The first time you get a fish close to the kayak is when you realize it – landing fish with a fly rod in a paddle boat is different.
Being so close to the water you'd think it'd be easier to land fish, and sometime it is, but since fly rods are typically longer than a conventional rod, some anglers get caught scrambling.
Instead of flailing around and knocking yourself into the drink by getting off balance, use the tips below to land fish more easily from your kayak.
Take the pressure off your leader and knot strength
The weakest point in your entire setup will always be your knot and/or the leader at the end of your fly. Not only is this the lightest line on your rig, but the fish's mouth and other structure under the water will wear down your leader with every touch. Instead of letting the weight of the fish hang by your leader, make sure to pull the fish into the boat by the tail, mouth or belly.
If possible, the simplest way to pull in a fish is to lip it, like you would in any other boat or while wading. If you can't lip the fish because it has teeth, such as a bluefish, you can grab the tail, by the base of the fins, as long as the fish is worn out. Since this is the source of their strength, it's often hard to hang on to a fish by the tail.
Another technique that often works for anglers fishing from a sit on top kayak is to pull the fish along the top of the water by the leader, then use your leg to scoop the fish over the gunwales.
Evolve your methods with the right tools for the job
The most efficient solution is to use a tool. Whether you prefer a net or a fish grip tool is up to you, but I always choose a net instead. Make sure your net's mesh is designed not to remove the protective slime coating from the body of the fish. It's also a smart idea to purchase a net that is bigger than any fish you're likely to catch.
Especially when using fish grips, make sure the fish is properly worn out before trying to land it. If the fish is still too green it may roll and pull the fish grips right out of your hand. When buying your fish grips, make sure to pick ones with a rotating head in case the fish does roll. It's also good to tie a small float to the handle of your grips in case you drop them overboard.
Tag team with he bow or stern of your kayak
Since fly rods are so long, I often stick my reel into the bow of my kayak and run my hands down the leader to the fish. This takes more pressure of the leader, and lets me control it by hand in the last few seconds of landing the fish. As always, make sure you have a good idea of the fish's condition before changing the pressure on the leader.
You can also use the stern tankwell of your kayak to hold your rod. Once you have a handle on the fish, slide the rod underneath your arm into the rear tankwell so you can get it out of the way while releasing the fish. Then once you've watched the fish swim off, you simply need to slide the rod forward to start fishing again.
Consider the size and strength of your target species
Even if you've just start fly fishing from a kayak, you'll know whether your leader or knot can support the weight of the fish, or if you need a net. Some anglers prefer to net any fish to make sure they land all of the fish they catch, while others save their tools for the big fish. If you're only catching small largemouth bass, your hand is all you need to land fish all day long.
A word of caution though, if you're fishing for heavy or aggressive fish, especially when fishing in strong currents or in saltwater, one of the above tactics will make sure you don't underestimate the fish. I've lost fish because I improperly assumed the fish was worn out, or small enough to pull up by the leader. Sometimes even small fish have a gut on them. If possible though, the simpler the better.
Start landing fish in a kayak without thinking about it
Instead of panicking when your catch gets close to the gunwales, knowing what to expect will help you land your fish like an expert. Use your advantage of being so close to the water to land fish a little differently than when fishing from a big boat. Once you don't have to think about landing fish, it becomes a lot easier to get them in the kayak.
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.