How it Works: Fishing From a Kayak

If you think fishing for blues and stripers from a kayak might be a little outside your comfort zone, consider this: Kayaks were originally invented by the Inuit for hunting and fishing, and their prey often included whales. Just to put things in perspective.

Jim Feiner of Chilmark is one of the people you see when you go to Squibnocket at sunset and look out at the rocks beyond the surf and say, “Hey, look at that guy out there in the kayak.” He’s been kayak-fishing around the Island for about ten years.

“With a kayak,” Jim explains, “there are no engines to malfunction, you don’t have to spend money on gas, and you can get into places other boats can’t. I like to fish in rocky places that you can’t normally get to with a boat.”

It turns out there’s very little you can do fishing from a boat that you can’t do fishing from a kayak. You can cast, troll, and even fly-fish. You can bottom-fish for scup, sea bass, and flounder, or you can go after blues and stripers. And while the boat fisherman can perhaps go farther out to sea, there’s no better way to explore the nooks and crannies of the coastline than with a kayak.

Jim points out that with a kayak, he’s more connected to the whole experience. “I like being on the water – literally on the water. I just like the aesthetic, watching the birds and the sunset. Fishing from a kayak is just part of a bigger experience.”

There are essentially two types of kayaks: the sit-inside type and the sit-on-top type. The advantage of the sit-on-top kayak is that it’s unsinkable and very hard to capsize. On the negative side, they tend to be a little clumsier to use and the storage space is more limited.

Jim prefers his sit-inside kayak. It’s warmer when fishing at night and it’s a little faster. Also, your legs aren’t exposed so you don’t have to worry about sunburn. It’s better to have a sit-inside kayak if you want to paddle out through the surf too. If you’re in rough water, you’ll want to have a spray skirt: It wraps around your waist and forms a seal around the edges of the cockpit, keeping the water out.

As for beginners’ advice, Jim recommends safety first. It’s good to kayak with a buddy in the event you do run into trouble. As Jim explains, “If you flip a sit-inside kayak, you have two choices. You can paddle a submerged boat back to shore, which is no fun, or you can pump it out and get back in.” Jim always keeps a pump strapped to the deck.

Other equipment you should have: a life jacket with a whistle and knife clipped on, a headlamp for fishing at night, and adjustable rod holders that can be strapped to the deck if the kayak doesn’t have built-in wells for holding rods. “You need rod holders,” Jim explains, “so you can immediately get to your rod if you come across a blitz. They also make it much easier to troll.”

Jim also recommends that you have a protective glove, a club, and some pliers or a hook remover. “At night I go for stripers but I don’t like getting blues – too many teeth in a confined space. If I get a blue, I’ll either club him before bringing him on board or I’ll put on the glove and take out the hook and release him.”

As for storing the fish, kayaks generally have one or more holds where you can put your catch. You can also run a rope through their gills and drag them from the boat. However, you might not want to do that for too long; there are stories of kayaks mysteriously being bumped when dragging fish.

“One night I was fishing off Squibby,” Jim recalls, “and I hooked what I thought was the biggest bass I ever caught. But when I got it next to the boat I saw a big eye looking up at me and realized I had a four- or five-foot shark – probably a sand shark. I cut the line.”

Some kayak fishermen actually go a couple of miles off Cape Cod and fish for tuna. In 2009, one such intrepid fisherman caught a 157-pounder off Race Point Beach in Provincetown. But even a much smaller fish can give you a good adrenaline rush.

“When you hook onto a fish,” Jim explains, “you point your rod to the bow of the boat and the boat will turn to the fish and you can have a Nantucket sleigh ride.”

Kayak fishermen have become pretty sophisticated and today some boats are equipped with depth gauges and fish finders, motors and pontoons. But the basic kayak with some minimal gear is really all you need to get started and hook up.

The bottom line, according to Jim, is that he has better success when fishing from a kayak. “It gets me where the fish are.”