As a person who learned how to read moving water on the Hiwassee, Nantahala, and Ocoee Rivers in East Tennessee, I was naturally drawn moving water when I started fishing from a kayak. For me, there is a certain since of accomplishment that comes with navigating new areas and conditions in moving water while positioning the kayak for the perfect cast. There is nothing like successfully reading and making the right maneuver through a rapid, into an eddy to catch a fish that seemed impossible to get to. Rivers also offer a constantly changing natural beauty that cannot be found anywhere else, but with these beauties come many dangers that can be deadly if you are not properly prepared.
Preparing yourself for the dangers of a river is a very important step that is often skipped by many anglers. As kayak fisherman many are fisherman first and kayakers second. The first step in being prepared for River Kayak Fishing is to gain a basic knowledge of how a river works and the different ways of maneuvering your kayak in moving water. Many Kayak Fisherman assume the knowledge they have of kayaking on flat water is enough, but it can often get them into trouble as there are certain paddle strokes and maneuvers that are very rarely used on flat water, but are a common practice in moving water. If you are not experienced in reading moving water and maneuvering your kayak in moving water you should take the time to seek out a person that can teach you the basics before you take the plunge into that first river float. New River Fisherman should also take a gradual approach to river fishing by starting with more genital flows and riffles before stepping into rivers with faster water and rapids. Even the most experienced River Fisherman can’t get themselves into trouble, that is why it is also important to never fish a river alone. Always fish with a partner or group.
The next important step in preparing for your river adventure is selecting the proper clothing. One of appeals of river fishing is that they often are very cool even in the heat of summer. Locally many of our rivers are in the 50 to 60-degree range even when the outside air temperatures are 90 to 100 degrees. Many river floats take many hours to complete and you will often find yourself in very remote areas. Floating through remote areas in cool water presents a new set of dangers for River Fisherman. In the event you flip your kayak and fall into the cool water you will want to be wearing the proper clothing and have a second set of clothes stored in a dry bag. In the summer this means you will need to be wearing clothing that will dry fast and will not absorb water. In the cooler months or climates it is very important to dress for the conditions of the river. In colder northern climates this may mean the use of a dry suit that will keep you dry in the water. In the southern climates this will mean the use of moisture wicking layers that do not absorb water and that change of clothes in the dry bag. Being able to dry out fast will save your life. You should never wear cotton clothing on the river. That Hoodie in your closet may be warm and toasty when its dry, but it can quickly absorb water, weight you down, and suck the heat from your body when you are in cold water
My next step in preparing for a river float is deciding what gear I need to take with me. The first piece of gear and the most important is my Life Jacket (PFD). I wear my Life Jacket 100% of the time when in my kayaks, but it is especially important when fishing in moving water. You should also make sure that you are wearing a life Jacket that is properly fitted to your body with all of the straps tightened. Rivers can produce some moving water and holes that will make you feel like you are in a washing machine that is on the spin cycle. Wearing a Life Jacket that is not properly fitted and tight could do you more harm than good if you where to fall out of your kayak into one of those areas. You need to make sure that it will stay in place and not ride up over your head and face. I personally prefer to use a fishing specific life jacket that lets me carry gear that I do not want to be separated from. If you were to flip your kayak in moving water there is a very good chance you will be separated from it. Having basic survival gear in your Life Jacket can mean the difference between life and death. There are four basic survival items I like to store in my PFD. I always carry a SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) Survival Medic kit, a SOL Medical Kit .3, Some Type of compact food bar, and a knife. Carrying these items gives me piece of mind that I will be able to survive after getting separated from my kayak or group. The SOL kits are compact enough to fit in a PFD pocket and come in watertight bags. They include items for staying warm, medical supplies to quickly take care of most injuries, and some basic survival items that may be needed such as Duct Tape. In my kayak I always have a larger waterproof medical kit, a dry bag with at least one change of cloths and rain gear, a large supply of drinking water, MRE, and a 100ft hank of paracord.
Even the most experienced River Fisherman can find themselves in a tough and dangerous situation. Many times these dangerous situations will happen quickly when they are least expected. Being prepared for the worst situations on the river may save your life or the life of the person that is not prepared. Stay safe, enjoy the river, and always wear your Life Jacket!