How to Land Big Fish in a Kayak (Without Flipping the Boat)

No one likes their kayak to be flipped, and this goes double for fishermen that might have tons of equipment and tools that they can’t afford to be lost in the lake or river. But the inherent risk can be minimized by following smart strategies that can help you land big fish without chancing a total kayak flip.

Setting the drag

First of all, setting your drag correctly is imperative for winning your struggle with your catch. The drag has to be set so that it’s not so tight as to break your rod, line, or leader, yet it must also be tight enough to give the fish a good workout when it tries to get away.

Setting the right drag is also important at the crucial moment when a fish nears your kayak. At this critical moment, the wrong twist or a sudden snap by the fish’s body would snap your line or break your rod. Even worse, if you don’t let go, your kayak might be flipped over in your efforts to maintain the grip on the fish.

You can avoid all of these problems by giving your drag enough slack to prevent damaging your rod while still being tight to exhaust your target fish.

Headed on a fishing trip soon? Check out our top picks for the best baitcasting reels.

Perfect positioning and tiring the fish out

The above advice relates to good positioning and your technique for exhausting your catch out. Kayaks are not as stable as larger or traditional fishing boats. Therefore, making sure that your fish is positioned near the front of your kayak is very important. 

The reason to keep the fish near the front of your kayak is to prevent your catch from leaping into your kayak and hitting the edge. A particularly heavy catfish can easily hit the edge of your kayak and capsize the entire boat from their anxious motions and wild flips.

But it’s harder for a fish to present this threat if their closest to the nose of your kayak. Tipping them back off into the water if they prove to be too unwieldy is relatively easy from this location.

In addition, you need to take some time and tire your catch out before you reel them in or bring them close to the kayak at all. Fish will exhaust themselves relatively quickly so long as you have a good hook. Reeling a fish in immediately after hooking is asking for a tough fight that your kayak may not be stable enough to win.

Fishing is a game of patience as much as anything else. Take your time and let the fish exhaust itself before moving in to end the encounter.


One great way to catch larger fish that can flip your kayak is to tow them closer to shore while still hooked. This both tires the fish out for when you inevitably bring it into hand distance and makes it less likely that your kayak will flip in deep water as a result of their struggling.

Keep in mind that you need to watch out for other fish or predators trying to steal your catch as you bring them to shore. If this happens, you’ll more than likely have to cut the line and give up the fight, but it’s still better safe than sorry.

Optimal technique: Legs and center of gravity

When fishing a kayak, you should use your legs as the primary muscle when lifting the fish out of the water. Your legs are much stronger than your arms in most cases, and keeping your feet braced against the bottom of the kayak will help balance and stabilize the entire boat. 

You should keep your stance far apart and make your center of gravity low and over the center of the kayak. This will also help stabilize[/su_highlight]the small boat and prevent it from being easily toppled.

The optimal technique should see you keeping your legs planted in the kayak until the moment when the fish is brought into the boat. Use your foot to tilt or press the fish into your kayak instead of your hands to maintain a low center of gravity at all times.

Line cutting

 Cutting the line is something that you must be prepared for when fishing in a kayak. Since the boat is naturally less stable and more vulnerable than a traditional fishing boat, cutting your line should be seen as a necessary evil to prevent all of your stuff from falling into the lake or river. 

It’s much better to lose a line and some lures instead of all of the equipment you brought with you for your fishing expedition. If you’re ever in doubt about your kayak’s stability, cut the line to be safe, and you’ll avoid having to repurchase all of the gear that wasn’t supposed to be soaked!

FAQs About Landing Big Fish in a Kayak

What are some tips for catching big fish while in a kayak?

Some tips for catching big fish while in a kayak include using appropriate gear, choosing the right bait or lure, knowing where to look for big fish, and being patient and persistent.

How do you choose the right gear for landing big fish in a kayak?

To choose the right gear for landing big fish in a kayak, consider the type of fish you’ll be targeting, the conditions you’ll be fishing in, and the size and weight of the gear you’ll need to handle the fish. This may include a sturdy rod, reel, and line, as well as a landing net and other essential tools.

Can you provide some advice for controlling the kayak while fighting a big fish?

To control the kayak while fighting a big fish, use your body weight to stabilize the kayak and keep your center of gravity low. You may also need to adjust your position or angle the kayak to avoid obstacles or prevent the fish from dragging you into dangerous areas.

How do you handle a big fish once it’s been caught and landed in a kayak?

To handle a big fish once it’s been caught and landed in a kayak, use a landing net to safely remove the fish from the water and handle it gently and with care. You may also need to use pliers or other tools to remove hooks or cut the line if necessary.

Are there any specific techniques or tricks for landing certain types of big fish in a kayak, such as tuna or marlin?

There are specific techniques and tricks for landing certain types of big fish in a kayak, such as using a down rigger to catch tuna or using a harpoon to catch marlin. It’s important to do your research and prepare accordingly for the type of fish you’ll be targeting.


Learning how to land big fish in a kayak can be challenging, but it can also be done safely and efficiently with the right techniques and tricks.


About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

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