Whether there’s a sudden windstorm or you decided to brave a breezy day, kayak fishing can turn from delightful to difficult in a matter of minutes. Worse yet, flipping is a kayak anglers’ worst nightmare, and it can become a reality in heavy winds if you aren’t prepared with the right gear, knowledge, and mindset. Here are a few tricks to keep flinging fish into your yak with a peaceful mind even when your braid sings like a harmonica.

kayak fishing in rough water
When the wind blows, kayak fishing can be tough, indeed. Photo courtesy of John Veil

Fish with Friends

Fishing around another angler on a windy day is your best failsafe. If you end up in the water, nothing brings more peace of mind than knowing your buddy is there to give you a hand or call for help. If you or your friend do end up in the water, keeping calm and preventing a panic is paramount. The last thing you want is to end up with two flipped kayaks.

Gear Up

There are a few things that can save your life if you end up in the water. First and foremost is a well-fitted reflective PFD, equipped with a waterproof VHF radio and a whistle. If you end up in the water and lose your kayak or are unable to reenter it, that VHF is the only thing stopping you from floating along the Bay until someone notices and fishes you out. Also remember to dress appropriately for the temperature (see Paddler’s Edge: Winter Kayak Safety for more information on proper attire and gear in cold water environments). A commonly used rule of thumb is the 120 rule: if air temp and water temp don’t add to 120, wear a dry suit. Editor's note: The 120 Rule is somewhat controversial and some experts disagree on its usefulness as a guideline. After this article appeared in print a representative of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association reached out to us and suggested that readers follow guidelines set out by the National Center for Cold Water Safety, which certainly seems like a good idea to us.

Keep your Paddle Close

When navigating in high wind and waves, having a (full) paddle is extremely important. I’ve had days where my rudder was constantly coming out of the water due to the size and frequency of the chop, and experiences where I lost the ability to use my pedal drive or steer due to weeds or running over a line. This can make it difficult to keep on track and keep the bow and/or stern into the waves, and one decent wave to the side of your kayak is all it takes to end up in the water. Using your paddle, however, will keep you headed where you need.

Keep your Knife Closer

While losing your prop or rudder definitely isn’t fun, all it does is put you in the same boat as a standard paddle kayak. The real danger on a windy day lies in becoming anchored to something unexpectedly. The closest I have ever come to flipping was when I ran over an unmarked line anchored to the bottom on a windy day and got stuck to it. The sudden force while moving can snap around the front of your kayak and put your bow perpendicular to the chop in an instant. If I hadn’t been able to pull up my drive and cut myself free at a moment’s notice, I likely would have gone for a swim and lost all my gear; having a strategically placed sharp knife is critical.

Don’t Anchor

While it may seem tempting and is perfectly safe if done correctly from a larger craft, anchoring in high wind is a great way to flip your kayak in open water. Even with a trolly system that allows you to deploy from the bow, I wouldn’t anchor on a windy day while fishing the Chesapeake or most of its tributaries. Anchoring in a kayak should be used to combat current, not waves.

Fighting your Fish

Hooking up to a trophy striper, bull red, or giant blue catfish will take you for the sleigh ride of a lifetime, but can be dangerous if you don't know what you’re doing even on a calm day, and more so in heavy winds. A large fish taking a quick run under your kayak is a common way to flip if you are unable to get your line around the front of the kayak, especially with a tight drag. When I hook a nice one, I do everything in my power to keep the fish within a 30-degree cone off the bow or stern until it is tired out and ready to be safely landed. It’s more comfortable to fight a fish from the front, but turning around is a great way to tangle your lines if you’re trolling and can be an unsafe maneuver as well, depending on the seas.

Landing a fish too early will also make life a lot more difficult, and can make for a dangerous situation as well. It’s not exactly easy to hold onto a 30-pound fish trying to fight for its life, especially if you’re in a kayak being blown around by gusts. I’ve also watched a flopping fish take someone off their kayak on a flat calm day; that being said, they could have just let go of the fish. (As if!) If you want to learn more about how to safely land your next fish from a kayak, check out Landing Fish in a Kayak.

Know your Limits

Every person and every kayak have limitations. Being aware of yours is key, and comes with time. While many kayaks can handle being in the waters of the Chesapeake, it doesn't mean the operator can. Start small, and work your way up to fishing in windier conditions as you're comfortable.

There’s a huge feeling of reward after landing a nice fish in terrible conditions, but as my dad loves to remind me, it’s not worth making it your last fish.

-By David Rudow