Countdown To Trout Opener: Kayaking To Big Fish

Editor’s note: With this Saturday’s statewide general trout opener attracting anglers to many high Sierra lakes, rivers and creeks, we wanted to share a story each day from our April issue leading into opening day.

Today: Kayaks are a perfect way to reach trout hot spots.

By Mark Fong 

Jay Warren grew up with fishing in his blood. As a youngster he spent many summers in Gunnison, Colo.,  with his father and siblings, fishing for trout. 

Over the years the pursuit of his favorite game fish has taken on many dimensions.

His father-in-law was an expert angler who taught Warren what he knows today. 

“He was an outstanding spin fisherman; he taught me a lot about fishing the creeks. He would drift eggs and crickets,” remembers Warren. “He would throw a lot of plugs, a technique which was not popular at the time. He knew all the techniques, using the ultralight trout gear. He had a little aluminum boat that he would take to Eagle Lake.”

To this day, Warren continues to study the sport, reading lots of books about trout fishing. He is an avid fly tyer and fly fisherman. For a period of time Warren routinely took to the waters of Eagle Lake and Lake Almanor to troll aboard his Blue Water Jet Craft. Like many boat-owning anglers, the responsibilities of boat ownership ultimately outweighed the benefits. 


Not long after selling his boat, Warren found himself yearning to get back on the water. He searched around for a long time, looking for something that would allow him to scoot around his favorite lakes and chase his beloved trout. The answer ultimately came in the form of a pedal-drive Hobie kayak. 

Kayaks opened a whole new world of fishing opportunities for Warren. It allowed him to get from place to place on lakes that were previously inaccessible from a large motorized craft or unfishable from the shore.

Since a kayak is small in footprint and lacks motorized power, this kind of craft affords the angler the ability to make quiet and stealthy presentations. If you don’t think today’s kayaks are well-equipped fishing machines, think again. 

Warren employs a large-screen fish-finder that is equally at home on the deck of a high-performance bass boat. It allows him to find structure, measure the depth and temperature and, most importantly, locate the schools of bait and fish.

Warren spends his days on the water fishing with a group of dedicated kayak anglers that includes his son, David. The two spend lots of time fishing the many spectacular trout fisheries up and down the state of California.


Trolling minnow plugs is one of Warren’s go-to tactics. He uses a 6-foot, 6-inch to 7-foot fast-action, medium-power spinning rod rated for 6- to 8-pound monofilament line. He’ll cast the lure behind the kayak and will continue to feed line until his bait is between 70 and 150 feet out.

Warren likes to place the rod in a holder so that he can drop the tip so that it’s level with the water, allowing the lure to reach maximum depth. The speed at which he pushes the pedals also impacts the running depth of the lure. Warren has had good success fishing in the 5- to 15-foot depth range and by targeting boulders and rocky structure, as opposed to the sandy flats. If a straight troll is not generating any strikes, he will vary his speed, performing “S” turns with the ’yak, or use his rod tip to impart a ripping motion to the bait.

“I also like to fish with spoons,” Warren adds. “I don’t troll the spoons; I cast them. It’s sort of like bass fishing out of the kayak. I’ll paddle the kayak to a fishy-looking area and I’ll start throwing to the shoreline, letting the spoon flutter down. Sometimes I will cruise the shoreline just looking for activity. I’ll look for rising fish or maybe I’ll see a group of trout working a bait ball. My favorite spoons are the ¼-ounce Little Cleos and ¼-ounce Thomas Buoyants.”

When artificials fail to produce, Warren turns to bait. He constructs a 3- to 4-foot leader by tying a small baitholder hook to one end of the leader and a barrel swivel to the other. On his mainline he adds a sliding sinker, then finishes by tying the mainline to the open end of the swivel. On the hook he uses a threading tool to attach a large nightcrawler. Using the wind to drift through the area, he vertically mooches the ’crawler. 

An often overlooked tactic is to simply use the kayak to reach a spot. 

“We often use our kayaks to get to another location, and then we’ll ‘bank’ the kayaks,” says Warren. “There is a lake we fish where everyone parks in a single location and they all fish in that area. In another part of the lake there is an inlet with some really good structure. Our group will use our kayaks to get to that area. We’ll beach the kayaks and then we’ll walk the shoreline. We catch some really nice trout doing that.”

Kayak fishing is getting more and more popular, and for good reasons as kayak anglers continue to find new opportunities to catch more and bigger fish. If this sound appealing to you, perhaps you should give it a try. CS