An angler catches a walleye while kayak fishing.

White River | Scott Gardner

Tips for kayak fishing in Ontario

An angler catches a walleye while kayak fishing.

White River | Scott Gardner

Kayaks are rapidly growing in popularity as anglers discover that these boats are a safe, fun and budget-friendly way to enjoy terrific angling.

All of Ontario’s most popular gamefish—including walleye, northern pike, nine species of trout and salmon, smallmouth and largemouth bass and, of course, the mighty muskie—can be caught while fishing from a kayak.

In addition, much of the best fishing in the province can be found in water bodies extremely well suited for kayaks. Many of Ontario’s most famous fishing destinations are large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, Lake Nipigon, Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake. Ontario also has an almost uncountable number of small- and medium-sized lakes with excellent fishing, often quite close to shore.

Modern fishing kayaks appeared in the mid-2000s, offering significant updates from older designs. They’re stable and easy to use, with features and accessories designed for the specific needs of an angler. Adding to their popularity, kayaks are also easy to store and transport, require little maintenance and have no operating costs like fuel and insurance.

Kayaks can also be launched almost anywhere, giving you access to many excellent fishing spots that are often overlooked by other anglers.

Follow these tips if you would like to try kayak fishing in Ontario, including how to pick the right boat, essential gear for getting started and a few important fishing tactics to know.

How to choose a fishing kayak

Just like conventional fishing boats, kayaks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It’s important to pick a kayak suited for where and how you like to fish.

There are two general styles to choose from: the sit-in kayak with a traditional cockpit and sit-on-top kayaks, which resemble a surfboard, but with a seat and storage spaces moulded into the top.

Sit-on-top boats are exceptionally stable and offer great freedom of movement, making them the choice of most anglers. Sit-in boats have some appeal too. They are lighter, less expensive, offer more protection from the elements and have more storage space for gear than sit-on-tops.

A kayak’s capabilities are largely determined by its length and width.

Boats that are longer and thinner go faster but may easily tip over. Shorter and wider boats are more stable, but slower and take more effort to propel. Most fishing kayaks are between 10 and 12 feet long, and fairly wide, making them suitable for small- and mid-sized Ontario lakes and slow-moving rivers.

When considering a boat, also check its weight to make sure you’re comfortable lifting it onto a car roof or trailer.

The most significant upgrade to recent fishing kayaks is how they’re propelled. While some anglers still like the simplicity and elegance of the traditional double-bladed paddle, a majority are now choosing pedal-powered boats.

Pedal-driven kayaks take less effort to propel and leave your hands free for fishing. Their drive systems are tough and reliable, but they do still require more care and maintenance than a paddle kayak. Pedal-drive boats are also double or triple the cost of paddle kayaks and can be a big investment for a beginner.

A cheaper option is choosing a used boat. Plastic kayaks are very sturdy, so older boats can be of great value.

Safety equipment and ways to stay safe

Venturing onto the water can be risky, so safety should always be a kayaker’s number one focus.

The most important piece of safety equipment for a kayaker is a personal flotation device (PFD) which should be worn at all times. To make that easier, consider a comfortable, modern PFD designed for kayaking.

As well as having a PFD on board, Transport Canada also mandates that kayaks (like all boats under 6 metres in length) must carry the following safety equipment: a buoyant heaving line, a bailer or hand pump, a sound-signaling device, a waterproof flashlight and navigation lights if the boat is out after dark.

Keep all the items in a box or bag and make it part of your routine to load your safety kit in the boat on every outing. Another option is an inexpensive self-contained safety kit.

The other part of kayak-fishing safety is mental: situational awareness and good decision-making. Small boats are more vulnerable to bad weather, so check the forecast before heading out. While on the water, keep an eye out for changes in the weather conditions, such as increasing winds and waves or any sign of approaching thunderstorms.

Despite successful fishing, its’s always important to get out of the water if the weather conditions get bad.

Accessories and equipment

There are a few near-essential accessories for kayak fishing, and a very long list of gear that might be handy (or just fun to use), depending on where and how you fish.

Some boats come with fishing accessories installed, but with just minimal do-it-yourself skills, it’s easy to customize your own boat. Rod holders are probably the most important accessory. Having a rod holder allows you to troll, so you can fish while paddling. Having several rod holders is even better, since lets you carry multiple rods.

