Our Complete Guide to Sea Kayak Salmon Fishing

Why would you want to try sea kayak salmon fishing? Silly question. Aside from this being one of the coolest things you’ll ever do in your life, it also provides an emergency source of food (if you know what you’re doing). And if you pull it off, you’ll have bragging rights for all of eternity!

But as we came to learn, catching a salmon from a kayak isn’t as simple as dropping a hook in the water and cracking a beer. Unfortunately, these sloppy salmons are very picky about when and what they’ll eat. Even though we were arguably in the best salmon fishing locations in the world (the central coast of BC), it still took us many hours of fishing to actually get one. And when we finally did, it’s hard to explain the feeling of joy that we all experienced.

sea kayak salmon fishing along the bc coast
The day I foolishly tried fishing from the single kayak.


Gear You Need.

Now, I’m not going to explain the in’s and out’s of lures and tackle for catching salmon, but I will give you a baseline setup for catching a salmon from a sea kayak. (Here’s a great video if you want more information)

  1. A rod – Preferably you don’t want to be using a casting reel, but if you have no idea what that is, then anything will do. Though if you’re planning to catch salmon then you’re going to want a half decent rod with at least 10-15lb test (line strength). I would recommend using a mooching reel.
  2. A net or a gaffe – We used a really great collapsable net that we were able to store on the deck of our kayak. I think a gaffe would work just as well. If you go for this option be careful not to put a hole in your kayak.
  3. A rod holder – There are a few rod holders out there that will actually attach to the railing of a kayak cockpit. We had a bit of a hard time getting ours to attach securely so make sure you test this before you take off. The one that we used (and it worked pretty well) is the scotty gunnel clamp mount.
  4. Basic fishing tackle. I would recommend buying a couple 2-3 ounce banana weights, a variety of trolling spoons, some swivels, some barrel snap swivels, and some extra fishing line.


Where to fish?

In general, this is a remarkably hard question to answer. Salmon can be unpredictable and even seasoned fishermen will argue about the best place to be fishing at any given time. Some good rules of thumb to follow are:

  1. Fish near kelp beds. When you’re doing this be careful not to go right over the kelp bed as you’ll probably get your hook caught on a piece of seaweed. Instead, you should fish right around the edge of the kelp bed.
  2. Near tidelines. A tideline occurs where two currents in the ocean converge. This can cause salmon to pool up around the tideline. Locate these by looking for pronounced wavy lines on the surface of the water or clear lines of debris.
  3. Early in the morning. Though I’m not sure anybody knows exactly why, the best fishing always seems to happen early in the morning. So if you’re able to get up early, you might just land yourself a hog.
  4. At tide changes – When the tides change, it means that currents aren’t running as strongly and salmon tend to take this opportunity to feed.
  5. Near “structure”. If you’re experienced at looking at marine charts, you might have noticed areas underwater where there seems to be lots going on. Ie. quick change of elevation, underwater mounds, etc. Salmon tend to congregate in places like this and can be great fishing.
sea kayak salmon fishing
The moment where we thought we’d actually caught a fish – not seaweed..


How to Actually Do It

When it comes to catching fish from your kayak, don’t get too excited and flip the damn thing. I can tell you from experience that when you finally hook a salmon, it’s likely that you won’t stay super composed. What we found is that it’s much easier to land a salmon safely when you’re fishing from a double kayak. And in fact, it might be near impossible to land one from a single ocean kayak. Keep in mind that there are kayaks specifically designed for fishing. This article aims to explain how to catch a salmon from a traditional touring kayak.

On to the setup. We found that attaching the rod holder to the front of the front cockpit worked best for us and most importantly kept the fishing line out of reach of our paddles. But you should try a few spots just to see what works for you. The main advantage to having the rod up front is that it allows the back kayaker to let the person up front know when there’s a bite. Otherwise it can be really difficult to tell, and you may miss your opportunity!

Next, place your rod in the rod holder and start to paddle. Try to get your lure down about 20-30 feet. Again, without getting too much into the details, I would suggest attaching a 2-3 ounce weight to your line, followed by a spoon that trails 6 feet behind the weight. This gives you a great shot at catching fish anywhere along the coast of BC. You want to aim for a speed of 2-3 knots in order to give yourself the best chance of catching a salmon.

One last pro tip: It’s best to set your drag a little looser than you normally would fishing for salmon. The idea here is that if the drag is too tight, the salmon may tip your kayak when it decides to swim away from you.


How to land the fish

Ok. Picture this moment. You’ve been kayaking for 25 days down the coast of BC, dragging your lure through the water for days, wondering if there’s actually any fish in the ocean. Then you see your rod tip start to wiggle, and it takes you a couple moments to realize that it’s actually happening.

First, quickly grab the rod out of the rod holder and start to reel the fish in, making sure to keep your rod tip high in the air. There’s no rush here, so just try to stay composed and reel the fish in slowly. Have your kayak partner grab the net off the deck of the kayak and get ready to net the fish. If you have another kayaker in your group, now’s the time to call them over to stabilize your boat.

When you see the fish at the surface, lead it to the net so that your partner can snatch it out of the water. Bring the fish into the cockpit. Then comes time for the celebration! If yours is anything like ours was, you’ll probably scare any other fish away.

For those kayak camping, you have officially brought your first bear magnet on board, so take extreme caution when handling your catch. I ended up storing the salmon in the net between my legs after I’d given it a quick hit with our beachcombed fish bonker (the technical term). 

tried to avoid letting it touch anything outside my cockpit. When I got to our camp site I immediately scrubbed down the entire cockpit and surrounding area with camp suds.

the salmon we caught from our kayak
Enjoying the feeling of finally catching a salmon from our kayak


The best thing about all this is that you can be fishing while still covering ground. Obviously it slows you down a little bit, and we found the gear to be a bit cumbersome, but the positive definitely outweighs the negative. So I’d highly recommend you giving this a try on your next kayak trip! If you’d like to find out a bit more about our whole trip down the BC coast you should check out this article.

If you have any questions at all definitely feel free to shoot us a message at thebunch@wildcoastcollective.ca

Stay tuned for an article on how to make smoked salmon right on the beach!

1 reply added

  1. Alex June 11, 2019 Reply

    Great advice!

    Doing a kayak trip along the coast of The great bear rain forest in august with a touring kayak so I found this very helpful.

    Any chance you could recommend a type and size of spoon?

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