How to Become a Kayak Fishing Guide: Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a kayak fishing guide is a great way of turning a hobby into an income source. You can either become a professional full-time or part-time guide. Whether you want to start private lessons or work in high-end resorts and private pools, you’ll have to do it the right way.

To become a kayak fishing guide, the first thing to do is getting the necessary certification. You probably have years of experience kayaking, but you must perfect your kayaking skills. Get the needed equipment. And, most importantly, you’ll have to get insurance. 

Do you want to make your kayaking dreams come true? Read on, and we’ll show you how;

Get the Necessary Certification

The kayak fishing guide profession is a rather new phenomenon, and you may have wondered what it takes to become an instructor. Since not so many people have taken up this career as full-time professionals, it seems everyone is his/her brother(s) kayak fishing guide.  

However, many instructors find satisfaction teaching others to paddle and a great way to give back to the sport. The American Canoe Association (ACA) offers a kayak instruction program acknowledged as the premier paddlesports education program in over 30 countries, including the US. The course is available to the general public, instructors, partners, and the outdoors industry.  

The following is a summary of the essential requirements that you need to become a kayak fishing instructor:

  • One must be at least 18 years old
  • Be a full member of ACA and join the ACA SEIC (Safety, Education and Instruction Council)
  • Must have current first aid and age-appropriate CPR certifications
  • Present paddling skills, technical expertise, rescue ability, interpersonal skills, group management, and teaching ability appropriate with the level of certification

The above basic requirements allow you to sign up for a kayak paddling class. Conversely, there are various levels of instructor certification that one can achieve. They range from Level 1 (L1) – which is river canoeing on calm water to Level 5 (L5), which includes more difficult avenues like whitewater kayaking. 

Further, ACA offers five types of courses which include: 

  • Skills course – It exposes the candidate and develops participant’s abilities. The course is offered in all disciplines and at all levels. 
  • Skills Assessments – candidates must successfully have a checklist of skills to receive a skills assessment credential from the ACA. 
  • Certifications – all paddlesport disciplines offer the Instructor Certification Workshops (ICWs).
  • Endorsements – a certified ACA instructor is endorsed to train additional specialized courses.
  • Paddlesports Safety Facilitator – the course is designed for staff from paddling outfitters, guide services, and livery businesses. The course allows the instructor to introduce paddle craft safety and knowledge to the novice paddler in a land-based setting.

After completing the course, the instructor candidate can only teach in their discipline up to the certification level. For instance, an L5 instructor can train L1, L2, L3, L4, and courses. You can find the instructor criteria on the ACA website.

How to Become a Kayak Fishing Guide

Perfect Your Kayaking Skills 

If you’re a beginner, you’ll need to learn basic strokes in a calm and safe environment. Your goal will be to learn how to track straight based on each stroke technique. Here are the basics of how to paddle a kayak:

  • Gripping your paddle for an efficient stroke
  • The forward stroke for moving straight on
  • The reverse stroke for slowing down and backing up
  • The sweep stroke for turning 
  • And the draw stroke for scooting your kayak sideways

Perfecting your skills as a professional kayak fishing guide, you need to learn proper kayaking techniques from an experienced instructor. The following fundamental strokes will help you develop proper form as you take to the water.

Forward Stroke

Double-check how you hold the paddle to get ready for the forward stroke.

  1. Wind your torso and immerse your blade on one side of the boat. 
  2. Rotate your body as the edge moves behind you and push against the shaft with your upper hand as you move.
  3. Focus on the powerful core muscles of your arm to power your stroke. 
  4. Maintain the blade in the near-vertical orientation, and at the consistent level of immersion – this way, you will track straighter and move faster. 
  5. When your hand reaches behind your hip, slice the blade out of the water. 

For balance and efficiency, sit straight up. When sitting with your back supported in the kayak, place the balls of your feet in the foot guides. Your toes should point outwards, and your heels should be in the center of the kayak. Conversely, the knees should have an upward and outward bend to apply pressure on the thigh braces.

Reverse Stroke

The backward stroke is the exact opposite of the forward stroke. It helps break a moving kayak or back it up.

  1. In the drop phrase, wind your torso and fully immerse your blade on the boat’s side next to your hip.
  2. Rotate your body as the blade moves in front of you for the power phrase. 
  3. Finally, when your paddle blade is even with your feet, slice it out of the water. 
  4. Repeat the process and immerse out-of-the water blade on the opposite side of the boat near your hip.

