Not every kayak is well suited for fly fishing. In fact, kayaks have widely varying design and performance features. These relatively quick and inexpensive kayak modifications for fly fishing will improve your boat’s performance, so you can catch more fish. Be sure to try these before investing in a new boat.
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What makes a kayak great for fly fishing?
Here it is in a nutshell – does your kayak have these characteristics? If not, consider some of the modifications below instead of shelling out the bucks for a brand new kayak.
- A Clear Deck – prevents snags and line tangles
- Stability Takes The Trophy – for casting while standing
- Seat Height – for visiblity and back casting while sitting
- Comfort Saves The Day – for all day casting and paddling
- Low Profile – to reduce wind drift when casting
For more detail on these fly fishing kayak criteria, and what to look for overall when choosing a great fishing kayak, visit our Related Article: Does Your “Best Fishing Kayak” Make The Cut For Fly Fishing?
Can you really do kayak modifications specific to fly fishing?
As it turns out, there are many changes you can make to your kayak, some easier some more involved. While there are limits to how much you can enhance a given kayak, thanks to a healthy secondary marketplace with many accessory products, you can often take it up a few notches without buying a brand new kayak. Here’s exactly how, with fly fishing performance in mind.
Fly casting is much easier while standing, and of course that demands a stable kayak. If there’s only one of these kayak modifications for fly fishing that you do, be sure to do this one to increase stability. Adding outriggers can totally stabilize an otherwise tippy kayak design. By standing up, you have better visibility to spot fish, are able to cast farther, and more accurately.
Outriggers are also very useful in wind and waves. Just remember that during longer paddling trips, extra drag is created by the them. So, you want to deploy them just when needed, but also consider a pair of retractable ones .
For the highest level of quality, we recommend Scotty #302s. At the same time, in just the last couple of years multiple brands have come into play with various price points. Check out this selection at Amazon:
2. Stand-Assist Grip Bar
Grip bars help make balance one less thing to distract you while shooting your line or aiming your cast at rising fish. They are a great addition if your kayak is already relatively stable, but provide a strong, rigid rail to lean against or grab if needed. They won’t make your kayak more stable in of itself, but rather help with overall stability by keeping you more centered and stable.
Just like outriggers, grip bars are also very useful in wind and waves, and they don’t create extra drag. However, they shouldn’t be thought of as a replacement for outriggers, rather, an enhancement to an already stable kayak.
What you’ll need to choose is whether you’d like a design for center of your kayak, or near the bow. Also, be sure to look at the installation requirements (e.g. is a track required or just 4 points of contact) to ensure that the design is compatible with your kayak.
Fortunately, there are numerous brands now including YakAttak, Hobie, YakGear, FeelFree, and Wilderness Systems. Check out this selection at Amazon:
Clear The Deck
3. Install Paddle Clips
We prefer paddle clips to leashes, because they not only secure your paddle, but also keep it stationary. All you do is push your paddle into the clip till it snaps into place. Clips can also be installed on other watercraft such as Stand Up Paddleboards, just be sure to make sure you get the right type of mounting fasteners.
The great thing about clips are, you can use them in other ways as well. For example, secure your landing net to your kayak or boat, or use them to store your paddles on your garage wall. Just make sure that if the brand of your paddle doesn’t match the brand of the clip you are buying, to double check the diameter so it fits well. Check out this selection:
4. Use A Stripping Basket
Keeping your line coiled without interference or tangles is not only a convenience, it’s paramount while fly fishing. Tangles aren’t just a hassle to straighten out, but they can cost you a beautiful fish. If that lunker you just hooked can’t run, it’ll break off your tippet in zero seconds flat when your line snarls.
There are many options for stripping baskets, including makeshift baskets out of a milk crate or custom cut piece of tarp secured to your deck.
If you prefer to stand, and want to double your stripping basket with one you use while wading, consider one that is collapsible, lightweight, and easy to carry, that you can pull out when convenient. Check out this selection on Amazon:
Stay Organized and Uncluttered
5. Secure More Gear With A Few Extra Pad Eyes
No matter what type or brand of kayak you have, it’s likely that you’ll want more ways to secure your accessories, ropes, and gear. Installing a few more pad eyes allows you to customize your ‘yak to exactly the way you want it.
Since kayak manufacturers often provide minimal features in order to control costs and maximize profit, you can overcome that rather easily. In fact, few kayak modifications products are this easy or cost-effective. They only take a few minutes to install, so in a very short amount of time will make your kayak safer and more versatile. Check out this selection on Amazon:
6. Protect Your Fly Rod With A Holder
When your rod is down, you’ll want to operate hands free and protect your rod from breakage at the same time. This is true whether you are launching, paddling, beaching or docking.
