No matter what species of fish you want to target, no matter where in the world you want to cast a fly, you should start by learning the basics of kayak fly fishing.
Once you understand the basic components that it takes to hit the water, you'll be closer to catching fish, instead of paddling in circles with nearby fish laughing at you.
The post below is sure to get you started, but there's so much to learn that it would take...if you want to learn more about kayak fly fishing, the gear you need, and the tactics of the kayak fishing pros, guides, and celebrity anglers, pick up a copy of my book, Kayak Fly Fishing: Everything You Need to Know to Start Catching Fish.
Invest in (and test) a quality fishing kayak
I'm always skeptical when someone says they hated kayak fly fishing. I make it a point to ask about the boat they used. Often times anglers that cheap department store kayak bends under their weight, is slow to paddle, and leaves them feeling miserable. Of course it does. I hate kayak fly fishing when I'm in those boats too. You might as well fish
The easiest way to try kayak fly fishing is to borrow a friends boat and gear to see if you enjoy it before making the investment. if you don't know anyone with a boat, find your nearest paddle shop. Most will offer a demo day that will let you test out a boat on the water before buying. Since a decent fishing kayak is an investment in quality, you'll want to make sure it's the right boat for you.
Make sure to ask as many questions as you can about the boat, and practice standing, casting, paddling, launching, carrying, and any other motion you can imagine performing during a typical day out. Try to anticipate the needs of your target species, and style of fishing.
Use any fly rod until you need to specialize
Bring one rod. Spin anglers everywhere just cried a little, but the truth is you don't need forty fly rods in the kayak, especially when you're just starting out. If you already have a fly rod that you fish with, try kayak fly fishing with that. While there is a lot of room for specialization, you're just trying it out.
Once you start catching fish, targeting different species in different conditions that demand different tools, then you'll be more educated about your needs. If you're fishing on the saltwater flats, you'll need a faster, longer fly rod to hit those cruise schools or fast-moving loners. If you're fishing slow on a lake, a shorter fiberglass rod will let you shadow cast all day long in a zen trance.
Once you do start to specialize and bring more rods on the boat, stay away from the high end. If you scoff at any price tag that is less than the cost of your boat, feel free to invest, but I've broken fly rods many time. I stick to the one that performs, but is still cheap enough that I won't cry when I break it. Kayak fishing is tougher on gear than most other techniques, but I don't want it to be tough on my wallet too.
Always paddle better than you fish
Listen, I know. Most fly anglers won't mind the learning curve when making the switch to a plastic boat, but as soon as I start preaching the Path of the Paddle – the excuses start flowing. You should paddle better than you fish. I'm not saying you shouldn't start fly fishing from a kayak until you're a paddling expert, but you should at least strive to be a better paddler every time you head out on the water.
I always recommend buying the best paddle you can afford. Even if you're buying a cheaper boat than you wanted, a better paddle will minimize the difference a little. If the paddle is your engine, why would you put one meant for a lawn mower in there when you could upgrade to the turbo-charged inline six cylinder for a little more?
Look for a class with a paddling instructor qualified to teach you the correct techniques. Not only will these techniques make every single paddle stroke you take more enjoyable, but you'll be safer on the water by learning the ability to get yourself out of bad situations. If for no other reason, learn to paddle so you can slide up to the dock sideways and step off your boat like a pro, instead of slapping your paddle on the surface of the water for twenty minutes like a goon.
A note about pedal boats: Paddling is dancing on the surface of the water in style, but some don't like to dance. If you'd prefer to pedal your boat, that's a viable option and is a smart choice for anglers targeting fisheries in the deep sea, like oil rig fishing. I still recommend learning to paddle well and keeping a full length, assembled paddle within easy reach for emergencies. You never know when you'll need it.
YES, you need a life jacket
Your life jacket, usually called a PFD (personal flotation device) by all the cool kids, could save your life. You need it. Simple as that. I'm not going to preach for six hours about why you need a life jacket, I'll save that for a future post.
For the one person not convinced, once you start wearing a PFD you realize that it is an invaluable tool. Like your grandparent's stuffy vest, and my younger brother's for some reason, a PFD becomes an extension of your tackle box, giving you the exact tool you need within a quick, no-reach grab. Oh, also, one little thing, it could save your life.
Get ready to NOT catch any fish (for a while)
Any new skill worth learning is going to be frustrating the first few times. When I started fly fishing from a kayak, I learned the same lesson over the course of a year. I went a whole year without catching a fish on the fly from my kayak, because I was learning to paddle and fly cast for the first time, at the same time.
If you already know how to fly cast or paddle, or both, you may be able to catch fish right away, but be patient no matter what obstacles you encounter. Surf launches will likely flip your boat, you may break your leader on ten fish, and you'll probably look like a fool, but that's part of the fun. I don't love this sport because it's easy.
Learn something new every time you fish
Just because it's not easy doesn't mean you can't enjoy learning something new every time you head out on the water. Kayak fly fishing is a great way to spend time on the water, and often times the best way to target the fish species you love in a new way.
Get started by finding the right fishing kayak, a decent fly rod, a good paddle, and always remember to wear your PFD. Be careful though, once you hook up in a kayak and get pulled around by a big fish, there's no going back.
Learn more skills and tactics for catching fish from a kayak in my recent book, Kayak Fly Fishing: Everything You Need to Know to Start Catching Fish.