Whether you’re doing a float down your local river, casting a line into your favorite reservoir, or plying the open Bay, whenever you go kayak fishing safety should be your number one priority. Grabbing my personal floatation device (PFD) and putting it into my truck is the first thing I do before I load up any other gear for a day on the water. Well, I did forget it once… then I had to call my wife, Sandy, and ask if she would bring it to me at the lake. She was nice enough to do so, but not everyone is as lucky as me so what I’m saying is, don’t forget your PFD!

life jackets for kayak fishing
An assortment of life jackets appropriate for kayak fishing.

Most state regulations require that you have PFDs on your boat, but not all require you to wear them. I live in a state where you are required to have a PFD for each person onboard, and each life jacket must be in good condition and readily accessible. Which means it can’t be stowed in a closed hatch, have gear on top of it, or be in a plastic bag. Preferably, however, regardless of the requirements you’ll be wearing your PFD each and every time you push off from shore.

Okay, enough about safety and regulations. So, let’s talk about life jackets. I polled several of my kayak fishing buddies, asking what type of PFD they own and the positives and negatives. Comfort was the first and foremost issue for those polled. They wanted them to be lightweight, and cool in the summer heat. They didn’t want to need their seat backs positioned leaning back, or for the jacket to be pushing them forward or poking them in the back. And they wanted pockets to store items that they would need for a day on the water. Most said that they also looked at how the life jacket was constructed. Prices for those polled ranged from $70 to a little over $300. The jackets I use are priced in the midrange.

What I have found, and most of my kayak fishing buddies have too, is that it’s best to spend a bit more cash and pick up a PFD specifically designed for kayak fishing. They come with a high back or padding that has been adjusted and arranged to avoid pushing you forward or making it feel like you have something poking your back all day. They also come with pockets and tie-off loops to stow and attach critical items such as a whistle, knife, hemostats, safety radio, terminal tackle, and baits.

I personally like the Stohlquist Keeper jacket I am currently using, and I also own a Stohlquist Piseas. Both jackets have backs that don’t impede my comfort, they are cool, and they have plenty of pockets and attachment points. For really hot summer days I may use my West Marine inshore automatic/manual PFD, which is even slimmer and cooler. My friends that I polled own brands made by L.L. Bean, NRS, West Marine, Ascend, Mustang, and Kokatat.

Remember, a cast not taken is a fish not caught — and wear your PFD, because you’ll want to be around to take that next cast for a long time to come.

-By Eric Packard