Ancient Kite Fishing Technique Makes Its Way Into Modern Waters

man standing in boat with kites
Kite fishing in Pantar Island, Indonesia Nicolas Cegalerba/Getty Images

"Go fly a kite" may soon mean the same thing as "go fish," thanks to an age-old technique that's being adapted for modern use.

This specialized kite fishing technique, now employed by coastal U.S. anglers aboard fishing boats, involves live bait suspended directly below a nylon kite. It's used primarily to catch large saltwater fish, ranging from sailfish to blackfin tuna. Another line separate from the bait lines attaches the kite to the boat with a clip that releases when the one of the bait lines is reeled in by hand.


Some of the earliest documentation of kite fishing comes via European explorers in the late 1500s, who witnessed Southeast Asian fishermen in a canoe using a kite and two lengths of cordage — one that served as kite line and one that served as fishing line. A large bundle of spiderwebs or a baited noose were attached to the fishing line, with the intent to catch needlefish. The observers noted the method was surprisingly successful. And in the early 1900s during visits to Indonesia, European travelers saw local fishermen using a single, large plant leaf as a kite. There, and in other island nations like those of Polynesia, kite fishing continues to be used as a traditional way of catching fish.

Modern kite fishing, though, involves brightly colored kites made of sailcloth designed to withstand heavy wind conditions. Occasionally, helium-filled balloons are affixed to the kites, making kite fishing possible on days when there isn't much wind — the practice usually requires winds of between 5 and 25 mph (8 and 40 kph).

Overall, the technique allows anglers to put a number of lines in the water at one time, increasing the odds of catching a fish. Kite fishing also takes the bait fish a greater length from the boat than a traditional pole or fly fishing method might, offering the illusion that the prey is at a safe distance from a potentially harmful interloper. 

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A kite fisherman afloat off the coast of the Indonesian island Bandar.
Nicolas Cegalerba/Getty Images