Sweep Stroke

For a sweep stroke:

  1. When turning the boat efficiently, you need to extend your arms forward and immerse the blade near your feet to begin the sweep. 
  2. Start on the other side of the kayak from the direction you want to turn. 
  3. Sweep the blade in a wide arc towards the stern of the boat. 
  4. Apply some pressure into your body’s rotation to optimize the stroke after the paddle has passed the cockpit. 
  5. When the blade reaches behind the cockpit, finish the sweep by slicing it out of the water.

Draw Stroke

The draw stroke is useful when moving your kayak sideways, especially when you want to pull near another boat or dock.

  1. Rotate your paddle blade and position it horizontally.
  2. Reach out with the head of the blade and touch the water about two feet away. 
  3. Lower your hand and pull it straight towards you while keeping it immersed in water during the stroke. 

If the paddle hits the side of the boat, don’t pry the paddle out of the water as you could tip your kayak and capsize. If you feel hit, let go of your top hand and relax your body for another try.

There are many other kinds of strokes and braces for every direction a boat can travel, take time, and learn all of them properly. However, these few simple strokes will allow you to move your kayak forward, turn it, slow it down and back it up.

Get the Necessary Fishing Guide Equipment 

Getting into any sport can be a costly affair. When planning to become a kayak fishing instructor, you need to know the equipment that is a must-have to get started and which will allow you to guide others on flatwater and whitewater. Here is a list of the necessary fishing guide equipment.

Kayak or a Canoe

First and foremost, a kayak is an essential piece of equipment that will set you on the path to your kayak fishing guide career. Kayaks come in all forms, sizes, and colors. If you will be learning and instructing others, you can choose a solo canoe or a two-person canoe.

Touring kayaks are entirely different from white water kayaks, but the type of kayak you choose depends on the level of paddling you are and the paddling you wish to undertake.


While fishing in a kayak, you might want to park. Unfortunately, staying put in a kayak is complicated, and you will need rigging equipment to rig your kayak. Different options allow you to anchor the kayak. You can rig with anchor trolleys, anchors, or rod holders.

An anchor trolley is an adjustable line installed on the side of your kayak that acts as an extension to the anchor. It will allow you to change the angle of the kayak when sitting near the anchor.

On the other hand, some kayaks incorporate rod holders. However, if you purchase one without a rod holder, you can always modify to meet additional stability requirements. 


Kayak angling involves thousands of strokes, and the kind of paddle you choose will have a significant impact on your performance in the water. Conversely, strokes require precision to minimize fatigue so that a proper paddle will make all the difference.

Here are four suggestions you need to consider when choosing a kayak paddle:

  • Length – the length and width of your boat will determine the length of your paddle
  • Material construction – lightweight materials improve the performance of a paddle.
  • Blade choice – the size and shape of the paddle affect the efficiency of your stroke.
  • Shaft size – a bent shaft or feathered blade improves a paddle’s performance.

Safety Equipment 

Any amount of paddling requires safety gear to self-rescue in the case of capsizing. The bare minimum of safety gear that you need to become a kayak fishing guide include:

  • Personal Floatation Devices – provides buoyancy to keep your head above the water if you capsize.
  • Floatation bags – minimizes the amount of water that collects in the boat and prevents it from capsizing. 
  • Spray skirts are waterproof barriers that keep water (waves, rain, and sprays) from entering the boat. They protect the area between your waist and the cockpit.
  • Outriggers – they are inflatable floatation devices that attach to the outside of the kayak. 
  • Helmet – it is an essential safety gear that protects the kayak angler from hitting rocks when unexpectedly thrown out of the water.
  • Whistles – all vessels require an efficient sound-producing device like a whistle or an air horn that is audible for at least half a mile. 
  • Lights – navigation lights for a kayak enhance your chance of being seen at dusk, dawn, and night.
  • First Aid Kits – a first aid kit is crucial whether you’re paddling as solo or as a group. There are paddling specific first aid kits available in the market, but you can also have a homemade one with the proper content. Place the first aid kit in a waterproof bag in an easy to access spot in your boat. 


