Here are some basic tips for those new to kayak fishing and who are trolling for trout. I’ll be a little specific on lures that work in my region so you’ll have to take that into consideration and figure out what works in your area. I am normally targeting cutthroat trout in the Seattle area at Lake Washington or Lake Sammamish.
Most cutthroat trout around here seem to prefer a lure in the 2-3″ size. If you know a specific bait the trout are feeding on, try to find something that mimics the size, color and action. It’s fairly well known that in the two lakes mentioned we have stickleback, longfin smelt and salmon smolts as some of the baitfish. Sometimes I tip a hook with bits of worm or smear a natural attractant such as Pro Cure Sardine gel onto the lure for a scent trace.
Recommendations on trout lures (some of the recommendations are provided by word of mouth/friends)
- Luhr Jensen Needlefish in fire tiger, brass and white colors including brass bikini and rainbow trout
- Rapala X-Rap Countdown size 5 – 7 in Glass Ghost or Olive Green
- Luhr Jensen Krocodile spoons (same colors as Needlefish)
- Inline spinners in brass and silver colors 1/8 oz. or 1/4 oz.
- Cut plug herring bought locally and self cut. Check YouTube for examples..
- Apex Trout Killers
The rod and reel setup can really vary based upon a fisherman’s preference, experience and average size of the local trout populations. When fishing trout from the kayak I prefer something 8’6″ long so that the fishing line stays far enough away from the paddle stroke as I troll. Most trout could be caught on light setups but if you get a large fish on, you may want a medium or medium-heavy setup. I use a medium-heavy salmon rod called the Ugly Stik Lite by Shakespeare that is 8’6″. Although this rod might be overkill for most trout it will be adequate for the larger specimens and also doubles as a walleye, bass and salmon rod. At the price point it’s a decent deal and it’s a strong pole that is hard to break. The longer length also allows the rod to do some of the work when it comes to fighting the fish. The reel which I prefer most is an Okuma Cold Water 20 DLX linecounter with leadcore line. Sometimes I also use an Abu Garcia 5500 C3 with braided line in 20-30lb test to which I attach a 1-2 oz lead banana sinker in front of a 6 foot leader of 10lb fluorocarbon. I recommend a reel that can put out at least 12lbs of drag and which has a loud clicker so that when it is windy you can hear the fish taking line. The Okuma levelwind I use holds 100 yards of Sufix leadcore in 12lb test backed with braid of about 30lb test. Using the leadcore setup I usually fish with 60-120 feet of line out to get the lures down in the water column. With the leadcore setup I also like to use a topshot of anywhere between 15 and 25 feet of fluorocarbon in 10lb test. I attach the leadcore to the fluorocarbon by way of a small 40lb test swivel with improved clinch knots in order to reduce the line twist. The swivel will brush against the eyes of the rod and pass through the levelwind without issue. If you get a large fish on just don’t set the drag too tight or the fish could be broken off with these setups.
Try not to underestimate the usefulness of a net when landing fish. Using a net will reduce stress on the fish and allow easier release when you decide not to keep one. Simply put, trout and most fish are slippery and the bigger the fish is, the harder it will be to handle. Using a net also reduces the chances of a fish getting away right at the side of the kayak. I’ve lost a number of fish right next to the kayak before and it was because I didn’t have a net with me. Just this year I brought in a decent sized king salmon and had a very difficult time dealing with unhooking it and release because I didn’t have a net with me. Forgetting the net that day was a mistake on my part. This incident resulted in the hook stabbing me several times and even puncturing my dry suit. I have a medium sized Ego S2 Slider net which is quite expensive but it floats, the handle extends out allowing for greater reach and it has a net without knots that is easy on the fish. I would recommend a net which has a hoop which is similar in size to the Ego S2 Slider. The medium Ego S2 Slider has a 17″x19″ hoop, a bag depth of 15″ and also has rubber or pvc coated netting.
A fishfinder/sonar is also a useful tool for locating fish, their prey, identifying structure that fish are attracted to and determining your trolling speed. I recommend a fish finder which has a GPS system that can tell you the speed at which you are traveling and which can help you navigate back to shore in case of extremely foggy conditions. Right now I have a Humminbird 386ci and it is all I need for salt and fresh water adventures.
Now that I have covered some basic recommendations on gear let’s get to the fishing… I usually like to fish in the fall, winter and spring within 20-30 feet of the surface. You may have to do some checking around to obtain local knowledge or pay attention to your sonar in order to determine a good target depth for trolling. Trout will move around the water column based upon the water temperature and the location of food sources. Trolling speed will depend on the lure being used but the general range of speeds which I find to be most successful are between 1.5 and 2.5 miles per hour. When I troll something like a Rapala X-Rap I found that moving between 2.3 and 2.5 miles per hour imparts the best action on the lure and gets the fish to strike. However when I use a spoon or an inline spinner I tend to troll between 1.5 and 2.2 miles per hour. If you happen to have a fishing rod which has a sensitive tip and use inline spinners or crank baits you can often tell when your lure is running true. Knowing when your lure is running true can help you notice when you have inadvertently picked up debris such as grass, twigs, etc. When fishing with leadcore line I have to point the rod behind me with one hand or some other method and paddle in order to get the line to leave the reel. Leadcore is also somewhat finicky during retrieve in that you should avoid reeling it in fast because the line can bunch up on the spool resulting in a mess. When I troll for trout I like to have the rod with the clicker on placed into a rod holder in front of me so that I can see when a fish is taking the lure. Another thing which I do is set the drag setting fairly low so that the fish can take the lure and the clicker activates. I usually set it so low that when the fish hits I can barely make progress on the fish when reeling it in. At the time the fish takes the bait I can paddle harder to help set the hook or retrieve my fishing pole and set the hook if necessary. Once you have hooked a fish you’ll want to increase the drag so that you can bring the fish in but be careful not to set it so tight your line breaks. Once you bring the trout in you should be able to figure out how to net the fish on your own.
Best of luck on the water!