There are very few rod holders designed specifically for fly fishing, however some of the brands for spinning rods work fine for fly reels (that have a wide open spool area), and in particular Scotty is known as the leader for fly rod specific rod holders.
While rod holders tend to be relatively easy to install, be sure to check first as to whether the manufacturer requires a boat deck hardware kit to make rod holder itself sturdy. Also, no matter what brand you buy, it’s always good to use a rubber strap in addition to the rod holder for added protection (some brands provide it, some don’t). Finally, make sure that the product you select allows a full 360 degree swivel, mounting on top of the deck or side, and at reasonable cost.
No matter what brand you choose, a rod holder will help prevent a broken rod by keeping it off the deck when paddles are out and other gear is shifting around.
7. Secure Gear With Lanyards
Lanyards really speak for themselves – they protect your gear from going “kerplunk” followed by “glug glug glug” – a dreaded sound if you’ve every dropped anything overboard.
A secondary benefit that not many kayak sites will tell you about is that by using lanyards for your most important (and expensive) gear, it also helps form organizational habits. For example, your net is always in the same place, you don’t need to search or reach for it while playing a fish.
Lanyards are typically sold in packs, so you can use them for multiple items such as pliers, scissors, whistle and other tools you don’t want to lose in the water.
If you only need a few for your kayak, they are also helpful in many other sports, such as, camping, sailing, canoeing, snorkeling, rafting, rowing, etc.
No matter what brand you choose, a rod holder will help prevent a broken rod by keeping it off the deck when paddles are out and other gear is shifting around.
8. Adjust Your Ropes With Cleats
Originating in the sailboat world, cleats are renown for their ability to quickly adjust and then tightly resecure your ropes.
Cleats have be downsized and redesigned for kayaks, with a multitude of designs including cam, zig zag, quick grip, traditional (shaped like an anvil), hook, and more. Fortunately, this is one of the kayak modifications you can do for any craft.
It simply comes down to your preference, and the way you’ll use each kind. For example, those that require more of a static tie down (traditional anvil and zig zag) are better for tie downs to a dock, after beaching to ensure your craft doesn’t float away, etc. Those that allow for more of a quick adjustment (quick grip and cam) are ideal for quick adjustments while using the kayak (e.g. for changing the length of your anchor rope or drag sock).
For this type of product, while they are all relatively inexpensive, be sure to buy the more quality ones. Look for aluminum alloy, teeth on the gears, ball bearings, and strong springs for firmly clamping the rope. They should also come with a separate plastic base to prevent scratching the surface of your kayak. Not all do, but you can readily tell from most manufacturer’s pictures.
Before installing, sit in your kayak and visualize how you’ll use each cleat so you place them conveniently. Better yet, do this while operating your boat. Then back at your shop or garage, mark the most useful spots with a Sharpie pen before drilling. As the saying goes, measure twice and cut once, not the other way around! This is true for all kayak modifications of course, not just for cleats. We just mention it here, because cleats and pad eyes probably have the most variety in terms of placement on your boat, and therefore in our experience are the most often relocated after an initial install doesn’t work out as well as you may have hoped.
9. Get More Cush With Seat and Back Padding
If you’re already pretty happy with your kayak seat overall, but would like a little more cush for your tush or back, there are lots of options. Separate kayak seat cushions and back cushions are plentiful. Many are very ergonomically designed, and also useful if you have a canoe or other craft. In the case of a separate seat or back cushion, you can purchase one fairly independently of the brand of kayak you use. This is one of these kayak modifications for fly fishing that you can do to improve any kayak.
10. Install A New Seat
If on the other hand you’re not all that happy with your manufacturer’s supplied seat, there are many secondary market choices that will improve your overall experience. This is actually quite often the case, so don’t feel like you made a poor choice in kayak necessarily.
In this case, the many available brands and models will usually, but not always, fit a different brand kayak. Most manufacturers are making improvements ever year, so one way to upgrade is to look for a newer version of the seat for the same model kayak you bought in a prior year.
However, the many specialty models that improve quite a bit over manufacturer’s standard seats can make all the difference. They come with higher backs, more cushion, higher grade materials, and more ergonomic designs. As a result, by replacing the standard seat (especially after it’s been used a few years), you can really improve your experience, especially on long paddling days.
Related Article: Best Fishing Kayak Accessories
11. Raise Your Current Seat
This one may sound pretty basic, but is nevertheless very important. A number of newer kayak brands allow you to adjust your seat height. This can be helpful, for example during long paddling stretches to leave it set low. Being closer to the water allows for more efficient transmission of your muscle power to the water through your paddle.
