By Eric Jackson
Good Strokes will become a habit.
I am writing my second edition of “Kayaking with Eric Jackson- Strokes and Concepts” for whitewater kayakers right now and wanted to extend some of the pertinent information kayak fishermen. Right now there is very little information for kayak fishermen on how to effectively paddle their kayaks. Being able to go further, faster, and have more control/confidence in your kayak means catching more fish and having more fun. I hope you find this helpful.
Fishing Kayaks, especially Jackson Kayak models, are designed to be paddled in a variety of body positions. We’ll discuss your paddle choice and techniques for each position.
Normal Seating position
Standing and paddling
Sitting Super high on a cooler
- sitting down low for maximum stability
- sitting up high for good visibility and fishability
- standing up like a SUP.
First off, you need to choose your paddle length. Here is a rough guide.
- If your kayak has the seat down near water level, or you are not confident paddling in the high seat position and you are an average size adult you should use a 210-220 cm paddle.
- If you paddle with your seat in the high position, mostly (Jackson Kayak brand has a standardized high position) you should look at 240-250 cm paddle.
- If you paddle sitting on a cooler, like I do (Orion 25) often- you’ll want a 250-260cm paddle.
Paddle Offset and type of paddle:
There are lots of good fishing paddles out there and there is no need to buy the best paddles, unless you really plan on using it a lot and going longer distances. For short outings where you stay close to the put-in spot, you should look at spending around $130 for a very good paddle that will do the job. Werner Tybee would be a good example. If you are like me and like to explore more and go longer distances, and just like to have the best equipment, you’ll want a Carbon fiber, foam-core paddle, like the Werner Cyprus Hooked, but it will cost you $320.
Paddles also can be adjusted for the “offset” which is the angle the blades are relative to each other. 30 years ago all kayak paddles had a 90 degree offset to “cut the wind” with the top paddle blade while the blade in the water pulls you forward. Over time it became clear that it was easier to use, easier on the wrist/arms, and more efficient to use a lower offset. While you can use a zero offset setting on your paddle- if you want to learn a good stroke, and have your wrist/arms in the best ergonomic position while doing a good forward stroke, I recommend offsetting your paddle between 30-45 degrees. 30 degrees would be the easiest to get used to if you are just starting.
Sitting Position for effective paddling:
Most seats have a reclining back that allows you to relax or sit upright. The most efficient and low impact position for paddling any distance is upright with some support on your lower back during the stroke. If your back is firmly against the top of the seat, it will hinder your torso rotation during the stroke and make you tired faster, lower your top speed, etc.. A good lumbar support on your seat is very important. The “Therm-a-rest” lumbar support that comes standard with a Jackson Kayak fishing boat should be blown up fairly full to provide enough lumbar support to keep your upper back from getting tied up on the seat back, but allow you to have lower back support.
Lumbar support is critical
Your footrests should be close enough to keep a slight bend in your knees as well. Adjust for comfort first and if your legs get uncomfortable after a period of time, adjusting the footbraces will change your leg position and improve comfort. Most people’s legs are comfortable all day if they have them in the slightly bent position.
Overall concepts that will be discussed:
- Covering distance: having an effective/efficient forward stroke allows you to cover more distance without getting as tired, and improves top end speed to get there faster.
- knowing a variety of turning strokes, and fine tuning strokes will help you get your kayak in position for fishing faster, and you’ll spend more time fishing and less time trying to get into position to fish.
- Learning about “spin momentum” will allow you to use the natural turning forces of the kayak to your advantage, versus causing you grief.
- If you have a rudder option in your kayak model, learning to use the rudder to your advantage will also improve your control while paddling and during fishing.
- If you have a Power Pole Micro, learning to use it to increase your fishing time will improve your catch and make fishing more fun for you as well.
- Different fishing positions- Sitting low, sitting high, and standing.
Covering Distance: A good forward Stroke
Blade angles and efficiency: A vertical blade is the most efficient for paddling forwards or backwards. A paddle blade being pulled along side of the boat uses more energy to pull the boat forward and less of the energy trying to turn it away from the paddle. The higher your top hand is, the more vertical the paddle is.
- Begin your stroke with the paddle up at your toes and finish with the paddle at your hips. This gives you a nice long stroke and cuts down on the stroke rate but not the speed.
- Try to rotate your torso during the stroke so that your torso is pulling the paddle back/boat forward, not just your arms.
- Keep your top hand around eye level as a reference point.
Paddle going in at the toes
Paddle blade next to kayak and vertical
Keep your top hand relaxed to save energy!
Top hand relaxed to save energy
Control: Maneuvering Your Kayak
Same as forward stroke but in reverse- paddle starts at hips and goes up to your toes. Keep your paddle as vertical as possible.
Paddle starts at stern
Push paddle straight away from stern to turn boat
Turning Strokes: Forward and Reverse Sweep To turn the kayak the most efficiently, you will want the paddle blade to go as far from the side of the boat as possible during the stroke. To do this you’ll keep your top hand down low (opposite of the forward stroke).
- Start with your paddle up at your toes and your paddle as parallel to the boat as possible.
- Push the blade straight away from the toes, away from the side of the boat in an arc. The boat should turn smoothly away from the paddle.
- Take the blade out at or behind your hips when you are happy with the direction you are headed.
- If you are moving forwards and the boat is already spinning the wrong way, it may take more than one sweep stroke to overcome the spin momentum in the wrong direction.