A crate of some kind is also very useful for storing loose gear, such as tackle trays, a water bottle, tools or rain wear. Most kayaks are designed with a space behind the seat to carry a crate or large gear bag.

Many avid anglers will want a sonar/GPS unit. Most units can be installed in a kayak, plus the marine electronics companies all offer kayak-specific units.

There are various options for installing electronics in a kayak, and many boats have built-in places for storing a battery and mounting a transducer and screen.

A short list of other gear that can be helpful includes a landing net or fish-gripper, an anchor system, camera mounts, a small cooler, dry boxes or bags for delicate items and strap-on wheels for portaging or getting to secluded launch points.

Kayak fishing strengths and limitations

Once you have the proper gear and have paddled (or pedalled) your boat a few times to get comfortable, you’re ready to go fishing. It’s important to note that fishing from a small, self-propelled boat requires a special mindset. The key is understanding its capabilities.

The main limitations of a fishing kayak are relatively slow speed and limited range, along with increased vulnerability to high wind and waves. Plowing into big waves for an hour is uncomfortable in a powerboat. It’s also exhausting in a kayak. On the other hand, kayaks are light, stealthy, need very little water to float and can be launched almost anywhere. To make the most of these strengths, kayak anglers need a plan.

Find the best kayak-fishing water

Powerboat anglers can easily zip between fishing spots. In a kayak, you need to have a good strategy in mind for your day on the water. You should also know which spots you’d like to fish.

The first step is finding a launch point that minimizes your paddling time. Unlike big rigs, kayaks don’t need an actual boat ramp. You can launch anywhere with safe, legal access to water and a place to leave your vehicle. To find makeshift launch spots, take a close look at backroad maps, Google Earth or scout an area before you launch.

While fishing, also keep an eye out for shallow areas or challenging spots with reefs and rocks that can damage a propeller. Many fish species love these spots, but powerboats avoid them. These spots often have some of the best fishing on a lake due to a lack of angling pressure.

When scouting, also keep a special eye out for small lakes without a boat ramp or waterbodies that require a short portage. Ontario has thousands of places like these, and not many anglers fish them. They’re kayak-fishing gold.

Tactics for Ontario lakes and rivers

Overall, angling principles are the same in any kind of boat: try to figure where the fish are, and then put a tempting bait in front of them. And every kind of fishing you can do from a full-sized boat can be done from a kayak, including casting, trolling and even fly fishing.

But some tactics play to a kayak’s strengths.

Troll between fishing hot spots

Even the most efficient fishing plan has some travel time between hot spots. Make the most of this time by putting your rod in a holder and trolling.

Most fishing kayaks comfortably cruise between 2 and 5 km/h, which happens to be a perfect trolling speed, especially for crankbaits and suspending minnowbaits. Toss one out while you're on the move, and you’ll be surprised how many “bonus” fish you catch.

Get close to your fishing spots

Kayaks are stealthy and sneaking in close lets you cast more accurately. It also makes up for the fact that you can’t cast as far while seated.

Work with the wind, not against it

For example, position your boat at the upwind part of a fishing spot, then cast while drifting along past it. This is a simple adjustment from powerboat thinking, but it means more casts and less paddling. Also factor wind direction into your overall fishing plan. Fishing with a tailwind all day is pleasant, but a long paddle home into the wind is less so.

Learn to paddle one-handed

This is handy for making small adjustments to your boat position while casting. It’s also a very helpful skill if you have a fish on the line, and it’s towing your boat toward an obstacle. Even a medium-size Ontario bass or northern pike is plenty strong enough tow a kayak, which is exciting.

Finally, get out there and explore

Kayak fishing is still relatively new, and there are lots of great fishing spots to discover. Given the thousands of kayak-friendly lakes and rivers in Ontario, the hardest part might be deciding which one to fish first.

When planning your fishing trip, remember to consult the local fishing regulations for species limits and seasons, which can vary from year to year.

An excellent resource for anglers is Ontario's Fish ON-Line tool which lets you search for individual waterbodies, and then see the available fishing species, regulations, maps and other trip-planning information.

Last updated: May 23, 2024

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