Then, when you’re at your fishing spots, raise the seat for better visibility and ease of casting. This is usually easier done if you can briefly beach your kayak, but if your kayak is stable enough (and you keep your deck clear enough using some of the modifications in this article), you can also do this on the water.
Kayaks with fixed seat heights can be more difficult, however in some cases you can also have some influence by installing a new replacement seat, ir even by raising your seat by placing something under it.
This is where we advise you of caution – if a kayak does an offer an adjustable seat then it may not be stable enough to readily accommodate a higher seat. It is certainly possible to install a new seat or raise the one you’re in, just be very aware of how much tippyness you are creating, especially with respect to the type of water you will be on. Like our last tab, we aren’t suggesting a specific product because the best one depends a great deal on the kayak and the person.
12. Lower Your Backrest Profile For Back Casting
In general, a higher seat back is more supportive and better for your back while paddling. The challenge for fly fishing anglers, is that a high backseat can also restrict your back cast while seated.
Many kayakers if not most prefer to back cast from the seat, as opposed to standing up. This is Especially true for short casts, while you are on the move, and when just testing out a spot before you fish it more thoroughly.
So, what we’re suggesting is to just check out your seat back with this in mind. There’s definitely a compromise / balance point, and sometimes a trade-off between ease of back casting and level of support and comfort.
For these reasons we’re not suggesting a new product here, because we don’t know what seat you already have and how you prefer to cast. The idea is just to think about it, compare alternative seat backs, and make sure the one you have is the best for your preferences, body type, casting style, length of paddling trip, etc.
13. Stand Still With A Stake-Out Pole
Stake-out poles are fantastic when you want to stop moving, but easily go again, in shallower waters and flats. They are flexible, in that you can plant it right next to your kayak with a short lead line, or you can allow yourself to drift a bit where helpful by using a longer lead line.
By shallower we’re talking in 1-5’ waters. Of course, a lot depends on how firmly you can plant the pole, with pure sand holding better, compared to soft silt or mud which requires a deeper plant and therefore you have less pole left and can’t go as deep.
The features you want to look for are a T-shaped handle, which increase grip strength and also lets you use it as a push pole. It should break down to a shorter length for storage in your kayak, have a lead line with quick release carabiners, and come with an anchor point (see also our section on cleats above). Of course, a sharp point and quality materials will last longer.
If you want to eliminate hassle and dripping and weeds collection that comes with an anchor, and you don’t need to anchor in deeper water, then a stake out pole may be for you. While this one isn’t actually one of the kayak modifications itself, we think of it as an extension of the kayak that makes it more versatile.
14. Slow Down Your Float With A Drift Sock
When you want to drift, but not as fast as the current, tide, or wind are taking you, use a drift sock. Drifting at a slower pace can be a great way to cover more water while you cast.
The great thing is, a drift sock will also have a stabilizing effect on your boat if the waves are rocking you, by providing a steady pull against the waves in one direction. This is one of the kayak modifications where you’ll need to evaluate if you need to add any hardware, or if you can secure it with the gear you already have installed.
15. Anchor In The Deep
Of course, when the water is deeper, you’ll need an anchor to hold your position instead of a stake out pole.
The grappling hook design folds up to save space, but at the same time will hold well whether in sand, mud, gravel or rock. On occasion the grappling hook design may snag on an underwater log or branches, but can readily be freed by moving your boat to the up-current side of where you let it down.
Some kayakers prefer to use a sand anchor, which consists of a sturdy dry bag that gets filled full of sand before you use it. These have the advantage of being able to sink a greater amount of weight for heavy duty anchoring, without almost any risk of getting snagged. And some of the better designed bags can even dual as a dry bag for your gear. We prefer to keep the two separate, but once you empty the sand and fold it up, this approach can save you space and weight when you don’t need the anchor.
No matter which type, brand, or model you buy, the best deals come with a rope, buoy, carabiner, and storage sack so you are ready to hit the water without further purchases or rigging.
16. Conveniently Lock Your Anchor
While you can use a cleat just fine to lock your anchor, if you use it a lot and strip out lots of rope then you may want the functionality that comes with an anchor lock. Anchor locks provide a small pulley, that keeps your rope from rubbing your kayak in one spot, pulls up your anchor hanging away from your kayak, and allows for really easy submersion and retrieval.
Most are designed to fit into kayak track systems, so if you don’t have a track already in one of the newer kayaks, you’ll need to purchase and install that separately. The best ones rotate a full 360 degrees, so when you want to move on you can swivel it and the anchor into the boat.
