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Jump-Fishing From A Kayak: Basic Tactics And Gear

If you’ve never tried jump-fishing, you’ve been missing out. It is one of the most exciting kinds of fishing there is, right up there with Big Game Blue-Water fishing. The action is fast and furious.

Most people have heard of a shark Feeding Frenzy, or a Piranha Frenzy. This is where the predator fish are on so much food that they go crazy with bloodlust, even attacking each other in their madness. But what a lot of people don’t know is that any predator fish species that schools at least some of the time can be subject to this rage. Striped Bass. hybrids, White Bass, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and even trout gather to feed on large schools of hapless baitfish, usually shad. In coastal waters, bluefish and dorados gang up to slash schools of herring, menhaden, etc… The water literally boils, with baitfish being thrown completely into the air, only to be gobbled by another fish before they can hit the water again. Even the air is in chaos with birds wheeling and diving like the world’s craziest dogfight, trying to get in on the action.

When this happens, fish strike at anything within range with total abandon. This makes for some fast and exciting fishing. The frenzy will usually last anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour or more. Then the action will stop for a bit, only to reappear 20, 30, or maybe even 50 yards away, and the whole thing starts over. If you can keep up, it is possible to stay on a particular school until you get tired of catching them, or they retire for the day.

Jump-fishing is usually associated with power boats with large motors, who zip around from school to school. Lucky for kayak anglers, it is very possible to find these schools and stay in contact with them in any kayak. You just need to use the right tactics and gear.

Gearing Up For Jump Fishing

You can jump-fish in any kayak, whether it is a SOT, or SIK. Since most of the frenzy action takes place on larger bodies of water, and usually open water, I recommend a fast touring, or coastal yak if you have a choice. You will want to be able to cover water quickly to stay in contact with the schools, and may be doing a lot of paddling. It needs to be equipped with the ability to hold at least one extra rigged rod. Two or three extras are even better. The fishing is so fast that if a lure malfunctions, or the  line gets snagged, instead of wasting time trying to fix it, just grab another rod and keep casting. You can fix the other one when the action cools down.

You need a couple of rigged rods and reels ready to go. Bait them with different lures or jigs, so if one color or size is not working so good, grab the other rod and try that one. Once you find the right combination and the action slows down, rig the others with that lure. The rods should be medium action with 8 to 10 lb. test line. You won’t be doing any finesse fighting here, just raw cranking power, so I usually use baitcasting reels. Ambassadeur reels are my favorite, but Penn reels also work very well for this. You can use any rod and reel combo you feel comfortable with. I actually use at least one 8-9 wt fly rod with Shooting Taper or Weight Forward line. My favorite fly patterns (which I tie myself) are the Puglisi Shad, and the Clouser Minnow in Fire Tiger colors. For spinning and casting, nothing beats a Mister Twister Sassy Shad, or the Creme Lil Fishie in ¼ oz to ½ oz. sizes. Daredevel type spoons in the traditional red and white colors, and large Mepps spinners are also deadly. My best crankbaits for this are the Bayou Boogie in larger sizes, or a Bagleys Big O in shad colors. Topwater lures like the Smithwick Devil’s Horse, Heddon Lucky 13, and just about any other Heddon or Rapala popper are fantastic.

The only other thing you really need it a good set of binoculars. These are a must.

Kayak Jump Fishing Tactics

Feeding frenzies happen all year long, but the best times are summer and fall in most places. I live in the deep south, so I really like jump fishing in winter when nothing much else is active besides trout. Striped bass in the local lakes love it when it gets cool and are very active all year. Shad are also more prone to migrate in winter here.

Frenzies happen all day and at night (it is is very hard to find them at night), but the best times are early morning and evening. In the middle of the day, look for them more out to the middle of the lake in deeper water.

The best places to search for schools are off of sandy points, along channel drop-offs, flats surrounded by drop-offs, cove inlets, river inlets, rip raps, and dams. The schools will follow the baitfish, who will follow the lines of structure along the bottom, so when you find a school, follow the bottom contours to stay in contact with them.

A few things to keep in mind before entering the arena:

  • You are not the only one looking for schools, and most of the others will be in power boats that make big wakes. When they see the school they will power up to it, and maybe not pay that much attention to you, so always be prepared to quickly pivot bow-on to their wakes. These boat wakes can capsize you. It’s aggravating. But unavoidable.
  • For the same reasons mentioned above, try to make yourself as visible as possible, and have a loud horn or whistle available to warn boats if they get too close, or appear to be on a collision course. According to the Rules of the Road, as an unpowered craft, you have the Right of Way, but not everyone pays attention to that.

To jump fish, simply paddle out to a likely area and scan with your eyes and binoculars. You are looking for flocks of diving birds, surface commotion, or maybe even a lot of boats heading for a particular area. One drawback is that in a kayak, you may be able to see the telltale signs of a frenzie, but they may be a mile or more away. You will probably not be able to catch that school. But it never hurts to try, and the exercise is good for you…

When you locate a school, quickly paddle towards it. Fish are not particularly concerned about  kayaks and you can paddle right up to the school without spooking it (power boats…well, they usually motor in too close and spook the school. Then you may have to wait 30 minutes or so and see where they come back up). When you get within casting distance, you will easily see the water churning with crazed fish. Just cast beyond them and retrieve through the school. It’s not uncommon to get a fish on every cast while they are up. When the school goes down, switch to a rod with a diving lure, or fish your jig deeper to stay in contact. Whenever you make 5-10 casts with no strike, the school has moved. Take a break, organize your equipment, grab the binoculars and search again. It may take 30 minutes or more for them to come back up, and they may be 100-200 yards away. Paddle over to them as quickly as you can, and start over. Using these tactics, you can stay in contact with a school until they quit for the day, or you get tired of reeling in fish. I’ve caught so many like this that the next day, my arms felt like sore rubber bands.  But it’s a lot more fun than lifting weights.

Always be sure to obey all local laws, and have a fishing license. If you keep any to eat, follow all creel limits. Most of all, there may be a lot of other anglers doing the same thing as you. Be considerate and courteous. I promise you, there are more than enough fish to go around.

Happy fishing and paddling!

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