Kickin’ Bass from a Kayak
New Jersey Freshwater Fishing
By Layne Ell, President of the South Jersey Kayak Bass Fishing Club
Motor boats with big casting decks are fun to fish from, but for fishing New Jersey lakes and ponds, a kayak is the perfect watercraft to navigate our shallow lakes.
My father taught me how to fish as soon as I could walk. All summer long we’d go saltwater fishing at the shore for flounder, bluefish, weakfish or anything else that might take a minnow or a piece of squid. Growing up in the Garden State, this is what I thought fishing was.
Later we moved to Mays Landing near Lake Lenape, a beautiful body of water in Atlantic County. To me, freshwater fishing didn’t exist. All I knew were those summer days fishing at the shore.
One day I walked to the lake with a fishing rod my father had given me years before and tossed out my first earthworm into the water. To my surprise, several species of fish took the bait! Later I learned they were bluegills and crappie. It was fun watching the bobber sink with violent strikes from these panfish.
About an hour into that first freshwater experience, I tossed my bobber and worm near a tree lying in the water. Something happened that forever changed the way I thought about fishing: the water exploded as a fish engulfed my worm the moment it touched the water’s surface!
The fight that ensued was breathtaking! Watching the aerial acrobatics while reeling in this fish was something I had never seen before at the end of a fishing line. It was my first largemouth bass.
I had discovered freshwater bass fishing—New Jersey!
Quickly I became a student of the sport to experience that thrill over and over. While fishing from the banks and improving my skills, I knew that getting on the water would provide access to more fish. The hunt was on.
Our family had an inflatable kayak that was primarily used as a giant pool toy. Venturing out on the lake one day with this vessel, fishing rod in hand, I tried my luck. This is what made me—now and forever—a kayak fishing angler!
Since those early days, my gear and kayaks have changed dramatically as my pursuit for big bass continued. Gone are the earthworms, having been replaced by evidence of a never-ending search for the next great bass-catching lure. One rod turned into many rods as I learned different techniques to catch fish.
Access Where Boats Cannot Go
Plenty of waterbodies don’t have access for a full-size boat or prohibit gas engines. But a kayak is easily transported by cartop or truck bed and can be launched practically in any body of water.
New Jersey offers hundreds of lakes, spread over every county, filled with fish that can only be accessed by kayak. Often, these bodies of water get low fishing pressure, yet may offer some of the state’s biggest fish.
- Kayak fishing is a stealthy way to be on the water, allowing anglers to experience nature from up-close in a non-intrusive way.
- A kayak allows fishing in places that boats just cannot reach.
- Kayaks can float over lily pads, maneuver in water that is only inches deep and fish among stumps and rocks.
Before getting on the water, it is important to have the necessary safety gear. Three things are essential for every trip on the water: a life vest known as a Personal Floatation Device (PFD), a whistle and a cell phone—in a floating waterproof pouch. Even a good swimmer or a skilled kayaker should be prepared in case something happens that you end up in the water. I take these precautions every time I’m on the water, whether on a kayak or in a boat.
Kayak Fishing Equipment
Fishing from a kayak limits how much gear can be brought. Choose equipment that is versatile. Most fishing kayaks come equipped with two or more rod holders. I often carry four fishing rods while kayak fishing, each with a specific purpose, to help me catch bass in a multitude of conditions. These are my preferred gear selection combos for a trip on the water:
- Rod 1: A spinning rod rigged with a black or green pumpkin wacky worm. A wacky worm will catch fish in any lake at any time of the year. For weedy lakes or to fish lily pads, just switch to a Texas-rigged worm, reducing the likelihood of snagging.
- Rod 2: A spinning rod set up with any small, soft, plastic 3- or 4-inch paddle tail swimbait on a light jig head. This bait works extremely well in the spring around spawning beds but also in the fall when bass are feeding up for the winter ahead. This set-up can be transformed into a small crankbait or even an inline spinner.
- Rod 3: A bait-casting rod rigged either with a 3/8 oz. white chatterbait or a 3/8 oz. white spinnerbait. Chatterbaits are useful when the conditions are windy or the water is highly stained. Throw the spinnerbait when the water is calm or clear. In the winter, substitute these for a lipless crankbait.
- Rod 4: A topwater set-up. It may be a spinning rod with a popper on the end or a bait-casting rod rigged either with a frog or a buzzbait. Topwater set-ups are a good match for low light conditions such as early morning, evening or cloudy, rainy days. The bait-casting rig provides more options as it can be changed during the day into a jig and pig set for flipping and pitching vegetation and wood.
The versatility of these rods allows for multiple fishing applications when on the water. Be prepared and have more fun on every fishing venture.
Through years of experience I have come to appreciate that New Jersey has some of the best bass fishing around. Our state is dotted with small- and medium-sized lakes and ponds that are perfect for kayak bass fishing, including many state wildlife management areas. Some of my favorites include: Maskells Mill Pond (Salem Co.), Menantico Ponds (Cumberland Co.), Prospertown Lake (Ocean Co.) and Assunpink Wildlife Management Area (Monmouth Co.) that includes three lakes: Assunpink Lake, Stone Tavern Lake and Rising Sun Lake.
On a recent trip to Assunpink Lake, my friend and fellow kayak angler, Mark Sowers, caught a beautiful 23-inch, 7-pound bass—proving that New Jersey has trophy-sized fish to target! You can do that from a kayak, too! So, grab a few rods, a box of baits and enjoy what New Jersey has to offer. Great fishing destinations are right around the corner and are perfectly suited for the pursuit of big bass from a kayak.
For more information on the South Jersey Kayak Bass Fishing Club, visit SJKBFC.com.
Power Your Kayak
Kayaks are a more economical option than a power boat.
A fully-rigged kayak costs thousands less than even the most affordable, basic fishing boat and motor. Beyond the substantially lower cost upfront, kayak anglers spend less on towing, fuel costs, insurance, maintenance and launch fees. A kayak is also great for those who live in an apartment, condo or trailer home with limited storage options. Neither a large driveway nor spacious garage is required to own a kayak. From urban to rural settings, a kayak is an excellent fishing platform to get you away from the bank.
Not all fishing kayaks are created equal.
Kayaks are available in many sizes and styles to fit varying skill levels, performance needs and personal preferences. The two main styles are sit-in kayaks and sit-on-top kayaks. For fishing, I prefer a sit-on-top style. This type of kayak provides ample room for tackle, rods and other gear needed for a long day on the water.
For beginners, a sit-in kayak is more suitable because these are easier to maneuver and usually lighter in weight. Before purchasing a kayak, “test drive” several styles. Kayaks are also available in paddle or pedal drive models. Traditional paddle kayaks are propelled by the energy of your arms using a paddle dipped into the water. Pedal kayaks move through the water by use of your legs—in a motion similar to pedaling a bicycle—to turn either an underwater propeller or flap system. Many kayak dealers have a demo plan, allowing you to try-before-you-buy, guiding you through the design options to fit your needs and your budget.