Start paddle up at toes and as parallel to boat as possible
Push bow away from paddle, or paddle away from bow
Take blade out just behind the hips or after boat reaches right angle
- Paddle goes in behind you near the boat (behind your seat).
- Push the paddle straight away from the boat using the non-power side of the paddle (convex side).
- Take the paddle out of the water when you are facing the direction you want, or when it gets up to your toes.
Start at the stern
Push paddle away from stern
- If you are moving forward already and you want to control the boat using very little energy, use the paddle as a rudder by reaching behind you with the blade nearly parallel to the boat. Just drag the paddle with it slicing through the water like a rudder. The paddle should be on the side of the boat that you want to turn towards. Applying a little pressure away from the boat will turn it nicely.
Use rudder while gliding
The forward stroke is the same as a SUP. You hold your paddle with the end of the blade, or near the end of the shaft depending on how tall you are. Using a vertical paddle and keeping the blade right next to the kayak, pull the paddle from as far as you can reach towards the bow to just behind your feet. The boat will want to turn after few strokes and you have two main choices:
Vertical paddle to start
take blade out just behind feet
- You can switch hands and paddle on the other side or:
- You can do an “offside” stroke or two to straighten out the direction again.
Reaching left blade over to right side of boat for offside stroke
Punch top hand forward and pull on bottom hand next to boat
Take blade out at feet and twist paddle to be parallel to boat to “slice” blade out.
Offside stroke: The advantages of doing offside strokes is that you don’t have to switch hands and can always use your stronger arm. Simply reach your paddle over the boat to the opposite side of the boat you normally paddle on and put it in as far forward as you can reach and pull back to behind your feet. This stroke won’t feel as strong (it isn’t) as your normal stroke, but it will keep you from always switching hands when paddling standing up.
You can also pull your boat sideways with your paddle. Facing your paddle blade parallel to the boat, versus perpendicular, you can reach out away from the boat and “draw” the boat towards the paddle. If you do a draw up near the bow, it will turn the boat towards the paddle. If you do a draw in the middle it will pull the entire boat sideways without turning it. If you draw towards the stern/back of the boat, it will turn the boat away from the paddle blade.
Reach away from boat and pull boat towards paddle.
There are other more advanced strokes that can be used such as C-Strokes, offside c-strokes, reverse compound strokes, side-slip strokes and more. However, the basics described here will more than get you to your favorite fishing spots easier and with more control.
Another tidbit worth noting is that you can use your rod tip/lure for minor boat placement adjustments while standing up. You can forward sweep, reverse sweep and forward stroke with your rod tip /lure. Try it!
When you paddle your kayak forwards, assuming you don’t have a rudder, the kayak will ultimately begin to turn one direction or another by itself and won’t stop turning until your boat comes to a complete stop. This is a force I call “spin momentum”. It comes from your boat creating a bow wake that it is essentially “climbing” and when you stop paddling, it falls off the bow wake one way or another and until the bow wake is gone (boat has stopped) the boat will keep turning. This force challenges new kayakers trying paddle straight with their new kayaks, but with a little practice, you don’t have to think about paddling straight any more. There is another level of skill you want to acheive, which is to plan on spin momentum and when you stop paddling to start fishing, have the spin momentum going in the direction you want it to and plan that turn to automatically position your kayak where you want it while you are fishing.
Example: I am paddling towards the shore and want to turn right and fish along the shore when I get there. I will paddle towards the shore and the turn the boat slightly to the right when I get just outside of casting distance. I will then stand up with my rod and by that time my boat will be within casting distance and turning slowly to the right and gliding closer to the shore and becoming parallel to the shore. This allows me to make a few casts without thinking about the paddle and covering some good distance.
Wind can be a challenge for any fishing craft, but you can also use it to your advantage. I recommend having a Power-Pole Micro anchor on your fishing kayak. It costs about $600 but is such an awesome piece of equipment, especially when it is windy. Here is how you can use the wind to your advantage.
Allowing wind to blow kayak along the shore line.
- Paddle upwind, and fish downwind whenever possible. If you try to fish upwind, you will get frustrated as you’ll do a cast, blow backwards, and have to paddle upwind again to the same point or beyond. If you take a few minutes and paddle upwind to the furthest point you want to fish and let the wind blow you along virgin territory, you will enjoy way more fishing time and less paddling time.
- Use your Power-Pole: I use my power-pole both as a true anchor, but also as a “water brake”. I fish downwind typically and find I can stand up and using my remote control when fishing shallow water, I lift my power-pole up a little, let the wind blow me to my next spot and drop it back down. By continuing this I can cover a lot of ground without having to sit down or take a stroke. If the water is deep, I run the Power-Pole down deep and let the stake act as a water brake slowing me down and keeping my bow pointed downwind. This also increases my fishing time and reduces paddle time.
- Use a sail! While this is new to me, I have discovered that sailing a kayak can be effective and fun as well and plan on doing more of this now that I have one that can be put on any of my kayaks. If you are in really windy locations, a sail can get you from one place to another quite fast and with no paddling! Steve Fisher, Ken Hovie, and I will be using our sails to go from Florida to the Bahamas in our Krakens (offshore fishing kayaks) and we put them to good use in the Bayou this spring. We are using the Kayak Sailor sails out of Hood River, OR.
True wind power!
Practice your strokes and control methods and catch more fish, go further, and have more fun!
See you on the water!