Kayak fishing in Alaska has really started to take off in the last ten years and is becoming more and more popular here in the Greatland. Kayak angling is both a fun and affordable option for getting out on the water, and it brings the added advantage of more fitness to your life while doing what you love. However, like most outdoor activities in Alaska it must be taken seriously since cold water kayak fishing is far different than what most kayak anglers in the lower 48 face. It requires extra precaution and safety measures.
Getting Started: Buying a Fishing Kayak
According to Mark Cohen at Alaska Raft and Kayak in Anchorage, it all starts with figuring out where you want to go and how you want to fish. You may want to fish lakes, fish in the protected saltwater around Seward, Homer or Whittier or troll in the open saltwater out of Whiskey Gulch, Anchor Point or Deep Creek primarily for kings and halibut. In other places, like Seward, anglers can target coho from kayaks and sometimes rockfish. A few anglers use them on rivers, too.
Mark says the most popular model they sell is the Hobie Outback because of its hull weight. It is manageable, at around 70 pounds, to rack it on the top of your car. The next most popular is the Pro Angler 12. It has a heavier hull weight, but still manageable at 12 feet long and about 100 pounds. The Pro Angler 14 is about 120 pounds bare but works well in the back of a long bed pickup or on a trailer. Mark says the Outback is a little sleeker and a little faster than the Pro Angler. The difference between the Outback and the Pro Angler is like the difference between a Ford Taurus and a Cadillac. The Pro-Angler costs more, but it is definitely a fishing machine. It is easy to accessorize and comes with the H-Rails so you can clamp accessories onto the rails instead of drilling into your boat. The Pro Angler is also really stable to stand up and fly fish. They make a camo version of the Pro Angler 12 and the Pro Angler 14 that some are using for duck hunting. They are stable enough to shoot from and make a stealthy duck blind.
As far as purchasing your kayak we recommend choosing a local resource like Alaska Raft & Kayak. It might seem like you’ll save a few bucks ordering them online but once you factor in the shipping, that is really not the case. We inquired with a popular online company about kayak shipping costs to Alaska and they said between $500 and $1000. Not only is it cheaper to buy from a local shop like Alaska Raft & Kayak, but you get the warranty services from them on the kayaks and rafts that they sell, while not on the products you don’t buy from them. You would pay Alaska Raft and Kayak’s shop service fee at that point if you need work done or you would have to ship it back to where you bought it for warranty work.
Types of Kayaks:
Pedal vs. Paddle—Pedal kayaks are the popular choice for fishing as they allow hands-free operation and for better control of your boat. It takes a lot more effort with a paddle and they are slower for many people. If you are going to be fishing, pedal boats are the way to go. Pedal kayaks are more costly, anglers forfeit some storage, and they take some getting used to, but they are proving to be the choice by experienced Alaska kayak anglers. Although Mark has never heard of a Hobie pedal drive system failing, Hobies still come equipped with a paddle. According to Mark the worst that could probably happen is if you don’t get your fins completely up under the boat when you are approaching the beach you could bend a rod. It doesn’t hurt to carry some spare parts like a rod, a rudder pin and extra drain plugs.
Single vs. Double Kayaks—Experts recommend buying two single kayaks versus one tandem. For one thing, buying one tandem kayak can be more expensive than two singles. Also, if there are any issues you have two boats instead of one, which is safer.
Kayak Set Up:
There are a couple absolute necessities before you get on the water. The two must-haves are a good life jacket and a quality, brightly-colored paddle suit with a neoprene neck gasket, especially on the ocean. Mark is a big believer in having a tether from you to your kayak, so you don’t get separated from your boat in the event you do tip over. It can be attached to your life jacket or something else that stays on you. You should have a knife on you to cut free if you do get caught on something.
There are a number of things you can do to improve your kayak fishing experience. Mark says more than 90% of Hobie kayak anglers add the turbo fins and a large rudder for a little more power in the water and to steer the boat more effectively. It’s also a good idea to add a safety flag. Hobie makes a safety kit that’s worth the cost. There’s a safety ladder to help get yourself back up into the kayak if you somehow fall out. The H-Crate allows you to clamp on different accessories like rod holders, and provides extra storage capacity. A good dry bag system is helpful using smaller bags to contain your electronics like your phone or VHF radio placed inside one medium-sized bag that contains the rest of your gear for the day. That way the electronics don’t get wet while you dig around in your outer bag
Popular Alaska Kayak Fishing Locations
One of the best resources for learning where to launch is Rudy Tsukada’s website AlaskaKayakFisher.com. Rudy is an avid Alaskan kayak fisherman who gives seminars and presentations, is a Hobie Kayak pro staffer, and is the admin for the Alaska Kayak Fisher Facebook page. The experts on this page are as helpful in giving advice as Rudy is on his website. He also shares his recommended fishing methods and gear for each area and is fond of fishing with downriggers from his kayak.
Cook Inlet: Whiskey Gulch, Anchor Point and Deep Creek
Kayak fishing in Cook Inlet is not for beginners. There are extreme tidal exchanges coupled with wind and strong currents. Make sure to take extra safety precautions and go with an experienced kayak angler before attempting to fish it. Rudy recommends fishing an hour or two before the tide changes for beginners. He urges you to try to stay up current of the launch site until you determine the situation and points out how far you travel while fighting a fish or untangling lines which affects getting back to the launch site for departure.
