Salomone: Kayak fly fishing is a whole new game
Getting set up for kayak angling is easier than you think, and totally worth it
Vail Valley Anglers
When people make mental associations with kayaking, the hardcore whitewater enthusiasts are the first to pop into most minds. Angling from a kayak possesses challenges that are easy to overcome considering the bountiful returns … with intrinsic rewards to boot. The angler with a fly rod sticking out the front has discovered a new game: kayak fly fishing.
The mobility and ease of use that comes with a kayak is surprising. With some small modification to your existing gear, fly anglers embrace the positive benefits that encompass kayak angling. The ability to put in anywhere opens up a world of new water to fish. From small stillwaters to large reservoirs — or anywhere along the numerous miles of river water that pulse across the Colorado Rockies.
Fly fishermen can take their newfound skills to the saltwater. Kayak angling can open up entire bays that were never obtainable to the foot-bound angler. To illustrate my point, I have kayak fly fished in freshwater and saltwater in nine states so far.
Helpful gear entails a 9-foot fly rod at minimum. Nine feet lifts the line adequately off the water when casting. Longer rods in the 9 feet 6 inch or 10 feet and longer require some modification to your backcast to prevent your loop from opening up and touching the water behind you. Stopping with the rod in a vertical, 90-degree position lets the line load the rod and keeps the line up high to deliver the forward cast.
Sinking lines allow the fly angler to dredge deep water unattainable with a typical weight-forward floating fly line. Deep lakes and reservoirs are the type of water where a full sinking line presents flies down in the water column. Intermediate fly lines excel in kayak angling. An intermediate fly line slips into shallow water with finesse. The fly angler in a kayak with an intermediate fly line can fish streamers and nymphs with efficiency and success.
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These techniques are more suited to stillwater fly fishing, however, anglers are able to present flies on moving water after proficiency is obtained. Not all moving water will be fishable. Pick and choose the best opportunities to cast while maintaining control of your vessel and paddle. Below riffles, along banks or by using a river braking structure, fly anglers can play with positioning for casting clearance and fly presentation.
A kayak is already in position for fish fighting and landing. Keeping your kayak and rod in control during a battle with a hard-charging fish creates a level of intensity not obtainable from your feet. A floating net is recommended or one with a leash attached to prevent loss in small rapids or inadvertently being knocked out of your boat. A net gives the kayak angler an opportunity to remove the fly while keeping the fish in the water the entire time.
Streamers mimic small baitfish, leeches and crayfish and provide more than a mouthful to tempt a variety of fish. I watched as a northern pike gently approached my small crayfish pattern. The 30-inch fish slid up to the fly slowly, almost kissing the fly. When I stripped the fly in a few inches, the beast flared its gills and sucked the fly into its spiked, cavernous mouth. Then it was “game on” for fighting the hard-charging water wolf from my kayak.
Kayaks give anglers a stealthiness that can’t be obtained easily. Large boats spook fish from a bigger silhouette and by placing the angler up higher above the waterline. Belly boats can give anglers the same perspective and presentations, but dangling your legs in the Colorado cold water can leave you chilled prematurely. That’s not a problem with a kayak — unless you capsize. Which leads into a discussion of the necessities all kayak anglers need to possess while on the water…
Never go fly fishing from a kayak without a personal flotation device (PFD). There is no discussion on this point. Like wearing a seatbelt in a moving vehicle, you just do it. The amount of high-quality, reliable and angler-friendly PFDs on the market today makes obtaining one easy to achieve.
The positive attributes to kayak fly fishing vary from eco-friendly and self-driven to ease of access and a new sense of DIY freedom. Kayak fly fishing opens up opportunities on vacations with rented kayaks as well as providing new access to familiar waters. It’s a whole new game.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in magazines and websites including, Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow Labrador retrievers.