17. Install An Anchor Trolley System
If you’ve ever tried to anchor your kayak during windy conditions, or in a changing current, then you know that sometimes even a solid anchor won’t keep your ‘yak from changing position or swinging around.
Enter Anchor Trolleys which will help you stop changing positions while fishing in an anchored position. Using a trolley allows you to deploy an anchor, drift chute, or stake out pole, in a changing current and wind while keeping yourself in a favorable casting position.
Without a trolley you are limited to anchoring to where you can reach, causing your boat to swing back and forth. Mounted just off of one gunwale of any kayak or canoe, the deluxe trolley kit uses a nylon pulley system to select a desirable position anywhere from bow to stern, then maintains the positioning through the use of a 2-5/16 inch mini zig zag cleat. The deluxe system uses pulleys to seamlessly pass trolley rope from bow to stern, without the standard rubbing of rope along slightly less smooth pad eyes. The mounted pulleys are raised off of the boat enough to eliminate any unnecessary rubbing or scratching of the boat. As always, this complete kit comes with all stainless steel installation hardware, installation instructions and rigging tips from Yak Gear. Water proof silicone and anchor recommended, but not included.
18. Organize With A Gear Crate
Gear crates not only organize your stuff, they also keep your deck clear for casting, playing, and landing fish. Stay focused on the fish by installing a gear crate in the rear or bow decks. You can also temporarily install them (with PVC piping cut as a base stand and secured with velcro) in your center console to use as a stripping basket. This is one of the kayak modifications that you have some discretion, on how temporary (e.g. with rubber straps or bungy cords) or permanent (e.g. affixed to the kayak) you want to make it.
19. Put Gear Below With A New Deck Hatch
Even better than organizing your gear is getting it securely out of sight. You may get tired of hearing us say it, but there’s no more of a damper on the day than if you tangle your line right before casting to a fish, or break off a big one because you can’t strip out line enough or it gets tangled while playing or landing it. These may take a little more time to install than some of our other recommended mods, but can really pay off by opening up entirely new storage areas previously untapped in your ‘yak.
20. Stuff It In Dry Bags
OK we get it, dry bags aren’t really a boat modification. But they have much the same effect as crates and hatches – they not only organize your stuff but get it out of the way when you are focused on fishing. Once you stuff away your gear, be sure to secure it under a mesh net or loop a secure lanyard or rope with a carabiner. Of course, you can always drop your dry bags into the new hatch you just installed, which helps your gear stay dry and organized when inevitable water enters from rain or bow splash. OK we admit, this one isn’t one of the actual kayak modifications to the boat itself, but you’ve got to admit it – you can probably be much more organized!
21. Get There Faster With A New Rudder
Many kayaks don’t actually track very well, especially those that are shorter or don’t have tracking lines cut out of the hull. Installing a new rudder can really save you a lot of time and effort paddling. You can not only track better over longer distances, avoiding wasted corrections to your course, but also turn better to arc in the pattern you want to achieve. For example, a rudder slightly offset from center can help counter act the effects of wind or current, keeping you going as straight as you want to go. This is one of the kayak modifications, that takes some more time and effort to install, but once you are back on the water, you’ll be glad you did!
22. Adjust On The Fly With A Short Handed Paddle
A relatively newer addition to the world of kayaking accessories, a Backwater Paddle is perfect if you need to slightly change the position of your boat. In Stillwater such as lakes and ponds, This is ideal for windy conditions To keep moving in the right direction without setting down your rod and paddling with both hands.. in moving water such as rivers, slight steering adjustments Can’t keep you the right casting distance from shore or a deep hole as you slowly drift on by. These are not intended for white water usage. Some models feature a hook that is useful to grab ahold of a dock or fish your line out of the water. Also, the paddle can be used to push or launch yourself, such as pushing off a dock, bank, log, rock face wall, etc.
Putting Your Kayak Modifications All Together
Most of these mods don’t take more than a few minutes to a few hours, with just basic tools, and usually a little silicone to waterproof them.
Once you’ve decided which of the above modifications make the most sense for you, we suggest doing a little planning and positioning before installing any of them. This is to make sure that any one mod doesn’t interfere with another, and that each one is optimally positioned (“measure twice and cut once” not the other way around!).
Once you drill a hole, there is no way of going back to start without repairing it which won’t be as sturdy as the original material. So, get a Sharpie and first measure and mark everything before installation. Then sit inside your ‘yak, double check that your paddle won’t bump into anything you’re installing when paddling, and that all the mods you install are easily accessible.
Once you are set up, you’ll be able to pursue just about any fish you want, and be more successful with your fly fishing from a kayak than ever!