, you don’t necessarily need stand-up stability or endless features for channel cats, white cats or even smaller blues, which sometimes congregate with the channel cats on certain waters. As long as a kayak is sufficiently stable for fighting and landing a 10- or 15-pound cat if one decides to bite and you have somewhere to put a rod when you need hands for something else, a kayak will probably work. Smaller and lighter boats actually provide advantages over more deluxe kayaks simply because they are easier to transport, get to the water and launch. Portability proves especially valuable when neither a ramp nor waterside parking exists.
I have two 10-foot Old Town Vapor fishing kayaks that fit my needs perfectly. They are plenty stable, dry and comfortable, and light enough that I can easily carry both atop a station wagon. They are equipped with the rod holders, storage spaces, and an anchor system that distinguish them as fishing kayaks.
Speaking of anchors, an anchor is an important accessory for many catfishing situations, but one should be used with caution and should not be used in high wind or significant current as this can capsize a kayak. With smaller boats, especially, kayak anchors should be at the light end of the range. If it takes a lot of weight to hold position, it could be more weight than you want battling wind and current or want to have to haul back up off the side of a kayak. An alternative to an anchor, is some settings, is to use a TTI-Blakemore Brush Gripper to “anchor” to a deadfall or other grabbable piece of cover.
A least one rod holder, whether built-in or added, also borders on critical kayak catfishing gear. Even if you prefer to hold your own rod when you fish, you need a secure but accessible place to put a rod while you’re paddling and while you are doing things like cutting bait, rigging a line, and unhooking catfish. In terms of storage, you at least need a reachable place for bait, a bit of terminal tackle, and some pliers.
One specific gear suggestion that is not about the boat itself is to avoid going too heavy with fishing line, especially for catfishing from smaller kayaks. Thirty-pound marks about the top end of the range and 14 to 20 is a better fit for most situations. We’re not talking about targeting giant catfish anyway, and extra heavy line can be very difficult to break without tipping a boat too much if you get a snag you cannot get free.
Specific strategies, gear, and bait vary immensely, but most situations call for one of a couple of basic approaches. The most popular is to anchor or tie off and cast out one or two bottom lines and wait for bites, changing cast directions and lengths periodically to find fish and pattern holding areas. An alternative approach that can work well for finding active fish when they are spread across broader areas is to drift, keeping a rod in hand, and bumping the bottom with a tight-line rig.
Although some kayaks are equipped with sophisticated electronics, we’re assuming a simple set-up. Lacking a graph to tell depths and find bait or catfish, shore-reading and spot-selection skills become important. Choose high-percentage holding spots, such as long points, significant changes in the bank slope, large laydowns with branches in a range of depths, dam corners, and pond spillways.
As importantly, use the mobility a kayak offers to your advantage. If you are fishing from an anchored position and the fish show no interest for 15 or 20 minutes, pull anchor and find another spot. With a light anchor and one or two rods, changing spots is easy, and with a bit of strategic searching, you’re likely to find a spot where you can tap into good cat-catching action!