Since there are a variety of fishing scenarios, a kayak guide must carry a minimum of two rods and reels per angler. Despite the different fishing conditions, your tackle choice should be remarkably straightforward. 

The right mix can include a free-spool stray-line rig and fixed-spool soft-bait rig. However, you can always expand the selection of your rods and reels.


When kayak fishing, you can start with a handful of lures that will offer different presentations to reach different sections of the water. 

You need to carry an assortment of lures ranging from topwater plugs to jigs. Besides, your clients will buy the ones you use after they have caught fish in them.

As you try to perfect new fishing techniques, you will need baits that offer resistance like chatter baits, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits. It’s a rewarding feeling when a fish bears down on your lure, and your line sizzles off the reel as it takes off.

Fly Tackle 

Adding a fly tackle to your kayak fishing can be a bit challenging in the beginning. However, fly fishing is a more straightforward process than fishing with conventional tackle. Weight is the primary determinant of fly rods. Ideal rods for catching speckled trout, redfish, stripers, blues, croakers, and the white perch should weigh 6-9 and range from 7-9 feet long. 

Paradoxically, a stouter rod may be less tiring to use than a lighter rod. That’s because a heavy rod throws weightier flies with less physical effort than would be required on a lighter rod. 

Freshwater Gear

The demand for freshwater trips has increased with time. Catching fish from a kayak is exciting. But think about what reeling in a fish will do to your positioning.

For instance, a large bass can turn you sideways in a heartbeat, which can put you out of position or flip you over. Therefore, you will also need a couple of fly rods and reels suitable for freshwater trips.

Other Gears

Since you will be spending time outdoors, there are other additional gears that you can carry for your clients. They include rain gear, duct tape, pliers, screwdriver, sunscreen, toilet paper e.t.c

Include a cold storage box, drinks, and a first aid kit as you never know what emergency might arise. Also, include a camera in your gear to get photos of your clients posing with catches. A waterproof camera would make an excellent choice.

Get Liability Insurance 

Although you may never need to use liability insurance, it takes one misunderstood instruction or mistimed maneuver for a client to injure themselves and hold you responsible.  

The challenges that come with water are highly demanding, and an accident is always at the back of your mind. On top of this, your kayaking equipment can get damaged, lost, or stolen. 

Liability insurance includes public liability cover against injury or property damage, and personal accident cover is essential. It is critical to those held liable for injuries to others or in the event the insured party damages someone else’s property and is at fault. 

Kayak Bass FishingKBF Event Liability Insurance covers claims resulting from personal injury or property damage to a third party. The cover promotes the operation of safe, financially responsible freshwater fishing tournaments in the US.

You also want to ensure that you are appropriately protecting your kayak against storms and other damage. Conversely, your kayak can get pretty beat up in rapids, and so can you. Non-motorized boat insurance covers your dinghy, tender, rib, or rowboat and protects you in the event of a covered loss of property damage and physical damage.

Additionally, non-motorized boat insurance includes bodily injury and medical expenses. If you’re bringing accessories like eyeglasses, cameras, or portable electronic devices on your kayak, you never know what could happen. 

The non-motorized boat insurance will help you cover the cost of new ones or replace them with similar models.

Get Exposure

Remember, kayak angling is a long life pursuit. You need to get exposure to the services you’re offering; thus, a website will be essential. It will also allow you to share personal experiences and knowledge you have gained. Consider launching a website or a YouTube channel.

You will need to get the word out, and joining local kayak fishing forums would be an excellent starting point. As an instructor, you will continue to increase your skills and knowledge in the industry, and speak at kayak clubs for more exposure.


This guide supplements your kayak knowledge and adds useful information on how you can get:

  • Necessary certification, 
  • Fishing guide equipment, 
  • Liability insurance 
  • Exposure to get started.

Although becoming a kayak fishing guide can be a costly venture, you can start by offering to assist at shows or demo days as you look for sponsorships. Also, purchasing discounted products from kayak manufacturers and talking about your products to your clients during every trip is an excellent idea of making extra bucks.

Have fun and stay safe out there!

Mike Rodman

Mike enjoys fishing all year round, from fly fishing small streams in Wyoming's higher mountains to kayak fishing the lower altitude lakes and reservoirs. Mike also has a passion for ice fishing. When he has spare time, he'll be found at his rod bench building custom fishing rods.

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