“Launching on the beach can be tricky at first because of the wave factor but once you get the hang of it and learn a few tricks it gets easier,” says Mark Cohen. “Once you get the timing down it is not that big of deal.” It’s a steep drive down to the beach, but once you launch your kayak you are fishing much quicker than other launch locations in Cook Inlet because the deeper water is much closer to shore here. Rudy favors this launch point for kayak fishing because you can fish for kings immediately after launching and there is some consistent halibut action, too.
Rudy says large halibut may be lying in wait in the kelp beds off Anchor Point. Timing tides is everything as far as launching and coming back with your kayak. He stresses that Anchor Point should only be utilized during perfectly calm days since the shallow water tends to create a greater surf than Whiskey Gulch or Deep Creek.
Deep Creek sees a little more traffic but there is a terrific halibut bite here and it’s the first place Rudy recommends if you can safely drive your vehicle down to the beach.
Rudy’s family typically launches from the public access via Lowell Point Road or by the industrial complex on the east side of Resurrection Bay accessed via Nash Road.
Rudy’s favorite launch place in Homer is between the Land’s End Hotel and the condos at the end of the spit.
Fishing can be spotty where kayak anglers can access, but the coho salmon bite is excellent and accessible for kayakers. It’s very near Anchorage which gives it added appeal.
Alaska’s lakes are abundant and underutilized. Kayak fishing on small lakes is easy and serene. To learn more about lake fishing read Editor George Krumm’s Stillwater column in each issue of Fish Alaska.
Rivers and Streams:
According to Rudy, kayaks used to fish on rivers and streams are mainly utilized for traveling from spot to spot to fish from shore. A Hobie pedal-system kayak makes an effective replacement for a drift boat since you can hold in current while fishing. A propeller-system kayak (pedal kayaks not made by Hobie) is less effective in a river situation as it is much more difficult to raise the propulsion system when shallow water approaches, which can damage the propulsion system. On a Hobie, the propulsion system can be “pinned” to the hull of the kayak easily, said Rudy. Either way, kayaks make effective river transportation for shore anglers.
One of the greatest things about a kayak, especially lighter models such as the Hobie Outback, is that it doesn’t need to be trailered. Big foam noodles make an inexpensive & easy way to cushion your kayak. Most noodles have a hole bored through the center that you can use to insert a nylon tie. Commercial, foam car top carriers with more foam are available. What’s more, brands such as Yakima Products make roof racks with specially designed kayak carriers. Vans and pickup trucks are convenient ways of transporting your kayak as well. Alaska Raft and Kayak also sells Malone trailers which are heavy duty enough to withstand Alaska’s sometimes dubious road conditions. There are other kayak trailers on the market but Mark says Malone is the best.
There are a number of ways of getting your kayak from your vehicle to the water’s edge. The usual method is good old-fashioned muscle power. For small kayaks, a lone angler can often carry the kayak to the launch site. For larger kayaks, two people may be necessary. In many areas in Alaska, you should be kayaking with a partner for safety reasons, so the second person should be available to help. Companies also make wheel systems for kayaks that enable a single angler to roll even a heavy kayak to the water.
Another mode of transportation is via a “mothership”. A rigged kayak or kayaks, ready to fish and strapped to the deck of a larger boat, is a great way to get to distant water. Once you reach that distant water, you launch the kayak or kayaks to begin fishing.
Learning to use your kayak:
Hobie has some videos on their website to help you get started. Rudy is really helpful, often willing to show new kayak anglers a thing or two and he teaches kayak fishing seminars at the Great Alaska Sportsman Show. The staff at Alaska Raft and Kayak can give you pointers as well. Alaska Raft & Kayak hosts seminars and demo days once in a while where you can learn. It’s best to follow them on Facebook to stay apprised of any events or specials for kayak anglers.
Landing Fish from a Kayak:
Kayak anglers primarily use a harpoon or net to land fish. Take these items to your pool or lake trial runs and run through the motions to get a feel for what it is like to sit in your kayak and maneuver your net. Some people use a stringer to drag fish behind them or for smaller fish you can throw them in the hull. Rudy likes to use a Boga Grip and he urges you NOT to put your wrist through the wrist strap for kayak fishing in the saltwater because halibut are strong and put up a serious fight when they come out of the water.
For lake fishing there are anchor options like a smaller mushroom anchor or the Power-Pole Micro that is an electric anchor compatible with the Pro Angler. The Power Pole Micro can be used in water up to 8.5 feet. For safety reasons you do not want to anchor up in big tidal water on a kayak. Rudy strongly urges against anchoring until you have lots of experience. Anchoring on a kayak is really for lake fishing.
Kayak Fishing Safety:
Kayaks are actually safe and really stable but in Alaska you should always be extra cautious. The first thing to recognize is you simply don’t go out if the weather is questionable. As mentioned previously, you must have a good life jacket and a quality, brightly-colored paddle suit. Of the utmost importance is to be visible in the water to other boats going by. Bright colors and a safety flag on the back of your kayak will help you stay visible. Be sure to dress appropriately. Paddle suits like those made by Kokatat keep you dry but not necessarily warm. Layering with quality gear underneath your dry suit is essential if you want to stay warm. Having a loud safety whistle, survival kit and knife on your body is also smart.
Kayak Fishing Resources:
Information about kayak fishing in Alaska is limited but there are handful of resources to lead you in the right direction.
Great Alaska Sportsman’s Show: Rudy’s Kayak Fishing Seminar (see Fish Alaska’s Sport Show pages during March and beginning of April for dates and times)
Coming Soon: Detailed information from area experts on recommended fishing techniques from your kayak for kings, silvers, halibut, and rockfish.