Five tips for beating the wind

I recently posed the question on my facebook page, “What is you biggest challenge as a kayak angler right now”? Roughly 90% of the responses where voicing frustration about dealing with strong winds when kayak fishing. It made perfect sense to me because I asked the question at about mid fall when windy days are the rule and wind gusts in the 20-30 mile per hour can be part of the kayak fishing game.

These are scenarios that I know all too well. I’ve kayak fishing in winds up to 50 miles per hour. I don’t recommend fishing in those kind of extreme winds but many anglers give up too easily when they see wind gusts predicted that get much of 15 m.p.h. It isn’t easy fishing but you can still be productive. Check out a recent guided trip I did in 25 mph gusts that resulted in some pretty darn solid smallies being caught! Years of paddling and fishing have taught me a lot about dealing with wind on the river. Here are five tips for beating the wind in style!

Trim that kayak

The first order of business is to make sure your kayak floats perfectly level with you and your gear on board. That’s what is referred to as “trimming” the kayak. If the bow is riding higher than the rest of your kayak, it will constantly catch wind and send you into a frustrating spin. As you are loading your kayak, be aware of how you distribute the weight and try to do so in a way that levels the kayak out. I use Wilderness Systems Ride series kayaks because the seat is on a sliding track that allows you to move your seat forward or aft to obtain perfect trim on the kayak. The feature has proven itself time and time again on my guided trips and classes.

The Stake Out

One piece of gear that I never leave home without is my YakAttack “Little Stick”. It’s basically a 3 foot stake out pole that can be used to pin your kayak to the bottom in shallow moderately slow moving pieces of the river. Just slip it through one of your forward scupper holes and you are set. No need to drive it in. It will find a crack in the rocky bottom and hold you in place. Make sure you come to a complete stop before deploying otherwise you could crack your scupper. Store bought solutions are great but you can also make a stake out pole from an old broom handled. Sharpen the end a little and your good to go. A short stake out pole is invaluable on windy days. It will pin you in place enabling you to fish without being blown all over the river.

Feet On The Ground

Wading, fishing from small isolated islands or the bank can be your best option when the wind gets really crazy on the river. It helps if you’ve got a good location pattern going so that you know you are targeting water that is holding fish. The picture below shows one of my guide clients fishing off the front of a very small rock island on the Susquehanna River. The smallmouth bass were targeting baitfish around the fronts of these islands. We simply paddled up behind each island, grounded our kayaks, and enjoyed some catching!

Use the Force

You can sometimes use the force of the wind to get some great controlled drifts through fish holding areas. The wind direction needs to be right AND you need to have your kayak trimmed properly (see first tip!) or you will spin out of control.  My favorite river fishing scenario is when the wind is blowing mostly up river. I’ll position my kayak broad side to the wind and my drift will be slowed considerably. If the wind is coming up river at an angle, I can angle my kayak slightly to get a better truer drift. This is an extremely effective way to fish through deeper sections of river with scattered fish or when spinnerbait fishing shoreline targets. I use this technique a lot on the mile wide Susquehanna River which is very susceptible to high wind conditions.

Point the bow

If the wind is coming downstream at an angle or directly downstream, I’ll point the bow of the kayak into the wind as I’m fishing. A well trimmed kayak with a hull that has great tracking properties is important to this technique. If your kayak is lacking significantly in either category, you will struggle a bit with this one. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is another reason that I opt for the Wilderness Systems Ride Series when river fishing. It’s got a keel that runs the length of the hull giving the kayak some pretty darn good tracking for a short boat! You’ll need to be a bit of an “active paddler” to maintain bow position while fishing. Keep that paddle on your lap so you can easily transition between fishing and paddling.

Take Cover

I refuse to let wind stop me from fishing. On those days when there is a predicted constant strong wind and crazy gusts, I’ll select my river fishing floats carefully. I like areas of the river dotted with larger islands that can provide cover from the wind. Fish on the lee side of the islands making due with the water that you can fish effectively. Also look for big bends in rivers that navigate around significant mountains or hills that can act to break up the wind. You’ll want to know what the wind direction is predicted to be and put those geographic features between you and the prevailing winds.

The wind was blowing and gusting about 20 miles per hour the day I took the picture below. We where protected nicely fishing the lee side of a large island.

A note about anchoring

Many will notice that I did not mention the use of anchors. Personally, I avoid anchoring kayaks in moving water because anchoring in small water craft is a risky endevour. I like to say “everyone I know that anchors has a story about the time when things went bad and it got them into a pickle”.  That being said, anchoring is a personal choice. I just choose not to do it in favor of other strategies.

Summing it up

When guiding and teaching as long as river conditions are not dangerous, I have no choice but to get out there with my clients and work as hard as we can to put some fish in the kayak. These are just a handful of the strategies and techniques that I’ve used successfully to beat the wind. Give them a try the next time your river gets a little windy. I’m confident at least one or two will improve your ability to beat the wind!